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THANKS! How do I get my heels out of my horse's sides?

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  • THANKS! How do I get my heels out of my horse's sides?

    I'm posting some very telling photos in hopes of finding help. I need to relax my thighs, and somehow get my toes to point IN rather than having my spurs planted firmly in poor horse's sides.

    I'm not happy with these pics, but am thrilled that I have them so that I can see the errors of my ways and try to fix them asap. I'm not intending to spike my heels into him, but it happens and I know the consequences are going to be bad. Today I tried to concentrate on keeping my toes in and heels out, but I just couldn't make my legs do it. My left is worse than my right.

    I know that there are many things wrong with my position, but I'm trying to focus on the legs. In this pic you can see that my heel and spur are so bad that I'm actually wrinkling horse's skin, and he doesn't deserve it:

    Here you can see from the front that my toe just points OUT.

    And here you can see from the side how bad my toe points OUT. This was before the spook before we even went in. He looks better here.

    In these pics the last thing I was thinking about was the position of my heels/toes. But today I really concentrated on it, and they weren't much better.

    How do I fix my leg other than just DOING it?

    Last edited by right horse at the right time; Apr. 13, 2013, 08:58 PM.
    LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...

  • #2
    Not a trainer, but immediately I would say your stirrups are far too long for your leg. It causes you to root for them and point your toes. This will only exacerbate any issues you have with turning your toes out. As trainers have said to me and other trainers have written -too many of us start out with the idea that the long leg is the objective. Sure -eventually. But having too long leathers does exactly what's happening in your pictures.

    How's that?
    JMO of course.
    He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).


    • #3
      I fight this, it is partly because I want to use my heel for forward, but I should be using the inside of my upper calf. What helps me is to take the stirrups off my saddle for a couple of days and really focus on keeping my heels down and thighs rolled in. Thinking about the heels/toes doesn't usually do much for me since it has to come from the hip/thigh.


      • #4
        You learn to SIT and ride using your SEAT instead of squeezing the life out of your horse. You learn to relax your leg and balance yourself on your SEAT instead of your hands and feet. Take a multitude of lessons on the lunge line. Forget your legs until you need to adjust your horses body, stop nagging him. Ask for the aid, get the correct response, release. If the correct response is not forthcoming, re-enforce the aid, get the response, release. Your horse will thank you.I don't think you could shorten those stirrups much with that huge knee roll !
        ... _. ._ .._. .._


        • #5
          I agree about your stirrups being too long. I think you could go up two holes. When your leg is shorter it can be more stable and it will be more easy to control. It doesn't look like you are too turned out from the thigh/hip but that you are perhaps pinching with your knee and your calf is flying about any which way.

          Try the stirrups and see how that feels. It might be as simple as that.
          "A horse's face always conveys clearly whether it is loved by its owner or simply used." - Anja Beran


          • #6
            I agree stirrups are to long. You are not strong enough in your core with an independent enough seat enough to have an iron that long IMO. I'd go up a hole or two and do some no stirrup work and learning to relax your leg around your horse instead of gripping but I think with a shorter iron it will get better anyways because you won't be reaching for your irons.
            Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


            • #7
              the best photo for evaluation is the one that shows your canter right and the trot right where I can see you straight on from the side.

              I am not an expert by a long chalk but I feel like your long legs are fighting that saddle.

              It does not look like your femur falls out of the hip socket, which allows you to have your leg under you.

              In the trot picture it looks like you are sitting far to the back of the saddle, you dont appear to have a good space in the seat to sit into. Your fleshy part of the butt appears to be lifted away from the horses back

              Personally I would consult a good fitter who can evaluate how well this saddle fits you

              I think it looks like it is pulling you up off the horses back rather than placing you where you can sit down into your horse and have live, breathing legs around your horse.
              -- * > hoopoe
              Procrastinate NOW
              Introverted Since 1957


              • Original Poster

                Paula, THANKS. I forgot to mention that we have shortened my stirrups since then.

