Developing strong legs is important for communicating with your horse while riding, as well as maintaining balance in cases of emergency, according to Anna Jane White-Mullin, author of "Judging Hunters and Hunter Seat Equitation." Proper leg position begins with the ball of the foot placed in the middle of the stirrup with the toe pointed slightly out. Your leg should gently wrap around the horse’s barrel while maintaining consistent contact through the knee bone and calf. Premier equestrian, George Morris, describes the ideal leg position as, “the brace to the body that acts just behind the girth where it can exert the most influence on the horse.” If you have a weak leg position, you will also be unable to keep good upper body posture. Each day, you should do exercises to strengthen the legs to improve leg position.
Standing Up in the Stirrups
To start, stand straight up in the stirrups and try to maintain your balance without having to sit back in the saddle while your horse is standing still. Begin by pushing your body weight down through your heels and elevate your pelvis so it remains slightly behind the pommel. At first, you can use one hand on the saddle to help maintain your balance. After you have mastered balancing at the halt, ask your horse to walk forward and try to stay standing up in your stirrups. As your leg strength and stamina get better, you can increase the difficulty of this exercise by standing up while your horse trots or canters.
Hold the Two-Point Position
The two-point position is the primary position used when jumping or galloping a horse. In this position, there are two points of contact against the horse, the left and right leg. A solid two-point position begins by stretching down through your calves into your heels while your legs wrap around the horse. Next, your seat and pelvis should rise above the saddle by a few inches while you remain centered in the saddle. Finally, bend your upper body slightly forward at the hip, with your hands resting on the horse’s neck. Holding the two-point at the walk is a simple first exercise and, if you need help balancing yourself, hold onto the horse's mane, which won't hurt the horse. More advanced riders can try holding this position for longer periods and do all three gaits.
Posting in Different Rhythms
Rather than posting with the rhythm of the horse in the typical up-down manner, this exercise combines parts of the standing exercise with the ability to vary body and leg position at the trot. There are endless combinations you can practice, but the most basic is a simple 2-1-2 pattern where you maintain the “up” position of the posting trot for an extra beat. The “up-up-down-up-up” pattern can be repeated until you can comfortably complete multiple sets without losing lower leg or upper body position. Next, you can elongate the pattern to a 3-1-3 pattern, or even reverse the repetitions, so that you are sitting longer than you are maintaining the up position.
Riding Without Stirrups
If you have never ridden without stirrups, it might be best to first practice using a longe line or a side-walker. To begin, remove both stirrup leathers from the saddle so that they do not bang or rub the horse’s sides while practicing. Without the stirrups, try to hold your legs in a solid position with the heels down, toes turned out and knees slightly elevated. Once comfortable doing the walk, you can progress to a sitting trot, followed by a posting trot. After a few weeks, your legs will begin to strengthen and you can progress to more difficult exercises such as riding the canter, holding a two-point at all three gaits or even jumping. With enough practice, your legs will become strong enough to ride just as well without stirrups as you do with stirrups. Once you can ride without stirrups, you can even try to ride without a saddle!
- Judging Hunters and Hunter Seat Equitation; Anna Jane White-Mullin
- George H. Morris Teaches Beginners to Ride; George H. Morris
- Hunt Seat Equitation; George H. Morris
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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