Lightness of the leg aids
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, December 5, 2013 09:31 AM
Lately I have been paying a particular attention to how my students use their lower legs. And I noticed that many riders give the leg aid very slowly by squeezing and holding and if they want to repeat the aid it is still nudges with substantial time spent holding the sides of the horse. I use my hand between rider's leg and horse's side to feel the strength and duration of the leg aid and sometimes I am quite surprised with the force applied and a horse not reacting to such strong aid even in a slightest. Also a lot of riders think of lower leg aid to be the heel and they rotate their toes out kicking their horses with the heels as a primary leg aid.
The main lower leg aid is located where inner surface of upper calf meets the horse's side. Below the belly of calf muscles where Achilles tendon starts the leg does not touch the horse. Horse's ribcage is round and physically a rider cannot bend his/her leg around it. Human's lower leg is straight and not bowed out. Trying to put the bottom part of the leg and the heel on a horse will force the rider to turn the knees out and put the back of the leg including heel on a horse and not the inner part of it as required.
The upper calf muscle must be stretched and toned. This will give the leg aid quickness and definition like a touch of the whip or a spur. The whip aid is fast and can be very light. It can never prolong the squeeze or hold, it lasts only a split second. The leg aid must act in the same manner. It is rider's responsibility to keep calf muscles toned without overly tightening them or stiffening ankle joints. When I was learning to ride in Russia many times our instructor told us "toes up" instead of heels down. And the main reason for this correction was to tone our calf muscles so the lower leg aid will be more precise. The soft muscle cannot make a precise touch. It also cannot make a quick touch. Hence, the stiff boots dressage riders are wearing :)
Without grabbing the horse tightly rider's lower legs stay there gently. As Nuno Oliveira said: "like a wet towel", the leg is adhesive but not restrictive. By changing how much tone your calf muscles have you can create a very "calm, breathing" leg, that softly wraps around the horse, or, you can create a "pulsating" leg aid that sets the tempo and activity of hindquarters.
At the end I would like you to watch a very interesting video I found on Youtube. It is called "The Taming of Totilas". The video is long, it lasts 1 hour 11 minutes. And the main subject of it is comparison of two riders riding Totilas - Edward Gal and Matthias Rath. I found it very interesting and also inspiring as the video emphasizes the fact that rider must support and help the horse perform not dominate and force the execution with strong aids. The relevance to our subject is a lot of attention is paid to rider's lower leg aid and how it can liberate or trap the horse. Enjoy!
Happy riding...
 
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