The Legs

An effective, deep seat in the saddle will lead to an effective, sensitive leg.

Introduction

We are becoming more and more aware of the benefits of a good posture while sitting, walking, jogging, etc. And we are aware of the harmful effects of a bad posture. Fitness and health experts advise us of walking with our backs straight and shoulders square. Rounding the back and dropping the shoulders causes muscle strain and back problems. A person with a stiff hip joint may walk from his knees- i.e. bending the knees without much movement from the hip joint. Since the human skeleton is all connected through joints and ligaments, a rounded back restrains the hip joints from moving to their full potential. Their full potential, however, is not necessary for a good posture. Gymnasts, ballet dancers, circus acrobats, and many others are able to use their muscles and skeleton to their full potential. As riders, such degrees of suppleness are not required of us to sit correctly and in harmony with the horse.

To reach a fair degree of suppleness in the hip joint, a good posture in the ground would be essential. Walking from the hip joints, rather than from the knees, can help supple the area. Maintaining a good posture on the ground will lead to a naturally good seat on a horse. When standing or walking, keep your back straight and your pelvis in its upright position. Keep in your mind the checkpoints that connect the vertical line of gravity, as it applies both on horseback and on the ground. As mentioned previously in The Classical Seat section, the line of gravity begins on the ground, and is carried on to place you in the correct position on horseback.

On The Horse

After ensuring that you are sitting deeply in the saddle (by lifting the thighs away from the saddle), bend your knee and bring your heel up to hold it in your hand. Hold your leg in this position for a few seconds to stretch your hamstrings, then slowly drop it. This should place your leg in an almost straight position. Now, as subtly as possible, shift your thigh only a very small distance forward, and relax your leg. Repeat the exercise with the other leg. Provided that your pelvis is upright and your back is supporting itself, you should now be seated in the classical and most ideal position. Your legs should be bent slightly at the knee, not stretched uncomfortably straight. Your stirrups can aid in keeping you in this position but being just long enough to rest the ball of your feet higher then your heels. Riding without stirrups will help the legs hang longer, which will result in lowering the stirrups a couple of holes. It may help to watch grand prix dressage riders, as their legs appear to be longer than they actually are, while they are only letting them relax in the most natural position.

"Spreading the buttocks to form as broad a base underneath you as possible is very important as it will allow the leg to hang unconstricted.. ready to embrace the barrel of the horse."

Sylvia Loch, "The Classical Seat".

The Upper Leg

The main function of the upper leg is, working in conjunction with the pelvis, helps keep you in the proper position. Since we have, mentally, already separated the trunk from the pelvis, it is time to connect the pelvis to the upper leg, imagining that they have both become part of the horse. Beware that a sensitive horse will be able to detect the slightest tensing of muscles, therefore, it is not favored to contract or tense up the thigh muscles to provide a secure seat. If the thigh is in the position described above, its mere weight will be enough to maintain the secure and deep seat. It is amazing to know that it is quite possible to hold a piece of paper between the thigh and the saddle without any gripping from the rider if he is seated correctly!

The Lower Leg

The function of the upper leg has been identified. Now the lower leg has to work independently from the upper leg. The lower leg's purpose is the application of the aids. The lower leg should also lie closely against the horse, but contracting the calf muscle to do so must be avoided. In fact, tensing the calf muscle will cause the knee to turn outward, which will, in turn, lead to loss of contact between the thigh and the saddle. The same principle applies to the lower leg, gripping contradicts the classical seat, and therefore the legs must lie closely yet relaxed around the horse. The foot is to 'rest' in the stirrup without any conscious effort. Be careful of pushing down with your heel to keep the stirrup, as this has a tendency to shift the lower leg into the chair seat position (leg forward). The weight of your leg is sufficient to keep the heel lower than the toes, thus, the stirrup can be regarded as a foot rest.

The Leg Aids

The aids provided by the lower leg can be summarized in the words of Sylvia Loch in her book, The Classical Seat:-

"As well as activating, the lower leg also supports, directs, limits, controls, encourages, allows, and makes possible every variation of turn and of forward, lateral, backward, and, in haute ecole, even upward work of the horse in all gaits."

An aid should be viewed as a helping hint, instead of a command. Leg aids should be in the form of a caress. Kicking, nudging, and squeezing for prolonged periods will make a horse less and less responsive, eventually growing numb to your aids. A horse can feel a fly on his belly. Violent aids are not only uncomfortable for the horse, but are tiring for the rider, confusing for the horse, visually disturbing for the onlooker, and limit the variation of aids provided by the lower leg.

The leg, applied just behind the girth, asks for impulsion. In the shoulder-in, the inside leg applied in this manner allows the horse to bend around the leg and maintain impulsion. In the half-pass, it serves the same purpose. When stationary, a slight pressure from the thighs can move the horse into walk. To trot, a gentle caress with the lower leg should be all that is necessary. For a proper transition into canter, the inside leg activates the forward motion.

Applied approximately three inches behind the girth, the leg asks for sideways movement. A single caress, however, merely supports the hindquarters from swinging outwards. For instance, for the half-pass, the inside leg is applied on the girth, and the outside leg behind the girth asks the horse to step laterally. In association with shifting the weight to the inside seat bone, the horse will bend around the inside leg, step away from the outside leg, and move his center of gravity under your new center of gravity (the inside seat bone).

It is said that the pressure applied behind the horse's elbow (just before the girth) frees the elbow and encourages the horse to swing his forelegs forwards actively to extend the pace, provided that impulsion is already achieved. The aid should given with the toe, and the leg must return to its original position once the horse responds.

The Leg aids should always be applied with empathy and understanding. Remember that you should relieve the pressure as soon as the horse responds as this serves as reward for his reaction.

   
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