Keeping lower leg stable

CaptainBeaky

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Mar 13, 2016
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Hi! I'm having issues with my lower leg. It's been a constant battle and I just don't seem to be able to fix it. I used to swing it back loads when using my leg (mainly due to riding horses that were dead to the leg when I first started out). Last summer I got a lovely horse on long-term loan, she's very forward and I had a few lessons which highlighted the importance of getting my legs down! So I worked and worked at it, and then in a lesson before Christmas was told that my leg is too far forward! This was making me tip forwards which doesn't help when trying to calm a fizzy horse... So I worked on it again, and then in my last lesson I was told it was too far back. I video myself riding and in trot or canter my leg is either one of the two extremes, I just don't know how to retrain myself to keep it still and where it's meant to be. I've thought about tying my stirrups to the girth but worried about safety implications of this. I have done a little bit of stirrupless work but she's part trotter and very keen so its a struggle :D any advice would be greatly appreciated x

PS: I attached a pic of me riding her, my legs are jammed forward and I'm tipping :/
 

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Kite_Rider

Cantering cabbage!
May 18, 2009
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I was taught that your legs should be in such a position that were the horse suddenly to disappear from under you, you would be standing on you own two feet, looking at your photo you’ve a ‘chair’ seat, your centre of balance is too far back and it looks like you are tipping your upper body forward to compensate.
No idea what to suggest to set you right though, I’m not an instructor but it might be worth dropping your stirrups a hole, saying that if the bars are set too far forward it’s going to be a struggle to keep your leg in the right place anyway.
Hopefully someone with a lot more knowledge than me will chime in soon and help you out.
Lovely mare too by the way :)
 

joosie

lifelong sufferer of restless brain syndrome
Oct 28, 2004
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It would be useful to see other photos, but going from the one you've posted, I'd say that saddle doesn't fit you. You're very long in the thigh and it doesn't look like there's enough saddle there to accommodate it! The lack of space for your leg is pushing your seat backwards, making you sit on the back of the saddle and positioning you in a way that you will never be able to keep your leg beneath you - you will be fighting the saddle the entire time.
 
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Bodshi

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Apr 23, 2009
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From looking at that one photo I would say you have the same problem as me in that your legs are so long that your heel isn’t in contact with your horse’s sides and you feel as though you need to move your legs back in order to touch her barrel with your heels and give an aid. Then you try to correct your position and end up over compensating etc.

My RI tries to drum into me that I can use the inside of my calf/lower leg to give an aid, it doesn’t have to be my heel. Oh and she got me using ball spurs for schooling so that I can turn my heels in and the shaft on the spur is long enough to make contact.

As @joosie says though the key is getting a saddle that fits both you and the horse - good luck with that one! I speak from experience lol.

Love your mare :)
 

JayneW

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Do you have one of those horse riding simulators near you? It would enable you to have the opportunity to focus on your posture without having to worry about controlling the horse at the same time! The instructor can constantly correct you and you’re surrounded by mirrors so you get to see as well as feel the correct posture.
 
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carthorse

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I agree that the saddle isn't helping you, but I don't know if changing it is an option.

What I noticed first is that you look to be collapsed through your middle. Sit up! Try to think of keeping your back and front an equal length, if you look at that photo they are anything but. Lift your rib cage, firm up your tummy muscles & open your shoulders & chest. This should make you a lot more stable. This stability should then allow you to drop your stirrups a hole or two which hopefully will put your leg in a better place on the saddle flap & so let you sit further forward in the saddle (open your hips too, that will help you stay forward).

I know that sounds a lot & most of it isn't what you were asking about, but leg position & security comes from the seat & self-carriage. Sometimes it helps to think of sitting up proud & saying to the world "look at my horse, isn't she amazing?" - you never show anything off by hunching over it & hiding away!
 

sophie33

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I am very, very far from an expert but I have several photos of me looking quite similar to you in that picture. I too have a long thigh and I think that does make it harder to find a saddle that fits. I still have a long way to go (especially in canter) but I think I look better now and definitely have a stiller lower leg. That has mainly come from endless lessons teaching me to do what carthorse said. Sit up, open my shoulders and chest and relax my legs so they can lie against the horse without tension until I use them. I used to bring my leg back whenever I used it (like Bodshi says) but now use my calf.
 

Mary Poppins

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My old riding instructor used to get us to ride in a 2 point XC seat. Therefore raise your bum out of the saddle and go into jumping position. This makes your lower leg go into the correct position to support your body. It is hard work but it does really improve your position.
 
