I`m teaching this teenage boy to ride on his Mum`s little cob, and I`ve come across a new teaching predicament – floppy ankles.
He`s getting the hang of his rising trot, so now I`m focusing on building his balance, strength, and co-ordination so that his position is very stable and secure, ready for when he comes off the lead rein in trot.
For the first couple of trots we begin in sitting trot for a few strides before going into rising trot, and then let go of the pommel with one hand and once that is stabilised, the other hand is removed. I find it is better to break it down into stages so that he doesn`t bite of more than he can chew – you know what boys are like! I can then also pinpoint weak areas to focus on.
His posture and seat are developing, and as his core muscles strengthen he is able to better keep his hands just above the withers, so it is all coming together nicely. In the walk we are doing lots of turning and his aids are becoming more subtle and the turns smoother, which will put him in better standing for turning in trot.
However, my main focus at the moment is on the lower leg. After all, a stable lower leg is the secret of good balance.
As my client rises his toes point down, his heel rises and his lower leg wobbles as his ankle flexes. Many people do point their toes down when learning to rise, but I’ve never encountered rising from the ball of the foot like this. Obviously rising in this way tips his body weight forwards which will unbalance both him and his horse, limiting their progress.
Off the horse, we have a little look at his method of rising, because having a solid ground to push off should help switch on the thigh muscles and stop him using his feet too much in the rising. However, in quite an amusing way, this client stood up and squatted by standing on his tiptoes. I ended up doing a demonstration of rising trot on the ground – looking like a real weirdo as I did. Go on, laugh, I`m sure you are imagining it.
The homework for my client is to practice these squats at home, and back in the saddle we did some standing up in the stirrups so he could learn where his lower leg should be in order for him to maintain his balance, as well as encouraging his weight to drop into his heel. The rest of the lesson was spent doing short periods of rising trot, concentrating on the foot staying horizontal to the floor and the rider rising with a steady lower leg and ankle.
It will be a long process, and hopefully the practice on the ground (I`m planning on getting him to show me his squats before he mounts next lesson) will help make my rider aware of the correct muscles to use and help him build the strength there because I feel that he will find rising trot much simpler and effortless then, which will allow him to focus on steering and the plethora of other things us riders have to think about.
Do any of you have experience of wobbly ankles, or do you have any useful exercises to help strengthen this area?