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Ahhh… the quiet lower leg.

Better leg position and cues are often among the first of the goals students list when they come in for a lesson.

But no rider actually wants a still lower leg. What we really want is to feel secure and to feel as though our horse is listening and responding to us!

Of course, how we use our leg is important, but it really is a means to an end, the end goal being to just have a fun ride.

In most riding lessons, there is a lot of emphasis on this part of a rider’s position. “Heels down, keep your leg still, point your toes forward…”

As the rider, you may try to comply, but end up feeling awkward and stiff, with maybe an aching ankle or knee to boot.

In this video, I will explain what an effective leg looks and feels like as well as how to give cues or aids with your legs without feeling awkward or stiff.

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Comments

66 Responses

  1. So helpful! I have always struggled with my legs and now that I’m older it’s a source of some joint pain. You always have a way of explaining things that make actual sense in my brain. Thanks so much! Can’t wait to put these techniques to work.

  2. I can do what you are instructing, but not with heels down. Every time my instructor says heels down, I bring the heels down and right away automatically keep giving pressure with the heels instead of inner calves/ankle . Can you please, also explain how to apply this at the same time keeping the heels down?
    Thanks,

  3. I am an instructor in the UK.
    I notice the majority of riders turn their toe out to use the leg and many take the “heel down” to extreme. I try not say “push your heel down ” any longer. I now use lift your toe as this will allow your heel to drop. I also suggest the need to release the thigh when asking the horse to move forward as many riders are tight in the knee.
    Thankyou, this is a point def worth raising and will help many riders if they are able to grasp it.
    Lisa x

    1. Great distinction Lisa! I find it helpful to think about weight sinking through the heels as opposed to pushing the heels down!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  4. Hi
    I think this video is “ just what the doctor ordered “
    I always enjoy your very constructive and applicable videos
    This one helped remind me of my most recent changes in my riding
    I’ve been working down from my arms and now my legs
    Position is certainly a work in progress but I found this one particularly helpful and some great tips to practice every ride
    Melinda

    1. Melinda, the beautiful thing about horses is that we are always learning and a work in progress! I am glad you enjoyed the tips from this video 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  5. I know that I have a tendency to drive my heel down and toe up while trying to keep the ball of my foot on the stirrup. As I pick up speed I find that my whole leg comes slightly forward and I must concentrate to keep my shoulder/hip/ankle alignment.

    1. Deborah, that is the trick of it – keeping it all together in movement! I hope the tips Callie shared in this video help you 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  6. Thank you Callie for another well explained video. I appreciated seeing how not to use my legs and feet and hearing your explanation of how the lower leg is used. With my new horse, who is young and responsive, I am learning to give lighter, yet clearer cues with my legs. At times I can get confused when I see how other riders, people who have been riding longer than me, ride with toes turned out. I need to keep my eyes on my own horse and not imitate others, changing my leg position only when my trainer corrects me. Also, thank you to Catfish who stood so beautifully with ears forward and a kind eye. When the video first started, Catfish stood so quietly I thought he might be stuffed, then I saw his eye move. Thank you Callie.

    1. He made a great model for this video because he was happy to stand! Everyone has different anatomy, so it is best not to try to copy exactly what everyone else looks like 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  7. Callie… I like the intro on this video. It has been amazing to see how u have grown and developed ur professionalism over the years. U were the first to share what Wendy taught about posting the trot and swinging as well as making me feel ok about not pushing my heels down. Once again this video teaches a better logic to our body alignment and leg position in the stirrup.

  8. Excellent explanation and I’m sure it will help my riding a lot. Remember this when riding different horses will help my transition between them as well.

    1. Hi Joanne, make sure to sign up for updates on our jumping workshop from our Effortless Rider Jumping Course! Our instructor Wendy Murdoch goes deep on that very subject 🙂 Click here to get updates!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  9. I ride mostly bareback in summer and believe i’m using whole leg & seat. When I put a saddle on next time I will pay more attention to my leg aids when stirrups involved. Love your videos!! Thanks.

