What is it about a swinging lower leg that makes it so annoying for riders, horses, and trainers the world over?! I mean, everyone has their specific ‘riding issues’ and deals with them accordingly. And yet, a swinging lower leg has the potential to have riders stuck on a plateau forever!
I don’t need to tell you how important it is to have a secure lower leg when riding. It is vital for the safety, communication, and, maybe, mental health of all involved!
If you have been struggling with a lower leg that prefers to play ‘hokey pokey’ swinging back and forth, rather than help you gain clarity with your horse, don’t lose faith. Here are a few ways to begin securing those legs, once and for all.
1 . Check Your Stirrup Length
I think sometimes riders can be a little too optimistic when it comes to deciding on the length of their stirrups. This is especially true if there is a more advanced rider that they are trying to emulate in the saddle. Those riders have been practicing for years and are also most likely more ‘riding fit’ than the average ‘happy hacker’.
There is nothing wrong with having shorter stirrups initially when riding. This will help you to feel more secure and develop your independent aids initially when getting started
What is also key to remembering here is that your energy at the start of the ride, and then in the middle of the ride will differ. When you begin to feel tired, it can become more difficult to ‘control’ your aids. This is especially true of your legs. So, keep in mind that sometimes, putting your stirrups up a hole mid-ride can help with this issue as well.
Adjust your stirrup length for the rider that you are right now… Not who you ‘want’ to be further down the line.
2 . Is Your Horse Moving Forwards?
Just like an untamed swinging lower leg, if your horse has to be kicked, shoved, or pushed forward every single stride, it is equally as exhausting! And this will really begin to negatively impact your position and posture over time. Not to mention the coordination and timing of your aids.
Your horse must work forward on his own. Not have to be coaxed forward every single stride by you kicking your legs.
Creating a secure lower leg is close to impossible if you are having to keep ‘rallying’ your horse to go forward. My suggestion for this is to work on responsiveness. Do so while riding, while lunging, and also with your groundwork. Once he/she is moving forward, you can begin thinking about your lower leg ‘asking’ questions, rather than shoving your horse along!
3 . How’s Your Overall Position?
The first big question is “are you sitting on your bum?”! If you have pitched forwards, even slightly, onto your crotch area, your lower leg will swing. This is due to you ‘closing’ your pelvis and, subsequently, squeezing your knees together. Sitting on the small of your lower back (tucking it in under you and sitting on your tailbone) is equally as problematic. This will result in your lower legs shooting forwards.
Remember, your lower leg wants to be below you at all times – not in front of you or behind you. And it wants to channel your weight to your heel…
Which leads me to ‘heels down’. Keeping the weight in your heel will help with so many of the issues riders struggle with when riding. You don’t have to ‘force’ your heels down. But simply allow the weight to drop there. This will go a long way to securing your lower leg.
4 . Drape, Don’t Grip, with Your Legs
Now, I get it. If your leg is swinging back and forth, it almost makes sense that if you can ‘hold’ it still, this will help. Unfortunately, it usually won’t. First of all, usually, riders try to secure their lower leg by squeezing their knees. This will 100% make the swinging lower leg even worse. That I can guarantee you! Don’t squeeze your knees!
Focus on your legs being a channel and directing the energy. This way, you will begin to feel the contact with your horse down the full length of your leg – rather than just focusing on your knees.
When you can allow your legs to drape, your focus will naturally shift to the contact between the inside of your thighs and the inside of your calves with the saddle and your horse. Your knee and ankle should be loose and supple.
5 . Rider Fitness and Practice
I think it is a little unrealistic to end this advice without mentioning your overall fitness as a rider. So many riders who struggle with a swinging leg are actually riders who are coming back after a break. Whether this break is 2 months, 2 years, or 22 years, it is vital to acknowledge that your body has changed. Give yourself time to improve.
And remember, as you become more physically tired in the saddle, your lower leg will begin to swing more. So rather focus on shorter, more intentional rides where you can get more from the work.
I would also suggest starting some form of complementary fitness activity. I personally love hiking and cycling. But I think any sort of movement will help you to gain more control over your body. And to increase your stamina too.
Finally, good practice makes perfect; the quality of your rides will determine how quickly you progress. Riding for the sake of riding will not help this…
So plan rides where you get to make the most of your energy and see if you can do more of those shorter rides.
6 . Your Light Seat
This leads me to specific exercises you can use while warming up and cooling down that will help you remedy a swinging lower leg… The trusty light or 2-point seat. Practicing this while riding will help you to put many of the above principles into action.
When you ride a true light seat, your lower leg is positioned where it should be, under you. It allows your weight to drop into the heel and requires you to ‘drape’, not grip with your legs. And will help improve your fitness and your riding in general. It also prevents you from blocking any forward energy with a potentially heavy seat.
However, just like everything else, your light seat must be correct in order for this exercise to be effective. It also really requires you not to balance on your hands, your horse’s mane or a neck strap to have maximum effect.
I have an episode on “Improving Your Riding with Your Light Seat” HERE that will help you. Alternatively, sign up for the Equestrian Fitness Challenge HERE.
You can learn to secure a swinging lower leg, but it will take consistency, dedication, and time. Good luck!
- Position Faults that are Potentially Holding You Back in Your Riding
- What are the Basics when It Comes to Riding
- Are You Working on Developing Your Leg Aids
- Re-schooling a Horse that is Dead to Your Leg
- Connection in Your Riding; Seat and Legs
- Hokey Pokey or Swinging Legs While Riding
- Improving your Riding with Your Light Seat