Some riders have trouble controlling their lower legs.
In trot a rider goes up and down. The movement of the horse pulls your legs towards him and pushes them away. There is always some movement with your lower legs, which is fine, as long as it isn’t too much and you don’t touch the belly of the horse accidentally all the time. But some riders do. If you are inclined to do so, don’t use spurs.
Too much movement of your lower legs doesn’t look good. And it doesn’t feel good to the horse either. He will tighten his muscles as a defense. Because of that, he stiffens his back and you can’t sit properly, which will make your legs move even more.
If a horse is tight in his back, he will bounce you up and down and you will need to squeeze to a certain amount to stay in the saddle. Squeezing with your thighs will cause movement of the lower legs. So relaxing your thighs helps, but that goes hand in hand with the horse giving his back. It’s very hard to do one thing without the other. The solution to quieter legs could be in getting your horse to use his back properly. We’ll get back to this.
Is it the saddle?
If your lower legs are living a life of their own, you might need to try a different saddle first, as this can make a lot of difference. The way your legs are built, full or skinny, have a lot to do with it. It also matters if the horse has a round ribcage or not. But a good saddle that fits you and the horse, can support you, so you are more comfortable and quiet.
Don’t tie your stirrups to the girth or revert to resin on the inside of your boots (this is being sold in tackshops for this purpose). Tying your stirrups is dangerous and not permitted at competitions. You can seriously damage your ankle joints. And you can’t put your legs back if necessary. Get to the bottom of the problem, instead of finding quick fixes that don’t resolve anything. Same goes for the resin.
It also doesn’t help to forcefully squeeze your lower legs on, in order to keep them more quiet. It takes too much strength to maintain that way for an hour or more. And because of the unnatural tension, you won’t be able to feel anymore and you also tense up in other parts of your body. To a horse, tighly squeezing lower legs give a feeling of restriction. As if you hold back a child with both arms. He won’t be inclined to move freely forward.
Off the leg
Some riders push their horse every step of the way, because it is not moving forward off the leg. It doesn’t matter if you do this on purpose or accidentally, it doesn’t work. If he’s not off the leg, repeating the aid constantly won’t make him more forward. Because of all your movement and shoving in the saddle, he is less likely to move forward. Read the chapter about getting your horse more off the leg.
If a horse tenses his back, you can’t sit properly and there is no point trying. Don’t attempt sitting trot, go rising. Try to let him follow your hand forward and down, so his back comes up more. This is done by feeling the bit in your hands, relaxing a little and using the forward flow of the horse to make him follow the bit. If he isn’t following, take a little more contact and try again. Make sure he’s moving forward. If he isn’t, do a couple of transitions forward and back, to get the flow back. He should not go faster, but just move his hindlegs more under. If he goes faster, use both reins to slow him down. Relax again, don’t keep the pressure on. Try again to get him to follow your hand.
It is like a game: invite him to follow. But it’s the flow of energy from behind, through his back, that makes him want to reach for your hand. Don’t pull his head into a position by using force or drawreins. If you use force, he will still tense up so you can’t sit. If he doesn’t follow or his head comes up, take a bit more contact. If he softens, you soften immediately. The whole idea is that it’s feeling better for him if he softens.
If you feel your lower legs moving again, make the back more supple by working your horse forward-downward again. Go rising until he does. If your horse tenses up because you attempt sitting trot, it is very likely you are squeezing too much. Work on your balance to prevent this. Do only a few steps in sitiing, then go back to rising and so on. Stay close to the saddle while doing rising trot.
The shape of the horses ribs can be of influence
Some riders point their toes out. The knees come away from the saddle that way. It happens when you try to hold yourself with your lower leg. Or when someone wants to push really hard. The shape of the horses ribs can be of influence. If he’s round, your lower leg tends to move forward towards the elbow, because of his shape. It can lead to what is referred to as ‘chair seat’. The heel of the rider should be in line with the hip. Very tall riders on a small horse can have this problem, because there is not enough belly for their legs.
If your toes are out because you squeeze too much, it can cause tension in the horse. Or, if he gets used to it, he won’t react to your leg anymore, as it is there all the time. You don’t want him to be insensitive to the leg. Someone with this habit should not wear spurs, as the constant rubbing can cause bold patches.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
It takes a lot of self-control to change this. It’s hard to change habits. You will have to get back into the proper position, but in the beginning you will go back to your old way of sitting, so you’ll have to repeat it a million times. Again, let a good saddlefitter take a look at yours. It’s easier to sit the right way in a dressage saddle. With a multipurpose saddle or a jumping saddle, the hook of the stirrup is placed more forward, which will make it harder to keep your heels under your hips.
Breathe in, stretch your core up, balance your head on top of your spine. Take your legs slightly away from the horse without tensing up. Put them in the right position, knees turned towards the saddle. It feels a little like you turn your heels outwards. As if you are sitting more on the front side of your leg muscles then the backside. Relax your bum so you can feel your seatbones. Your heels should be in line with hips and shoulders.
Don’t force it
A lot of trainers yell about keeping your heels down. They should be slightly down as to prevent your foot from sliding forward in the stirrups. But don’t use force to push them down, as it will push your lower leg forward at the same time. Heels down should come from relaxing the ankle joint, so it can act as a spring.
For some people it works to push their small toe on the stirrup. It tilts your foot in such a way your heel turns away from the horse.