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Lower leg on? or Off?

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  • Lower leg on? or Off?

    So I have an instructor (3rd level) who I ride with approx once or twice in 3 or 4 months. So basically hardly ever and she insists that the lower leg be against the horse, on and active almost every stride.

    I have another instructor (PSG rider) who rides with and instructs that the lower leg is basically off except when giving an aid. The aid is given and the leg is taken back off. (we are only talking about basic movements here not upper school movements)

    We are all in agreement that the knees be on (in contact) at all times.

    I personally agree with the second trainer that the lower leg should be off unless it's being used. So basically just hanging there lightly brushing the side of the horse.

    I tried to explain how I felt to trainer one and she basically laughs at me telling me that her lower leg (and the LL of upper level riders) is on and active 99% of the time.

    To me this just sounds like nagging. I of of the school of give and aid and it's the horses responsibility to maintain without constant reminders.

    So what do you believe and if I'm correct, is there a way to explain this to trainer one so that she will see where I'm coming from? She is also a friend so I don't want to just stop riding with her just because of this disagreement.

    Who know's maybe I'm wrong.
    Cowgirl Up!

  • #2
    Lower leg mostly off. If you are riding correctly in balance with the horse, the amount that a leg is on or off the horse changes throughout the stride. It is the results of the movement when your leg hangs correctly from your hip socket. It is not a deliberate on/off sort of thing unless the horse needs more correction for straightness or impulsion. Even then, rather than thinking about using your leg, you should be thinking about using the leverage of your stirrup on that side which needs the aid.


    • #3
      Off. For clarity when you do use it.
      “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
      ? Albert Einstein


      • #4
        Hanging quietly on the horse's side but not "in use" unless required. If the leg is totally off the horse, as in no contact at all, aids can be a bit abrupt as the leg sort of surprises the horse when it comes into contact. I think you're right in comparing leg in use all the time, with nagging.
        "A babbler amongst the followers of a pack of hounds is just as great an evil as a babbler in the pack" The Complete Foxhunter 1908


        • #5
          Lower leg draped on the sides, waiting at any moment to jump in and communicate. Then back to minding its own business - which is to help balance the rest of your body.

          Good luck with that discussion.


          • #6
            I have aways thought that lower leg on all the time is yelling at the horse and hardly helps your horse going from a light leg. Yes, my legs rest against my horses sides - cause that's where it is natural and comfortable for us both - but they are only "on" and active when required to reinforce a seat aid or in a transition or similar. I train with a rider at GP and with her trainer when she is down.

            If you rode with your leg on on my mare, she would be still galloping now. She likes to know that you are there and wanting to communicate with her but do it quietly.


            • #7
              Anne Kursinski, in her _Riding and Jumping Clinic_, advises this: "To get an idea of the amount of pressure your calf should exert at any time when you're not closing it for a specific purpose, rest your hand on your thigh. Just the weight of the hand keeps it on the leg: that's the pressure you want--no more" (12; emphasis added).

              So, perhaps rather than talking about the leg being "on" or "off," you could have the conversation about the leg being "active" or not. As Lendon Gray argues in _Lessons with Lendon_, "when you put your leg on, he immediately goes forward. He keeps going, without any nagging or thumping, until he hears otherwise from you" (12). Although she uses the word "on," here, I hear "active." You ask with the leg, and then it may remain resting on the horse (as per Kursinski's description), but it isn't "asking" or "nagging" or "thumping," until--of course--you want to ask the horse to do something else, or if the horse doesn't respond to your original request.

              Don't know if that helps or not---


              • #8
                I agree with MXL -- I think "on" or "off" may not be the best terms to use.

                The PSG trainer is (more) correct... i.e., you don't want to nag your horse. You don't want to be driving your horse every stinking stride. You want your horse to maintain his own rhythm and forward movement without you, so that WHEN you put your leg on or give an aid with it... it is noticeable.

                If your 3rd level trainer believes you should be driving the horse with your leg every stride, I think you need a new trainer.

                But here's another possibility: A good rider's lower leg should neither be gripping, nor should it be swinging in the breeze. There is some appropriately soft level of contact between the leg and the horse. Especially the upper calf, as it provides the stability and base of the rider's seat so that he can independently move his/her seat as needed. I don't know if that explanation helps either... but that is how I think of it.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by otterhound63 View Post
                  Hanging quietly on the horse's side but not "in use" unless required. If the leg is totally off the horse, as in no contact at all, aids can be a bit abrupt as the leg sort of surprises the horse when it comes into contact.
                  This is correct. On the horses side. They used to call it a "breathing leg" since it was softly against the horse's side and would go in and out with the horse's breath. Not restricting, nor pushed away, but rather always in soft, giving contact with the horse's sides.

