canter, dressage, horses, humor, riding, transitions

Whose Legs Are These, Anyway?

I’ve known my legs my entire life, and you’d think we would’ve worked things out by now. When walking or cycling, my legs behave as expected. I don’t even have to think about what they should do, they simply go through the motions for me. It’s fantastic!

On the horse, however, things are different. My heels slide up, toes point down, and the entire leg slides forward. No, legs, no!


I’ve been working on this for years. The minute I stop consciously telling my legs where I want them to stay, they shimmy forward.

On the front end, Micah is bargaining for more rein and would prefer to carry his weight on his front end. I’m trying to influence the ride while having an ongoing argument with my rebellious legs. There’s also that right arm that likes to float, higher than the left.

No matter how many times Natalie says, “Keep your right arm down” the moment I stop thinking about it, my arm is back to hovering. I am a ballet of broken parts.

In this week’s lesson, I asked Natalie to help me focus on my errant body. While hate being picked on, I know it’s the only path to improvement. And, each time we improve my position, I become more effective on the horse. So, it’s worth it.

Personally, I don’t know how Natalie (or any trainer) can stand the constant repetition. I’m pretty sure Natalie says, “Shorten your reins” about 3,000 times per day (at least 400 times in my individual lesson). She has both patience and endurance. I suspect that figuring out the horse is the easy part of her job. Dealing with the rider, now that’s another story!

We talked about my naughty legs and the fact they’re better at the walk and trot, but in the excitement of the canter, they go astray. I tend to pinch with my knees, let the lower leg slide forward and—worse yet—tighten  my back. This, in turn, hinders the swing of my hips—which is the opposite of what I want to do.

To address this, I tried to be more conscious of my leg position at the walk and trot. When done right, I feel like I’m hugging the horse with my calves. This is a nice mental image, so I used the word ‘Hug’ to remind myself where my legs belong.

Try riding around your arena, repeating the word ‘Hug’ to yourself. I guarantee you will feel like a crazy lady—but that’s the sort of thing I do.


The ‘Hug’ mantra worked well most of the time. Micah did  sense my shift in focus and took advantage by dropping out of the canter and into the trot. So, I had to expand my focus and keep my entire brain working at all times. It was painful.

By the end of the lesson I was able to successfully canter around the entire arena, throwing in a few circles while avoiding the young stallion in training! It was most rewarding and gives me hope that if they move show season back a few months, I’ll be ready!

Actually, I must thank Micah for ignoring the civil war that happens on his back (my arms vs. my legs vs. my back vs. my seat) and attempting to go with the program. He must be wondering, “What is wrong with her??” That’s a fair question.

Sorry, Micah. Just a mere mortal, trying to speak your language. Have a sugar cube, sweetie, you earned it!