  10. Hi Callie and Catfish!
    This video brings up the question for me on the two different styles of using leg aides as well-some people go with what appears to be a constant activity of leg aides every stride-and others go with the philosophy that the horse should respond to the initial request and stay in that gait at that rate of speed or length of stride till you tell them to change it up or down again. The latter makes more sense to me-and certainly feels much less tense.
    Like all cues-I try to be really consistent with the placement, pressure needed to gain the response I’m looking for (or a try), and immediately release. I am very short-and have the same issues that a lot of children do-that of a bit of a “chair seat”. Depending on the saddle (or bareback), I have better or worse luck draping my leg where it would be more effective-both as a balancing fulcrum as well as an aid! 🙂
    I would never wear spurs-as my heels close in around the arc of the rib on most horses and I would constantly be poking them for no reason at all! eek. However-going with the latter philosophy of asking with pressure till I get a response-I have used a crop for “leg dead” horses as the “third ask” so to speak. That seems to be the better option for me-as I’m really prudent as to when and how I use it.
    I’m having a lot of fun learning just how light a person has to ask with seat or hand or leg to get a response-it is a challenge to always be paying attention to our positions, our consistency, lack or poorly timed cues and all the other ways we can make our lives a bit of a pretzel! 😉
    Have a great Thanksgiving

  11. Thank you for this video. I’ve been nervous not sure if I was correct. I have a brand “new” saddle & my posting is so different from riding in the old Kiefer saddle. Yes in this saddle I’m using more thigh muscles than before. I’m so glad you put this out, I feel that I’m moving in the saddle the way you are describing on this video. Thank you so much Callie, wish you were closer.

  12. thank you Callie,
    another great video. We were taught heels down, 40 -50 years ago.
    totally silly, relaxation is everything, the horse can feel the slightest nuance.
    Great work!!!

  13. Another really helpful and thought-provoking video, thank you. Will be thinking about this specifically when I have my lesson today. I’m definitely guilty of tightening my thigh when i ask for canter.

    1. Jane, I hope you were able to find resolve with tightening your thigh with the tips from this video!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  14. Thank you so much for this, no horses of my own anymore and I ride different horses at a local centre. Could not get it together this week and embarrassed myself no end, different horse, different saddle and my usual style of riding was to put it mildly…shit! I’m staying in the saddle at 78, would die otherwise! Next ride I have requested same horse and no heels down!!! I’m gonna do it!!!!

  15. I turn out my legs all the time which leaves me and my boy confused but he tries his heart out very useful he gives me a relaxed feeling when I’m correct so now I know when I’m wrong or off as he corrects me

    Do you have any info on keeping your horse straight which is something I really struggle with in saddle and on ground my boy is in rehab and vet has said he’s exercising but I need to focus on keeping him straight as he need to build up tone he’s lost on being on 8monthe box rest

    Sarahj
    X

    1. Sarahjane, what was he on stall rest for? There are many factors that could be at play causing the crookedness, I would recommend having a friend take a video of you and see if you are leaning off to one side of the saddle and making it more difficult for him to be straight!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  16. This is definitely my problem, tense thigh, using heel and toes stick out!! Will try the tips you have given tomorrow, thank you

  17. HI Callie,
    You are addressing what my former instructor called my crab leg!! Sometimes when I am giving a stronger aide my leg(s) creeps up. It happens because of all of the reasons you explained. Rode one high level horse who did tempi changes during my first canter…yikes! The instructor said, your leg and seat are quiet, I said please take my spurs off, she said you aren’t using your spurs incorrectly….my experience told me otherwise…no spurs, I got along beautifully with the old school master. My new instructor just says “crab leg” and I know what I have to do to correct my position. Me thinks one of the many difference between excellent professional riders and the rest of us is that the talented folks can make the correction and move forward with it as part of their dna…..the rest of us struggle to correct ourselves over and over and over again!!

  18. Such excellent clear tips on keeping a still leg. My jump instructor tells me to quiet my leg but I don’t know how, I know it’s coming from some place other than my leg to begin with . Maybe just relaxing my leg will do it!
    I’ve been told to “wrap my legs around my horse”. How can I do that without putting the back of my calf on?
    Thank you!!!
    Nancy

    1. Hi Nancy, it very well could be coming from tension elsewhere. I have been told to ‘wrap my legs around the horse’ and personally have found it actually has created bad habits in my riding. We do have a video about getting a quiet lower leg, check it out by clicking here. Let me know if the tips in that video help in your next lesson!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

      1. BIG help, Julia!
        I hear instructors comments that work great then I forget as I add new challenges to my riding. Riding my thigh, and “kneeling” are 2 of them.
        At this point I’m going back and revisiting wise words that I either didn’t really hear or wasn’t ready for.
        Thank you for the reminder of this concept. I definitely was swinging my leg from pushing into my heel with every stride. It was great to see Callie’s examples I know exactly what my instructor was seeing.

