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Horse riding lessons: Position of the lower leg

Updated on February 20, 2012
Horse riding position: The ankle, hips and ears are in line
Horse riding position: The ankle, hips and ears are in line

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.

A show jumper maintains her lower leg position as she goes over a fence
A show jumper maintains her lower leg position as she goes over a fence

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.

A rider canters round a cross country horse, all the while keeping her ankle in line with her hips
A rider canters round a cross country horse, all the while keeping her ankle in line with her hips

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.

Secure: The lower leg is in contact with the horse's girth
Secure: The lower leg is in contact with the horse's girth

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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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      ^^ I hope you never have the wonderful experience of being on the back of a great horse. You obviously don't deserve it!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is sport? This is grueling for the horse and nothing but an ego trip for the rider. How about if the rider gets off, runs at full s peed and jumps hurdles for as long as this horse is forced to? How many horses are virtually ridden to death in this so called sport? Does anyone care?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I work with horses and horse folks. I learned horse riding the hard way - as in lots of crashes, until I figured out that horse riding without horsemanship is just dangerous. Horsemanship is what makes horse riding safe and tons of fun. My business is Adventure Horse Riding in NYS at ---

    • profile image

      minu jasdanwala 

      6 years ago

      these tips are really good since they clear the doubts which i have in my horse riding initial lessons. the nuts and bolts of horse riding are very difficult as i am not good at doing physical activities to mental ones.

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Great work here!


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