Jumping Tips: Keep that Lower Leg Still!

One of the most common riding faults when jumping fences is allowing your leg to loose its position and swing back towards your horse's flank. Not only do you risk irritating your horse by constantly bumping its sides, but you also are in danger of falling off. A loose lower leg promotes an insecure seat. If your horse should refuse a fence, or make an awkward jump, you're liable to be ejected from the saddle.One of the most common riding faults when jumping fences is allowing your leg to loose its position and swing back towards your horse's flank. Not only do you risk irritating your horse by constantly bumping its sides, but you also are in danger of falling off. A loose lower leg promotes an insecure seat. If your horse should refuse a fence, or make an awkward jump, you're liable to be ejected from the saddle.

Story originally posted by: Cindy Hale

One of the most common riding faults when jumping fences is allowing your leg to loose its position and swing back towards your horse’s flank. Not only do you risk irritating your horse by constantly bumping its sides, but you also are in danger of falling off. A loose lower leg promotes an insecure seat. If your horse should refuse a fence, or make an awkward jump, you’re liable to be ejected from the saddle.

If your leg is less than tight over the top of a jump, there are two primary causes. First, you may be allowing your heel to creep up. This encourages you to pivot on your knee, particularly at the moment of take-off. Can you feel extra pressure on your knees at this precise moment? When your horse lands after a jump, do you consciously have to remind yourself to readjust your position, and push your heels down? If so, you’ll need to work on strengthening and stretching your calf muscles so you can keep your heels down. A second reason why your leg may be loose is because you might be jumping ahead of your horse. If you thrust your upper body at the jump as your horse leaves the ground, your momentum actually pushes your lower leg back. Once again, this is potentially dangerous. With your upper body lurching forward over your horse’s shoulder, and your lower leg way behind the girth, you’re in perfect launch position! So, how do you correct a loose lower leg?

One way to test just how badly you’ve developed this habit is to tie your stirrup irons to the girth. Use pieces of braiding yarn, about twelve inches long. Loop a piece through the inside branch of each stirrup and then around the girth and make one single knot. Now, try riding at the walk, trot and canter. Can you do so without breaking the yarn? Or does it snap right away? Next try jumping a low crossrail. That will be a big enough jump to see how well you can maintain your leg position. Did the yarn snap? Do you feel incredibly awkward? Never ride for more than a few minutes this way, and never tie your stirrups with anything unbreakable. But such a test is revealing to demonstrate how much you need to address your swinging leg.

One way to test just how badly you’ve developed this habit is to tie your stirrup irons to the girth. Use pieces of braiding yarn, about twelve inches long. Loop a piece through the inside branch of each stirrup and then around the girth and make one single knot. Now, try riding at the walk, trot and canter. Can you do so without breaking the yarn? Or does it snap right away? Next try jumping a low crossrail. That will be a big enough jump to see how well you can maintain your leg position. Did the yarn snap? Do you feel incredibly awkward? Never ride for more than a few minutes this way, and never tie your stirrups with anything unbreakable. But such a test is revealing to demonstrate how much you need to address your swinging leg.

To fix the problem, you’ll need an instructor or an educated ground person to keep an eye on your leg position as you ride without stirrups. That’s right, remove those irons and leathers completely and engage yourself in one of the most tortuous-yet beneficial-exercises in English riding. You only have to ride a few minutes without stirrups the first few days. There’s no sense in crippling yourself with pulled thigh muscles. Eventually you’ll find that your leg develops proper position on its own. Because your lower leg is the basis for your center of gravity and your upper body’s carriage, the correct position is actually the most natural. But this is where your ground person comes in handy. They’ll let you know if you’re still gripping with your knees or allowing your heels to creep up. You never want to practice bad habits.

The next step is to spend time in your two-point position. This is the fundamental seat for beginning jumping riders, but even experienced riders need to revisit the two-point occasionally. Don’t just stand up in your stirrups. Really concentrate on stretching your calf muscles and driving your heels down. Now just raise your pelvis up and forward, so your crotch is balanced over the deepest part of your saddle. Your trusty ground person will make sure you’re not holding on by just gripping with your thighs and pinching with your knees. In fact, allow your inner knee to be a little relaxed. That’ll allow your calf muscles to stretch down even farther. By alternating the two-point with periods of posting you’ll automatically remind yourself to keep your leg in place. Think, "Post one, two, three, four," and then, "up one, two, three, four," and so on around the arena for several passes.

The last exercise is to maintain correct upper body position over low jumps. This will prevent you from pushing yourself ahead of your horse and shoving your leg back. With your leg strengthened by flatwork without stirrups, it should be fairly easy to trot some low jumps without them. You’ll quickly notice that it’s nearly impossible to thrust your upper body at the jump. With your stirrups back on your saddle, practice jumping low fences maintaining a strong lower leg. To keep from lurching ahead with your upper body, envision allowing your chest being the first part of your torso over the fence, not your chin or your shoulders.

With the help of your instructor and ground person, you’ll be able to develop a stronger lower leg over jumps. It takes time and effort, and you may have some sore muscles in the beginning, but it’s well worth it to be safe when you jump.