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Point your Toes In

By: Galadriel Billington

10:31AM Apr 8, 2004

Why does it matter where your toes are pointed? Truthfully, your toes themselves don't really matter--what does matter is where your *leg* is pointing.
proper position
proper position side view
What you want to do is softly wrap your legs around the horse, and have a light contact with his body from your seat all the way to your ankle or midcalf (depending on your and the horse's anatomy ;) ). In order to keep your leg on the horse all the way down, you need to have your leg pointed forward.
There are two reasons why you want to keep your leg on all of the time:
  • You have a more secure seat when you have a stable base of support. Your base of support is that whole area inside your leg, from your thigh to your calf. Think about it this way: sitting on your chair, reach your knees up until you are only sitting on your seatbones. Your balance becomes much more precarious. Now lower your legs so all of your thigh is on the seat as well (or as much will fit on your chair). You're much more secure now, aren't you?
  • When you have your leg softly on the horse all the time, you can just squeeze your calf in order to apply a leg aid. You may think that keeping your leg on will make a jumpy horse go faster, but the truth is that it's much easier for you and for the horse; most horses will relax. The reason for this is that if you try to keep your leg off the horse all the time, you will inevitably bump him, probably every step, with your leg. Since he doesn't have any baseline (solid soft touch) to go from, he will interpret every little touch as a signal to go faster, including those accidental bumpings. If you keep your leg softly on, and softly squeeze when you want to use your legs, you will have much more control over how much you squeeze, and the horse will be much more relaxed about your leg. You will also be more able to keep your leg still, so it does not swing and keep nudging the horse.

Easygoing horses can often ignore an accidental leg tap or a swinging leg, but more sensitive ones will be confused by it and try to respond to it each time. And it's riding a more sensitive, more forward horse that makes most people want to pull their leg OFF the horse's side. Don't. :) Keep your leg softly on all of the time and it will make using your leg much more easy and clear.
toes out If your toes are pointed out, so is your leg. When your leg is pointed out, then you have a big SPACE between your leg and the horse...see, your knee isn't even on the horse at all.
Your ankle and heel will be resting on the horse's side; any leg pressure you give will be a lot harder than you meant, because it's all coming through your heel. To compare, press on something with the palm of your hand. Now press with the heel of your hand. Feel how using the heel of your hand makes the pressure seem harder, even if it's not?
This also makes your seat much more unstable--you're resting *entirely* on your two seat bones, with no leg on the horse to help stabilize you.
toes in
toes in side view
toes in leaning forward toes in leaning backwards
When your toes are pointed all the way in--or if you are gripping with your knees, which causes the same thing--then your lower leg comes off the horse. It flaps around unsteadily (yes it does, even if it doesn't feel that way to you!) and bumps the horse unpredictably.

You're also usually squeezing pretty tight on the saddle, which confuses the horse, and often your knees will come upwards; this makes your leg come forwards. When your leg comes forward, you lose your head-hip-heel line (red line in graphic). Most of the time you will either lean forward to keep your balance, or you will end up leaning backwards to try to keep a "straight line" in your body.

In order to keep your balance and to give your aids the way you meant to, you need to keep your whole leg on the horse all of the time--but resting softly, not pushing. Then you push gently when you want to use the leg.
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2004 Galadriel Billington. All rights reserved.