View Full Version : Help with feeling the hind legs?

Sep. 21, 2009, 08:45 PM
This may sound very foolish, I don't know. I clearly am doing something wrong, or maybe NOT doing something RIGHT, or something. I should preface this by saying I am very new to dressage, and have only ridden huntseat and "goofy teen anything goes" in the past. So all the lovely, fine-tuned dressage business is quite new to me.

My trainer asked me a few weeks ago to just relax and feel my horse walking beneath me, and to try to feel when each of his hind legs were leaving the ground. She told me to close my eyes, and then say 'up' when I felt my left hip lift forward. Well, it turned out that I was feeling my left hip lifting forward when my horse's left FORE lifted, not his left HIND. My trainer seemed very surprised; apparently my hips should be moving with his back end, not his front end.

Ever since then, I have been trying everything I can think of to feel the back end instead of the front end. Relaxing my seat more; relaxing my seat less. Thinking 'figure-8' with my hips; thinking 'side to side.' Sitting back on my pockets more; getting up off them. No matter what, when I close my eyes and identify what feels to me like my left hip coming up and forward, when I open my eyes and look down it is in sync with his left fore. I can't seem to sync up with his left hind!

I'd love any thoughts or suggestions COTHers might have for getting my seat in tune with his hind end. I hope to have a friend come out this weekend and lunge us, so I can close my eyes and have her say 'up, up, up' in time with one hind leg rising, so I can try to feel it without the distraction of steering (not to mention I just would really love a lunge lesson; nothing reminds me exactly how much work my balance needs like closing my eyes!). But any tips I could take with me into that lunge session would be greatly appreciated!

Come Shine
Sep. 21, 2009, 08:53 PM
Many moons ago I took some lessons that went like this:
Halt! Are you square? Where is his back left? How many inches? Trot! Halt! Are you square? Where is his back right? Trot. Halt.
Well, you get the idea.
I never was able to figure out with any sort of precision just how many inches I was away from square.

Sep. 21, 2009, 08:54 PM
stand behind the horse and startle it :lol:

OK, not helpful, I am back to cleaning now ;)

Sep. 21, 2009, 08:57 PM
Come Shine, thanks - sadly, right now, I think the answer each time for me would be, "Uh... duh... I dunno?" But maybe after enough hours of that, if my friend didn't get sick of it and start throwing things at me, it would start to sink in? (Or maybe she HAS to start throwing things at me; as a rock ricocheted off my helmet, the impact would knock my brain onto a higher plane where I hallucinate hind foot placement?)

Well, Alagirl, that would certainly help me feel his hind HOOVES! ;)

Sep. 21, 2009, 09:01 PM
Hmmmm... could be you (lack of feel) or could be your horse's conformation.

Your horse could have a lateral walk (moving his front leg and back leg on the same side at the same (or near the same) time which makes you THINK it's the front leg you feel, or maybe your horse has a really long back and it is difficult to feel him track up, or maybe your horse doesn't bring his hind legs under very far (kind of camped out behind), or maybe your horse's shoulders/withers are much higher than his hind end so you would feel more from the front since he is already "sitting" naturally on his butt, or maybe your horse has an inverted back (loin tips forward toward saddle) so the motion is too far behind? I really don't know... I'm just guessing... for me the back legs of the horse moving forward feel like tiny nudges in my seat cheeks and cause my hips to move forward in a sweeping motion.

Try riding bareback and see if you feel it then? Perhaps your saddle/pads are muffling the feel. I'm a big believer in riding bareback for fixing most riding problems.

Sep. 21, 2009, 09:04 PM
Hmmmm... could be you (lack of feel) or could be your horse's conformation.

Try riding bareback and see if you feel it then? Perhaps your saddle/pads are muffling the feel. I'm a big believer in riding bareback for fixing most riding problems.

i do that and i teach that 1st- as in a bit of bareback in walk 1st so you feel the horses movement underneath you as skin to skin cheek to cheek lol

Come Shine
Sep. 21, 2009, 09:05 PM
Come Shine, thanks - sadly, right now, I think the answer each time for me would be, "Uh... duh... I dunno?"

That was pretty much what I said, too! :)

DressageGeek "Ribbon Ho"
Sep. 22, 2009, 02:27 AM
This is why I love my treeless - so much easier to feel his back and hind end. So try bareback or a pad.

