Optimize your EQ: Developing a secure lower leg position
Have you had trouble keeping your lower leg in position while you ride? Does it tend to slide
backwards or forwards? Do you have difficulty staying balanced, keeping your heels down or
maintaining your lower leg position over a jump? If this sounds like you, trust me you are not
The lower leg position is one of the main focuses of a rider’s equitation, and for good reason. Keeping your lower legs in the correct position is key to ensure that the rider stays balance in the saddle and is able to deliver aids to the horse efficiently. I am sure since you have all started riding, your trainer has emphasized the “correct” position in the saddle where a straight line can be visualized to run through your shoulder, your hip and your heel. This position allows the rider to keep their leg against the horse’s side, which ensures aids can be delivered and the rider stays secure in the saddle in an event the horse spooks or refuses. Additionally, a secure lower leg enables the upper body to move freely without the rider being put off balance. Despite years in the saddle developing a strong secure lower leg, for many achieving this can be a significant challenge, particularly during more dynamic activities like jumping.
There are many reasons why a rider may have difficulty maintaining a secure leg position, all of which cannot be covered in the blog post. However, some of these reasons can be fixed quite easily! While others may take time and practice to develop. It all depends on what the root cause of the problem is. Some common reasons for difficulty maintaining a secure leg
1. Saddle is too big or too small
2. Stirrups are too long or too short
3. Decreased hip mobility
4. Pelvic position
5. Decreased strength and coordination of hip and core muscles
6. Decreased ankle mobility
7. Hip and pelvis anatomy
Here are some tips to help diagnose why you have having difficulty maintain a secure position and a couple exercises to help develop a strong and secure lower leg.
Ensure that your saddle fits you and your horse. If you are unable to sit in the deepest part of
the saddle the slope of the pommel or cantle can tip your pelvis, causing your lower leg to slide forwards or backwards. Ensure that your saddle is the right fit for you by speaking with your trainer or a reputable saddle fitter.
Ensure that your stirrups are the correct length. Stirrups that are too short tend to cause riders to reach back with their calves while stirrups that are too long make it difficult to sink securely into the heels. This will obviously depend on the activities you are doing with your horse, but as a general rule, with your legs relaxed falling at the sides of your horse, your irons should be just below the bony part of your ankles (medial malleolus). For jumping it may be appropriate to put your stirrups up a hole or two.
Now that your saddle and stirrups are adjusted, ensure that you are sitting in the deepest part of the saddle and your body weight is distributed evenly between both of your seat bones. Now try and tilt your pelvis forward and backward and pay attention to what happens to your pelvis and lower leg. Do you find tilting one way more difficult than the other? Can you maintain your lower leg position throughout the exercise or does your lower leg follow the position of your pelvis? Do you have any pain or discomfort with this exercise? Asking yourself these questions can give you clues about why you are having trouble maintain your leg position.
Next try and extend your hips and stand in your stirrups. Try and use your horse’s mane to rest your hands on so you don’t balance on their mouth. Do you feel secure? How long can you hold this position? Does your leg stay beneath you or does it swing forwards or backwards? And what muscles do you find get fatigued first? Try and hold this position for 30 seconds at a time, gradually reducing your reliance on the mane. This exercise will help improve with core strength, balance and awareness of your body in space.
Start in the same position as step 4 and ask your horse to walk. Adding the challenge of the
horse moving under you will help increase strength and help your body to learn to adjust to the outside influence of the horse’s movement. Start while holding the mane, as your strength and balance improves try and hold your hands out in front of you without balancing on your horse’s mouth.
Finally, apply the same skills to the trot and canter. At the trot you can start by posting up for
two beats and sitting for one. Eventually, you will be able to maintain this position throughout multiple trot steps while maintain a secure balanced position. The same exercise can be applied to the canter, try and sink into your heels and maintain a half-seat while keeping your leg in a secure position.
As you practice these exercises you will find that you are better able to maintain your lower
leg position and ultimately improve your balance and aid delivery as well. However, if you find that you are in pain or discomfort while riding or that you haven’t been able to improve your leg position, please book an appointment for a physiotherapy assessment or functional riding assessment with therapists at Equus Physio. They will be able to dive deeper into the potential reasons for your difficulties and provide you with an individualized rehabilitation plan to ensure that you are getting the best out of you and your horse.
Written by: Erin Swinton, Equus Physio Physiotherapy Intern