                VA, THANKS as well. I think that because my legs are too long for horse, and I'm used to using heels, I raise heel to spur him both consciously and subconsciously. Today we worked VERY VERY hard on using the inside of my upper calves, but still my toes were firmly turned OUT.

                I don't know if I have the guts yet to take the stirrups off now that I have a newly-energized horse, but maybe I can put my big girl panties on after we've warmed up...

                What can I do about the hip/thigh? Exercises to recommend?

                WOW - in the time it took to post this so many responses! see below.
                LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


                • #9
                  I was thinking this after I posted. Take the spurs off until you fix your leg or you risk ending up with a horse dead to aids. The spurs are more for cuing than "spurring". If you nag nag nag now, what will happen when you want to use spurs later to fine-tune movements?

                  He is total garbage! Quick! Hide him on my trailer (Petstorejunkie).


                  • Original Poster


                    Equibrit - thanks! We are very new to this, and he is far more talented than I, so I know there are many things "wrong," especially my tension in these pics from my first show. Perhaps lunge lessons will help me develop my seat better and allow me to stop relying so much on my legs...

                    PP and Rabicon - thanks! We did go up on stirrups since then. I think that I am pinching with my knee, especially in moments of tension. Old habits die hard - I remember the days when I had to hold dollars between my knees and the saddle in order to "grip" harder!

                    Hoopoe: Thanks! I'm laughing because this is the saddle that was fit to us - and now there is drama surrounding it (the new one just came in which is this exact saddle but with a different leather...and the wrong leather, perhaps...). I'm not sure I understand about the hip - do you think the saddle restricts or my hip isn't loose enough? Does the concern with the trot picture have anything to do that I'm mid-post?
                    LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


                    • Original Poster

                      Paula - I asked about doing this today. We want to try it another day and do it right rather than removing the spur yet and allowing me to get away with it. Trainer knows that my motivation is very high. And I hear the exact thing from trainer all lesson. Trainer won't let me nag. We worked on this very hard today. But today I tried hard to control it and had difficulty.

                      When he had "different" gaits (i.e. not so big), I was doing better. Now that he's "bigger," it's harder, and maybe I'm gripping again.
                      LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


                      • #12
                        In addition to the above ideas - ignore your toes - roll your whole leg in from your hip. Get the inside of your thigh on the saddle, and feel the inside of your knee right beside the kneecap is touching the knee rolls. Your lower leg will then fall in a better position. If you just focus on your toes it will set up a strain on your knees as you'll be using muscle to keep your toes straight.

                        A quickie leg position fix is to grab your ankle and pull it up to your bum (or as high as your flexibility allows) while sitting in the saddle - don't shift your seat in the saddle - then let your lower leg drop gently back down. The trick will be to pick up your stirrups without disturbing your upper leg, but the ankle-to-bum move will help you with getting the feeling of where your thigh needs to contact the saddle. You can stop and repeat the ankle-to-bum whenever you feel your legs are rotating out.

                        A quickie pinching fix is to drop your stirrups and actively point your toes at the ground (active point, not just letting them drop through relaxation). The active pointing engages different muscles, and releases the pinching muscles in your legs. Do this at the walk for a minute any time you feel like you're pinching, losing your stirrups, or just can't release the tension in your legs. Later you can try it at the trot and eventually canter to test your seat and balance and you'll quickly find out how much you are holding yourself in place with your legs. I used to do the toe pointing at the canter, while riding bareback - believe me, I learned to balance with the horse's canter!

                        Quickie fixes aren't permanent - they're really just reset buttons to get you back to position quickly. The more time you can spend in the correct position, the less you'll need to reset. Thinking about and feeling which part of your leg you're using (don't use your heels ) can help maintain position too.

                        Hope this helps!


                        • #13
                          I was watching a lesson a week or two ago and heard the instructor say something that really struck me as useful in it's imagery. She told her adult student to stretch her legs down and allow them to exhale.

                          I sat there and actually inhaled, thinking about what that deep inhalation felt like in my legs (especially in my inner thighs). I could feel them kind of suck in a little.

                          Then I exhaled deeply, and thought about what I was feeling in my legs as I did it. I could feel them push out slightly.

