Problem: My lower legs are loose
Why it’s a problem: You constantly lose your stirrup iron, you have trouble keeping weight in your heels, your leg slips behind the girth and your upper body tips forward over a jump no matter how hard you work to stay steady. A correct lower leg is extremely important because it gives your whole position a foundation.
Fix: Shorten your stirrups so that the angle behind your knee is approximately 90-105 degrees. Your stirrup leather should be perpendicular to the ground, and you could draw an imaginary straight line connecting the back of your heels to your hips to your shoulders. Drop your weight into your heels and turn your toes out anywhere from 35-45 degrees to put the strongest part of your calf?the lower inside back?on your horse’s barrel. If your toe isn’t angled out enough, you’ll have a hard time keeping your calf on; if it’s out too much, your knee will come off the saddle, you’ll have the back of your calf on your horse and your leg won’t be as strong.
To get used to your correct stirrup length and to concentrate on holding your lower leg in the correct position and strengthen it, practice this simple posting-trot exercise: With your leg in the correct position and your body about 25 degrees in front of the vertical, pick up the posting trot. Let your horse’s movement push you up out of the saddle. As you do, feel about 20 percent of your leg pressure shift up from your calf into your knee and thigh?but remember to keep your lower leg at the girth. To reinforce your lower-leg position, as you reach the highest point of your post, make a concentrated effort to push weight into your heels. Descending, use your thigh muscles to ease?not thud?the front quarter of your bottom into the saddle. Post until you feel yourself tiring and your leg slipping out of position. Then take a break for a few minutes at the walk before you pick up the posting trot again.?Frank Madden, November 1995
Problem: I pinch with my thighs and knees
Why it’s a problem: Pinching tends to turn your heel out and to take your lower leg off, allow it to float back and?when you trot?make it constantly go kablam, kablam, kablam against your horse’s side. If a buck or a bolt or something else happens to break your knees’ grip on the saddle, you’re done for??because what keeps you on a horse is getting your center of gravity as low as you can: down into your heels. If your center of gravity stops at your knees, off you go!
Fix: At the walk, trot and eventually the canter, remove or cross your stirrups and practice these exercises:
- Let your legs hang down; then alternately straighten and bend your knees so they swing independent of your horse’s sides. As your left leg straightens, your right leg bends?and vice versa in the next stride.
- Lift your knee straight up?not out to the side?holding it just long enough to break your grip?then let it drop down again.?Lendon Gray, March 1999
Problem: My heels won’t stay down
Why it’s a problem: Raised heels allow your upper body to topple forward or fall back, especially over fences.
Fix: Start by getting your horse in front of your leg: Step down into your heel and stretch your leg to ask him to go forward. If he doesn’t respond with a more energetic thrust, give him a tap with your stick behind your leg or a touch of the spur.
Now, in the walk, get up in a good old-fashioned two-point. To be sure you don’t just perch on your knee, do this in stages: First, put your hands forward and hold mane so you don’t pull on his mouth. Then, with the ball of your foot on your stirrup iron and your little toe lightly touching the outer branch, step ?into your heel and start to lift upward. Next, open your knee; and, finally, close your hip. Relax your weight downward. Feel your inner thigh, inner knee and upper inner calf resting near your horse’s side?not because you’re gripping, but because you’re stretching. Drop your heel as much as possible by ?relaxing your ankle side-to-side (not up and down?ankles don’t work that way).
Ride in this balanced two-point position at all three gaits until it feels absolutely automatic.?Pam Baker, March 2001