How To Get A Stable Lower Leg When Riding

Uncategorized

If you’re reading this, then you likely want a solution for your unstable lower leg position.

Your legs either flap, wobble, bounce, or sway when rising trot, sitting trot, or cantering (or all of the above).

Maybe you look at other riders’ lower leg positions and wonder how they seem to effortlessly keep their legs in place, even when jumping.

Flapping, wobbling, bouncing, or swaying lower legs can be unsightly and, more importantly, be a detriment to your overall effectiveness as a rider.

The more stable and balanced you are, the less you will unintentionally interfere with your horse, and therefore improve your horse’s performance.

If you’re frustrated with your unstable lower leg position when riding and want to understand why this occurs and how to fix it, then read on!

This article walks you through the following:

  • What Is An Unstable Lower Leg?
  • What Causes An Unstable Lower Leg?
  • What Is A Stable Lower Leg?
  • Components Of A Stable Lower Leg
  • How To Get A Stable Lower Leg
 

What is an unstable lower leg?

Why do my legs swing / flap / wobble / bounce / sway / move during the trot / rising trot / sitting trot / canter / jumping?

If you’re asking any variation of the above questions, then you likely have an unstable lower leg.

An unstable lower leg is simply a leg position (particularly the positioning of the lower leg below the knee), that does not provide the rider with enough stability to support the rest of the body whilst riding.

An unstable leg position can look like any of the following:

  • Legs that swing back over a jump
  • Legs that swing forwards in the sitting phase of rising trot
  • Legs that swing backwards in the rising phase of rising trot
  • Toes turning out
  • Losing one or both stirrups
  • Heels coming up
  • Losing balance when rising trot
  • Losing balance when going over jumps
  • No hip/heel alignment

What Causes an Unstable Lower Leg?

An unstable lower leg usually occurs because the rider is doing one, or a combination of the following:

  • Not enough weight in the stirrups
  • Incorrect foot positioning in the stirrup
  • Posteriorly or anteriorly tilted pelvis (click here to find out more about correct pelvic positioning in the saddle)
  • Poor core strength
  • Incorrect positioning of the lower leg
  • Tight/overactive hip flexors
  • Excessive “gripping” with the knees
  • Inability to control the body/balance standing in the stirrups
  • Heels pushed forwards/ bracing against the stirrup
  • Stirrup length too long
  • Saddle design/fit (particularly the stirrup bar placement)
Stirrup Position Equestrian Biomechanics
Incorrect foot positioning in the stirrup can contribute to an unstable lower leg position. The bottom right photo shows weight evenly distributed through the ball of the foot in the centre of the tread giving an even and solid base of support for a stable lower leg position. ⁣

 

What is a stable lower leg?

A stable lower leg is one that is relatively still and helps to support and balance the rest of the body when in motion with the horse.  

Whilst an unstable leg will contribute to losing your balance when riding, a stable lower leg will further support you, and help you find a place of balance and stability in your position.

Your legs may move forwards and backwards for certain aids, but a stable leg will return to a centred, balanced position from which to operate from.

Without stable lower legs your upper boy has to compensate by moving around more in an attempt to balance you (or your lower legs can compensate for un unbalanced upper body). A stable lower leg makes balancing a lot easier!

Why is a stable lower leg so important?

A stable lower leg position is important to help keep you centred and balanced in the saddle.

It is especially important for tasks like jumping and rising trot, as your upper body moves forwards to follow the motion of the horse.

If your legs move too much from their centred position, your upper body has to compensate which could interfere with the horse’s movement and performance.

When the heels are pushed forwards and downwards (bracing against the stirrup) you can create a forward lower leg position (LEFT)⁠

When you have too much gripping in your thigh teamed with not enough weight in the stirrup your leg can swing backwards (RIGHT)⁠

A stable lower leg is one that appears still to the onlooker and feels stable and supportive to the rider (CENTRE)

A stable lower leg appropriately supports the rider’s weight by keeping the base of support within the rider’s centre of gravity. (CENTRE)

 

Components of a stable lower leg position:

There are a few things that happen biomechanically in order for your lower leg to be stable. A stable lower leg occurs because the rider is getting some or all of the below well:

  • Appropriate weight in stirrups

A stable lower leg has some weight across the ball of the feet on the tread of the stirrup.

  • Ear, shoulder, hip, heel alignment

The leg keeps a light contact on the inner thigh and calf on the horses sides with the leg underneath the upper body, such that if the horse were to disappear, you would land on your feet.

  • Good ankle dorsiflexion range of motion

Whilst a stable lower leg appears to be still, there is actually some movement occurring at the ankle to help absorb movement. With every beat the heel sinks lower (dorsiflexes) and then returns to a level position. This movement is a component of a stable lower leg. If the ankle is not flexible enough to absorb movement, then this stiffness can push your seat further out the saddle, leading to instability.

