Hokey Pokey or Swinging Legs While Riding

Hokey Pokey or Swinging Legs While Riding

Hokey Pokey or Swinging Legs While Riding

Hokey Pokey or Swinging Legs While Riding

What this episode is all about & how it can help you:-

  • Understand how you are sitting in the saddle might be affecting everything
  • Realise the disastrous effects this can have on your overall position
  • Focus on ‘feeling’ what your leg is doing in order to improve things
  • Work in walk, then trot and then transitions

Be honest… Are you finding yourself doing the hokey pokey in the saddle more than you would like?  Your right leg is in.  Your right leg is out.  In out, in out, shaking all about…

Swinging legs are a huge issue for so many riders and what makes it all the more frustrating is that as soon as you begin to ‘fix’ your legs, well they seem to lose all effectiveness as well.

In this episode of the Daily Strides Podcast we will chat about how you can begin to ‘quiet’ your legs by making some changes that actually have very little to do with your legs themselves.

I believe that most cases of hokey pokey legs, or swinging legs are actually a symptom of something else, rather than the root problem itself.  Fix the cause and, very often, the symptoms will magically disappear as well.

Swinging Legs are Frustrating for All Involved…

There are situations where we want a little daylight between your body parts and the saddle.  However your leg, particularly your lower leg (so everything below the knee) is one of those.  Having your leg literally ‘off’ the horses sides means there is no communication happening.

It also means there is a lot of instability in the riders basic position, which usually results in the rider depending on the horse for balance. 

Swinging legs also result in a constant chatter of irrelevant noise being fed to the horse from the riders legs, which results in the horse eventually tuning out from what the rider has to say.

Responsiveness in horses is generally a direct reflection of the riders technique and consistency (or lack of either) in the saddle. 

The other frustrating reality of swinging legs is that because the rider is lacking the ability to balance themselves in the saddle, things can become pretty hairy!  The potential for falls is dramatically increased, which leads to a further breakdown of confidence for both horse & rider.

How You Are Sitting in the Saddle

One of the most obvious and common reasons for swinging legs is due to the rider sitting incorrectly in the saddle.  Put plainly, they are not sitting on their bum!  A forked seat is when the rider is pitched forward on their crotch, which results in extremely tight and stiff hips, pelvis and thighs.

This fork seat results in the rider looking like a ‘duck’ in the saddle.  Their bum is sticking out behind them.  Their shoulders are pinned back which results in their back having an uncomfortable and unnatural ‘over arch’ through it.  Even typing this feels rigid and stiff!  Definitely not ideal for a supple, balanced rider.

Your swinging legs are merely a symptom of a bigger issue, which is your incorrect seat.  The irony is that most riders just focus on ‘stilling’ their floppy leg – which only serves to increase the overall stiffness & tension.

Resist All Temptation to Grip with Your Knees

The other issue that often accompanies swinging legs is gripping knees!  Don’t grip with your knees.  Doing so immediately shuts down your ability to stabilise and balance yourself in the saddle.

Gripping with your knees and a closed, tight hips in the saddle are a little like the chicken and the egg.  It is often uncertain which came first, however the result is always the same – an ineffective and unbalanced rider. 

If you are worried that you might just be gripping with your knees you can find out pretty quickly by sliding your hand between your knee and the knee roll of your saddle. If you can ‘swing’ your knee out without resistance, you don’t have to worry.

However, if your knee feels locked on the saddle, consider that it might just be a result of how you are sitting.  Correct your seat in the saddle and try again until you don’t feel the resistance.

Paying Attention to Your Position

As already mentioned, one of the major downsides to swinging legs is the loss of position for the rider.  Whether the position is failing due to an incorrect seat or due to the riders lack of balance and confidence will depend on each situation.

When your position is changed it results in less effective communication between horse and rider. 

It also means that you have to do more every time you apply an active aid…  A good, correct position is so important to your long-term success in the saddle.

It is worth mentioning again that your swinging legs are usually only a symptom of something else going on further up your body.  So correcting your basic position can be a simple yet effective way of beginning to gain control of your legs while riding.

A Quick Position Check From the Ground

A simple yet effective way of feeling how a correct position is can actually be done off of your horse.  Stand on the ground with your legs wider than hip width apart.  Pretend you are in the saddle, so bend your knees.

Notice how it feels to remain aligned while holding this position – the head, shoulder, hip, heel line that should be present when you are in the saddle.

Pay attention to where your seat bones are pointing.  Also pay attention to the angle between the front of your thigh and the front of your tummy.  This is the angle that needs to be open and free in order to allow your thighs to be open, and therefore your knees to be free in the saddle.

Becoming Mindful of Your Lower Leg as You Ride

Once you have fixed the cause of your swinging legs, you must now work on developing and strengthening your leg, particularly your lower leg.

Focusing on a lack of daylight between your lower leg and your horses sides is always a good place to begin.  

Checking in on yourself throughout the ride by sliding your hand between your knee and the knee rolls to see how open your knees actually are.  Tiredness and tension caused by things not going exactly to plan can cause hold habits to reappear, so it is a good idea to be aware of what is happening the further you are into your ride.

Paying Attention to Swinging Legs during Transitions

I am going to caution you here about thinking that the issue is solved only to realise that old habits are truly hard to change when it comes to transitions…  So often I see riders begin to master a more quiet and effective lower leg when ‘going’.  Perhaps they are trotting or walking, or even cantering.

However as soon as a transition occurs, their leg migrates forward or backwards offering no support to either the rider themselves or the horse!

Transitions are, in my opinion, an area which demand a lot of attention to detail from the rider.  Try to hold your leg position throughout the transition.  This is obviously with the exception of transitions that require your lower leg to move in order to signal to your horse.

Very often it is easier to recognise and see the symptoms, those swinging legs, which will let you know that your seat has shifted or your upper body has tilted or tipped again.

Where to Begin…

I am going to suggest beginning in walk and correcting your position and aids in the walk.  Obviously then building on to trot and later the canter.  I also suggest, as mentioned, paying particular attention to your lower leg through transitions.

Correcting this may seem like a bit of an uphill battle initially.  However, once you realise that your swinging legs are a symptom of something else it really does make all the difference. 

Identifying that root cause is vitally important and changing that, before you try anything else, is the easiest and least frustrating way to remedy those hokey pokey legs.

Happy Riding


I am hosting a free live online training on “The 6 Basics to Focus On in Your Riding” and I would love for you to join me there…  If you’re interested, you can register for your seat by CLICKING HERE

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Links mentioned in the episode:-

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