In part 1 we discussed why to get your heels down. In part 2 we’ll talk about how to get the heels down. And then in part 3 I’ll give you some exercises to help keep your heels down.
Where do Good Heels Come From?
It’s impossible to have great heels without sitting correctly on the horse. By sitting correctly I mean in a balanced position, in the optimum spot over your own feet. You can tell if a rider is sitting over their feet because at the walk and halt there will be a straight line from the ear through the shoulder through the hip through the heel. At the trot the rider’s ear and shoulder may be slightly in front of the line, depending on the seat they are riding.
Any correct position on the horse should be one that the rider can balance in on the ground. It doesn’t matter whether the stirrups are short or long or absent. And it doesn’t matter whether the rider is in full seat, half seat, if the rider can’t maintain their balance in that position on the ground, standing on the ground without the horse, they’re displacing their weight and balance to some other, usually undesirable spot, while mounted.
The balanced rider sits over the horse’s center of gravity. Center of gravity depends upon the stye of riding, the skill of the rider and the degree of collection that the horse is capable of producing. An example would be the uncollected forward seat rider vs the grand prix dressage rider. The forward seat rider sits in a spot closer to the withers and the GP rider sits a little farther back, because as collection is developed, the center of gravity moves more toward the rear.
In order to have good heels the rider needs to sit up. When a rider rounds the back or rolls onto the buttocks and slops the shoulders down, it’s no longer possible to stretch the heels down, This is because as soon as these actions occur the muscles are blocked from allowing the weight to sink into the heels.
Correct Saddle Fit
In order to sit correctly the saddle must fit the rider and the horse, and be correctly positioned on the horse. The rider needs to sit in the deepest part of the saddle, right behind the pommel.
This saddle is too small for this young rider making it difficult for her to sit in the deepest part. A “too large” saddle would cause the rider to sit behind her feet. Both positions block the flow of weight to the heels.
It’s important to make sure your rider has his stirrups adjusted correctly in order to get their heels down correctly. If the stirrups/stirrup leathers are adjusted too long the rider will reach for the stirrups with their toes and be unable to lower their heels. A shorter stirrup closes up the angles of the hip, knee and ankle and will allow your rider to drop their heels lower than their toes and let weight sink in to them. The rule of thumb for correct adjustment for a beginning English rider is for the bottom of the stirrup to touch the middle or lower part of the ankle bone, when the feet are both out of the stirrups. As the rider develops a deeper set they will be able to ride with a longer stirrup and still have their heels down.
Some Heels Look Like They’re Down, but…….
The rider who forces the heels down by pushing them forward, rides behind the balance
and displaces the weight to her tail bone (or buttocks).
She’s bracing off her stirrups and hands to sit the trot. We’d like to see her sitting over her feet and using her ankles as relaxed shock absorbers.
The 2 yellow lines in this picture help to illustrate the straight lines we would like the heel and the hip to be on.
To illustrate this, have your student sit in a chair with her feet pushed ahead, making her calves go past the perpendicular, like this rider. Now ask her to get out of the chair without using her hands. She’ll see the only way to get out of the chair is to lean her body forward over her feet in a rather lurching motion. Next have her try it again and ask her to notice what happens to her hands. If the rider in the picture were to try to post, she would have to lean forward over her feet or pull on the reins to get out of the saddle. She might have to do both. We can see by the picture with the pink lines that she is sitting the trot and is braced against her hands and feet.
The rider that doesn’t keep the weight in the heels raises his own balance point and displaces (shifts) his balance forward, either pinching with the knees, leaning on the horse, or falling off , or all three.
Heels don’t need to be forced down. They just need to be lower than the toes in order to help the weight to stay down . Forcing the heel down will create stiffness in the leg instead allowing the ankles supple (loose) and springy.
If the rider places the foot too far into the stirrup he loses the ability to have a “springy” ankle and it becomes difficult to lower the heel. A foot that is placed too far into the stirrup where it can go no farther is referred to as “home”.
Thanks for reading part 2 of “Get Those Heels Down!”. In part 3 I’ll talk about some problems and some helps. I hope you’ll join me for part 3.
Here’s to good riding for your lifetime.
The Riding Instructor
Take a look at part 3 of Get Those Heels Down http://theridinginstructor.net/107/get-those-heels-down-part-3/
Did you miss part 1? Check it out here http://theridinginstructor.net/94/94/