The Control Of The Lower Leg Using Quads And Hamstrings

 Training The Lower Leg Before Any Other Body Part Is The Key To Good Riding!

  I believe the lower leg is the most important body part to train for stability, control and strength in horse riders. I see and hear from many other instructors the training of the seat is the first priority. Well, I am confident to challenge this concept and train my pupils with a different process.

DSC 0088 In this photo,  the riders' lower leg is too far forward and not solid against the horses’ side. The hamstring muscle is not engaged, and she is pushing her heel down using her quads and gastroc muscle. This is a common problem riders have. Their lower leg either swings forward or away from the horse's side. This is most obvious at the trot. Both the rising trot and the sitting trot create a movement that the rider cannot control.  Control of the lower leg can be gained if the rider is taught how to use the lower leg properly. The hamstrings are the key muscle to control the lower leg movement and stability.

I know this because I am a Physiotherapist and I teach Rider Biomechanics.  The lower leg can sit solidly against the horse without putting pressure on the horse. This is another skill to learn for horse riding. Once a rider can keep the leg still the seat is the next target to train. The deep independent seat is the aim and end result of our rider training but the end result needs to follow certain steps before it can be achieved. Horse riding is so different to other sports because we are trying to balance, control and direct a live animal with its own personality.

  Horse riding exercise programs need to acknowledge this. A hockey stick or a basketball will go where you direct it. A horse does not always comply. In addition, they decide to spook at imaginary things, spontaneously.

Good balance makes for a safe confident rider and a strong stable lower leg will provide a rider with good balance and strength to support their seat body and hands. Once the seat becomes dislodged a rider will always grab the reins. The seat is less likely to become dislodged at spontaneous movements if the lower leg is solid. Once the lower leg is solid and the use of the hamstrings and quads is coordinated then a rider can move on to train the pelvis, lower back and train for a deep independent seat. The seat is only independent if the lower legs, trunk, and hands can move and be used without the seat bouncing in and out of the saddle. I call these horse riding exercises…. movement patterns.. and these patterns are unique to my program.

A movement pattern is a practised part of a whole movement. For example, if we want to learn to walk again after a major injury the physio will break up the routine. So back to the horse rider. The hamstrings bend the knee if the hip is fixed the heel will move closer to the butt. If the heel is fixed and the hamstrings tighten the hip will move closer to the horse.  This movement is the aid to apply lower leg and engage the seat into a deeper position. This is a difficult concept to write about and for riders to understand.

My Applied Posture Riding program has much more detail than I can write here. The Quads straighten the knee and we all know this. If we are sitting in a chair and we decide to stand up we transfer weight from our seat to our feet. Because the ground is fixed our heels and feet stay still. Our body moves over our feet and then straightens up. There are quite a few changes in the centre of gravity to get up right.

When we stand up in the stirrups our weight transfers from our seat to our stirrups, as in the rising trot. Because the stirrups are not fixed the weight transfer will cause the stirrup to move and in every case, the lower leg will swing away from the horse's side.  To stop this when we are rising trot we need to learn a movement pattern to train the lower leg to stay at the horse's side. This is a counter movement to stop the lower leg swinging. It does not mean the horse gets a jag in the side every time we rise. The horse, in fact, should not feel any different pressure because in fact the lower leg will now BE STILL.

Erin and Leanne Home feb 2012 059 websizeTraining the hamstrings to bend the knee is one of the most important movement patterns in dressage riding. It is not the calf muscle! When the horse rider is sitting deep and upright and wants to apply an aid it is the hamstrings muscle that comes into play. The seat will follow. It is not the seat then the legs…It may well feel like it but if the lower leg is not engaged first the seat has nothing to stabilise. Very good riders do all this in a split second and appear to be doing nothing. The learner rider needs to train the individual movement patterns to be able to achieve the end result. There is a simple exercise you can do immediately on a gym ball.

Bending your knee is different to applying your lower leg, however, the action of moving your knee is the technique to learn.Erin and Leanne Home feb 2012 062 websize

If you want more information on this or just want some advice go to my Facebook page (Applied Posture Riding Facebook page ) and put up a post. I’m sure your question will be the same as many want to ask.

So If you get a wobble up in your lower leg when trotting or even at the canter then this means the use of your lower leg muscles when riding is not correct. 

Enjoy your riding and good luck

Annette Willson.

Remember to look at yourself before you blame the horse.