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Learn Which Part of the Rider’s Leg Should Be in Contact With the Horse

Submitted by member: Parucci

I have ridden now with two trainers that have very different ideas about the placement of the leg. One trainer has taught me to keep my thigh and knee off the saddle (anywhere from just brushing the tack to having an inch of space between) because it allows me to feel the horse better with my lower leg. She says when I “pinch with my knees,” my lower leg comes off and that squeezing with the inner thigh muscles can actually restrict the horse’s shoulder movement and cause him to slow down. The other trainer wants me to keep my whole leg on the horse, saying that it gives me more connection and more control. Both ideas make sense when the trainers explain them to me, but which one is right? It is very difficult for me to keep my whole leg on the horse. For example, if I were to place a dollar bill between the horse and my lower calf, I would not be able keep the dollar bill there and have my knee and thigh on the saddle at the same time. Is this something that everyone just has to train their muscles to change, or should I not focus so much on how tight my inner thigh/knee is because it’s more important to keep the lower leg on.

Answer by Bernie

I’m going to recommend you to go with your second trainer, as I would not advise taking your thigh and knee off the saddle.

Three parts of the leg are involved with grip in the saddle: the thigh, knee, and calf. Contact should be evenly distributed between the three. Too much pressure from the calves acts as an aid, while too much pressure on the knee acts as a pivot and causes the lower leg to swing. The thigh should lie flat against the saddle. Your ability to “wrap” your legs around the horse (barrel shaped) will develop in time and also may be somewhat dependent on your conformation.

Watch on Building Blocks to a Great Position Parts 1-5.  Also reference the many books on riding that refer to proper position.

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building blocks to a good position on your horse

Building Blocks to a Great Position: Part 1
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In Part 1 of Building Blocks to a Great Position, Bernie Traurig starts with proper leg position as a basis for a solid foundation in the tack. With demonstrations by his daughter, Natasha, this video outlines exercises that enhance proper techniques.
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Building Blocks to a Great Position: Part 2
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Range of Motion Exercise with Introduction by George Morris
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George Morris, in his introduction, talks about and clears up some of the frequently misconstrued points of position. Bernie elaborates on how to improve the functionality of your lower leg with his range of motion exercise.
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Exercises To Increase Heel Depth
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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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