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Improve your riding in a Murdoch Minute
By Wendy Murdoch
Copyright© 2013. All rights reserved.
Do you wonder if your leg is in the correct position? Can you see your feet in front of your knees? Do you jam your heels down? Are you out of sync in the rising trot? Here’s a quick tip to help you self-check your leg position and get your balance right.
Next time you ride, notice if your leg is underneath you, in front of you, or pulled back. Do you push yourself out of the saddle with your feet in rising trot? Do you lead with your chest as you rise? Do you have knee pain or brace your heels down? Leg position that is stiff and braced can cause your horse to hollow his back when you ride, as well as create back pain in you and your horse.
When riding, it is important to consider the effects of gravity. The classical alignment of ear, shoulder, hip, and ankle minimizes gravitational effects when we ride. If your legs are braced forward or pulled back, you are more susceptible to being thrown about by the horse’s movement; but more importantly, your horse bears the brunt of your weight on his back, rather than your weight being distributed around his ribcage. To reduce the pressure on his back, it is important to have your leg underneath you. As this eases his back, it keeps you in time with your horse’s movement.
Here is an exercise to use as a simple test for the correct leg position. If you have a mirror, stand your horse parallel to it or have a friend act as your mirror to make sure you are not deceiving yourself into thinking your leg really isn’t moving during the exercise.
Put both hands on the pommel of the saddle. Use your hands to pull yourself up as you just begin to stand up in the stirrups. The goal is not to stand but to almost stand. You want to initiate the action of standing but not actually stand. The cloth of your breeches should still be on the saddle when you do this lesson correctly.
As you just begin to stand, do you throw your chest forward or push your heels down? Does your leg swing forward? If so, stop and readjust your leg so that it is underneath you again. This time think of standing vertically with no forward movement. Are you in position to do this? If not, adjust your foot so that it is flat to the ground and begin again.
When your leg is in the correct position, you can just begin to stand without your leg moving at all. The standing movement is very small. Pay attention to the first thing you do when you think of standing in the saddle. If you brace your heel or tip forward, you will brace against the stirrup in rising trot instead of leaving your leg under your body.
After you have found the place where your leg remains quiet with the “almost stand” position, let go of any tension in your knee so that it can act as a shock absorber. As you walk and trot remind yourself to check if you can “almost stand” to ensure that your leg has remained in position.
Use this Murdoch Minute to self-check your leg position. With your leg under you your weight is distributed around the horse not just on his back. With your leg under you your rising trot will become smooth and you will be in time with your horse’s movement so that you will enjoy the ride!
Wendy Murdoch is available for lessons and clinics in the Northern Virginia region as well as throughout the United States. She teaches riders of all levels and disciplines how to improve the horse’s performance by improving their body position. On-line join Wendy’s Facebook group Fans of the Murdoch Method and find more articles, blog and her new book 50 5-Minute Fixes to Improve Your Riding, based on the Murdoch Minutes at www: murdochmethod.com
Photo 1. The rider’s leg is too far forward. She has to lean forward before she can begin to stand.
Photo 2. The rider has brought her leg back, but the heel still is too deep and the leg is still not under her. Again she has to lean forward first before she can attempt stand.
Photo 3. With her leg underneath, the rider can almost stand by going straight up. The movement is very small. Note that the rider still has weight in her heels and her leg is underneath her. See if you can go vertically upward rather than have any forward when you “almost stand.”
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