Sep. 22, 2009, 06:31 AM
but still can't feel my horses footfall....

my trainer keeps telling me how important it is to feel footfall, because aids given at the right time are easy for the horse to act on, and given at the wrong time are worthless.

so....we really need a pro to step in and explain.

I'm at the point where i know the sequence of each gait, w-t-c. i know the first step of each gait, for example, with canter, it's the LH for right lead and RH for left lead. I also feel that when the horse hind leg is on the ground that side (hip) is pushed up, and when the hind leg is in the air, taking the next step, the hip is down. But it's more complicated than that, it's not up and down, it's more like an oval, or maybe an egg shape...

my trainer has me count 1-2-3 at the canter, so that i can HH at 1, i ALWAYS get it wrong. then i try to count wrong, because i think i'll get it right and I STILL get it wrong:(

I longe my horse and i watch his feet and back, to see what his back is doing at each step in each stride.

I **know**? that i have to give aids while the foot is on the ground, because i can't influence it when it's in the air...

I know, but i do not feel:confused:...yet i still try each day, and my horse is really patient

Sep. 22, 2009, 07:30 AM
my call outs were lagging the hind leg fall, so by the time my brain said "now" and the message got to my mouth, i was out of synch, but i was feeling the hind leg moving :)

Sep. 22, 2009, 08:45 AM
it just takes time to develop the ability to tune into the hinds.

start by paying attention to your horse while you do other things with him on the ground, like groom or lead him around. Pay attention to the order of his foot falls. ie, If your horse is standing cockeyed on the cross ties, before asking him to straighten himself, look at his feet and see which feet he has to move and what order he has to move them to comply with your request, etc. When walking in-hand, count 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, look and make sure you're counting the feet in order, then walk along and count them in your head, hearing his footfalls. I frequently spend time walking loosely with my horse in his paddock, we 'follow each other's feel' I time my footfalls to match his and his tempo, then I change my tempo and he follows my rhythm. Basically, get in the habit of watching your horse's feet, not just during lessons.

Then, while riding, practice at the easiest gait, the trot. Since its so easy, you can put more effort into visualization of the legs moving (if that helps you, it helps me). Rise to the trot and see the legs sweeping forth underneath you (I envision strings tied from my hips to my horse's hock, so I remember to post forward to give his back room to rise to bring his hind deeply underneath him, etc). Tune into the hinds reaching under with every stride. Practice knowing where the feet are at a trot, and practice being able to strike off to a trot and come up on the correct diagonal every time by 'knowing' where the hind feet are.

Finally, while at a walk, actually turnaround in the saddle and look at the hinds when you start off. Don't try to guess as you'll just confuse yourself. And, I've found when I rely on a friend to tell me, I focus so hard on keeping count that I don't even visualize or pay attention to the horse, and when I lose count I'm ruined :) so at a walk, I'll twist around, put one hand on the point of hip, watch the hind leg leave the ground and count ONE two three four, ONE two three four. When counting comfortably, I'll sit straight but keep a hand on the hip for a few more strides while I count, etc.

Pick only one hind leg to key into first and focus on that for a while. See that foot in your mind coming forth under you while you count, and notice what it does to your hips, how your legs gently sway to make room for the barrel.

Sally Swift has a lovely visualization for the walk that I just adore and really was the final help I needed being able to key into the hinds at a walk. She said, at a walk imagine you're riding a bicycle backwards. That forward pumping you do with your legs/hips? do it backwards, like you're pedaling backwards. I discovered when I do that in the saddle, what its doing is reaching my seat up in time with the hinds to make room for the hind leg to step forth under neath me. Pedaling backwards automatically puts me in tune with the hinds. AND, my horse instantly reacts positively to it. Whenever I stop paying attention and he slumps to a toe dragging little walk, I remember to pedal backwards and he livens right up and walks out again.

Hope this is some help.

Sep. 22, 2009, 10:07 AM
I have been riding both bareback and with saddles for about 30 years. I've been trying to know where the hind legs were for the past 10. I'm gradually starting to feel it, but I will be honest, part of learning to identify that feel was knowing when to expect it. So, that means I'm studying footfalls and order and also using my ears.

For me, once I know when to expect it, I start to realize what "feel" I'm looking for. Which point in the motion is important for timing of aids, etc.

Sep. 22, 2009, 10:54 AM
I don't know whether everybody is the same but for me, I feel my horse's front end with my groin and the hind ends with the back of my seat bones.