                  When necessary, then it comes on more strongly. Or, if the horse is not listening, it also can come off and then back on (as if threatening to "box" them with your leg) to get more of a reaction and to get their attention.
                  "And I'm thinking you weren't burdened with an overabundance of schooling." - Capt Reynolds "Firefly"


                  • #10
                    I have to agree with those that suggest the use of the prepositions "on" and "off" are rather confusing here. My trainer/instructor describes it that the leg should be in light contact, draped around the horses body (it helps me to have the mental image of literally opening my hips like a weird kind of door to get my seat bones down and then really letting my legs go down and then wrap around my horse's barrel gently in a supportive fashion- I am big into imagery- it really helps me even if its weird.) at all times as if you could start to go into a leg yield or ask for a bit more bend instantly without your horse being surprised by it. Not sure if that helps or not, but it has really helped me very much recently.
                    My blog:



                    • #11
                      I definitely agree with the second PSG trainer. I would never have my leg actively pushing at every stride. That is a great way to tune the horse out and make them lazy to the leg.


                      • #12
                        Well, I agree with those that say "on" and "off" may not be the best terms.

                        If you want to see legs "off" check out saddle seat. I grew up riding saddle seat, and most rarely use a strong lower leg except to encourage forward and maybe on turns. Most equitation horses are taught to move mostly off of the voice and seat so that the leg can stay perfectly still and off from about the knee down (a trend I have always disliked).

                        I tended to use a bit more leg in saddle seat than the overly stiff eq riders, but it was usually more upper calf contact than full lower leg contact. Still, because you are not asking for more advanced and difficult movements like in dressage, you rarely require the variety of aids and their tiny nuances. Often seat and voice are enough and you keep your lower leg for those moments when you want a lot more forward.

                        For dressage, you generally want your leg against (or "on" haha) the horse's side (draped is a good word) but you don't want to be actively using it every stride - that creates a dead sided horse. It should be there for support though. With the intricate aids dressage requires, having your lower leg completely off makes that aid slower to react and can startle the horse if there's no contact then suddenly contact.

                        Also, lower leg contact can vary a bit between very tall and very short riders (and their horse's size). Tall thin men often have a different style of lower leg contact than short petite women.

                        I think it's similar to the type of contact you want in the bridle. In some disciplines (like western pleasure), the weight of the reins is enough contact. In dressage, you want a steady contact where you can feel the mouth and be right there to show the horse what you want. I think that's how the legs are too - always there but only active when needed.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by otterhound63 View Post
                          Hanging quietly on the horse's side but not "in use" unless required. If the leg is totally off the horse, as in no contact at all, aids can be a bit abrupt as the leg sort of surprises the horse when it comes into contact. I think you're right in comparing leg in use all the time, with nagging.
                          Always there, but not always communicating.

                          I can walk down the street with my arm aound your waist. It's there. I want you to move faster, I push forward, hard or soft depending.
                          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                          • #14
                            My trainer always explained it as "active" or "passive". Those terms alway made the most sense to me. To me the term "off" mean't not touching.
                            Boyle Heights Kid 1998 16.1h OTTB Dark Bay Gelding
                            Tinner's Way x Sculpture by Hail to Reason
                            "Once you go off track, you never go back!"


                            • #15
                              I think the point is not really on or off per se. If, The leg is 'draped' over the horse, so it IS in contact with the skin. That is not 'on' per se. IF the rider's heel is 'feathered' down (from hip to heel with lowered knee/straighter thigh as well as inside leg slightly closer to the girth and outside stretched down/back) then as the horse's belly swings r/l within a gait, the horse feels the leg. When the rider wants to ask something specifically then they can ask more with leg aid (which HAS to be timed with the gait--diagonal aid/lateral aid/or bilateral aids/), in terms of stretched down (bulks the calf more) and slightly touch more with ankle inward. In NO way should a useful leg be backward/upward with the heel be considered 'on' either.
                              I.D.E.A. yoda


                              • #16
                                Certainly, the lower leg should not be so much off the horse's side that the rider is forced to grip with the knee and thigh for stillness of leg.


                                • Original Poster

                                  It seems like were all on the same page so I can only assume there is some misunderstanding between myself and the first trainer. I really didn't get in to it with her 100% because I just thought it was insane to keep legs on and active the entire ride.

                                  I guess I will revisit this with her and try to get clarification.
                                  Cowgirl Up!