It’s officially the off season for us, which means
mac & cheese on the couch under a blanket dressage and equitation bootcamp. The dressage part should be self-explanatory. If not, uh go back about three posts and that should do it. The equitation part is a little more… interesting? Not necessarily the right word, but I’m too lazy to think about the one I want to use.
Let’s dive on in.
Background for anyone missing this piece: grew up showing western pleasure/breed show stuff. Took 4 years off for college (2010-2014). Rode casually in grad school flatting two hunters, but nothing serious and no lessons. Took a year off for fellowship. Started riding again seriously in July 2017, taking lessons, eventing, the whole nine yards. Came off and broke my back in March 2018. Back on and riding in June 2018.
K, now we’re here, October 2018. All my eq issues are definitely related to each other and Trainer C is really good at uh, fixing me, but I like recording things, thinking through things on paper and bouncing ideas off smart people (that’s you).
I really struggle to keep my leg underneath me – in fact, there’s hardly a photo out there where my leg is far enough forward. I am the opposite of chair seat.
I am told allllll the time – get your leg forward, think of pushing it forward, push from the ball of your foot, etc. I’m about 85% sure it’s mostly a hip thing – I know I have tight hips and the best I’ve come up with is my hips (?) aren’t letting my leg come forward and under me.
The logical consequence to this would be I’d be leaning forward and balancing on the front of my pelvis. While I’m certainly not immune to leaning at jumps, I’m much more likely on the flat to get left behind the motion. I sit on my back pockets like I’m riding saddleseat.
Now let’s toss in the fact that I’m 5’1″, not exactly long in the leg, and not really built like an A circuit equitation star. More like… Dolly Parton. I need all the leg help I can get, but what do I do? Oh, I scrunch myself up as tight as possible. You know, making my leg even shorter. The worst of these habits is that I raise my heel to use my leg. But y tho.
Add insult to literal injury, my lower back is now incredibly tight at the beginning of my rides. Stretching certainly helps, but I can’t help but think it has to be impacting how I ride. My saddle is fit to both of us, so that shouldn’t (isn’t) the main issue here. Posting two up, one down seems to help. Two point.. helps, but not with keeping my leg under me. It’s not like it just slips back when I start going – rather, I have to physically move it forward at a halt/walk to put it in place to begin with. No stirrups helps with leg, but hurts with scrunching, actually making that part worse.
Exercises? Ideas? Thoughts? I’m dead determined to get this sorted out this winter so I’m just gonna crowdsource here.
First of all, def on the right track with the stretching. My biggest regret is not stretching more often and earlier haha. I don’t have any magic fixes, but a few that have helped reset me a little in the past:
Use baling twine to tie your stirrup irons to the girth. This is controversial and probably not OSHA recommended, but it literally forces your leg to the right spot if you want to keep your stirrups. It’ll feel weird but that’s the point. Correct feels weird when you’re used to doing it wrong (ask me how I know).
Stand straight up while trotting. Not half seat. Not two point. Straight up. Sink into your heels. If your legs aren’t directly underneath you, you will tip over (again, ask me how I know). Move between standing straight up, two point, and posting over and over until your leg stays put during all three.
Lower your stirrups by a hole or two. Let your leg stretch down and get comfortable with that before shortening your stirrups again- looking at the pictures in this post, that’s about the length I go when I’m jumping bigger, but I’d lengthen by a couple holes for flatwork and smaller jumps.
Maybe helpful, maybe not, but I’m also in a constant battle to improve my lower leg!
Yoga girl. All the yoga. I had to do A LOT of Happy Baby pose when I got May. (Google it. Picture it. Laugh at it). But a lot of yoga moves are about building a strong core while lengthening and adding flexibility and strength to the limbs.
Also – make sure your stirrup is sitting on the right part of your foot. Some eventers ride XC with the foot more “at home” in the stirrup, but the below is technically correct for eq (according to GM) only ¼ of the rider’s foot should be in the stirrup, right angled to the girth with the outside branch touching the little toe.
So across the ball of the foot. 90 degrees from girth to the pinky toe.
Yup yup, I’m with Emily, get your yoga on! Can you touch your toes? Can you go even further and palm the floor? Downward dog is your friend! I think more intense stretching will help a ton, followed by Olivia’s idea of FORCING your body to feel the correct positioning with bailing twine/yarn on the stirrup & girth.
In addition to the suggestions above, I hiiiiiighly recommend massage therapy with a licensed massage therapist. I broke my back in a horse fall years ago, and then 4 years ago had to have back surgery on a DIFFERENT horse fall back injury. 10 months of massage every 3-4 weeks got me from needing about 20″ of bolster under my legs to being able to lay flat on my back. Lifesaver.
