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Improving Leg Position

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  • Improving Leg Position

    This is kind of odd... my leg is much more secure, steady, on the horse, and in the right place WITHOUT stirrups than with. Once I pick up my stirrups, it's a disaster; my leg swings at the canter and comes off the horse in the rising part of the posting trot, and tries to end up behind me. When I squeeze with my calf, my heel comes up. Has anyone else had this problem, and what did you do to fix it? What could be causing it?

    Here's another thing that's really frustrating, I can presently only ride once a week (hoping to change that soon). Are there any leg strength building exercises that can be done from home? I don't really have access to a horse I can practice on outside of lessons.

    Thank you!


  • #2
    I'll leave more experienced riders to answer the riding questions that you have but I can help you with regards to exercises to strengthen your body.

    If you've got a gym to go to that would be ideal. I've found the best exercises that have helped me in terms or riding are deadlifts and cossack squats. Deadlifts hit your posterior chain which is comprised of your core back muscles, glutes, hamstrings, and calves, all of which get a proper stimulation when riding. There are many variations of deadlifts (single leg, sumo, etc.) so feel free to experiment.

    Cossack squats are excellent for hip mobility and are the best exercise I've found to strengthen the groin (adductor) muscles. You can do these at home with just body weight and get a killer workout.

    Be sure to include some abductor workouts to help stabilize the hip and the knee. Many of these can be done with resistance bands at home, YouTube is your best guide for those as there are many.

    With all this said, these exercises are ways to strengthen your machine, which is your body, but nothing will come close to riding. I'm sure many subsequent posts will mention that you definitely need to do your best to ride more than once a week and that you'll see your biggest gains in strength the more you ride.

    Comment


    • #3
      Riders will often brace off their irons which can be the root of many of the issues you've identified. This can manifest in different ways. Hunter riders are especially egregious for using the stirrup to jam their heels down. Dressage riders with too-long leathers will "toe down" to the irons to keep in contact with it. Even in some of the more basic mechanics of riding, when we think of the instruction "leg back" oftentimes we are inadvertently weighting too much in the stirrup as we bring our leg back. Likewise, stirrups are generally not particularly forgiving of tension in the rider's leg (which may be just in the leg or in other places in the body as well).

      And then - depending on the experience of the rider (I don't know how long you have been riding and don't mean to make assumptions, so please forgive me if it's read that way!) but oftentimes newer riders (or less fit ones who have been out of riding for some time/coming back to it) are more comfortable without stirrups because in some cases, it is easier to fall into a bit of a chair seat. From a comfort perspective, many people will feel "secure" in that posture...but it still isn't any more correct than having tension in your leg/bracing on your irons. I don't know if this is something to assess if it's relevant in your situation, but thought it useful to bring up in the event it is.

      The prescription for this is, unfortunately, "more hours in the saddle". I know you mention you're only riding one day a week so you're limited in what you can do on that front. Is that ride in a lesson? If it is, I would take the time to specifically ask your instructor about this. Eyes on the ground are tremendously valuable and they are likely to be able to diagnose what it is you're doing that is leading to this. It can also be helpful to have a +1 videoing your rides so you can see a more complete picture of what is happening. Rarely does anything happen in isolation on a horse (what is your hand, arm, shoulder, back, hip? doing at the same time as you are having these troubles with your leg?) so having a bigger picture is helpful.

      A number of the things you mention make me think you're possibly pinching with your knee/tight in your leg. It may be that you still have this tendency without stirrups but that without the iron to brace on, there is less "movement" in the leg to identify it by. If this is the case, being really mindful of the tension in your leg and how your contact is kept may assist you in overcoming this..but again, there are a number of reasons why this type of thing can crop up so I really would recommend asking an instructor for their insights.

      Comment


      • #4
        Yes, get video of you riding without stirrups and with, and see how your position changes. From what you have said, I am sure it does, and I also agree with the poster above that it is likely you are getting into a bit of a chair seat without stirrups, because that is the most common thing people do bareback or without stirrups That is the first diagnostic step, anyhow.