  • A level of adductor & hamstring muscle activation

A certain level of adductor (groin) muscle activation, but not too much as to grip the horse which would make you less stable by pushing your seat out of the saddle. A slight hamstring activation keeps the heel underneath the hips helping to create the shoulder/hip/heel line where you are better able to combat acceleration/deceleration forces.

  • Not too much of a contrast between rising/sitting weight in stirrups

When you go from zero weight in the stirrups to ALL your weight in the rising phase of the trot, your legs will naturally move away from the horse’s sides. Then when you sit, they will return to the horse’s side. This creates a leg that is constantly moving and therefore not providing you a stable base. Try keeping some weight in the stirrup even when you are sitting so there is less of a contrast when you are rising.

  • Heels level or the lower point

If the heels are high it usually means you are activating and gripping with your calves which makes it more difficult to follow your horse’s movement and could push your seat further away from the saddle. Keeping your heels lower provides you stability and the ability to go with your horse’s motion.

  • An independent seat & arms

When your arms and seat move independently of your legs, it is much easier to control the positioning of your lower leg.

An active deep core and awareness of these muscles will help you control your torso and upper body meaning that your lower leg is less likely to compensate for upper body instability.

A pelvis that is not in neutral (either anterior or posterior rotating and/or transverse and lateral variations) can cause your legs to be more forwards, backwards, or uneven meaning that they will not be in an optimal position of support.

  • Hip position

When the hips are lengthened through the front (an “open hip”) and engaged at the back this will help to increase thigh and seat contact area, and bring the leg underneath the hips creating more stability in the lower leg. If the hips are closed (flexed), you are likely gripping too much with the knees, reducing weight in the stirrups, and pushing your seat out of the saddle. Hips that are turned out (externally rotated), are likely to cause the legs to move forwards and grip with the back of the upper calf.

 

 

HOW TO GET A STABLE LOWER LEG:

To obtain a stable lower leg position takes practise and body awareness. Working on each of the components above individually can help to create a stable lower leg. (The bonus virtual coaching audio in the 8 Week Rider Specific Exercise Program is great for this!)

Doing unmounted rider specific exercises can help build your lower body and core strength needed for riding.

If you haven’t already, scroll down and sign up for 10 FREE rider specific exercises to improve your position and if you want more check out the 8 Week Rider Specific Exercise Program.

Mounted exercises such as standing in your stirrups at all gaits can help you feel where it is necessary for your leg to be for the rest of your body to be fully supported. It will also build your quadriceps strength essential for two-point, jumping, and rising trot.

TRY THIS –> Stand in your best athletic rider position on land, and have a friend try and move you from your centred position.

What you will find is naturally to gain more stability and balance, you bend your knees slightly and keep your feet under your hips, anchored to the ground. This gives you a very stable base from which you can counteract external forces. It is the same when riding.

A slightly bent leg, positioned underneath your hips/centre of gravity, and weight going down through your feet will help you be more stable and secure on the horse. Bring the feeling in your legs from this exercise to your riding.

Standing in your stirrups at halt, walk, trot, and canter is a great exercise to develop a stable lower leg position.

 

Summary

  • An unstable lower leg is one that flaps/wobbles/swings/sways and does not provide the rider with enough stability to support the rest of the body and remain balanced in motion.
  • A stable lower leg is one that is relatively still and helps to support & balance the rest of the body when in motion with the horse.  
  • An unstable lower leg can be caused by not enough weight in the stirrups, incorrect foot positioning in the stirrup, posteriorly or anteriorly tilted pelvis, poor core strength, incorrect positioning of the lower leg, tight/overactive hip flexors, excessive “gripping” with the knees, inability to control the body/balance standing in the stirrups, heels pushed forwards/ bracing against the stirrup, stirrup length too long and/or saddle design / fit (particularly the stirrup bar placement).
  • A stable lower leg comprises of: appropriate weight in stirrups, ear, shoulder, hip, heel alignment, an independent seat & arms, an active deep core, not too much of a contrast between rising/sitting weight in stirrups, neutral Pelvis Position, neutral Hip Position, heels level or the lower point, good ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, and a level of adductor & hamstring muscle activation.
  • Doing unmounted and mounted rider exercises can help you strengthen essential muscles essential for a stable lower leg and improve body awareness so you can appropriately adjust your leg position.
Close

50% Complete

Get the 10 FREE Rider Specific Exercises to Improve Your Position!

Subscribe to Equestrian Biomechanics and get 10 rider specific exercises straight to your inbox, absolutely FREE!