I actually don't feel the horse' hind end pushing my seat bone forward that much, I feel a drop on that side of the seat bone more. When a horse lifts the hind end, you will feel that side of your seat bone to drop, and then rolling forward. When the horse' hind end is on the ground and starts to push, you will feel that side of your seat bone to start to lift (and you should feel the other side of your seat bone to drop, singnaling that side of the horse' hind end is lifting).

So close your eyes, and have a friend to help you like you say. It is really simple once you get it once. My husband is green as pea and he rides in that hunky western saddle but it only took him, like, 2 minutes to get it figured out once I pointed to him to feel the "drop" sensation.

Sep. 22, 2009, 12:54 PM
Thanks everybody!

GreekDressageQueen, I didn't provide enough info to answer your questions in my OP, so to help do that now... I'm pretty sure I am the weak link in this equation. My horse is fairly green, but he has lovely (and big!) correct gaits, albeit unbalanced at the canter. His walk is very nice, and he reaches under himself well. He is a Friesian with a short back. However, he IS built uphill, so what you said about him already naturally 'sitting' and feeling more from the front end as a result could certainly be a factor!

I appreciate all the 'try it bareback' suggestions, and will definitely do that. He has no problems being ridden bareback - I make sure to do it at least once or twice a week so it will always seem normal to him. It didn't occur to me that the saddle and pads could be muffling the feel, since it "feels" like I am feeling so much movement - he's a big mover! - but just because I feel him move doesn't mean that movement is transferring clearly and accurately through all that padding and hardware. Thank you for pointing that out - I'll ditch the saddle and see how it feels then!

Also, it sounds like I need to be watching for a lot more than I currently watch for while lunging (and in crossties, and hand-walking, etc.) - I'll start paying much more attention to which feet are doing what in what order, especially during transitions.

evd, I'm sorry for your frustration, and relieved that I'm not the only one beating my head against this particular wall. And it sounds like there is SO MUCH MORE that I need to do before I've even really earned the right to engage in head-wall-beating over this topic! Interesting your comment about giving aids while the foot is on the ground. My trainer and I haven't even gotten to that point; the reason the subject came up at all is because she was talking about giving an aid as the hind leg was *leaving* the ground, for lateral work. So, effectively, while it was in the air. So I guess it depends on what aid you're giving, for what purpose, whether you specifically want it on the ground or in the air!

Alexie, good point - I'll keep that in mind.

And buck22, that is some of the coolest visualization I've ever heard! I'm going to give it a try. Thank you for all the suggestions and tips. I look forward to trying them out.

Gloria, I've been trying so hard to feel it the way my trainer said I 'would' feel it, it honestly didn't occur to me to feel for something different that signified the same thing. Feeling pretty dumb now! It will be interesting to see if, when I do find it, if it feels like a drop, the way it feels to you.

Thanks so much for all the suggestions!

Sep. 22, 2009, 01:05 PM
what might help you understnad what you will be feeling is instead of your trainer asking you do you feel that, have her/him say "now" each time the hind leg leaves the ground.

your job is to empty your mind and just feel..... over time you will understand what you should be feeling for and then the trainer can stop with the nows and you can start :)

that way you will feel what you feel and not try to feel it as others experience it.

Sep. 22, 2009, 01:40 PM
Gloria, I've been trying so hard to feel it the way my trainer said I 'would' feel it, it honestly didn't occur to me to feel for something different that signified the same thing. Feeling pretty dumb now! It will be interesting to see if, when I do find it, if it feels like a drop, the way it feels to you.

Thanks so much for all the suggestions!

OK. Maybe you need to feel it without the horse first. Sit in a chair with your torso straight up. Now intentionally drop your left seat bone by pushing your left seat bone into the chair. If you put your hands under your bum, you will feel your left seat bone to push into your left palm. You should also feel your right seat bone to rise up. Now reverse and repeat. Close your eyes and feel how your hip and waist and seat bone rock when you push your seat bone into the chair alternately. That is the sensation you will get on a horse, except on a horse, you don't need to push. the horse' movement will automatically rock you.

Sep. 22, 2009, 03:43 PM
The problem for you is that you were feeling the leg which first began the walk stride. So rather than your instuctor telling you to feel a hip lift, she should have been telling you to feel the second beat of the walk, which would be the diagonal hind leg from the one you felt to lift. So if you are counting the walk, beat number one is a front leg, beat number two is the diagonal rear leg, beat number three is the other front leg, and beat number four is the final rear leg. In your example, the left fore was beat number one, the right hind would be beat two, the right fore would be beat three, and the left hind would be beat four. Once the walk begins to be collected, the horse will give a slight feeling of crouching...as if to spring forward...just before you begin the walk with one front leg.