        Comment


        • #5
          Do your stirrups actually hang in the right place? That could throw everything off if they are too far forward or back.
          "Do what you can't do"

          Comment


          • #6
            Yes, if you are riding in lessons there is a very good chance the saddle is not a decent fit for you.

            When I did beginner h/j lessons as a returning rider, I rode in the saddle that fit the lesson horse. So what if my knees were over the knee roll or the saddle was so flat and shiny I couldn't do no-stirrups work for a whole winter because I would have bounced right off! At the stage, the students was discouraged from "blaming the tack" and honestly my seat wouldn't have improved *that much* in other saddles.

            After I got my own horse, I discovered the magic of saddles that fit the horse and the rider both.

            I am now at the stage where if the saddle fit is wrong for me or wrong for the horse, my position takes a slight but noticeable hit. If the saddle is right for both me and the horse, I can hold a decent position. Interestingly, when the saddle is asymmetrical side to side, I find that I tip forward. I don't feel the side to side asymmetry but it does unbalance me.

            The final stage of course is to be the pro rider who can hop on any crummy saddle and never lose excellent equitation because you can compensate for any saddle. I am not holding my breath expecting to get there.

            If the stirrup bar placement, or the seat size, or the knee flaps, are configured wrongly for you, that will mess with your position and cause you to brace more on the stirrups for balance. In that case dropping the stirrups and going into a bit of a chairseat and can make you more stable (unless you are riding in the super slippery super flat too small 40 year old pancake saddle ).

            Comment

            • Original Poster

              #7
              Originally posted by Edre View Post
              Riders will often brace off their irons which can be the root of many of the issues you've identified. This can manifest in different ways. Hunter riders are especially egregious for using the stirrup to jam their heels down. Dressage riders with too-long leathers will "toe down" to the irons to keep in contact with it. Even in some of the more basic mechanics of riding, when we think of the instruction "leg back" oftentimes we are inadvertently weighting too much in the stirrup as we bring our leg back. Likewise, stirrups are generally not particularly forgiving of tension in the rider's leg (which may be just in the leg or in other places in the body as well).

              And then - depending on the experience of the rider (I don't know how long you have been riding and don't mean to make assumptions, so please forgive me if it's read that way!) but oftentimes newer riders (or less fit ones who have been out of riding for some time/coming back to it) are more comfortable without stirrups because in some cases, it is easier to fall into a bit of a chair seat. From a comfort perspective, many people will feel "secure" in that posture...but it still isn't any more correct than having tension in your leg/bracing on your irons. I don't know if this is something to assess if it's relevant in your situation, but thought it useful to bring up in the event it is.

              The prescription for this is, unfortunately, "more hours in the saddle". I know you mention you're only riding one day a week so you're limited in what you can do on that front. Is that ride in a lesson? If it is, I would take the time to specifically ask your instructor about this. Eyes on the ground are tremendously valuable and they are likely to be able to diagnose what it is you're doing that is leading to this. It can also be helpful to have a +1 videoing your rides so you can see a more complete picture of what is happening. Rarely does anything happen in isolation on a horse (what is your hand, arm, shoulder, back, hip? doing at the same time as you are having these troubles with your leg?) so having a bigger picture is helpful.

              A number of the things you mention make me think you're possibly pinching with your knee/tight in your leg. It may be that you still have this tendency without stirrups but that without the iron to brace on, there is less "movement" in the leg to identify it by. If this is the case, being really mindful of the tension in your leg and how your contact is kept may assist you in overcoming this..but again, there are a number of reasons why this type of thing can crop up so I really would recommend asking an instructor for their insights.
              I think I am bracing against the stirrups and using them to try to push my heel down too much. My instructor also mentioned something about me riding heavily on the outside of my feet in the stirrups, which makes sense since my ankles can sometimes be sore after a ride.

