Maintaining a good lower leg position with the heels a little lower than your toes, is important for so many reasons:
- To be able to apply leg aids effectively and correctly
- To help you stay on board and secure if the horse is excitable
- To help build a balanced, symmetrical, independent seat
Lots of riders struggle to keep their heels down, and have a tendency to draw their heels up as they use their legs, gripping and nagging with each stride. So, here are my favourite exercises to help you lengthen your legs and achieve better foot position:
- Start with your seat!
A truly balanced seat which allows the rider to be independent of the rein, is the key building block to fixing all rider position problems. Begin by getting your seat bones in the middle of the saddle from front to back, and from side to side.
2. Get stretching off your horse
In order for your leg to hang in the correct position, you need to develop suppleness and flexibility through your hips and lower back. There are plenty of articles and videos out there on the internet, with key stretches for riders, but here is one of my favourites:
Dressage Rider Training – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQ5aYgf51YqeCf1COj_iQEw
3. Pull your toes up
Instead of getting fixated on pushing your heels down, which can cause you to lock your ankles, knees and hips, imagine there is a piece of string around each big toe which attaches to the knee-caps on each leg. Think about pulling your toes up towards your knee-caps, which gives a very different feel in the lower leg.
4. Stand on a pole
Roll a sturdy wooden jump pole to the middle of your arena. Stand on it with your feet hip width apart, while balancing on the balls of your feet. Then stand up with your ear, shoulder, hip and heel in line, as if you’re sat on your horse. Work on maintaining your balanced, while keeping soft ankle, knee and hip joints. You could progress to folding into jumping position, then back to a flatwork position. These exercises on the pole will really help you to feel your lower leg underneath you.
5. Standing in your stirrups
Practice standing upright with all of your weight down into your heels, while maintaining soft joints. Maintain your balance in this standing position in halt, walk, trot and canter!
6. Work without stirrups
As always, riding without your stirrups will improve your seat, balance and confidence. Focus on keeping your lower leg underneath you, and pulling your toes up.
Give these a try; start steady and build up your strength and fitness slowly. Do let me know how you get on!