11 Feb 3. Improving your lower body position
As we have already discussed in Article 2, your ear, shoulder, hip and heel should all be in a straight line if viewed from the side, but a common fault is to position the leg too far forward, such that you can see your toe if you look down. This means you are bound to be behind your horse’s movement as you will be sitting on the back of the saddle, exerting more pressure on its back than is needed or desirable. And if you then lean further forward to try to achieve a more balanced position – as many riders do – you will exacerbate the problem. In fact, the correct leg position will enable increased stability.
Instead, you should relax your thighs which will allow your heels to become aligned with your hips. This may not come naturally – long, relaxed thigh muscles require both a stretch in the hip flexor muscles and strength in the hamstring muscles. Only if all your joints are relaxed will your lower leg be able to flex up and down in rhythm with the horse’s movements whereas tightening your hip muscles, gripping with the inner thighs, squeezing your knees, locking your ankles or tightening your toes will prevent you from doing so.
You should be sitting in the middle of the saddle, with your legs and stirrups at an equal length, while a line through the middle of your chin, breastbone, belly button and pubic bone should be vertically aligned with the horse’s spine and breastbone. Weight distribution – ensuring you are sitting evenly on both seat bones – can be challenging for many riders (we will discuss in more detail in a future blog). As with the upper body, you may think you are sitting in the perfect position, but what may feel correct is to the rider often not when viewed by an independent observer, so you should check with your instructor. If you need to change the way you sit, you will have to re-educate your body until the correct position, which may initially have felt odd, comes to feel normal to you and you no longer have to think about it.
Your thighs should be flat against the saddle, with your knees and toes pointing straight ahead. Be aware that if your knees or toes are turned out, you are probably gripping with your calves which will not help your horse, whatever its temperament. To ensure you have the correct lower leg position – which starts at the hip joint – it can be helpful to use your hand to pull back your thigh and reposition it flat against the saddle.
Because it is so important to ensure you are sitting correctly, you should check your position at the start of every ride or lesson and check again if you are having trouble in getting the results you want. Your horse cannot move correctly unless you are also sitting in the right position, but you need to be patient with yourself as it takes time to retrain your body – practising on an equine simulator or in an arena with mirrors can help you as you take corrective measures.
Practise this on the Equicise simulator
Use 'Instruction Ride' setting. Press reset. Position the mirrors either side of you and pay particular attention to your leg alignment as discussed above. In each of the paces practise gently holding your legs against the '2' position so that it lights up. You will notice how your hip flexors open up and your leg becomes deeper. It may be difficult to achieve a lower heel position to start with but don't worry too much, as with practice you will find this will develop.
Next time: becoming more balanced in the saddle