“Get Those Heels Down!” part 1
“Keep your heels DOWN!”
What rider hasn’t heard this a multitude of times? And what riding instructor hasn’t said this to the point of near despair? That one sentence has been spoken into the air for so many generations that you’d almost think future riders would be born with their heels down.
But they’re not. Furthermore, in the course of daily life there are very few opportunities which cause a normal person to use their feet in a heels down position. Consequently, muscles, tendons, and ligaments must be conditioned to this unusual position. Let’s talk about how to get your heels down in this three part article. This first part talks about why do riders need to get their heels down.
For the best results get your students to engage in the process of learning and conditioning for heels down. Without a clear understanding of what it’s for, what it looks like and how to and not to get heels down, a rider won’t make it very far out of the starting blocks in their riding career. Well, they might get out of the blocks but they’ll continue to progress in peril.
Keeping the heel down is a basic building block in the foundation of good riding. Notice I didn’t say the first basic building block. That’s because it’s one of many building blocks required to create a good foundation. Some of the foundation is taught concurrently and some is not. Frequently it depends on the age and ability of the student.
Keeping the heels down is one of the most important fundamentals in riding. Unfortunately if steps are not taken to get the beginner firmly grounded with their heels down, it will come back to haunt their riding later on. There are no quick fixes, short cuts or special stirrups that can replace learning this fundamental.
Check this list of reasons for keeping the heels down:
The biggest reason that the average rider needs to be able to keep their heels down is that it will help to keep them safe. And safety should be the number one concern of riding instructors.
One of the sensations we try to develop in riders is that of a lower center of gravity. A correctly “downed” heel will distribute the rider’s weight into the saddle and around the horse as opposed to on the ball of the foot.
And a downed heel keeps the rider in the saddle when sudden moves occur
“heels down = weight down = more security in the saddle”. Less unnerving wobbling. Wobbling causes students to feel very insecure.
prevents balance from pivoting on the ball of the foot
all of the above allow the rider to develop a more secure seat
The leg is trained to be longer and steadier which helps the rider use weight and leg aids better.
Picture this –
your student is out on a trail when her horse leaps to the side because a plastic grocery bag that’s stuck in a bush, flaps in the wind. Her heels come up, her weight goes up, her hands go up and the horse effectively steps out from under her. Or her heels go down, weight stays down, hands stay down and she rides out the spook that would have otherwise landed her on the ground.
Or picture this–
Your student is learning to post . Trotting along the rail the lesson horse does a sudden strong downward transition ( not unheard of in lesson horses). Do your student’s heels come up and she flops forward on the horse’s neck or worse, falls off? Or do the solidly down heels anchor the student so that she unceremoniously plops back into the saddle.
In either case the rider with the heels down is safer, avoids injury, and just as important, avoids a blow to self confidence. The heels up rider pivots off the ball of the foot, loses balance forward, and even if she doesn’t fall off, receives a blow to her confidence making the experience very unpleasant. And very unnecessary.
Students who develop good “heels down” are more secure and confident, more able to avoid accidents.
Safety, security, balance, seat and aids are 5 crucial building blocks necessary to develop riders who love what they do and want to move forward in knowledge and experience. Give your student all of these building block and keep the door open for forward progress.
Explain to your students why having heels down is important. You’ll engage their minds in the development process and your students will make better progress. Heels down is a basic riding skill. Teach it at the first lesson and continue to teach it to strengthen your rider’s security. Correct students’s heels at every stage of riding. Since it is a “basic”, its proper use will be effective at all levels.
I’ll explain more about “HEELS” in Heels Down part 2 of “Get Those Heels Down!”.
Here’s to good riding and a safe trip,
The Riding Instructor