1. Sitting Correctly:
If you have trouble keeping your heels down when you ride, check to see if you’re sitting correctly. By sitting correctly I mean in a balanced position, in the optimum spot over your own feet. You can tell if you’re sitting over your 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 your ear and shoulder may be slightly in front of the line, depending on the seat they are riding. How do you check? Have a friend watch you, look in a mirror if your lucky to have one, ask someone to video a ride, or just get a snap with a cell phone. Sitting correctly makes it easier to get your heels down.
Any correct position on the horse should be one that you can balance in on the ground. It doesn’t matter whether your stirrups are short or long or absent. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re in full seat, half seat. If you can’t keep your balance in that position standing on the ground without the horse, you’re displacing your weight and balance to some other, usually undesirable spot, while mounted. Your weight won’t be in your heels.
When you’re balanced you sit 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.
3. Good Posture
In order to have good heels you need to sit up. When you round your back or roll onto your pockets and droop your shoulders forward, 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 your weight to sink into your heels.
4. Correct Saddle Fit
In order to sit correctly your saddle must fit you and the horse you ride, and it needs to be correctly positioned on the horse. You need to sit in the deepest part of the saddle, right behind the pommel. If your saddle forces you to sit behind or in to far forward it will make it difficult to keep your heels down.
5. Stirrup Adjustment
It’s important to make sure your stirrups are adjusted correctly in order to get your heels down. If your stirrups/stirrup leathers are too long you’ll reach for the stirrups and be unable to lower your heels. A shorter stirrup closes up the angles of the hip, knee and ankle and will allow you to drop your heels 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 you develop a deeper seat you’ll be able to ride with longer stirrups and still have your heels down.
6. Foot in the stirrup correctly – Try the “Bubbly Spring”
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”.
It’s easier to have springy ankles if the stirrup is on the “bubbling spring” or Kd 1 point. Bubbling spring is a common term for a reflexology point that is on the ball of the foot. Sally Swift, the innovator of Centered Riding brought the ‘Bubbly Spring” to riders. When you put your foot into the stirrup using the ‘Bubbly Spring” the stirrups sits diagonally with your little toe at the out side branch and the inside branch back towards the ball behind your big toes.
Next time you ride check these 6 areas out. They may be the answer you’re looking for.
Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor!
Barbara Ellin Fox