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Secure your Slipping Leg

My horse often gallops off after a jump. My trainer said my lower legs are slipping back and I???m catching my horse in the sides with my heels. Can you recommend any exercises for me to fix this problem?

By Cindy Hale

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Q. My horse often gallops off after a jump. Sometimes he even humps his back and pitches. My trainer said my lower legs are slipping back and I’m catching my horse in the sides with my heels. Can you recommend any exercises for me to fix this problem?

A. This lower leg problem is common among riders who begin jumping before they develop a strong, correct basic position. Your legs are slipping back when you’re in the air because your heels come up. And your heels come up because you’re grabbing with your knees and thighs, rather than putting weight down into your heels, to stay secure in the saddle. Once your lower legs slip far behind the girth, your upper body also tips forward. That, plus your heels bumping into your horse’s flanks, inadvertently sends him scooting off when he lands. You need to focus on strengthening your legs and getting a feel for when they’re in the correct position. Here are three exercises that will force you to hold your heels and legs properly.

The first is to jump low fences without your irons. (You’ll be more comfortable if you remove your irons and leathers from your saddle.) It’ll become evident right away that you must keep your legs tight and still or you’ll have a hard time staying with your horse’s motion over the jump. When jumping without irons, it often helps to think about raising your toes up rather than keeping your heels down. Either way, concentrate on stretching your calf muscles down and holding your lower legs at the girth.

Once you’ve put your stirrups back on the saddle, try the next exercise. Jump with only one hand holding the reins. You can hold your free arm out to the side or place it behind your back. You might be surprised to discover how much you’d been relying on your hands for support. By holding the reins with only one hand, you’ll have to depend on your lower legs to support your upper body. Again, in order to maintain a secure seat, you’ll have to keep your heels down and your legs still.

Finally, tie the stirrup irons to your girth with strands of yarn. Make two loops from the inside branch of your iron to your girth. Each iron should only move about six inches in any direction. This will physically hold your lower legs in the correct position and will prevent your heels from bumping your horse’s sides. The goal here is to help you feel where your legs should remain when you jump. Once your legs are more secure, your upper body won’t tip forward in mid-air over the jump and your horse will be less likely to speed up when he lands.

Expert: Cindy Hale is the author of Riding for the Blue and A Passion for Horses.

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