              I'm back into serious riding after a break of nearly a decade and still definitely at the beginner level. I did have to break a chair seat habit at first from riding gaited horses for awhile (where your leg is encouraged to be forward), but now it seems I'm going to the opposite problem! My trainer said on the lunge line that my leg position is really nice and in the right place (but can slightly slide back with transitions sometimes) without stirrups.

              Yes, my once a week ride is a lesson and I found out about these habits from watching a video of myself riding. It was very helpful because I didn't realize I was doing a lot of these things to the degree that I am (I've been told to bring my leg underneath me, try to keep my leg on, etc.) until I watched myself do it! The visual helps me a lot now. I think I'm definitely going to have someone film my rides more and I'm going to ask for more advice from my trainer on how to correct these issues.

              Comment

              • Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by tbchick84 View Post
                Do your stirrups actually hang in the right place? That could throw everything off if they are too far forward or back.
                It seems like they do. When I am just warming up at the walk in the arena and try to practice my position in the mirrors, I am able to get that shoulder-to-hip-to-ankle position without my leg being too far forward or back.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Originally posted by Scribbler View Post
                  Yes, if you are riding in lessons there is a very good chance the saddle is not a decent fit for you.

                  When I did beginner h/j lessons as a returning rider, I rode in the saddle that fit the lesson horse. So what if my knees were over the knee roll or the saddle was so flat and shiny I couldn't do no-stirrups work for a whole winter because I would have bounced right off! At the stage, the students was discouraged from "blaming the tack" and honestly my seat wouldn't have improved *that much* in other saddles.

                  After I got my own horse, I discovered the magic of saddles that fit the horse and the rider both.

                  I am now at the stage where if the saddle fit is wrong for me or wrong for the horse, my position takes a slight but noticeable hit. If the saddle is right for both me and the horse, I can hold a decent position. Interestingly, when the saddle is asymmetrical side to side, I find that I tip forward. I don't feel the side to side asymmetry but it does unbalance me.

                  The final stage of course is to be the pro rider who can hop on any crummy saddle and never lose excellent equitation because you can compensate for any saddle. I am not holding my breath expecting to get there.

                  If the stirrup bar placement, or the seat size, or the knee flaps, are configured wrongly for you, that will mess with your position and cause you to brace more on the stirrups for balance. In that case dropping the stirrups and going into a bit of a chairseat and can make you more stable (unless you are riding in the super slippery super flat too small 40 year old pancake saddle ).
                  I use my saddle in lessons that the tack store owner helped me find to fit me years ago. The flap and seat are definitely perfect, and the stirrup bar seems to be in the right place as well. When I am warming up at the walk and practicing my position in the mirrors, I can get a really nice shoulder-to-hip-to ankle line.

                  I have another saddle that I had for a horse I used to have, and unfortunately do all of the same things in that one as well.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Equestrian24 View Post

                    I use my saddle in lessons that the tack store owner helped me find to fit me years ago. The flap and seat are definitely perfect, and the stirrup bar seems to be in the right place as well. When I am warming up at the walk and practicing my position in the mirrors, I can get a really nice shoulder-to-hip-to ankle line.

                    I have another saddle that I had for a horse I used to have, and unfortunately do all of the same things in that one as well.
                    If this saddle was bought for another horse, then it is possible it is not a good fit for your lesson horse.

                    If you are using an old saddle have a really good look at the panels. Have they become asymmetrical with use? Wool flocked saddles will pack down with use. I just had to get my own saddle reflocked because of that. My coach thought I had suddenly become totally lopsided, but it was the saddle. I am currently riding in another saddle on another horse, which was already shimmed to fit, and discovered that it also was getting asymmetrical. My coach thought my stirrups were uneven, but I experienced it as being just subtly off balance all around and tipping forward. When we adjusted the shims my balance was much better.

                    if you sit on a chair on a tiled floor where there are clear grid lines from the tiles, it is easy to squint down the panels of the upside down saddle and see if it seems evenly flocked. If it isn't, get that take care of.

                    Even if the saddle is still evenly flocked, are you confident the saddle fits the horse? If the saddle is tipping forward or back, or if the horse himself is uneven side to side, the saddle will unsettle your position.