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CaptainBeaky

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Mar 13, 2016
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Thank you everyone! Will definitely try your suggestions - my posture off-horse isn't great either and I want to fix it, so maybe I should start working on that too.
You're right about the saddle, I have thought it myself actually but unfortunately she isn't my horse and money is tight for both me and her owner, so changing it isn't an option right now. If I can get some money saved up over summer I may look into getting a cheap-ish (if there is such a thing!) dressage saddle fitted for her but with my current situation that's looking less than likely...
I'll try dropping my stirrups down again (instructor already got me to put them down last time she came).
I will also add, that photo is from later in the session when we'd been doing poles and cantering and she got quite fizzed up. When she's calmer and less strong I tend to sit up better, but her turning into a steam train tends to make me lose it a bit. I do know I need to get stronger through my core as well.
I'll let you know how I get on and maybe post some more photos once I get some!
Thanks :D
 
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Skib

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I learned to ride without any emphasis on leg position. If you worry about where your legs are, it distracts you from many more important things. And it will tend to stiffen your legs, feet and ankles which need to remain flexible to allow for the barrel of the horse to swing from side to side as it moves. Letting your stirrups down is a good idea, so too is riding with no stirrups or bareback.
There is no absolutely correct leg position. Riding bare back one's legs hang further forward in the groove behind the horse's shoulder. A dressage saddle may hold you in a certain position but it wont necessarily improve your riding and may be uncomfortable.
I was taught in the classical way starting with the seat. If you sit in the saddle and put the weight on your two seat bones, you wont tip forward. And you will have a better feel for the horse.
 
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CaptainBeaky

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Mar 13, 2016
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I learned to ride without any emphasis on leg position. If you worry about where your legs are, it distracts you from many more important things. And it will tend to stiffen your legs, feet and ankles which need to remain flexible to allow for the barrel of the horse to swing from side to side as it moves. Letting your stirrups down is a good idea, so too is riding with no stirrups or bareback.
There is no absolutely correct leg position. Riding bare back one's legs hang further forward in the groove behind the horse's shoulder. A dressage saddle may hold you in a certain position but it wont necessarily improve your riding and may be uncomfortable.
I was taught in the classical way starting with the seat. If you sit in the saddle and put the weight on your two seat bones, you wont tip forward. And you will have a better feel for the horse.
Thank you, I will try not to focus on them so much and work on other things instead. I know I keep sitting too far back in the saddle so I'll start with that :)
 

carthorse

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The thing is it's all linked, what one part of your body does will impact the rest - try it sitting in a chair & see. Sitting with your front so much shorter than your back it's going to be almost impossible to sit further forward in the saddle, and I suspect it will be very hard without dropping your stirrups so that your thigh is in a better place. It is stuff ou can work on off a horse though, just watch how you sit & stand all the time & concentrate on being tall & open.
 
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CaptainBeaky

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Mar 13, 2016
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Hacked out this afternoon - I lengthened my stirrups and started working on trying to sit in the correct place in the saddle and sit up. Pony got very strong and excited though so I know I ended up going to my default position towards the end as I was trying to calm her down! It was my first time taking her out in a bigger group of horses (normally just us and one other) so she got quite fizzed up :D
 

carthorse

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Does your default position include having your hands as low as they are in that photo? If it does then the chances are your contact is quite set & is therefore easy for her to lean into & take a hold. Try - among all the other things you're trying! - to keep your hands up & in front of you with your thumbnail uppermost. That should give you a more flexible contact that will be much harder for her to set against, and will also let you use the rein if you need to as where your hand is now I should think any rein aid is nigh on impossible.

How did you feel with the longer stirrup, did it help you sit more centrally in the saddle? And did sitting up straighter & lengthening your front etc make you feel more secure when she got strong?
 

CaptainBeaky

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Mar 13, 2016
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Does your default position include having your hands as low as they are in that photo? If it does then the chances are your contact is quite set & is therefore easy for her to lean into & take a hold. Try - among all the other things you're trying! - to keep your hands up & in front of you with your thumbnail uppermost. That should give you a more flexible contact that will be much harder for her to set against, and will also let you use the rein if you need to as where your hand is now I should think any rein aid is nigh on impossible.

