Asymmetries in rider's lower legs
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, October 29, 2016 08:59 PM
Many riders have tendencies to keep one lower leg near girth position regardless of the direction and another lower leg near behind the girth position also regardless of the direction. I am talking about more experienced riders not beginners. Beginner riders are not balanced enough and may end up sitting in a chair seat or having unstable lower legs. But even experienced riders show sometimes very consistent tendency with their lower legs. I am being one of these riders. My left leg not only prefers to stay at the girth but sometimes ends up looking like I am in a slight chair seat. My right leg prefers to slide backwards and stay behind the girth even when I travel to the right and bend my horses to the right.
This affects not only rider's balance and effective aiding but also horse's balance, ability to understand and respond correctly.
Rider's balance
For the rider the consequences are as follows: (I will use my example)
  • My left leg has tendency to stay forward also likes to rotate outward in the hip joint and stiffen at the knee in the open position ( hence, chair seat). This robs me of the foot being under my centre of gravity. I am perpetually falling behind the horse' motion particularly with my left seatbone which is being pushed backwards by my stiff left knee. My upper body likes to push my left shoulder forward and it also makes me sit more on the left side of the horse. I end up using inside rein more due to ineffective seat/leg. Here is what happens to me during some of the movements:
    - Circle left - I fall forward ahead of the horse, I like to pull my left rein down and back, I have hard time using my inside leg due to stiffening of the knee.
    - Shoulder-in left - I pull my horse into it with left rein, my shoulders position contradicts horse's shoulders position (left is too forward), my inside leg is ineffective
    - Circle right - my outside leg is too forward not behind the girth, I turn my upper body ahead of my horse into the circle, my hips may collapse to the outside
    - Shoulder-in right - my left leg's inability to be behind the girth lets my horse escape with his haunches to the outside, my too forward left shoulder lets the horse fall into his left/outside shoulder
  • My right leg has a tendency to move backwards also likes to grip with the ankle, right seatbone is being pushed forward by the leg that is too far back and upper body likes to collapse backwards. My view of the horse is off center a bit due to unnecessary rotation in upper body. I have a tendency to overbend horse's neck to the right.
    - Circle left - right leg effortlessly has a correct position behind the girth but outside seatbone is too light and pushed too forward. Right side of my upper body hangs behind and is not in sync with the turn.
    - Shoulder-in left - my right leg stays correctly behind the girth but right shoulder also ends up behind and encourages a horse to drift left.
    - Circle right - inside leg is too far back and fails to encourage bend in the ribcage but rather pushes haunches out, my right shoulder falling behind in the turn stiffens and lifts trying to catch it's balance, my right seatbone being too light creates instability in my contact on the right rein.
    - Shoulder-in right - my right leg fails to create correct bend and pushes haunches out. Shoulder-in looks more like a leg-yield. I feel this but often end up using right rein to correct the issue which is not effective and lifts my right shoulder up.
Horse's balance
For the horse the consequences are:
  • Moving to the left. The horse will have a tendency to fall into turns following my left shoulder that is too forward which puts my weight too much to the left. The horse will not bend well through ribcage due to my stiff inside leg. And outside leg that is staying behind the girth will encourage the horse to move haunches left. Basically, my balance and position encourages perpetual leg-yield to the left. Ironically, asking my horses to leg-yield left is not necessarily easy task :) My too forward left shoulder screws things up and I loose straightness and balance of my horse.
  • Moving to the right. The tendency to drift left creates challenges for the horse when he has to move to the right. Turning right while "leg-yielding" left creates too wide turns, hesitation on the part of the horse to turn right when tight turn is required. In canter it creates difficulty for the horse to stay balanced. Cantering on a wet footing I had no problems going left, going to the right my horse slipped twice in the beginning until I realized what is going on and corrected myself and him. Why he slipped in the right lead because he was drifting left with his haunches and landing on the outside hind leg creates a precedent for slipping on a wet footing. My horse also has hard time to half-pass to the right because my body rather is sitting for half-pass to the left.
The tendencies described above are not necessarily obvious all the time but they create patterns of repeated mistakes. Every time something more difficult is introduced it shows itself in these tendencies. Straightness is very important quality to work on not only in our horses but ourselves too. Before blaming consistent mistakes on your horse's crookedness look at yours first. Riders themselves will have very hard time feeling their own crookedness. Eyes on the ground, mirrors, pictures and videoing are best tools to check on yourself. Even best riders in the world have slight asymmetry issues. Most likely they know about them and know how to deal with them. Becoming straighter is a life long achievement of a rider, exactly as with a horse. We never stop straightening our horses, we should never stop straightening ourselves!
Happy riding...
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