Use this Murdoch Minute to open your hip for a correct outside leg position. When the thigh is in neutral your heel will go back and down toward your horse’s hind foot.
Do you have trouble getting your outside leg back? Does it drift forward instead? Does your leg feel “weak” or “ineffective”? In most cases the problem isn’t strength, but function. If you use your leg incorrectly it will feel weak no matter how much muscle strength you have. Aligning the thigh and opening the hip is the key to a strong outside leg.
Next time you ride notice what happens with your outside leg. Does it drift forward toward your horse’s shoulder? Is your heel turned inward? Is the stirrup pushed forward and heel braced down? Check a photo of your riding if you are not sure. Turning your heel toward the horse externally rotates your thigh and hip. Pushing against your stirrup will swing your leg forward. Combined external rotation and jamming your heel down will make it impossible for you to bring your leg back!
Your hip joint can move in many directions. Depending on the movement in the hip the leg will move in a specific direction. Externally rotating your thigh causes your lower leg to swing forward. Internally rotating the thigh too much will cause you to grip. Riding with your thigh in a neutral position, between internal and external rotation will allow your lower leg to go back when you lengthen your leg back and down from the hip. To have your outside leg that goes back (as it should when riding) make sure not to turn your knee out!
Test this by on sitting on an office chair with a pedal base (so you have room to move your leg) and lift one foot off the ground. Turn your knee out and notice you could easily kick a soccer ball forward with your leg in this position. Extend your foot by pressing into your heel and your leg moves forward, in front and away from you. Now try to move your leg back from your hip. You won’t be able to go very far! You might get your thigh perpendicular to your body but not behind unless you turn your body to move your leg. Your thigh cannot go behind your in this position.
Turn your knee inward, as if to cross the thigh over the other leg, you have inwardly rotates the hip. Press your foot back while maintaining inward rotation. The foot will move behind and away from you. You can’t internally rotate this much on a horse because he is between your legs!
Bring your thigh to neutral, between internal and external rotation. Your knee will point straight ahead. Bend the knee so your lower leg clears the floor and press your foot back. You leg moves behind you as your hip opens. Your thigh will become more vertical depending on the height of the chair and your lower leg moves back. This is the position of the thigh required for a strong outside leg position.
On your horse drop one stirrup and let your leg hang. Turn your heel in, thigh out observing that the back of your leg is on the saddle. If you press into your heel your leg moves forward.
Rotate your hip until the flat of your thigh is on the saddle. Bend your knee to a right angle and press your foot back as if against a wall behind you. Feel how your hip opens, thigh lengthens toward the ground and leg moves back toward your horse’s tail. Straighten your knee a little and press back and down again. Return your foot to the stirrup. Repeat the exercise making sure your heel moves back and not forward. Press from your hip. Your leg should go back and down even when in the stirrup. If your foot moves forward you have either turned your heel in again or put too much pressure on the stirrup. Repeat on the other side.
Use this Murdoch Minute to open your hip for a correct outside leg position. When the thigh is in neutral your heel will go back and down toward your horse’s hind foot. And always remember to enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch is an internationally recognized equestrian instructor and clinician of over 30 years. She is the author of 50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding, 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes, the Ride Like A Natural® DVD Series and the SURE FOOT™ Equine Stability Program. One of the most skillful teachers ever encountered in any equestrian discipline, Wendy’s desire to understand the function of both horse and human, curiosity and love of teaching capitalized on the most current learning theories in order to show riders how to exceed their own expectations.