                          I kept playing around with that the rest of that day and when I was on my horse the next day I tried it in the saddle. I swear that when I exhale with purpose and think about what I am feeling in my legs, I can feel them lift away from my horse. Allow your legs to exhale. Try it, see if it helps release the grip a little.

                          I think going up a hole will help stabilize your foot position in the iron. I know going up a hole helped me. I was also helped by exaggerating my foot position. Since I can't feel the outer edges of my feet due to a spinal cord impingement, I tend to roll my feet more onto the arches. I exaggerated rolling them to the outside edge, which gave me a level, even contact. Much better! And I exaggerated pointing my toes, too. By trying to point them into his arm pit, I was actually keeping them reliably straight. Keeping my feet reliably straight helped keep me from pinching with my leg and not pinching helped keep my leg longer, and the longer leg kept my seat bones engaged.

                          Isn't it awesome to be involved in a sport where the difference of a 1/4 inch placement is night and day?
                          P.S. I LOVE your horse and have followed your posts with interest!


                          • #14
                            I would take the spurs off until the issue is resolved. I ride a lazy school horse without spurs and we do fine with just my legs and a crop. I also have a tendency to grip with my knees and it turns my toes slightly out unless I correct it. My trainer will tell me to relax my thigh and lay the inside of my knee flat against the kneel roll as RedHorses suggested.


                            • Original Poster

                              Redhorses, thanks! We tried that first exercise today, and I got a muscle cramp in my gluteus (medius mostly). My IT band is super tight as well...I think that I need to do some serious stretches so that I AM able to do that and see where my lower leg falls. Or drink some wine and loosen up that way! The second exercise - I think we do this. I bring both of my legs up (at halt) with my knees in front of me (is this what you mean? or do you mean bring the ankle up behind?), and this also drops my legs in the right place. It sort of scoots my butt under me, then drop my legs so they hang freely.

                              I will try the next exercise you explained next time I'm on...I think this will really help. Trainer does something similar where I have to "bicycle" my legs up in front of me (raising my knees in opposite strides), which uses different muscles and then I unknowingly relax the ones I need to relax (plus my legs are exhausted!), so my legs hang down nicely then.

                              I'm not sure that I'm brave enough to do your exercise at the trot...and a few months ago I wouldn't have hesitated. Now he's "springier!" I can just imagine how tightly I'm holding him with my legs now - I had trouble just rising today! Maybe as I get better with my seat and more trusting of myself, I will relax. I feel a little bit like a pair of scissors on a carrot...if you relax the scissors all the way, the point of the V of the blades is right on the carrot (= my butt on the saddle), whereas if I close the blades, it comes off the carrot (= me squeezing my legs and not allowing myself to open into my seat). Yes, I tried to cut a carrot with scissors today. Thanks for all of your descriptions and suggestions!

                              Idaho, thanks! I'm not sure if you saw one of my responses above, but we did go up a hole in stirrup length, so we'll see how that works. You're an inspiration - I don't have any impingement, but still can't manage to do it! I remember a lesson I had maybe two months ago where I put more weight on the outside of my feet, with the result of feeling my horse moving more freely. I don't know what I did to ruin that. I will get better.

                              I LOVE the inhale, exhale. I closed my eyes and imagined it and could feel the difference. Do you do any yoga? It felt a bit like certain yoga poses, drawing in and up, almost sucking down into the saddle with the leg exhale. I'll try that on the horse on Saturday. Yes, 1/4 inch can make or break my day . And a few inches looks REALLY bad with photographic proof .

                              Thank you soooo much for the sweet words about my horse. If you've read my posts, you know how much he means to me regardless of whether he turns out to have any talent for dressage. He is such a dear, at such a good time, and he is so incredibly forgiving of my mistakes. I hope we have many happy years together!

                              Twelvebelles, thanks! I appreciate your sharing that I'm not the only one with this problem!
                              LarkspurCO: no horse's training is complete until it can calmly yet expressively perform GP in stadium filled w/chainsaw juggling zombies riding unicycles while flying monkeys w/bottle rockets...


