After I’d schooled a client’s pony last week she tried riding with my length stirrups. I think I only put them down a hole to the end of her leathers, but she found it made a huge difference to her riding.
In walk she found she could really feel her seat bones and differentiate between them, so could ensure she wasn’t sat to the right, and she could use her seat aids more effectively. However, when she came to trotting she found it almost impossible to rise, so spent the rest of her ride in sitting trot – not necessarily a bad thing!
She told me about this problem when I arrived the next week, so after I’d ridden she got on to demonstrate her problem.
It was quite simple really; having learnt in the old days, my client pushed her heels down as far as possible, which causes the rider to push to the back of the saddle, but also for the lower leg to swing forward, akin to kicking a football. When she rose her lower leg swung back, and when she sat it swung forwards, so she was out of balance. I explained that you want the heel to be directly below the hips and shoulder, with the heel slightly lower than the toe. Really, it is the weight dropping into the foot and heel that stabilises the rider, not the fact the heel is lower than the toe. Perhaps as instructors we should stop shouting “heels down!” and rephrase it to “allow the weight to drop into the heel”.
In order to ride with longer stirrups you have to start near the seat; opening and stretching the hip joint so that the thigh can be at a more vertical angle, and the knee drops down whilst staying relaxed so that it doesn’t trap the rider’s weight and cause their centre of gravity to be by the rib cage instead of the pelvis. With the knee relaxed the lower leg can hang down, with the heel fractionally lower than the toe so that when you rise you feel as though you are standing and sitting on the floor, i.e. The foot and leg creates a solid support structure that doesn’t swing. If you were to look at the rider trotting and you could imagine removing the horse and the rider would still be able to do rising trot then you k ow they are balanced with a secure leg position.
Once my rider had made these slight corrections she found it much easier to rise to the trot, but can feel the muscles that need to develop so she is more comfortable at this longer stirrup length.