Do you know how to use your legs?

How often have you been told to: “Use your legs!

But did anyone ever tell you how?

Communicating with your legs can be as basic as a kick which crudely transmits a desire to go faster or, with development of control and finesse, can become a language filled with subtle nuances which produce a harmony only seen between the best riders and their mounts.

The first step towards this rewarding refinement is to gain sufficient control over your legs to avoid sending garbled messages to your horse.

Correct leg position.

We all know what a correct leg position should look like, and that the leg must remain relaxed, without gripping.

What is not often taught, is that to maintain this position some degree of tone is necessary in certain muscles; specifically, the inner thigh muscle – just enough to keep the upper leg lightly closed against the saddle without tension (gripping), without any corresponding tightening of the buttock muscles; the hamstrings (to keep your knee bent and your lower leg stable beneath you), and the muscle up the front of the shin, which raises the foot and stretches the calf to produce a deep heel, which should not be achieved by pressing down onto your irons.

  • Have a photograph taken of yourself, and check your position – is your heel directly below your hip – do your knees and thighs lie flat against the saddle – are your heels below your toes?
I would have liked my toes to be more pointed forward, but the alignment ear-shoulder-hip-heel is perfectly clear
  • Position your leg correctly without your stirrups, and then check the length of your leathers – if you cannot reach the irons without dropping your toes, they are too long.

Use of different parts of the leg

Once you have developed a degree of co-ordination of individual muscles within your legs, ie., you can tighten one muscle at a time without affecting others, you can begin to use your legs to produce a variety of effects:

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Why Should You Have An Understanding of Basic Horse Psychology?

Whether you are handling a horse from the ground, or from the saddle, it’s a big help to have some understanding of basic horse psychology. This makes it easier to predict how your horse may react in certain circumstances, and how he might respond in his interactions with you.

Always remember, a horse does not think like a human.

He doesn’t process ideas in the same way, and his priorities are different than yours or mine.

To understand equine behaviour, you should first study how horses relate to one another in a natural situation, i.e. in the wild, and not in the artificial environment of enclosed fields.

Basic Herd Structure

The most fundamental natural drives (instincts) have a huge impact on how horses respond to us, and our attempts to train them.

  1. Horses are herd animals; they always feel more comfortable in company
  2. Horses are prey animals; everything might be out to eat them

Starting with those principles in mind, let’s look at basic herd structure.

In the wild, horses live in large herds with a clearly defined hierarchical structure. Contrary to popular belief, the herd is not led by the stallion, but by the dominant, or lead, mare. She leads the herd between grazing grounds, while the herd stallion drives from behind, keeping all his wives together and seeing off other stallions seeking to steal his mares.

Aside from these two, hierarchy within the herd is determined by position and attention, and not, as used to be believed, by aggression (‘pecking order’), which is nearer to what we see in the artificial situation of small fields with limited food availability.

The nearer to the centre of the herd, the safer the horse is from predators. The ones on the outside are most likely to be eaten. Gaining a safer, inside space, is achieved by either moving in when a previously more dominant horse loses attention, or by jostling – shoving the weaker-willed horses to the outside of the herd, using their large shoulders.

Head height denotes dominance – the more dominant the animal, the higher the head carriage.

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