When we first learn to ride, we go through "leg learning" stages. At first, it's all we can do to keep our feet in the stirrups. Eventually, that becomes easier but then our lower legs flap forward and backward in the horse's movement. Sometimes, our legs pop off the horse's sides during posting trot. Other times, our legs are so tight that nothing can take them off the horse's sides! Then at some point, we "find" our legs, only to discover that we're now grabbing very tightly with our heels.
What to do?
Instead of going into complicated fixes for each scenario, try the exercise below. If you can work on this every time you ride, you will likely work through any of those problems. Over time, long, "wrapping" legs will become easier and easier to find, even while you use active leg aids.
The key to long legs, dropped heels and soft but "on the horse" knees is to develop the longest legs you can in the stirrup length you have. This can be used for both short jumping stirrups and longer dressage and western stirrups.
While the horse is standing still, stand up in your stirrups as high as you can, knees straight. Focus on straightening your legs - starting at the hip, then pushing your knees down and back (not too far back, just so your heels line up with your hips) and straight. The straighter you can get your legs, the more your hips will open, the better your knees will flatten along the horse's side, and the more heel you will suddenly have to drop below the stirrup. Then sit back down, lining your hips above your heels, keeping that long leg feeling as much as possible.
Of course, you won't end up with rigid straight legs once your horse starts moving. In fact, because you lengthened your legs, they should have gentle angles at the hip and the knee as a result. Your knees won't be able to grab on the horse's sides as strongly as before, and your heels should end up below the toes (or the toes above the heels, if you like thinking that way better) fairly naturally.
I know what you're going to say (it happens to me too)! It's not that easy to keep the legs long like this while the horse is moving!
No, it isn't. But it does make a huge difference - so it's worth the effort to keep at it. Here are some strategies.
In posting trot, push your legs down on the forward phase.
In canter, push your legs down on the down phase of the horse's stride.
You see, it's not that you have to have loose, dangling legs at all times. Quite the opposite, really. However, since most of us have some sort of gripping problem, finding moments of length will loosen the joints enough to keep our legs wrapped with tone, but not tightly, around our horse's side...
... which then will keep us better balanced and allow the seat to be freer and in sync with our horse - which is what we're aiming for anyway!
Finally! The Ultimate Rider-Centered Program!
Ready for something completely different? If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in the new Horse Listening Practice Sessions.
This is NOT a program where you watch other people's riding lessons. Start working with your horse from Day 1.
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SPECIAL FIFTH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION!
In 2016, we commemorated the event by compiling the top 20 most popular articles from the blog, covering topics such as:
- rider position (hands, seat, legs, elbows, upper body)
- improvement of the rider's aids (kicking, inside rein, outside rein)
- and more!
If you liked this article, you might also like:
Heel Healing: An On-The-Horse Leg Stretching Exercise: Similar to the above exercise, but focusing on the heels.
"Inside Leg To Outside Rein" - The Cheat Sheet: What does this expression mean, and how do you do it?
What Do The Leg Aids Mean? Here are the different ways you can use your leg - and they're not just for kicking!
Why You Don't Need To Force Your Heels Down In Horseback Riding: Forcing only causes tension through the whole leg up to the seat.
The #1 Rider Problem of the Year: The Leg Aid: You probably know from experience – kicking the horse along often does not get the response you really want.