* Part 1: The Seat
|During this freezing week, let’s go back here. Shall we?|
Yesterday I mentioned an equipment change I recently made, switching to swan neck spurs. This was partly due to all the work my trainer and I did while I was in Florida. I started this series with the seat because that’s the basis of every other change I made, even the big ones. But, the biggest and most immediate change made to my riding during my Florida lessons was probably to my leg position.
See, part of my issue with having too light of seat is that I brace in my leg. To be precise, I tend to shove my heels down, pushing my legs out in front of me and off my horse. Here’s an example …
This is an exaggerated position, but isn’t too far from the place my leg can stray during rides.
Now, what you need to understand is that this position feels deep and secure, and that’s probably why I use it. Let’s break it down: My heel down has jammed my upper thigh against my horse, and is cementing me to the saddle. I am not easily unseated in the position, and that is why. My knee is also rotated away from my horse, and my toe is pointing out at about a 60 degree angle. Higher up, we can see that the position of my leg here has closed my hip angle, and popped my seat out of the tack. Instead of my seatbones making contact and my hips and lower back working with the movement, I’m hovering above the saddle. My thighs are pretty much supporting me entirely, and my whole body is pretty rigid trying to maintain my balance. Whoops.
Okay, so where am I supposed to be?
Well, remember that shoulder/hip/heel alignment thing we’ve been hearing about since we first swung a leg into an English saddle? Let’s go back to that.
Note how my my leg is nicely underneath me? Here my hip angle is much more open, and you can tell I’m actually sitting in the saddle and am able to influence my horse with my seat. My whole body also looks much more relaxed, and I can tell you that it feels much more relaxed too! My heel is no longer jammed down, but instead my foot is level with the ground and my foot is nicely resting in my stirrup with a good amount of natural weight.
When I look at this photo, I want to lengthen my stirrups. But I can tell you it’s not possible to lengthen them yet and keep this position. I need the stability of the shorter stirrups while I work on developing the ab strength it’s going to take to support my body with my hips more open. I will say that my pelvis could be tilted more up (think pulling my belt buckle up), but some of that is the illusion of my shirt pulling down in front.
How did I get my legs here? Easy. I bent my knee and picked my heels up.
I know, I know. I can hear you all. “But! Don’t pull up your heels! You should have your heels down for safety and stability!” And you know what, you’re right. Unless you’re me. And you jam your heels down with all the strength you have in you, so when you pick them up, your foot is actually in the right place. It’s an overcorrection that results in a correct placement.
But back to those knees. This is what really floored me.
When my leg is all stuck out in front of me, I have to do something to break the tension in my body. For that my trainer simply asked me to bend my knee and “shake out” my legs. What that means practically is that I bend my knee to loosen my leg and take the intense pressure off my stirrup. This usually pops me back into the saddle and onto my seatbones. Then I gently shake my leg a bit to release the rest of the tension. Just a little leg wiggle. Like a little leg worm.
Now nice and loose, I can put my leg back on. The knees are vital here, too.
To position my legs properly:
1. I bend my knees, thinking about pointing the front of my knee towards the ground. This lengthens my thigh and opens my hip angle.
2. With my knee bent and my leg relaxed, I bring my lower leg back underneath me. Here is where I often think “raise the heel.”
3. With my lower leg back, I feel how nicely my calf sits on the side of my horse. Gently and without pinching. I also feel how open my thigh is.
4. Finally I think about putting my weight more on my little toe. This points my toes in slightly and keeps my heels from pointing in, which closes my hip angle again and shortens my leg. That also ensures that my calf stays on, and not my heel. That way if I need to apply the spur I simply have to put more weight on my inside toe to turn my heel in.
That’s all there is to it. Changing the position is pretty simple, but learning to make it feel normal and to maintain my upper body position at the same time has been the tough part. Luckily, breaking the tension and re-positioning is so easy that I don’t feel lost even when I end up off balance or out of position.
What do you think? Ever worked with your leg position like this? Want to ditch the -11 temps and go to Florida? Anyone else like my brown breeches? I’m serious. They’re my favorites.
*Thanks to Karen from Bakersfield Dressage for the lovely pad and white polos modeled by Pig in these photos! They were awesome Secret Santa gifts!