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    Riding skills: Sitting In The Saddle

    By LES VOGT / Horsetrader columnist - February 4th, 2010 - More with Les

    To be effective with your leg cues, you need to be straddling your horse with your weight resting on the bottom of your hip bones. You also want to get to where you can stay balanced in the saddle no matter where your leg is on the horse. As we’ll discuss later, you’re going to need to move your lower leg from the spot just behind the horse’s elbow, to move his shoulder, to a position way back on his barrel, the cue to move his hip. So if you feel like you need to use your legs or the stirrups on a regular basis for balance, you’ve got a long way to go before you have the freedom to use them to effectively cue your horse. Keep just enough weight in your stirrups to keep from losing them.

    Making contact with the spur.

    Making contact with the spur.

    Also, if you’re clamping with your knees, you’re liable to vault out of the saddle if your horse stops, just let your legs hang when you’re not using them and keep them relaxed. You’re also going to want to sit back on your back pockets.

    There’s an old saying, and a good one: “If we can see the “W” on your Wranglers, you’re riding bad.” If you lean forward, and your shoulders get in front of your hips, you could be in big trouble if your horse makes a quick lateral move. In all the years I’ve ridden, I’ve very seldom seen someone fall off a horse backward! They usually fall forward, either when the horse stops or stumbles, or they fall to the side when a horse snaps out from underneath them. Since hard stops and fast turns are what we’re working toward, you’d better work on keeping those shoulders back now so you’re ready for the fun stuff when your horse is!

    Relaxed leg.

    Relaxed leg.

    Foot Position
    Maybe it’s from riding so many cow horses, but I’m really more comfortable with my foot all the way in the stirrup, rather than keeping it under the ball of my foot as many riders do. All and all, it’s a matter of where you feel most comfortable and where you’ll have the most capacity of movement with your leg – without losing the stirrup. Also, I don’t worry about keeping my heel down; you just want your leg to be relaxed, comfortable and maneuverable. You sure don’t want your heel up, but don’t worry about pushing it down either, it will put too much weight in your feet.

    Stirrup Length
    Again, this is a matter of what feels best to you, but I’m finding that I’m leaning more and more toward a shorter stirrup. Pick the place where your leg is both comfortable and maneuverable.

    Using the boot top.

    Using the boot top.

    Using Your Legs
    I’m often asked: “When I use my legs, should I be kicking or holding them steady?” Well, just as we’ve talked about how you shouldn’t use steady pressure with your reins, I’m not a big believer in steady pressure with your legs either. A large percentage of the time, I’m going to have you bump the horse’s sides with your calves, or what I call your “boot tops.” To use your boot tops, you’ll turn your knee out so your calves can make contact with the horse’s side and then just bump your legs against him.

    We’ll resume our look at using your legs in the next issue.

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