  19. I was a heels down toes up rider for years, great when jumping and fast light seat hacking, not great for schooling, especially after I broke my ankle and initially lost a lot of mobility. Then someone told me to ride with my weight in my knee joint so if the horse disappeared, I’d land on my knees – it gives the same result as here, the lower leg comes back and moulds better to the horse’s barrel and is effective with half the effort. Wish I’d been told this year’s ago!

    1. Interesting Jo, I’ve never heard it taught like that to put the weight in the knee joint. The only thing I would caution about that is that if you have the tendency to grip with the knees it might only intensify that!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  20. I was just asking this past week about how to keep a quiet lower leg yet still effectively que my horse with leg aids. This video helped me! Thank you!!

  21. Love the video as always! Is very helpful. I definitely use more spur/heel and put more pressure in my stirrups with “heels down.” Was told not to grip with my thighs. I have a hard time feeling my horse with my calves. Lots of moving parts 😉

    1. Just a few things to keep track of…just take it one step at a time 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the video!

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  22. Thank you for this video!
    May I ask what kind of material you are using as a stirrup tread here in this video? Is it some sort of rubber?

    For me personally, reading about Wendy Murdoch’s approach helped a lot with problems regarding my lower leg. Also I feel a lot more in synch with the horse when I pay attention to his footfall, so that I give the leg cue the moment when that foot starts to leave the ground. Bill Dorrance wrote some about this in his book. For example, when I ask for his right hind quarters to step over, I ask with my right leg the moment the right hind prepares to leave the ground. Since I pay attention to this, I noticed that I just go with the horse better and my legs and hips go with the rhythm of the horse and do not get tense, as they used to.

  23. Thank you for this! I re-watched this video today before going out to ride my horses. For some reason, with omg mare I have been having a hard time being as effective with my lower legs lately. In particular she has been making a habit of falling out of canter, which did not used to be an issue… So paying attention that the sides of my calves vs the back were giving the aid helped. In addition, I noticed I tend to bring my lower legs forward. Making an effort on keeping them back and under my seat bones, an adjustment of maybe a few millimeters, made a huge difference!

  24. Thank you, Callie, for confirming that this is definitely the way to go! For 18 months when I first started dressage lessons, I struggled to ride a balanced, tension-free seat with instructors constantly and incorrectly telling me to put my heels down and turn my toes out (“Do ducky toes!”). So many bad habits and stress began to form all over my body (not to mention what happened to the horse I was riding)!

    It wasn’t until I deliberately took lessons elsewhere that I finally learned that these previous instructions were just ruining my ability to ride well, balanced and in harmony with whatever horse I rode (a big apology to those poor, previous horses!). I’m sorry too that I spent 18 months learning incorrectly (let that be a cautionary tale for anyone who finds themselves in my previous situation–if the instruction intuitively feels wrong and creates ongoing frustration, it surely is time to move on ASAP).

    Since I have moved on to a more savvy and knowledgeable instructor for the last 2 months, I have dramatically improved, enjoy every moment learning in the saddle and am pretty sure the current school horses that I ride are grateful that their “team leader” works without tension to ensure she correctly always has her act together! 🙂

    1. I’m glad to hear you have found a new instructor that is a better fit for you Mariann!

      -Julia, CRK Training Community Manager

    1. Hi Emma, could he be uncomfortable? Has he always exhibited this behavior?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  25. Hi Callie and Julia, I am quite tall with very long legs anh have always found using leg aides tricky because often my heel is below the horse’s belly – it’s like I almost have to either raise my heel or curl my legs under, even with my 16.3 thoroughbred. (I have a terrible heels up habit developed from years riding a wonderful arabian who was clearly too small for me) I find it hard to press my calves in without tensing up my whole leg. Are there any tips or videos which address this? Thanks so much, I love your videos and I wish you were in Australia!

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