Lower Leg
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, April 20, 2013 10:18 PM
Riders hear about lower leg from the first time they sit on a horse. However, many riders struggle with understanding how exactly lower leg supposed to work. The challenge about lower leg is a wide gap between two statements:
1. One is from hunter/jumper origins - light seat, short stirrups, weight into the low heels, lower leg is firmly on the horse's sides. 2. Dressage origins - deep seat, long stirrups, legs relaxed, do not grip, heels are down
If hunter/jumper riders try to ride in dressage saddle with long stirrups they usually continue to push hard down into the heels. However, because they try to sit deep and because stirrups are long the lower leg is far from being firmly on a horse's side. The lower leg is actually off the sides and can become quite unstable. Because I teach eventers I see that quite a lot.
The other category is riders who learned to ride as dressage riders. Usually, adult riders, most of them middle aged women who chose dressage as it is safer. These riders never learned to keep their lower leg adhesive enough on a horse's side because they try to relax it. Or, they take it away on purpose to apply stronger leg aid or to push into stirrups in rising trot. How often you see a dressage rider whose lower legs are sticking out every time rider rises out of the saddle and then bang the horse during sitting phase.
A dressage rider's legs need to wrap around the horse's ribcage from the top (the beginning of the leg) to just below the fleshy part of the calf muscles. The heels are not supposed to dig into the horse. The wrapping must be done with inner surface of the leg: inner thigh muscles (adductors), knees, inner surface of lower legs. This flat adhesive connection is always there no matter the gait or the movement. If you ride bareback you would be instinctively choosing this position for the legs. Nuno Oliveira called that leg: draping around the horse like a wet towel. This is not a statement of a complete relaxation and wobbly, spaghetti looking legs.
  • This means legs are supple, they breathe with the horse, not gripping hard and not falling away
  • This leg position allows the rider to keep hips very supple.
  • These adhesive legs will help the rider to stay easily upright during downward transitions by lending support to core and back muscles.
  • Also, stirrups will be there merely for light support and reference for a centered balance.
  • Stirrup leathers are not too short and not too long. They allow knee to be deep and give thigh a long contact with the saddle. They also allow knees to be bent to work as shock absorbers. They allow lower leg easily stay in contact with the horse's sides.
My mistake was I had too much weight into the stirrups. This took my lower legs away from the horse's side and made them unstable. Other mistakes to watch for:
  • Legs rotated outward - back side of the leg in contact with the horse, thighs loose, calves gripping, heels digging
  • Stirrup leathers too long - knees are too straight, lower legs are pushed away from the horse
  • Stirrup leathers are too short, heels are too down, weight in the heels, thighs are closer to horizontal position, good for jumping
  • Legs are too loose, flopping on the saddle
  • Lower leg is swinging back and forth with the motion of the horse - not enough adhesiveness, possible push into stirrups
If you can drop stirrups at any moment and nothing changes in your balance, seat and contact you can be confident your legs are adhesive enough. Riding without stirrups is a good way to develop such legs.
Happy riding...
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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