Turn your seat heater on when you drive to the barn. The heat will help loosen things up, along with stretching. And someone mentioned yoga, which is great advice.
As for the leg though, I think you need to think about the whole leg and not just pushing it forward. First, you want to feel like your entire calf is AROUND the horse, not just on it. On it you can achieve with the scrunching. You almost want to think the back of your calf should be on the horse. Also, make sure you’re not pinching with your knees. Maybe almost feel like your knee is moving away from the saddle (not exactly what you want, but that idea might help get the leg down and around). And something I heard an instructor tell a kid once that was a good visual is this: Imagine I’m hanging from the heal of your boot, holding on just to the very back of your heal. My weight is pulling your heel down to the ground.
That feeling should get your leg in the right spot. Maybe start in half seat to really get that leg long while you think about that trainer hanging on you.
Physical Therapy and Massage?
Uhm, are you writing about me? Because THIS IS ME. I’ve always struggled with my lower leg slipping back (and I still do). I believe that part of it is our body build, but a bigger part is strength in 3 key areas: leg, lower back and core.
For stiffness, I’d recommend BioFreeze — it’s an icy hot gel that will help relax your muscles and an anti-inflammatory (like Tylenol) as you continue to recover from your back injury. I’ve never broken my back, but I still have stiffness in my hip from my fall in July 2017 and nothing was even broken or torn or sprained!
I could probably write you a novel on this subject, LOL
FYI your leg is not as bad as you think. We are not hunter equitation riders, we are eventers focused on being secure in the saddle. As far as I’m concerned, form follows function and so we aim to be secure first and improve from there.
That said, I’m also queen of curling my leg up and shortening my muscles, making me less effective with my leg aids and balance. It’s a constant struggle but I just always imagine trying to wrap my legs under the horses belly. One specific exercise is to reverse your stirrups on the flat with your heel on the iron instead of your toe. It helps give the feeling of a longer leg, tho it’s not my favorite. Practicing your two point and galloping position a lot is also helpful bc it allows you to reevaluate your balance points and alignment and start commuting that to muscle memory. Good luck!
I will second the standing straight up in your stirrups at the trot as well as working on that 2-point position. Currently working on that personally too.
A focus on yoga this past year has completely changed my hip angle when I ride. I’m doing a lot of yoga with an emphasis on opening my hips with a goal of doing a front to back split. Never thought about how it would help open my hips riding! Cannot recommend enough.
Hi new here, just hopped over from another blog 🙂 I have two suggestions that helped me a lot with this same issue:
1) A leg going back often means a counterbalance to your upper body going forward – so focus on sitting more upright. Obviously you need to come up a bit over the jump, but don’t jump ahead / let the jump lift you. (I jump pretty tiny jumps so really don’t need to come out of the saddle much at all.) In the 2nd picture with the wave jump your seat is much higher out of the saddle and your legs behind you, compared to the 3rd picture with the barn jump in the background where both your upper body and leg look much better balanced.
2) Something a trainer said to me that helped me mentally: “Show me to bottom of your boots.” If it felt like I was in a super exaggerated position with my legs kind of water skiing in front of me, it probably meant my legs in reality were only sliding back a little!
Your pictures don’t show it, but what you describe sounds a lot like how I feel about my hips/heels! I often feel like no matter how far forward I push down my heels, I’m still not “sitting up”.
I realized (with the help of Kate), that because my hip angle was so closed that even RAMMING down my heels just resulted in my knees coming up and my seat bones being pushed back against the cantle. If I opened up my hip angle I could sit on my seat bones and bring my heels down and forward with a low knee (if that makes sense?). Part of this seemed to result in too-tight hip flexors.
One of the things I had to do to work on and combat this issue was to tighten up the complementary muscle to the hip flexors, my glutes (I think). This helped me sit up with my seat bones in the bottom of the saddle, with my heels down but not behind me, while staying with the motion.
BUT…. this may not be your problem at all. Regardless, good luck with equitation camp!
It could be that the saddle is pushing you back. It shouldn’t be that hard to stay in position. I think that you lookstrong and you stay out of his way.
I hate to say it but it could be your saddle – specifically the location of your stirrup bars. Easiest way to figure that out is to try some other saddles and see if you have the same problem. Or maybe ride without stirrups and see what happens, but that might not be good for your back at this point. If can do rising trot with no stirrups and you leg stays under you, it might be your saddle. Which would suck.