Has decreased riding time tarnished your strength, balance, and body position in the saddle? Well, tack up and let’s ride!
Here, we’ll give you a simple exercise to perform during each practice session. It’ll not only help strengthen your riding muscles and develop/reinforce correct ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment, it’ll also stretch your leg muscles. It works by removing your stirrups as a crutch, encouraging you to elongate your legs and use them for balance, in concert with your seat. Incorporate this exercise into every riding session, and you’ll soon notice an improvement in your and your horse’s performance. (Note: In the beginning, perform this exercise for a few minutes at a walk, gradually working up to several minutes and the trot, then lope.)
You’ll need: An enclosed, level work area with good footing. If you’re a beginning rider and/or don’t have an enclosed area available, ask a helper to hold/longe your horse while you perform these exercises.
Skills your horse must have: A quiet disposition and a reliable response to go-forward leg pressure.
EXERCISE: Toe Point Without Stirrups
Goal: To strengthen your thigh and calf muscles for firm, clear leg cues and so you can support your body weight with them (in concert with your seat), rather than your hands; to stretch your leg muscles, which gives the appearance of a longer leg; and to develop or reinforce correct hip/heel alignment.
Position problems it fixes: A tendency to hold your legs too far in front of your body, as it encourages you to push your legs back and stretch them directly beneath your hips and around your horse’s barrel. This exercise will also help you learn to hold on lightly with the inside of your entire leg, rather than gripping with your knees and the backs of your calves (which makes you turn out your toes), and/or bracing against your stirrups.
- Establish balanced riding position. To do so, sit squarely and centered in your saddle, and tuck your pelvis so you’re rocked back over your jeans’ pockets. (You can perform this exercise with one or two hands on the reins.)
- Drop your stirrups, point your toes forward and down, and stretch your legs as far beneath you as you can. (If you turn your toes outward, you’ll tend to hold on with the backs of your calves. Conversely, if you rotate your toes inward, you’ll probably grip with your knees. Both problems hinder communication with your horse.)
- Elevate your torso, and look up and ahead to reinforce proper upper-body position.
Troubleshooting tip: If you tend to rock forward onto your crotch, thereby pushing your legs behind your hips, sit back on your pockets and stretch your torso upward to prevent getting off-balance.