How did you feel with the longer stirrup, did it help you sit more centrally in the saddle? And did sitting up straighter & lengthening your front etc make you feel more secure when she got strong?
Surprisingly my hands are usually held a lot higher... I do actually have a tendency to lift them too high and then she goes all hollow and is stronger when she gets her head up. My instructor keeps saying to lower my hands so I think I over corrected here again. I'm generally very soft-handed but if she takes off it's hard to settle her without taking more of a contact. When she's settled I work her on a relatively long rein - in the photo I had been doing that but turning down to the poles she got quite keen so I was bracing my hands back against her. All habits I need to work through!
 

carthorse

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Contact isn't bad, in fact it's a good thing if it's a nice one. I find it interesting your hands are normally too high, it makes me wonder if the photo you posted is a true representation of your position since I don't see how they could be if it is without you doing some very weird contortions. Has someone caught you at a bad moment in time?
 

leah123

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i always collapsed forward too which knocked everything wrong. i had a terrible trot, worse canter ,made me unbalanced , feet always left stirrups,tensed up legs lifted .i was told top of head to sky\roof, shoulders back, tight core tummy and relax all at the same time. i spent weeks just walking\trotting head to sky etc . it all came together finally and everything feels so much better. back to basics worked for me . good luck
 

CaptainBeaky

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Mar 13, 2016
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Contact isn't bad, in fact it's a good thing if it's a nice one. I find it interesting your hands are normally too high, it makes me wonder if the photo you posted is a true representation of your position since I don't see how they could be if it is without you doing some very weird contortions. Has someone caught you at a bad moment in time?
Hmm now I am looking through photos I am struggling to find one where my hands aren't low! Thing is, people seem to often be telling me to lower my hands... and I am aware that sometimes I have them really high. They aren't always as low as they are in the photo though, and my position isn't always as bad as in the photo (as said above when she's settled my position is pretty good, it's when she gets strong and excitable that I jam my heels down and tip forwards).
I've attached more photos, (sorry for the poor quality of some!) - you can see my position does vary quite a bit, I just want to make it more consistent (and correct :D )
 

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CaptainBeaky

New Member
Mar 13, 2016
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Should also just add about the contact - she rushes if you take up a contact so I am slowly encouraging her to settle even when I shorten my reins. Not an easy task, we're getting there but the poles being out made it harder!
 

carthorse

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Ok common factors in every photo:
- she looks like she's rushing along on her forehand & is unbalanced
- she's leaning on you & you're braced against her
- your hands are too low
- your core looks weak
- you have no bend in your elbows
- you look like you're keeping your leg off her, combined with a weak core this really leaves you with only the rein to ride her with
- you look down

Not in every photo, but looks to be a problem
- your reins are too long, this will make contact erratic
- your hands turn over so your thumbs aren't uppermost
- you collapse forward, this isn't the same as riding in a light seat to free her back up
- you look tight through your hips.

Now before you think I'm the biggest bitch out I don't think she looks like an easy mare to ride & she's probably encouraging you into at least some of these problems. She needs to slow down & get her balance, instead she's encouraging you into a position where you're over her shoulders & giving her too much rein which lets her go lower & allows her to lean. It's a vicious circle, but she won't break it so you must.

Come back to halt & focus on you, ideally with someone stood at her head. Drop your stirrups as much as you can, don't force your heel down & instead think of keeping them lightly cuddling her sides. Try to feel your knee & thigh coming back, open your hips, soften your lower back & hopefully you'll feel your seat move forward in the saddle to a better place. Keep your rib cage lifted, your shoulders wide (not forced back) with your upper arms hanging by your side & a bend in your elbows. Imagine you're holding cups of tea that you don't want to spill, so thumbs on top of the handle & allow the bend in your elbows & wrists to absorb any movements not resist them. Hands should be above her wither height. Look up. God that sounds a lot! When it feels right shut your eyes for a moment & try to fix it in your memory. With a shorter rein that has an elastic contact from your hand slightly strengthen the cuddle from your legs & ask her to walk on - this is where a person at her head is useful at stopping her rushing. Try to keep the feel of where your body is & the softness through your leg, lower back/hips, & contact. If she starts to bear down on you don't take up the fight, instead soften slightly then retake & strengthen the cuddle until she yields. It's so much, you really could do with a teacher who's prepared to work on this with you both. The thing is once it's right it will all slot together & you'll get a really quick improvement, but it's going to be hard because she needs you to balance her & slow her & teach her not to lean & that's hard if you've never done it because as well as position the timing needs to be spot on. If you can't get help then do as much of your work as you can in walk. Hills are great if you can get her stepping through from behind. In the school do lots of changes of direction so that she has to slow down to think & step under herself to balance - don't be afraid of small circles & tight turns, use them so you can take the speed out of the equation & she looks to you for balance. Likewise do turns towards the school fence if she starts rushing or ignoring the half halts, use it so that you don't get into a tug of war.

Can you get some rides on something that will be easier for you to work on your position on? If you can train your body to the right feel it will be easier to maintain on her.