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Published: 2016-12-31 18:17:03 Categories: Guides Rss feed

phot. Mark Liebenberg

Today we present you with another part of our series of articles about exercises improving the actions of rider's aid - seat, legs and arms. In the previous text we talked about the main problems with seat and arm actions. Today we will focus on the rider's legs.

How to improve leg action?

Working on stable and aware use of rider's aid, e.g. his or her legs is the key to the rider's development. While learning to use the aid in the right moment and in the proper way, you should also teach your horse to properly respond to them. Usually you will encounter many obstacles resulting in misunderstanding.

Today we will focus on problems with rider's aid, to be precise - his or her legs :)

Problem 1: Leg is too far to the back or front.

The rider's leg should be below his or her body, to be more precise - perfectly below the rider's centre of gravity. If the leg goes back, you body weight shifts towards and you will lean on the horse's neck, contributing to your falling off more easily. The rider's position in which his or her leg goes too far to the front can be compared to a situation, where you stumble - your legs stay behind while your body falls forwards. The exact same thing happens on the horse's back. When your leg is too far back, you will fall on your horse's neck.

The calf that is too far back will restrict and shift your horse, so if you use such calf unconsciously, your horse will never speed up his pace, what is more he could, for example start falling outside with his croup. What does it all mean? It means that unconsciously you will act improperly with your calf, sending your horse completely opposite signals. Bent pose makes not only your balance to be upset, but your horse's as well. The animal, having his front more burdened will speed up his gait, trying to find balance. Thus, you will never manage to slow your horse's pace down when you lean forwards.  

If your calf is too far to the front, farther than the girth towards the horse's shoulder blades, then analogically your body stays behind the horse. In such position, your leg has no constant with the horse's side, so it is difficult to use it, because you will constantly fight to regain the lost balance. What is more, a body that is bent back is a signal for the horse to slow down. So, do not expect your horse to speed up if you position your body in such a way.

poprawnie działająca noga jeźdźca Proper position for the rider's leg, a universal length of stirrups, phot. Dóra Klenovszki

Horses are happy when they feel secure, and they feel secure when they understand the rider's behaviour, when they see a certain pattern and routine, a predictable chain of causes and effects. Thus, they positively receive a rider's leg that is in constant contact with their body, in opposition to a rider's leg that appears out of nowhere, suddenly squeezing their side only to disappear again.

Solution: First, check the length of your stirrupsFrom the ground you can, more or less, adjust them in the following way: the length of the whole stirrup leather should be the same length as from your wrist to your armpit. It is an approximate value, and when you are in the saddle you should correct it, depending on what you are planning to do and what is your training's goal.

And what is the proper length of stirrups? A universal length is the one that when you let your leg down freely, the end of the stirrup touches your ankle or is right beneath it. Jumping stirrups are analogically shorter of 2-3 holes, and dressage stirrups are a bit longer than the universal ones.

Which length of stirrups will be right for you? For the exercises we describe, the best length is definitely the universal one. If you have problems with your balance, you are not yet ready to ride with stirrups of different length and you should go back to the basics. People who don't have proper balance yet, cannot use their seat and properly distribute their body weight in the saddle, should not make the training more difficult for themselves using too short or too long stirrups. Maybe some of you will discover that you have been using the length of jumping stirrups ;)

koń i jeździec Proper length of stirrups is the basic of finding proper balance, phot. D.Reichardt

Solution of this problem is a long-term process, which should preferably be corrected on a lunge. Riding without stirrups, especially posting and half-seat without stirrups (yes, it is doable, using mostly thigh muscles) will help you find your balance. A great idea is also to ride in half-seat and post with stirrups while having your eyes closed (of course on a lunge). It's good to do all this without reins, so you could focus solely on your body.

In each exercise, try to "embrace" the horse with your body, namely, everything you have - thighs, knees, calves, buttocks. But do not cling to your horse, be gentle and let all your body parts "press" down.

Many people make a mistake by not using the whole potential of stirrups. Try to lean on them, but not putting your whole body weight in them, just a slight part of it. Your body weight should mostly be put on your thighs, then (less!) on your knees, and even lesser on your calves and the stirrups. Imagine going up on a ladder - that's how you should work in your stirrups. Remember the feeling when your sole leans in its wider part, right behind the toes on a narrow spoke. While leaning on this spoke, you shift your weight so your heel is a bit lower. If you could mount a slide when you were a kid, you most definitely can manage to do this now ;) So try not to stand on your toes in the stirrups, but put the right part of the sole in them and properly distribute your weight ;)

Odpowiednio rozłożony ciężar w półsiadzie Properly distributed body weight in half-seat, phot. SJH Foto

Examples of training for finding balance in the saddle:

1. Riding on a lunge.

Correcting your aid works best on a lunge. Only unreasonable riders guard against going back to riding on a lunge, wanting to always ride on a manage. But it is while riding on a lunge that you can focus on you and you only :) The more you correct on a lunge, the better you will ride on your own!

