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Using Your Legs

By LES VOGT - Horsetrader columnist - December 15th, 2011 - More with Les

Eleventh in a series
Last issue, Les began a look at communicating with your seat. Now, let’s look at the 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.

Learning to bump with your boot tops is going to make a huge difference in how your horse responds to you and how fast he learns. As an example, imagine you were talking with some friends and someone else walks up to get your attention. If he just lays his hand on your shoulder, you would feel it, but you might just keep going with your conversation; but on the other hand, if he comes up and starts poking you in the arm, you’ll probably pay attention. Using your leg on the horse is very similar. If you’re used to using your calf and pressing on the horse’s side, and he ignores you, where do you go? You’re going to have to press even harder or put on a pair of spurs to make your point. On the other hand, if you are bumping him with your boot tops, your cues are going to be a lot harder for him to ignore.

Another advantage of bumping with your boot tops is it will help you stay balanced and relaxed in the saddle. Any time you’re squeezing with your leg, you will probably be bracing with another part of your body to keep yourself balanced. When you’re riding, you always want to stay loose and relaxed, never stiff.

If there is no response to that, I can push my toe up and plant the spur on my horse’s side – then as I push my toe down the spur will roll up against his belly. When your foot is in the stirrup, the stirrup becomes a fulcrum to help you turn your toe up or down and allows you to use your spur for a controlled “roll” against your horse. It makes him pay attention.

As far as stabbing a horse with the spur, I think those days are gone; we don’t see that much anymore. And one of the main reasons is that it makes the horse tense up. When he sees your foot come out to the side as if you’re going to gouge him, he holds his breath and his neck gets stiff, so there goes my performance. So it’s boot tops first, then make contact with the rowel of your spur, and then roll it up if you need to.

As a horse gets further along I’ll just lay my leg on him first, then bump with my boot tops and so on. You always want to give him a chance to respond to the lightest cue – that’s how you get him light!

EDITOR’S NOTE: More with Les is a regular California Horsetrader column. Les Vogt has won more than 15 World Championships, including two wins at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity. Although Les still rides and occasionally shows, his focus is giving clinics around the world and developing products for the performance horseman. To learn more about Les and to see his clinic schedule, visit: www.lesvogt.com

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