The perfect leg position over fences is the holy grail of equitation for anyone who does any sort of jumping, whether you prefer the hunter ring or flying around the cross country course. Not only does a great lower leg position make for beautiful photos, but it also helps to keep you secure and balanced over your fences – who wouldn’t want that?
Improving your lower leg doesn’t have to be a pipe dream though. With some hard work and dedication, you can start working on your lower leg right now. Here’s some of our top tips.
Identify the Problem
Unfortunately, a swinging lower leg can be caused by quite a few different issues. In some instances, it’s because you’re gripping with your knees which act as a hinge and makes your lower leg swing backwards as the horse takes off. Other riders may find that they lose their lower leg position because they’re not sinking enough weight into their heels. Or, it could be because you’re throwing your upper body forward over the fences rather than practicing good body control with your back, arms, and shoulders. Another very common problem is riders simply standing in their stirrups rather than folding from the hip.
Sometimes it’s as simple as your stirrup length. If they’re too long and don’t give you a secure enough base, you’ll always struggle to keep a secure lower leg position. To check this, make sure that when your legs are hanging relaxed and out of the stirrups, the irons are at your ankle level or 1-2 holes above.
While a lot of general exercises and fixes will still help you along, identifying the exact problem area will make it much easier for you to focus on improving your position.
Try These Lower Leg Position Fixes
Now that you’ve started to think about what your position problem could be, here comes the hard work of actually fixing it! A strong and secure lower leg is the foundation for a good position in so many equestrian disciplines, so putting the work in now to improve will pay dividends in the future both over fences and on the flat.
The first thing to do is to spend a lot of time in two-point or light seat. You’ll feel the burn in your calves pretty quickly, but you’ll also find that you start to figure out where the correct balance point is and how to sink your weight into your heels and let your ankles absorb the horse’s movement. When it’s right, you won’t feel as though you’re tipping forwards or backwards and your position will feel much more secure. Often, you’ll get better results practicing two-point in trot than in canter—that’s because it’s harder! In trot, you have to really work to make sure that you’re in good balance and are absorbing the motion of the horse’s back without flopping around or losing your lower leg. Remember when you start this to grab the martingale strap or some mane if you need to, rather than pulling on your horse’s mouth. You can even begin in halt or walk to make sure you find the right point of balance before stepping it up a gear.
Get ‘The Fold’
Getting a grip on the folding motion is important in maintaining a good position as the jumps get bigger. If you lean back too much and keep your hip angle too open, stand up without folding, or throw your upper body at the horse, learning to do a controlled fold of the hips while sliding your hips and bum backwards is key to improving your jumping position.
This can be a difficult concept to grasp, but it is essentially a closing of the hip angle, which is helped along by the movement of the horse’s topline towards your body as he takes off for the fence. You should focus on keeping your chest open and think about sliding the label of your breeches towards the back of the saddle while allowing the horse’s neck and wither to rise up towards you. It can be good to practice this over bounce grids as it allows you to get a feel for the motion without jumping too big or worrying about distances.
Lose Your Stirrups
No-stirrup work is an effective way to improve your position and even though it’s hard work (don’t expect to walk too easily the next day!) you will reap benefits if you’re diligent about working without stirrups. Start by simply dropping them for a few strides before taking them back again, and work up to posting trot without stirrups. You’ll have to position your knee slightly higher in the saddle than usual, but this will help to strengthen your lower leg position and will also help you to feel the motion of closing and opening the hip angle in time with the horse’s back.
When you’re ready, you can do polework and some small jumps and gymnastics without stirrups too. You will again want to pull your knee up slightly higher into the knee roll so that you mimic a jumping position – now you won’t be able to stand in your stirrups and will have no choice but to follow the motion of the horse! This is obviously best done on a reliable horse who won’t take advantage of your slightly precarious situation. We’d also suggest that you have a neck strap of some sort to grab if you do lose your balance or feel your horse about to spook or buck.
By focusing on your lower leg position and actively working on improving your strength and balance, you can better your position over jumps. Not only will you find yourself more secure, but your horse will probably find it easier to jump too. Result! What are your tried and tested tips for improving lower leg position?