Friday, March 6, 2009

The importance of a strong correct leg in hunt seat

This is a topic that I don't think is discussed enough, especially in the jumping world. Obviously there is a difference in leg position depending on the discipline you ride, but in jumping it is essential to have a strong leg.

The basis of correct jumping equitation is a strong correct leg. Now that doesn't mean how far your heel can flex down in the stirrup, although a lowered heal is essential. The key to a strong leg is thigh and calf contact with no "pinch" in the knee. In order to achieve this contact ones heel must be lowered to a certain degree. Now myself I have a hard time flexing a lot in that area so mine are definately not as deep as some people. But you also need to be careful because if your heel is too lowered artificially, then you are going to especially lose your thigh contact. A good exercise and test to see just how strong your legs are and finding your correct position is riding with no stirrups. If you feel the burn, it's working!!! This will not let you use the stirrup as a crutch and will essentially put you in a do or die situation. I do this exercise a few times a month. It's good for my legs and also for the rest of my body in order to jump correctly, with keeping off the horses back, head up, back arched and a proper release. Dont' expect to ride for more than 10 minutes if your not used to no stirrups, it is truly an exhausting exercise.

One common error riders tend to make when jumping is pushing off the stirrup from their toes. This causes the grip to be in your knees which can be very dangerous. Gripping with your knees acts like a pivot, and if the horse were to stop short or stumble you could be catapulted over the horse and into a dangerous situation. Pushing off from your toes also tends to make the rider jump ahead of their horse instead of letting the jump gently fold them at the hip and sinking into their legs and staying in the middle of the saddle. Jumping ahead is commonly found in hunters. Many riders say that their equitation is not as good on hunters because their jump is so powerful and their rounding their backs, I say that this is just carelessness on the riders part and that proper jumping position is required at all levels of jumping. It would make the picture that much prettier to see a horse rounding over a jump with their knees to their eyeballs and not see a rider half hanging on their neck. Just My opinion ofcourse.

Before riders attempt any jumps over 2ft or so they must be confident and secure in their jumping position. To perfect the jumping position it's good to go through exercises of bounces, being lunged with no hands, no stirrup work and other gymnastics. I myself enjoy lunge lessons because it's a time when the rider can focus solely on themselves and not have to worry about steering and speed and such. Lunge lessons are good for ANY type rider.
Above is a pretty good example of a nice heel and pretty strong leg. Her thigh contact could be a little better which would bring her back in the middle of the saddle as opposed to over the front slightly, but this rider looks really secure. Her heel is lowered with a nice angle. Her back is flat and head up and is doing a short crest release. The horse is absolutely striking with a great even take off, a nice front end. This horse has a gorgeous head, is relaxed looking and his ears are forward. This is truly a pretty picture.
The rider above has a heel similiar to mine, it looks a little stiff and unyielding. Ideally it would be better to see it a little lower allowing for a little more contact with the calf, but she still looks secure. I love the fact that she is right over the center of the saddle and has stayed put while the horse jumped and let it close her hip angle and be less busy, letting the horse do the jumoing instead of her "helping". Her back is excellent and arched. Her head is up and she is fpcused on the next jump ahead. I also want to add that her stirrup length is perfect for this jumping. She is obviously in the stadium phase of eventing and is riding with a short stirrup over a good sized jump. One of the exercises that I do to stretch the tendons in my leg is to go up against a wall with my toes up and push against it getting my legs to stretch and allowing my heel to become a little less stiff.
Even though this pic is kinda at a funky angle, you can still see soem good leg contact and a lowered heel with the toe out to the correct angle. From the looks of the pic it seems that she is jumping slightly ahead. If she were to wait for the horses jump and stay over the center of the saddle it would help her equitation and security over fences. One of the slight flaws in this photo is something that I am notorious for, rounded shoulders. This rider needs to open her chest up more and keep her shoulders square. To help with this for me, I like to be lunged or in a safe space where I can have my arms like airplane wings. I also do this over small jumps as well keeping my chest open and shoulders square.

Lastly this is a pic of a very weak lower leg. I understand that this jump is huge and this horse and rider are of olympic caliber. I have no doubt that this rider is very good, but his leg and position is very dangerous over this fence. This is a classic example of pinching of the knee and having it act like a pivot. His leg has swung so far back that it's probably spurring the horse on the sides. If this horse were to stunble or take a mis step on the landing this rider has a very good chance of being thrown over his head. The higher the fences the more magnified your equatation flaws are going to show through. Because of this riders talent he is able to have control over the rest of his body by having a correct release with a flat back and head up, but from the knees down this is scary. Not only does proper equitation look nice, but it has a purpose and function. It enables the rider to stay out of their horses way and not impede their jumping and also makes it more secure for the rider and safer.

On a side note with the guy portion of this blog. Things suck. I have been really down for the past few days. "G" will not talk to me at all. This actually saddens me and I find myself missing him and wondering how he is doing. Greg has also been a little distant. I know we are just friends and all, but it just sucks when you want to fall back on someone. He is having a friend who is a girl over tonight who is going through a break-up too. I have to admit that she is gorgeous and I have an inkling that Greg finds her attractive. It just makes you wonder because that's how we hooked up too. I need to let it all go, it's out of my hands and whatever happens happens. It just sucks that I feel so alone right now. I can't wait to go to the barn all day tomorrow and be with my horse and friends. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, so I should be like friggen superwoman after all this crap!


Mickey said...

I loved the info/photos you shared. I am clueless about equitation, but after reading your descriptions and your example photos, I even guessed the problemw with the Olympic rider's leg. Woo-hoo. I felt like I really learned something. Awesome!
And about the guys.... hang in there. Stay busy with your roomie and other girlfriends and the horses. The right relationship has a way of just happening when you aren't looking for it. If Greg is looking around, better to learn that now, than later, when you are even more invested in his son and his life. Just lay low and don't be at his beckon call. Guys like it when girls are a bit hard to get. Be busy sometimes when he calls. Don't play silly games, just don't be totally available all the time. IT's funny how some men prefer that bit of a challenge. Again, don't play games. Just make sure your life is busy enought that sometimes you aren't available for movie night or whatever.
Chin up. You're a wonderful gal, and someone special enough to deserve you will cross paths with you when it's the right time. Truly. You'll know it when it happens. G is a mess. I mean that kindly. Let him do what he needs to do to try to get healthy. He may have to do that without you, and that's okay. You'll find a good match when it's right.
Have fun at the barn tomorrow. Sounds like a perfect weekend! :O)

sidetracked said...

Thanks "Mickey" It means a lot to hear your good and sound advice. I hope that things are also panning out for you and that things are in full swing. Keep in touch. We need a girls lunch or dinner out sometime.

Leah Fry said...

Like Mikey over at Horseshoeing Housewife says, "Got my dog, got my pony, don't need no stinkin' cowboy."

Don't settle for "less than".

RuckusButt said...

Great post! I've been working a lot on my leg position lately. I tend to over-correct (and over-think) so I end up from one extreme to another! This gave me some things to think about, thanks.