                    It is easier in these cases to ride with no stirrups because then you just find your own balance point.

                    So really have a good look at the condition of the panels, and then at the balance of the saddle on the horse.

                    IME lesson programs don't usually let students bring their own saddle unless that saddle is miraculously a fit for one particular lesson horse. So I wonder at you being allowed to do this, and I also wonder at you not getting strong feedback on your position from the coach.

                    If the saddle turns out to not be the problem at all, then IME persistent problems with leg and foot position usually end up being problems much further up the body, hip and pelvis problems.

                    But give yourself enough time to develop strength in the saddle again and to develop muscle memory too.

                    Legs tend to slide back when upper bodies tip forward, or if you are riding a dull horse that requires too much leg. Also when people try to drop their heels specifically. I've found it more useful to think about dropping my thigh before each transition, to keep my leg in the right place. And not be afraid to carry a crop so that I am not forced to continually squeeze and squeeze. Lift the sternum, drop the thigh, before each transition.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Scribbler View Post

                      If this saddle was bought for another horse, then it is possible it is not a good fit for your lesson horse.

                      If you are using an old saddle have a really good look at the panels. Have they become asymmetrical with use? Wool flocked saddles will pack down with use. I just had to get my own saddle reflocked because of that. My coach thought I had suddenly become totally lopsided, but it was the saddle. I am currently riding in another saddle on another horse, which was already shimmed to fit, and discovered that it also was getting asymmetrical. My coach thought my stirrups were uneven, but I experienced it as being just subtly off balance all around and tipping forward. When we adjusted the shims my balance was much better.

                      if you sit on a chair on a tiled floor where there are clear grid lines from the tiles, it is easy to squint down the panels of the upside down saddle and see if it seems evenly flocked. If it isn't, get that take care of.

                      Even if the saddle is still evenly flocked, are you confident the saddle fits the horse? If the saddle is tipping forward or back, or if the horse himself is uneven side to side, the saddle will unsettle your position.

                      It is easier in these cases to ride with no stirrups because then you just find your own balance point.

                      So really have a good look at the condition of the panels, and then at the balance of the saddle on the horse.

                      IME lesson programs don't usually let students bring their own saddle unless that saddle is miraculously a fit for one particular lesson horse. So I wonder at you being allowed to do this, and I also wonder at you not getting strong feedback on your position from the coach.

                      If the saddle turns out to not be the problem at all, then IME persistent problems with leg and foot position usually end up being problems much further up the body, hip and pelvis problems.

                      But give yourself enough time to develop strength in the saddle again and to develop muscle memory too.

                      Legs tend to slide back when upper bodies tip forward, or if you are riding a dull horse that requires too much leg. Also when people try to drop their heels specifically. I've found it more useful to think about dropping my thigh before each transition, to keep my leg in the right place. And not be afraid to carry a crop so that I am not forced to continually squeeze and squeeze. Lift the sternum, drop the thigh, before each transition.
                      My saddle is older, but is foam paneled. I just took a look and they still look and feel pretty even to me. My other saddle (the one that is not used as much, but I still have the same problems with) is also older, but was barely used by the previous owner and not used much by me, so it's still pretty even as well.

                      I only know the very basics of saddle fit unfortunately, but it seems to fit him okay from what I can tell, and my trainer has cleared it to be used. Every lesson barn I've ever been to has had me use my saddle (they had their own available too, but I guess they wanted me in the saddle I was used to and had the stirrups adjusted for me? I'm not really sure, but their horses never had their own saddles, it was just a collection of lesson saddles in different sizes and they'd use the correct size for the rider).

                      Hip problems could very well be it, and maybe pelvis as well. I used to have hip dysplasia.

                      I also think my body needs more time to regain that muscle memory and strength, too.

                      I do tend to lean forward too much and subconsciously, ride a lazy horse who requires quite a bit of leg (though I do carry a crop as well), and try to force my heels down. I like the idea of dropping my thigh, thank you!

                      Comment

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