Horse riding lessons: Position of the lower leg
The position of the body when sat in the saddle is upright and relaxed. The ankle, hip and ears are all in line vertically with each other. This produces a balance and centred position that will help the rider and the horse.
One of the key parts to keeping this position is where the lower leg is in relation to the rest of the body and the horse. The lower leg is the calf and shin area from the ankle to the knee.
In an ideal position, the lower leg will begin under the hips and point forwards slightly at an angle of between 15 and 45 degrees.
The angle will depend on the size of the rider and the type of riding that is being done. For example, jockeys will have a much sharper angle because they are effectively kneeling, while dressage riders’ legs will be almost straight.
Some general pointers for good position are that the lower leg should be touching the sides of the horse, the rider’s will be pushed down through their heels, and their toes are pointing forward towards the horse’s ears. The rider’s toes, ankles, knees, thighs, groins and buttocks will all be relaxed to allow free movement.
A good way to check the position of the lower leg is to look down at the stirrups. The leathers should be running straight down to the ground and not pointing forwards or backwards. The stirrup irons will be flat and in line with each other. You might even want to imagine at first a piece of elastic connecting the two stirrup irons and keeping them in line with each other.
In each discipline of riding the position of the lower can be important in maintain the rest of the body. By keeping the lower leg below them, the rider’s weight remains in the deepest part of the saddle. They are then balanced centrally over the horse.
Often, when squeezing or kicking the horse in trot, or making a transition to canter, the position of the lower leg can move forwards.
This causes the rider’s pelvis and upper body to fall back and they lose their position. Also, if the rider’s lower legs move backward, the rider’s pelvis and upper body tend to lean forward. Both of these situations cause the rider and the horse to lose their position.
Riders may also lose their correct lower leg position when using their legs to steer horses around corners. Once the steering has been done, it’s important for the rider to feel and check that they are in a correct position again their lower leg under their body.
By watching more experienced riders, it’s clear to see that their lower legs remain in a firm position on the horse’s sides and barely move. This produces a very secure ride.
Lower leg riding exercises
There are a number of exercises that can be done to ensure that the lower leg is in the correct position.
Firstly begin by standing up in the saddle and allow all the weight to go down through the heels in straight line. Slowly, while ensuring that the lower leg remains still, sit back into the saddle. Look down and see that the lower leg is underneath the body.
Another good exercise is to trot without stirrups. During trotting, imagine a heavy bucket of water pulling each ankle to the ground. Ensure that the legs relaxed and hang straight down. Now, retake the stirrups and the lower leg should be in a better position that it had been before.
Another good way to practice keeping the lower leg still during riding is to do standing trot. Simply move the horse into trot but stand in the saddle and keep balance. The only way to do this will be with a lower leg that is in the correct position.
A fun variation of standing trot is to rise for two beats, sit for one and rise again for two more beats. Keep doing this for a few minutes, and the importance of a strong lower leg soon becomes clear.
Overall, it’s clear to see that the lower leg position is an important part of riding that needs to be understood before a rider can progress to more advanced exercises such as leg yielding, shoulder in and travers, all of which require expert lower leg movement and control.
In the meantime, why not watch some of these videos of advanced riders. Keep a watch on their lower legs.
Mary King cross-country - look at the lower leg!
Carl Hester dressage
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