My #1 Best Heels Down Exercise For Kids Who Ride, To Do at Home:
The Step Stretch
This is the oldest and best exercise to work your heels down off of the horse. It stretches your tendons and muscles, and gives you the feeling of having weight in your heels. To do the step stretch stand on the bottom step of a stair (you don’t want to slip on a higher step and go down a flight of stairs on your face) on the balls of your feet. Slowly stretch down into your heels. Hold the wall to keep from falling. Don’t bounce because bouncing can cause muscle tears. Do this up and down in sets of 15 several times a day.
My #1 Best Unmounted Exercise For Heels Down For Adults Who Ride Is The Step Stretch AND All Of The Following!
Stretch back Muscles and Hamstrings
Tight lower back and tight hamstrings account for a huge number of riding problems for adults, particularly problems in legs and heels. Good old Toe Touches are always in style for stretching- stand up straight, roll forward and down slowly trying to touch the floor with your fingertips. Hold to a count of 12. Roll up slowly. S-L-O-W-L-Y
Loosen Ankles and Stretch Calf Muscles
Sitting in a chair with calves vertical lift toe off floor by flexing ankle. Hold for a count on 20. Then release and lift the other toe. You can do this exercise(as well as Ankle Circles) at your desk at work.
Ankle Circles both directions
Rotate your foot to the left 12 times. Rotate your foot to the right 12 times. This helps to loses up muscles that control the ankle. A flexible ankle is one of the keys to having heels down.
Stretch the Calves
Stand about 3 feet from a wall with feet flat on the floor. Lean forward a place hands on the wall. Hold for 15 seconds. Do not over do this. Adjust the distance your feet are from the wall according to your own body.
Stretch one Calf at a time
Follow the instructions for stretch the calves but only put 1 foot back to stretch at a time.
My Personal Favorite-
Stretch you legs, one at a time with an elastic exercise band. Put the band between the ball of your foot and your toes (or where it feels secure) point your toes and hold it for a count of twenty, flex your ankle and hold it for a count of twenty. Sets of 10 twice a day work well. Be sure to hold your knee straight. And be sure to do both legs
In the physical realm, tendons don’t stretch a lot but you don’t need a huge stretch in order to have good heels. Since the sustained heels down position is an unusual position for anyone to adopt when they aren’t riding, it stands to reason that a little bit of work to stretch those rather unstretchable tendons ought to pay dividends. Suppling and loosening your ankles will help your heel position and your relaxation. And strengthening your feet will help the general strength and flexibility of the ankle, heel, foot overall.
OK- Enough Work For Between Lessons.
Let’s talk about what you can do on the horse.
IF you wear paddock shoes or field boots – anything with laces at the ankle- do not tie them tightly. You can’t flex your ankle if it’s all bound up like you were wearing ice skates. You tighten your ice skates up so that your ankle is supported and you don’t twist it. You loosen your laces in your riding boots so that you can have a flexible ankle.
Standing and Balancing
Hold the mane or neck strap and rise up in the stirrups, letting your weight sink into your heels. Keep your knees slightly bent for shock absorbers. (If you straighten your knee and lock it you’re doing this exercise incorrectly) Be sure you don’t pull your seat forward onto the pommel. I would call that cheating – plus it doesn’t do a thing for your riding. Practice at the walk and trot. This exercise has the added benefit of working on your balance and helping you to find ‘center’.
**Two Point- Two Point gets two stars as the best mounted exercise for heels. . . and a lot of other things
2 point is an exceptional exercise for heels down. You can hold the mane or neck strap to steady yourself as you sink your weight into your heels. Don’t lean on your horse’s neck because because you will end up taking the weight on your hands instead of letting it sink in to your heels. Practice at walk, trot, and canter, also over poles. You’ll know your two point is good when you can move around, swivel at the waist, bend over to touch your stirrup. . . all without losing your heel.
With feet out of stirrups practice the same ankle circles that I mentioned for unmounted.
Oh, But I do all of those things
Here’s the truly hard part. Even if you are doing all of these things now, developing good heels takes a lot of time and even more work but it’s worth it because one day you’ll have great heels and not need to think about it any more. And you’ll always want to keep some of these exercises as part of your warm up routine.
Is That It? Is that all you have to say about heels?
Well there’s the ‘Mental Exercise”- Letting the weight sink into the heels is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. Riders need to picture the flow of weight from the head down to the heels. They need to think about the feeling of becoming heavy in the lower extremities. Adults, especially, carry a lot of tension between the shoulder blades. This tension causes the center of gravity to rise, which countermands many of the good things we try to achieve in lessons, including good heels. Picturing the weight flowing, not just to the seat but through the seat will help.
It’s hard for us to think about lowering our weight. When your horse spooks, your first reaction is probably to raise your hands and tense your shoulders- but guess what? your weight just went up and I bet your heels did too.
Develop a ‘weight down’ mind set. Think about letting your weight down (not slump, not rounding your shoulders or collapsing your core) through your shoulders (get your shoulders farther away from your ears), through your core, through your seat and thighs, down through your knee and ankle.
Try some of these suggestions on a regular basis. You may be surprised at how your heels improve.
Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor!
Barbara Ellin Fox