Lower Leg
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Sunday, April 12, 2009 06:10 PM
Lately I am spending a lot of time explaining to riders the role and position of their lower legs. It turns out many riders hold the sides of their horses with the calf muscles. Some do it because they think they are supposed to and others because their calves replace the role of their thighs by holding the horse to stabilize the seat.
Lets start with the correct position of the leg:
  • Your thighs must be rotated inward from the hip joint so inner muscles can lay flat on the saddle.
  • Your knees are bent and pointed forward and the inner parts of your lower legs are in contact with the horse's side, your toes are pointing forward too.
  • Heels are under the hip joints, legs appear long without actual straightening of the knees.
  • The muscles of the legs are toned to keep the position and stay stable. All of the muscles are toned, thigh and calf muscles.
Now you can deliberately touch your horse with your leg by bending your knee a little more. The movement is absolutely minuscule to even notice. The horse will feel it as a light but firm touch. Then you return your leg to stay at the side. What happens with riders who do not have their thighs rotated inward and toned. They sit in the saddle more like in a chair. Contact with the saddle happens more with the back part of the thighs not inner part. Knees will stick out because thighs are rotated out and knees are the lowest part of the thigh. Thighs are loose and unstable. Rider does not feel very secure because he/she sits on top of the horse and not around it. The rider bends the knees and lower legs jam the horse's ribs. Riders in such situation need support of the lower leg to stay stable. I see it over and over in different degrees. Some riders with better thigh position hold horse's sides because they hear instructors saying very often: "Close your leg to send your horse forward." Closing the leg does not imply touch and get out. It implies close and keep it there. And then out of the closed position riders try to nudge their horses forward. The nudge is slow, cumbersome and unpleasant. Horses brace their ribcage against such leg and sometimes lose forwardness altogether.
There are three things riders do not do enough when they start working on these issues. They just do not realize how much change is required.
  • Inward rotation of the thighs - Riders honestly try to put their thigh in a correct position. However, it feels so weird and requires substantial muscle power just to keep your leg there riders tend to lose the inward positioning pretty quickly. Another obstacle is tight hip joint, especially, short muscles that located inside of your hip behind Gluteus Maximus. They are responsible for outward rotation of the thigh and of course when they are short inward rotation is limited. Some inner thigh muscles can contribute to tightness too.
  • Connection of the inner thigh muscles to the saddle - When the thigh is in the right position you need very good muscle tone in the inner muscles of the thigh to keep it solidly connected to the saddle without any alterations. Even in rising trot the rider must have good connection with the saddle through the inner thigh. It gives a feel of great security and stability. It is hard to imagine how much you need. Trust me, I'm always reassessing this issue in order not lose the feel like I'm part of the saddle. It has nothing to do with tight gripping in order to stay on.
  • Lower legs are at the side of the horse. No holding with calf muscles. - This is a last issue because in many ways it is a consequence of the first two. The less the thighs are rotated inward and the less they are in contact with the saddle the easier it is to grip with your lower legs. Instability in the seat (pelvis plus thighs) is compensated with good hold below the knees.
When you are in good balance, it feels like all your body parts including lower legs are in good stable position. That you do not really require a horse to keep that position. You are moving together with the horse. You feel his movement, you can influence it with your body's positive tension. You can ask for the hind leg's activity with occasional light, fast and firm touch of your lower leg. This movement is small and very controlled. If more leg is required rather use light touch with the firm whip than stronger or longer leg aid. Horses are much more OK with the light touch of a firm whip than gripping action of the lower leg. I'm working with two very sensitive horses they were very scared of the whip. Now they respond to it correctly and quietly, as a matter of fact.
Happy riding...
Comment by LeraJenkins on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 09:06 PM
It is remarkable, the useful message
Comment by Christine Jordan on Friday, September 8, 2017 11:43 AM
Hi, I'm an older rider who is struggling with flapping unstable legs especially in canter. Could the lack of positioning my inner thigh be the cause? Regards Christine Jordan
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, September 9, 2017 02:38 PM
Positioning of your thighs is only part of the problem. You must also check how much you are using stirrups for support. Stirrups are unstable and swing. If you push down into them and stiffen your ankles, knees and thighs your lower legs will be swinging with the stirrups.
Stirrups were invented for convenience in battle. They allowed warriors to lean over to strike or catch their balance if their horse jumps sideways suddenly. In jumping stirrups help with two-point seat.
Pushing into stirrups and trying to sit in the saddle are two opposite actions. Riding without stirrups is a good way to improve overall balance in the saddle. Here is the link to a blog about it. http://www.balancedrider.com/blog/2013/08/13083001.htm
Comment by Liz Rushforth on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 02:00 AM
Thanks so much for this article it has been very helpful to help me understand what my position should be. I've been struggling with lots of conflicting advice on the correct position and have not been able to find a clear answer as to, should you be gripping the horse or more balancing.
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