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Deep Heels vs Shock Absorbing Heels

Submitted by member: Carina

My daughter has been watching your videos Building Blocks To A Great Position Parts 1-4. You mention a lot of “deep heels.” She says she’s confused as you say “deep heels” and her trainers say to only use “deep heels” when needed, like a shock absorber… I guess that would be for jumping. Any suggestions? I don’t want her to get discouraged in watching your videos.

Answer by Bernie

First of all, your trainer is right about the heel being a shock absorber. Heel depth varies for people according to their flexibility. You see some folks with super deep heels and others with only minor heel depth. This is usually due to either flexibility or habit. The first thing we are taught when we learn to ride is “heels down.” This is a fundamental basic of position. The heel should function like a shock absorber for many reasons, which are pointed out throughout my videos. I think your daughter’s confusion here is she is thinking of my term “deep heel” as down completely with no ability to go further and absorb shock. That would be a fault for sure. That said, I don’t think I have ever seen anybody with the issue of heel depth to the max. On the other hand, I do see many folks with the opposite—not enough heel depth! So I find I must constantly keep encouraging people to deepen their heels so they end up in the mid range of the “shock absorber length.”

My impression from the one video I saw of her what that she needed to work on deepening her heel “somewhat,” not all the way to the max. This is a necessary fundamental of proper development of a good balance in the stirrups, ie: “Two Point” position. Without the heel absorbing the shock of the canter, the seat will become the shock absorber and the rider will just be rising up and down with their seat, banging the back of the horse and/or posting the canter. This is something we all have to work on constantly, including myself. I even stand on stairs prior to riding so my heel will function more elastically.

Have her watch, on Youtube, some of the greats in our sport of show jumping, and you will clearly see the depth most of them ride with. Of course, one will find a great here or there who happens to ride with less depth. Their outstanding talents, in general, allow them to get away with, or work around this issue. Don’t be a bad copy of a great. One should strive to copy the examples set by the classical greats of our sport.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion. Her trainer is correct about the shock absorbing function of the heel and my advice is to just work on deepening her heel a bit, over time, not to the max.

More Learning

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exercises to increase your heel depth when you ride

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Bernie Traurig

As a Horseman, Bernie is renowned for not only his riding talents but for his teaching and coaching gifts. As a competitor, Bernie has represented the United States Equestrian Team both at home and abroad on many occasions and reached the top of the sport in all 3 of the International Equestrian Olympic disciplines: Show Jumping, Dressage, and Eventing.After amassing 60 years worth of training and riding techniques and experiences with thousands of horses, Bernie is driven to give back to the sport that has given him so much fulfillment and success.

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