Exercises in stirrups, but without reins:

1. Start from standing vertically at a walk, keeping this position for as long as possible (1:50 on the video below). We are not talking about half-seat, but about standing completely straight in the stirrups. Remember to look ahead, keep your back straight, hips pushed forwards, body completely straight, but not the legs - your knees need to be bent. You cannot stand straight with straight legs, because you will have nothing to hold your horse. Your thighs have to be glued, knees bent, calves to the sides of your horse. Remember that in this position your calves are crucial, they will decide about your balance. If your feet are not in straight line with your hips, you won't be able to stand :) 

2. Another phase is half-seat at a walk. We won't describe half-seat, we will focus on the legs. While doing half-seat you can initially brace yourself with hands, but with time put less and less pressure on them, try using just one hand, until you can do it without hands :) When you don't need to use them anymore, try spreading them to the sides. It would be easier to keep balance and it won't tempt you to put them on the horse's neck ;)

3. Another step: try to keep half-seat at a walk, holding this position while shifting to a trot and then at a trot. Keeping the position of half-seat while starting will be very difficult, but you will learn a lot about your body and balance during this exercise. It brings spectacular effects, indeed. However, you need to keep in mind that at the beginning it is much better to have a horse that won't suddenly ride at a trot, but a horse that will calmly shift between gaits on a lunge ;)

4. If you can perform the above exercise and shift to trot while keeping half-seat without using your hands to help yourself, you can try posting. Try to exercise the motor of posting at a walk. Remembering about pushing the hips forwards while standing up. It is worth keeping in mind that posting is not about a sudden jump and pushing away from the horse, only to impetuously fall back into the saddle. Try to raise and lower into your saddle by using your calves. How to do this? You can do it on a standing horse. It's enough to raise for posting (straight position with hips pushed forwards) and from this position "up" start very slowly to lower, counting to 5. In reality it looks as if you did half a phase (from stand to landing your buttocks in the saddle) of posting in slow-motion. Such slow lowering into the saddle will help you pay attention to the fact that in posting this falling back into the saddle is the most difficult part. Your horse will help you with standing up, so your work virtually starts during the "process of sitting down" :)

5. To improve your posting trot, start from half-seat at a walk, then hold it while shifting to trot and hold it also while riding at a trot. Then try (without sitting down) to shift to posting at a trot. At first it may be difficult, so you can brace yourself a bit while shifting your position. However, try to limit the use of hands. If the shift doesn't work and you lose your balance, start again. Walk-half-seat-shift in half-seat to trot-half-seat at a trot-shift to posting. And all this without sitting in the saddle ;)

6. Another phase is effortless shifting. Begin from proper start from walk to trot, while sitting in the saddle. Start posting and every other step, without full seat, shift to half-seat. Keep doing it for a couple of laps - one half of a circle is posting, another half is half-seat ;) Remember not to sit in the saddle between changing positions and to try doing this without helping yourself with hands. 

7. Another step is performing the above exercise posting-half-seat-posting with your eyes closed.

8. The last phase of exercises on a lunge is performing various hand exercises while posting, you can also do it in half-seat (like on the video at 2:50). A good check and strengthening of the acquired skills is standing in the stirrups while riding at a trot, namely the same you did at the beginning at a walk. Another cool thing to do is to irregularly stand up to post, e.g. for 2 steps you are in the saddle (like during change of a leg) and for 2 steps you are up. Such combinations can be endless, it depends only on your imagination ;) 

Anticipating questions and remarks: the shifts in half-seat from walk to trot are training exercises, not a standard. Apart from the exercise, it is obvious that you need to perform shifts in full seat and it is an indisputable rule. Not sitting in the saddle during shifting, you have no chance of using your seat.

Don't try to do everything during one ride. Take time, give it a few trainings so it can sink in. The above exercises can be very tiring for people who have not been using their leg muscles enough formerly ;) 

Problem: Horse does not react to the rider's calf.

This problem will be getting worse from training to training - your horse will become lazy and won't respect his rider. The cause of this problem is the rider's lack of skills and the lack of horse's reaction is usually an effect of lack of understanding the signals.

Solution: Don't try putting spurs on, but invest in a long dressage whip. However, keep in mind that your horse might be dead scared of the whip. Using the whip must be only an amplification of the rider's signal, not something the horse is afraid of and runs away from. Try to keep the right for you pace from the beginning of a ride. Preferably your horse shouldn't be moving too slow or too fast. There's a saying that the first walk is a prophecy of the whole ride. So after you sit down in the saddle, give your calf to the horse so he starts and if he does so too drowsily, repeat the calf signal, but this time use the whip right behind your calf. It cannot take too long between the signals, because then your horse won't be able to associate the two things and it would be a whole new situation for him that has nothing to do with the start that was too slow. The animal will think "the rider hit me with his whip, I have no idea what it's about." Prepare yourself for a training and bear in mind that your number 1 task is to use your horse's energy and keeping the proper pace.

If after the repeated command with calf and whip your horse reacts properly by moving faster, praise him with your voice. Such stronger cal has got to be a single signal. Right after it you should go back to the basic aid, so make it gentle again. Your horse will become more responsive to your signals.

If during walk, especially in the corners of a manage your horse slows down, give him a slightly stronger calf, at the same time giving him a chance to present what he has learnt during the training. The horse should speed up. If you cannot see a reaction, immediately use the calf again (don't make it stronger this time), but use the whip with it.

Repeat this at every gait. The horse should respect your calf and properly react to it. If he cannot understand the light signal, you cannot make it stronger and stronger ad infinitum, because eventually you will start kicking your horse, and he will still be blind to it. The dressage whip should play a role of a reminder, a short signal "wake up!" However, try giving your horse a chance and use the whip only if he doesn't react. If you are consistent, your horse will understand.

Do you remember what a horse does when a fly sits on him? He makes his skin vibrate to drive it away, right? So just imagine how delicate and sensitive he must be to feel the tiny legs! Do not be fooled. Your horse most definitely feels you calf signals. The only reason for him not to follow your commands is that he doesn't understand them :)

We hope that our remarks will help you improve the communication with your pet ;)

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