Learning to find your leg and developing a good seat is a very long process. I remember when I started taking dressage lessons in my early teens my instructor insisted that my leg was always at the girth with toes pointed forwards. Combine this with my weekly hunter lessons, and it was an equitation disaster.
At my hunter lessons the instructor had me open my knee, point my toes out, and keep my leg underneath my hips. Then we would do laps and laps around the arena in posting trot and two point position. She had me grow taller and taller and stick my tail feathers out, but I didn’t really understand what she meant when she told me to stick my tail feathers out. I remember this position to be incredibly painful, and it was something that really turned me off from jumping lessons. Somewhere between my twisted ankles and contorted stiff back I wondered, was riding really suppose to hurt that much?
I was very confused in those early riding days because in the back of my mind I thought a good position should work for both jumping and dressage, but I was told to do completely opposite things in each lesson.
Then I went to college and had a few working student positions. It was then that I found that typical “dressage” leg, which made the jumping position make more sense. Before I “thought” I could feel my seat bones when my instructor asked me if I could feel them, but the reality was that it was my perception. Yes, I could feel my seat bones, but it wasn’t the correct feeling for seat bones. I really wasn’t sitting deep enough.
That changed when my instructor peeled my thigh off the saddle, twisted it, and then laid my leg underneath my hips. Hello deep seat! I thought this was the correct position. My body was aligned through the shoulder, hip, and heel. Sitting this way made posting really easy.
And that’s what I’ve stuck with, until now.
Enter, sensitive OTTB.
At the clinics in August and November Stephanie gave me the green card to dashboard with Gracie. I’ve never gotten the green card to dashboard before, so I’ve never really played around with how it feels to stick my legs out in front of my seat.
I was bracing myself for Gracie’s buck, and Stephanie told me to stick my legs out in front of me. She was really particular about this in the canter. I was not to drive Gracie with my seat to canter – so I sat a little behind the motion, stuck my legs out in front, and I followed with my seat. It was the same idea of getting behind the motion to get a sticky horse forward, but used in the canter. I apply the aid to canter, Gracie canters and I follow. I don’t push the canter with my seat. There was a huge take home lesson from this experience. Somehow, dashboarding and following the motion helped open my hips.
So back to the frog legs. I realized that my super sensitive OTTB doesn’t like that a rotated thigh dressage leg, and when my dressage leg sucks onto the horse like glue it can hinder the mobility of my hips and the horse’s motion. The fix? If I open my knee and point my toes out just a touch my hips open, my thighs are a little lighter, and my horses are much more forward. And although I feel like I have frog legs, it really doesn’t look that way.
After I started feeling this change in my position I pulled a few equitation books off my shelf and read what they had to say. Some advocated a rotated dressage leg, others we’re very adamant about an open knee but a balanced position that was aligned shoulder, hip, and heel. I personally feel a huge difference in my horses when I ride them with an open knee and looser thigh. I can feel that this position opens up my hips and allows me to follow my horse in a much more fluid manner.
What really made the light go on was jumping Gracie. I remembered my old hunter jumper lessons and opened my knee and sank my weight down into my heel. It was so easy to ride Gracie on the flat in this manner, that I started playing around with my position like this in my dressage tack. What a difference a simple change can make!