The real trick to riding is to be able to understand what you body needs to do in order to select which front leg moves forward first. Remember that you are actually influencing both ends of the diagonal, and not just the hind leg.

Sep. 22, 2009, 04:01 PM
stand behind the horse and startle it :lol:

OK, not helpful, I am back to cleaning now ;)

I'm still laughing about this.

I'm not much good at this either.

Sometimes I feel like my dumb-blood doesn't know where his hind legs are himself :lol: maybe I will read this thread aloud to him.

Arizona DQ
Sep. 22, 2009, 04:20 PM
I have the same problem, I am hoping for an AH-HA :eek: moment one day....:winkgrin:

Sep. 22, 2009, 04:26 PM
While I was enduring my torturing Pilate class, I was still thinking about this problem, and why it took me years to figure it out, and then all the sudden has become so easy, and why was it so awfully easy for my husband to figure it out? It took him literally 2 minutes...

And then it dawned on me, maybe the issue is not "not feeling it". I think the issue is the body awareness of the person. If a person does not have acute body awareness, he/she has no way to know what his/her hips are doing. And maybe that is why it just happened so easily for me once I started to practice Yoga?

Just a thought.

Sep. 22, 2009, 06:13 PM
Gloria, thanks to you, I just finished sitting my hands under my bum, rocking my seatbones down into my hands... in the middle of the office. Thank goodness it's a quiet day. ;)

I think that, like both you and mbm have suggested, I've been trying too hard at looking for a specific sensation, when maybe that's not the sensation I'm actually going to feel when it happens. I think you have a great point about yoga; I did bellydance for years (only stopped when the horse arrived), and I can't say enough for how powerfully it improved my body awareness, and also my ability to isolate parts of my body and do different things with different parts. Actually, I think it's almost TOO effective; I can MAKE myself settle into a basically self-maintaining figure-8 through my hips in ANY configuration with his movement, regardless of whether it's synced up correctly or not. Front to back, back to front, with his left, or with his right; none of them feel especially unnatural because I spent so many years drilling 'unnatural'-feeling movements of that kind until they DID feel natural. So I think that's also handicapping me here; I can start up any of those 8s, and can't tell which is right or wrong.

Angel, interesting thoughts. And I think we're a long way from me being able to influence which leg begins the walk, but it's a fascinating goal, and I'm intrigued. I'd love to develop that level of working communication.

I'm think I'm going to throw all the 'shoulds' and expectations out the window, stop trying to seek out a specific sensation, hop on bareback and cruise around. I'll try the looking/reaching back to see his hips, and get a ground person as soon as I can to tell me when the hind feet are leaving the ground, and just keep doing it until I identify whatever sensation I AM going to feel. This may take a while. ;)

Sep. 22, 2009, 08:56 PM

So funny. I seldom have relevant breakthroughs.

Stop trying so hard. That's my big advice. My horse and I have been on a break for about 7 weeks now. Miles and miles and miles of trail riding. Walk, trot, canter. Straight paths and roads.

On Sunday I rode until I was exhausted. All rising trot. Finally on the way home, horse decided we were going too slow...he started adding that canter shuffle into every few trot strides. I kept him back with my seat and hands...no running home, bad pony. Finally, he got really insistent AND I FELT THE HIND LEGS. Like I could tell WHICH ONE he was on. Best canter transition we ever did. Just the reptition of that attempt to canter from the trot...he did it about three times and I was too tired to try very hard...and I got it.

So I let him run home. Sue me. :lol:

Sep. 23, 2009, 12:58 AM
You may want to try riding downhill. I can feel the hind legs, so it's not a big worry for me, but I noticed on my nice hack this evening that it seemed to help. We were walking down a hill - not super steep, but steep enough that her walk became all swingy (that's the technical term ;)). It exaggerated the motion of her hind legs, and I imagine it would be easier to feel.

Good luck!

Sep. 23, 2009, 01:13 AM
I *finally* can feel the horse's movement, but it's taken the better part of a year for me. And it didn't happen until recently, when I started riding a more horses, and doing work with no stirrups. I can now feel what lead or diagonal the horse is on, I can feel when the back comes up - amazing.