Once upon a time, the idea of magnetized stirrup irons must have sounded like something out of a science fiction novel. Today, however, Ontyte stirrups are a favorite among top riders from around the globe. The brainchild of Paul and Ashley Yanke, the Ontyte system was originally invented to help a family member who was returning to riding after an injury.

In addition to the interest from amateurs looking for a little extra security and confidence in the tack, Ontyte also received support from a seemingly unlikely corner: Laura Kraut and her future Olympic partner, Cedric.

“There were several times when [Cedric] was young that he jumped me off,” Kraut says. “I was riding him in rubber bands, and that was illegal—you were not allowed to do that. But he would do these jumps where he would just go sky-high, straight up in the air, and either my stirrup would come off—which would usually happen in the air—or I would just get bumped loose.”

In those days, the athletic Cedric was also an extremely sensitive horse, prone to use what Laura describes as his “incredible flight instinct.” One thing he didn’t go for? His rider moving around on his back, even if the reason she was moving was only to recover from a fence Cedric had just dramatically overjumped.

“When he would hit the ground, because I had moved, Cedric would freak and bolt away, and because I didn’t have my stirrup or whatever, I’d be gone. I did that two or three times, where I hit the ground, and a few times where I managed to stay on, but it was touch and go—like, I barely [stayed on]. So that was intimidating.”

A friend suggested magnetic stirrups as a solution to Cedric’s habit, and after the Yankes created the prototype, Kraut’s son Bobby helped to brainstorm a name.

“We were just sitting around thinking about it, and since the Yanke’s last name begins with a ‘Y’, [Bobby] said, ‘Why don’t you call it Ontyte with a Y?’ Which was pretty funny at eight years old.”

Kraut also proved critical in the development and testing of the Ontyte system, which began, humbly enough, with some tape and a basic science concept. “We literally taped a magnetic plate to the stirrup and a magnetic plate to the boot. So that was the beginning of it, to test if it would even work,” Kraut explains.

“There was a lot involved in it—like a lot. It was high-tech and high science to not have too much magnetism, and that’s not easy to attain. Because something as thin as a piece of paper completely changes the contact,” she says. “All year prior to the [Bejing Olympic Games], I was just testing them in Wellington in the trials.”

Ontyte completed the finishing touches on the system in time for Laura’s debut in it at the 2008 Beijing Games, with Kraut becoming the first rider to use Ontyte in Olympic competition. The icing on the cake? Kraut, Cedric, and Team USA won the gold medal that year, and the rest, as they say, is history.

-Photo credit: Erin Gilmore.