Do you tighten your hips when you use your leg aids? Do you pull your heels in and up or grip with your knees? Does your horse resist instead of moving forward? Drawing your heels up to use your leg often blocks the response you are looking for from your horse. Here’s a quick tip to learn how to use your leg aids without disturbing your leg position.
Next time you ride notice what you do with your legs when you ask your horse to go forward. Do you alter your leg position to apply your leg? Do you raise your heels or grip with your calves? Do your knees turn out? Do you put more weight on your seat when you lift your heels?
Many riders have a good leg position when they are not using leg aids, but do not know how to maintain that position when asking the horse to go forward. Most riders are not shown how to properly use the leg to ask the horse to go forward. They find any means that seems to work including turning the toe out and raising the heel. Then, as this restricts the rider’s hips and thus the horse, they resort to spurs. Using spurs for forward motion further engrains this poor habit because spurs are centered at the heel of the boot. In this instance both the horse and the rider have not been taught how to go forward correctly. Unfortunately, if this fault is not caught at the beginning of a rider’s career, it becomes ingrained and is a difficult habit to break.
The inside of the calf and ankle are to be used to ask the horse to go forward because this ensures that the rider’s hips are able to follow the horse the moment he responds. If the horse does not understand this or is sluggish then the whip needs to be used immediately after the calf/ankle bone closes. (depending on what part of your leg is touching the horse). If you have dirt on the back seam of your boot you are turning your foot out too much! Check your boots. The inside of the calf should have a worn mark, not the back of the boot. To help you use the inner calf/ankle bone for a leg aid do the following exercise.
Stand with your knees and anklebones together with your feet slightly turned out. This is not a ballet exercise so make sure your feet only a little angled. Bend your knees and keeping them bent. Make a circle with your pelvis over your feet. You do not have to make a very large circle. It is more important that the circle is round and your pelvis remains the same distance from the ground at all points on the circle. Are there places on the circle that are difficult for you? Do you want to straighten your knees as you go around the back of the circle? You can work in front of a friend or a mirror to make sure you aren’t straightening your knees. If you are this indicates there is an area in your hip joints you don’t want to use.
Put your heels together and go up on toes similar to applying a leg aid with your heels. Be careful. Now try to make a circle with your pelvis again. Notice how this makes the circle very difficult and perhaps not even be able to do parts of the circle. Feel how this restricts your hips. This is what is happening with your hips when you use your legs in this way to apply a leg aid. Is it clear now why your horse doesn’t want to go forward?
Use this Murdoch Minute to learn to use your inner calf and anklebone for leg aids. When you can make circles easily in both directions your hips will be more fluid and your horse will be more willing to move forward. And always remember to – enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch resides in Washington, VA. She teaches riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. On-line join Wendy’s Facebook group Fans of the Murdoch Method and find more articles, blog and her new book 50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding, based on the Murdoch Minutes at www.murdochmethod.com