                              • #16
                                I see a lot of riders with their toes pointing out and their legs too far back. They are often spurring their horse every single stride, and wonder why the horse is either dead to their leg, or flings its head up from time to time (in protest to being jabbed).

                                It's a really hard habit to break (ask me how I know), and, as others have pointed out, can be exacerbated by saddle fit, and/or too long stirrups, or by not being "open" from the hip down.

                                An old truly classical trainer taught us an effective method to open our hips and get our leg rotated in from the hip down. At the halt, drop your stirrups. Pull your knees up as high as you can get them in front of you. Try to make them touch over the horse's neck or withers (not too easy, unless you are very supple!). Try not to lean back while you do this. Then rotate your femurs in and out IN THE HIP SOCKETS to help loosen your femurs. Once you have them loosened up, keep them rotated IN (so your toes are pointed in and your heels are pointed out) and drop them back into position. KEEP them rotated that way while you pick up your stirrups.

                                If you can't easily find your stirrups, your stirrup bar is not placed correctly (a big problem with many saddles, esp. if they were designed by men, FOR men - and you are a lady). At any rate, try to keep that feeling of your leg being rotated in all the way down from the hip socket. This will put you on the flat of your thigh and the inside of your calf. Work EVERY STRIDE on keeping your leg that way, and on keeping your toes pointing IN and heels OFF. (He would have us try to touch the horse's elbow with our toes as we rode - not really, but it was a good mental image to remind us to keep our heels out of our horse's sides.) Think every stride about where your legs and feet are. Forget about doing movements or training your horse for a while. If you find you are falling back into your old habit (muscle memory is hard to change), STOP and repeat the above exercise. It helps to have someone who can either lunge you or watch you from the ground and nag you about it incessantly. If you keep it up for MONTHS, it will totally change the way you sit your horse and you will have to learn to ride all over again. And your horse will thank you for getting your heels out of his sides.


                                • #17
                                  Lesson on the longe. As someone else said, you have to think of the leg starting at the hip flexors and work on stretching the groin as well as opening the hip. Unmounted, lay on your back and touch the bottom of you feet together. Stretch.

                                  A good visual is to realize that the energy you have runs out of your toes. You want that energy going forward just like your horse's energy.
                                  Groom to trainer: "Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!"


                                  • #18
                                    How is your leg/heels if you ride with paddock boots? I've found that really stiff boots sometimes make people exaggerate their aids, just curious if you have the same problem with you ride with paddock boots. From your pictures, I'm not sure you could go up any more with your stirrups, your leg is firmly against your thigh block as it is. Do some riding without stirrups for a while. Watch some video's of the SRS and see how their leg position is, especially when giving the aids. I say this because they are taller individuals on smaller horses, which might help you visualize what you can do to improve your leg position.
                                    "My treasures do not chink or gleam, they glitter in the sun and neigh at night."


                                    • #19
                                      It is a tough habit and it's one I have been guilty of many times.

                                      Part of the problem is leg length -- I was much worse with my older horse because my legs are so long that to even reach his sides with the spur, I would have to raise my heel. Riding with a slightly shorter stirrup and a longer spur so I didn't have to move my foot to reach did help a LOT. Riding a horse who fits my leg better helps even more, LOL!

                                      I agree that it is also a strength cheat and I am TOTALLY guilty of this as well. When my core is not strong enough to ride off my seat and more of the upper part of my leg, the spur becomes a cheat that I rely on too often. Back to the ball situps, ugh.
                                      Life doesn't have perfect footing.

                                      Bloggily entertain yourself with our adventures (and disasters):
                                      We Are Flying Solo


                                      • #20
                                        A radical alternative to all the great advice already given. Go and do something such as yoga or tai chi. You learn to balance and control your body without the problem of sitting on someone. A highly reactive someone.

                                        By learning to have my hips balanced/positioned in relation to my knees and feet, being able to feel the degree of movement possible within my body without my feet having to move, I have discovered that I don't need to tense up to hold a position and I can use my mind to deliberately relax, deeper into the saddle. No one tells me to change the position of my feet any more. Success!
                                        "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths