Sitting Trot and My Lower Leg

I don’t like to think that I am a vain rider, but I have to confess that in my mind are pictures of dressage riders whom I want to emulate and dressage riders whom I definitely do not want to look like when I am riding!  One of the high standards I have set for myself is to ride sitting trot correctly; perhaps like Dr. Reiner Klimke, although I would have to be put on the medieval stretching rack in order for my body to at all simulate his long elegant frame.  Regardless of the hopelessness of achieving that quality of perfection, at least I could hope not to be bouncing around in the saddle, nodding my head, leaning back in a perpetual chair seat, flailing my arms out like chicken wings, or swinging my legs wildly back and forth.  So imagine my dismay when I, not only felt, but saw my lower legs bouncing back and forth on my horse’s sides in my sitting trot work.  What?  This could not be right!  All those hours on the longe line without stirrups working on my whole leg bouncing freely up and down from the hip, and now this!  I literally felt like my leg had been infected with an alien bug flapping away from the knee down.  I tried in vain to fix it myself, but only succeeded in making myself start bouncing around in the saddle. 

So after my lesson warm-up and some canter exercises, I decided to ask my instructor for some help in addressing my new leg problem in sitting trot.  First, I asked her if she had noticed, and she diplomatically replied that my leg did not seem as stable as it was, but that I was still getting used to my new saddle and the degree of collection in my horse’s trot.  Okay, diplomacy aside, I WANT it FIXED!  Preferably, today!  Luckily for me, I have a very patient and understanding instructor.

First, my instructor had me raise my stirrups a hole.  This is where my vanity sabotages me because, in my brain, I translate a long stirrup to a long elegant leg.  Well, seeing my lower leg flapping around like a broken wing almost completely dissolved that notion and I was ready to try it when my instructor asked me to shorten my stirrups a hole.  In actuality, shortening the stirrup, helps you lengthen your thigh, which you need to do in order to achieve a long leg with the correct bend in the knee and enough weight in the stirrup.  I still can’t compute how a shorter stirrup allows a longer leg; I just accept the reality.

Then after a lot of complaining about how crappy it felt, I set up my core, opened and rolled my thighs, let my knee look down, felt my stirrups and started my collected trot on a 15 meter circle around my instructor.  I concentrated on keeping the thighs loose and knee down, while keeping the lower leg solid and still, with lots of weight on the stirrup.  I tend to let my horse’s big bouncy trot gradually let my foot get lighter in the stirrup, which consequently gradually makes my leg shorten, my thighs or knees grip, and then the dreaded flailing lower leg action begins again.  

Once my lower leg was quiet underneath my seat and knee, I looked down at it for a couple of circles, then while watching it, I let it bounce around, then I fixed it, then let it bounce, then fixed it again.  Then I switched directions to try it with the other leg.  My left leg was more difficult to fix than my right leg, and once I got it fixed, I did not want to let it start flopping around again, but my instructor insisted, so that I could practice fixing it.  I found that the problems with my legs were different.  My right leg just needed me to weight the stirrup more to quiet it, since the thigh was already loose, down, and back.  My left leg tends to draw up and forward in the thigh, so I have to really concentrate on opening the thigh and putting it back down before weighting the stirrup. 

I imagined my lower leg in a black pipe (my boot).  The black pipe hangs solidly from my knee into the stirrup and does not want to bang wildly against my horse’s side.          

Fixing my lower leg resulted in a happier and more relaxed horse with a better collected trot.  In addition, while I was busy staring transfixed at my lower leg and putting it in and out of the black pipe, my horse was busy doing a correct 15 meter circle in collected trot. 

So ends another lesson and another step towards riding in partnership with my equine friend.  Today, ride with your lower legs in black pipes.  And give your horse a pat and a carrot from me.