Riding Balance: Reach for Your Toes

by Wendy Murdoch

Do you feet "go to sleep" when you ride or are they jammed against your stirrup? Do you have trouble getting your foot straight into the stirrup?

We might need tighten our girth while in the saddle but don’t feel comfortable reaching down to do it. Here’s a quick tip to improve your contact with your stirrups and tighten the girth while mounted.

Next time you ride notice how much pressure you have in your stirrups. Does it feel like you really brace against the stirrup? Could you imagine being able to slip a piece of paper underneath your foot without losing your balance?

How far down your horse’s side can you reach comfortably without worrying about falling off? Be honest with yourself. If you are using all your muscle strength to stay on and not breathing it is not easy!

Start slowly and look for gradual improvement in your ability to comfortably reach towards your foot. Be careful of the horn if you are in a western saddle. You might want to practice this lesson off the horse (while sitting on a flat surface) if it is too difficult to do it in the saddle. Once you have mastered it sitting, try from the saddle. Reaching your foot is not the goal. Finding a comfortable way to get there is!

Start with sliding your hand down your thigh, then off the end of your knee in the direction of your foot. If you have long arms this may be easier than someone with shorter arms, however everyone can do this when you find the right balance.

The key is to move your hips far enough back in the saddle to counterbalance the weight of your upper body as you lean forward and down towards your foot. If you are too far forward in the saddle to begin with you will tend to round your back to get to your foot. This will cause your lower leg to swing back making it impossible to reach your foot.

If your back is arched when you start you won’t be able to get very far down and this exercise could feel scary – like you are going to fall off if you are not careful. Push your pelvis back in the saddle and start again. Make sure your back is flat before you begin.

Once you push your pelvis and hips far enough back in the saddle it will be much easier to reach your foot and adjust the girth if you need to. You will no longer need your foot to help support you as you fold down. You will counterbalance the weight of your head going lower with your pelvis further back in the saddle.

Once you can easily reach your foot, see if you could pick it up just enough to slip a piece of paper underneath. If you can, congratulations! You have figured how where to rest your weight on the saddle without stiffening your leg.

If you can’t pick up your foot then it means you still have too much of your weight in the stirrup or worse, you are bracing against the stirrup. You will have to experiment to find out where to rest your weight in order to pick you your foot that tiny bit. When you do, you will discover that you don’t need to brace against your stirrups anymore.

Use this “Murdoch Minute” to improve your contact with the stirrup, distribute your weight more evenly through your leg and seat and be able to tighten the girth while mounted. Spending a little time with this exercise might also yield some interesting results in terms of freedom of movement in both you and your horse. Remember to enjoy the ride!

Wendy Murdoch is an international riding instructor/clinician. She travels worldwide teaching riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. Learn more at


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