Inside Leg
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 10:25 PM
Dressage talks about importance of inside leg all the time. This phrase is one of the most repeated terms in dressage lessons. Why inside leg is so important in riding? The main two roles of inside leg are:
  • Bending the horse
  • Engaging the horse's inside leg
We are going to look at the inside leg as a bending aid. As with anything in riding just inside leg is not enough to bend the horse. However, it is a vital and absolutely necessary component of bending aids. When inside leg is working properly it is easy to bend the horse. It feels like he is molding himself around the inside leg. And it is very easy to feel if he ignored the aid and didn't bend. Ability to recognize if your horse is not bending is very important. You cannot correct a mistake unless you know you or your horse have done it.
Lets look at inside leg . Most of the riders think of inside leg as a lower portion of their leg, the part below the knee. This is incorrect. Inside leg consists of the following elements, each is important and should not be overlooked:
  • The seatbone - This is where it all starts. The rider's inside seatbone must be connected to the saddle, the pelvic bone to which it attaches must stay vertical and only slightly undulate around the vertical line. Of course, I am talking about three point seat when rider is in the saddle at all times. The rider must learn to control the movement and pressure of the seatbone.
  • The thigh - The thigh is an extension of the seatbone. It lays flat and adhesive on the saddle, connected to it through the inner and inner-bottom areas. All the thigh muscles have to work when rider is in the saddle. Adductors and inner hamstrings are slightly engaged to keep the thigh glued to the saddle. The front of the thigh is slightly engaged to elongate the leg and point the knee downward. The muscles rider is sitting on is slightly engaged to stop the sliding against the saddle. There is no gripping with the knee, the gentle snug feeling starts at the seatbone and travels down the thigh.
  • The knee - Must stay close the saddle and point just slightly outward. This will complete the thigh connection and allows you to keep the calf close to the horse when the knee is bent. Do not try to straighten your knee it will make the knee joint stiff and as a consequence will make you push into stirrups too much.
  • The calf - The lower leg is stretched and gently resting on the horse's side. It has soft connection, so called "breathing leg". The contact is quiet and it does not disturb the horse's movement. If more engagement of horse's inside leg is required this part of your leg becomes active and asks for it.
  • The heel - Position of the heel is very important because it can indicate the state of the whole leg. If the heel is too down the rider is pushing into stirrups too much and as a consequence the seatbone is not properly in the saddle and most likely the rider is behind the motion of the horse. If the heel is drawn up the leg lost it's integrity and tone. It most likely moved too much backwards, which pushed rider forward and out of the saddle.
The actual application of inside leg starts from the very top, from the seatbone. To indicate to your horse you want him to bend you press your seatbone a bit forward and down. Do not mistake this action with leaning in trying to load your seatbone or with lifting up the outside seatbone. Both seatbones must stay level and your upper body must stay vertical. The sensation of loading of inside seatbone happens because of the muscle engagement not because of displacement of your shoulders, hips, etc. Do not allow your seatbones to slide either left or right off the center. They must stay close together and stay centered over your horse. After the seatbone your thigh is pushed slightly down and in asking the horse to displace the horse's ribcage to the outside. This is one of the most important component of bending. The thigh acts as a continuation of the seatbone and the sensation continues down the leg into the heel. When horse responds properly to the inside leg there is no need for active leg, no kicking required. It literally feels like molding your horse around the inside leg. Only when your horse is not responding you may have to resort to active lower part of your inside leg. However, it is secondary aid. It comes into play after the seat has asked for bending. Inside rein will finish the job. Never begin asking for bending with inside rein.
The following list is a number of common mistakes riders do when trying to use their inside leg for bending:
  • Thinking of inside leg as only lower part - this is the one I see the most. You may displace your horse's haunches but you will not necessarily bend him.
  • Seatbone is sliding off to the inside - rider is not aware of his/her crookedness. If unstable seatbone is on inside it is very difficult to bend the horse without fixing this problem first. Kicking or pulling on inside rein will not help. Rider must fix the position and stability of the seatbone.
  • Leaning in, outside seatbone lifted - this happens when riders are trying to load their inside seatbone and start leaning in. Very often riders lean in to help their horse to turn, especially, if horse's heavy shoulder on outside. Usually outside seatbone disengages at that moment and it is very hard to bend the horse and control his haunches.
  • Too much rotation in the upper body, rider is twisted to the inside - usually it is rider's asymmetry issue. We all rotate one way more than another and if we add to that pulling on inside rein and trying to align our shoulders with horse's shoulders as we told to do it all comes together into too much rotation, collapsing through the ribcage and the hip on inside and losing the inside leg's ability to bend the horse.
  • Pulling on inside rein - this mistake is common in riding and correcting it involves working on rider's asymmetry and teaching the rider to bend the horse from the seat and steer with outside aids and not inside ones.
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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