Beginner question - heels down, calf on, weight in heels
Hi all, I have a "beginner rider" question, one that I am sure is very common for newbie riders. What is "weight in your heels" supposed to feel like? I don't have alot of trouble keeping my calf on the horse and keeping my heels down at the posting trot, but when I rise into 2 point at the trot, I find it very difficult to wrap my legs around the horse, keep my calves on, and keep my heels down all at the same time. To me it feels almost like I need to be bowlegged, but trying to get that position in my lower leg makes my heel pop up. Should I be flexing my ankles outward to compensate for the calf being on the horse? And how can my heel stay down in such a very "unnatural" position? No one has really been able to explain to me how "weight in heels" should feel.
I always have my riding newbies put the balls of their feet on the edge of a step. The edge of the step acts as a "stirrup" and the longer you stand there, the more you can feel your weight drop into your heel/stretch out that calf.
In regards to your leg position, the more you try to contort your body the more your body will contort.
Clear as mud?
When sitting in the saddle, picture yourself as a stick of butter on a warm summer day. Let your leg hang from your hip and melt down the side of the horse.
I'd also venture a guess that while in the two-point, you aren't correctly balanced over the horse. Quite often, people lean too far up the horse's neck, their lower leg swings to the rear, and it becomes difficult to maintain balance and proper leg position. I've found it helpful to have people practice their two point while standing on the ground. In order to stay upright, your tush has to be back or else you'll fall over.
That makes sense, about contorting and not getting the position I want. But when I try to relax and just let it happen, my instructor starts telling me to SQUEEZE with my calf to get a more forward trot, and then I start falling apart trying to relax and squeeze at the same time.
When you are in two point, grab some mane to start and help stabilize you without accidentally grabbing your horse's mouth. This may help lessen the panic "OMG I'm losing it!" and things start to fall apart. Or ask your instructor if you can use and old stirrup leather around the horse's neck for stabilization.
As for squeezing while up in two point, think of yourself as wrapping your legs (however long or short they may be!) around your horse's barrel and squeezing a tube of toothpaste. Try not to think of it as just using your calf to squeeze, but your entire leg encompassing the horse and squeezing forward. Does that make any sense to you?
Yes, that makes perfect sense to me. It's just a matter of my body doing what my mind is telling it to do! When I squeeze, whether with my calf or my entire leg, those darn heels start creeping up. It's like the thought of wrapping my leg around the horse's barrel makes my feet (and toes) want to wrap too!
Ok, rotating from the hip sockets is something i can visualize - makes perfect sense. I must be trying to wrap my legs around by rotating my hips outward (and therefore my knees) so that i'm wrapping around the barrel in almost a "circular" fashion from hip to ankle, causing my feet to curl under too. I'm sooooo trying to avoid the dreaded "pinching with the knee" issue though. How do i rotate from the hips without clamping down with the knee?
Try to keep the feeling of a loose ankle. When the ankle locks, the heels stay down, but the weight can not drop down. Also, stiffening your ankle in a heels down position, can throw your lower leg forward. Once that happens, when you go to two point you will be fighting to keep from falling back into the saddle
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
How do i rotate from the hips without clamping down with the knee?
You rotate the hips and imagine the leg just hanging from them.
You keep a feel of your weight going past your knee, down the back of your leg, into your heel. You feel your heel bob slightly up and down with the motion of the horse, like a buouy in the ocean, as the horse moves underneath you. You can also imagine thumbtacks in the knee roll.
The key part is imagining your weight falling down the back of your lower leg, pulling your heel below the stirrup bar. That is a way better anchor than a pinched knee can ever be.
Honestly, I hate it when instructors just say "Heels down." To me it is so much more important to put the rider's weight in the back of their lower leg. Suddenly they think about life with this image instead of just "heels down" and BOOM, stable lower leg.
That's a good point, this is so helpful! So i should be feeling a stretch down the back of leg/hamstring and down my calf muscles at the back of my calf. I felt this when i first started riding but then self-corrected (and maybe not appropriately so!) because i was concerned that meant i was putting too much pressure on the stirrup. So really it's like the pressure is dropping the back of my leg/heel down below the the back of the stirrup then (and definitely not on the ball of the foot)?
To get the security of the leg wrapping around your horse, you don't want your heels to go 'straight' down. That actually takes your leg off your horse. You want your toe pointed slightly out, but no more than a 45 degree angle from your horses side, which will put your calf against your horse.
Then, think about 'cocking your ankle' towards the side of your horse and putting your weight towards the big toe side of your foot. This will wrap your calf around the side of your horse. NOW, push your heel down.
This will lock you right in.
Now all you have to think about is don't pinch with your knee, pull your leg back from your hip, keep everything loose, etc., etc., etc. LOL.
For some people the image of lifting the toe makes more sense than heals down. Also you don't want the side of your calf on the horse... you want the inside back quarter of your calf on the horse. And it sounds like when your trainer tells you to squeeze with your leg, you are trying to press your heels against your horse and lifting your lower leg. That actually takes your leg off your horse. Think about squeezing the part of your leg below your calf muscle and above your ankle bone against your horse.
try this: on the horse, at the halt - can you stand up ? I mean really stand, so your legs are almost straight. this will give you the feed back of whether your shoulder, hips, knee and lower leg are aligned. use a mirror if you have one. in this position, you should be able to get your heel down and keep your lower leg on the horse. it might also help you to have a lunge lesson so that you dont have to be the one to provide the "go". and to help you learn to get into 2 point and stay there w/o your balance affecting the horse thru your hands.
I found Sally Swift's "Centered Riding" and George Morris's book to be very helpful on position.
Just another thought - a saddle that doesn't fit your or the horse will make it really hard to ride correctly, and you might notice it in 2-point first because you can't find a balance point at all. If you think you're doing what you should be doing but still really struggling, ask someone to evaluate the saddle you are riding in for fit of you or the horse.
Some of the lesson horses and saddles my kids rode in were horrible - one swayback pony needed a big lollypop pad or they had to climb out of the dip in her back. 2-point nearly impossible. Another high withered TB that had a sensitive back and would use a special wither-relief pad, which had the effect of sitting the saddle quite up hill.
One other "fit" issue is that sometimes you need to change your stirrup length depending on the horse you ride. If a wider horse, you might want to lengthen your stirrups a hole. My paint is wide in the barrel and too-short stirrups on her makes me feel very unstable.
I think you have made a very good point, I worked really hard to maintain position and could not, just could not hold a two point, very agravating as at one time I rode in two point in a western saddle for miles at a time.
Then I changed saddles and suddenly and I mean from one day to the next two point was easy and riding was fun once again!
i second the recommendation of Sally Swift's Centered Riding book, cover to cover! I've started reading the second book and it's really helpful too. I try to read through them slowly and taking as much time for those feelings/mental visualizations to evolve, sink in. They're truly fantastic- more about the general feeling than the specific details, if that makes sense.
I'll think about them before I ride, too- taking a few moments to go through a few of them- reminders (growing like a tree, stacking building blocks, soft eyes, centering, etc) to remind myself and get in the mindset.
Also you don't want the side of your calf on the horse... you want the inside back quarter of your calf on the horse. ... Think about squeezing the part of your leg below your calf muscle and above your ankle bone against your horse.
I can't wait for my next lesson to try these out, because I've been a little confused about what to squeeze with, and I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've heard anything about 'rotating from your hip sockets.' It all makes perfect sense. Especially since I've recently started gripping with my knees and didn't know how to fix it.
I hope the OP has learned as much as I have from this thread.