WHY HEELS DOWN and not UP? - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 88 Old 10-04-2009, 01:35 PM
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It's because it's easier to grip the horse's sides with your heels down.
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post #12 of 88 Old 10-04-2009, 03:51 PM
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Originally Posted by fuzzyfeet View Post
It's because it's easier to grip the horse's sides with your heels down.
Sorry, but no. You are in no way supposed to grip your horse with your legs. o_O

And of course, Barry, you can use whatever you want out of what I said. I'm not sure if you really asked me any questions, but I have more to say. =]

I assume that you have it in your head that you are more secure on your toes than your heels. If you want your heels down, you will have to teach your brain that you are also safe, or even safer, heels down. Of course, that's if you want to. If you feel you are a secure rider, and can handle whatever moves your horse spontaneously makes, your obviously doing something right.

I, like everyone else, was always yelled at to "KEEP YOUR HEELS DOWN!" I was riding for several years before it bothered to sink in. I started jumping a crazy mare who was completely unpredictable. As we're heading up to the jump, I was always wondering what she'd do, refuse? Run out? Hesitate and then leap from a stand still? Or just take it like a normal horse. And I tell you what, if my heels weren't down, I couldn't stay on. I hit the dirt SO many times falling off that horse, typically during the landing. If I was standing on my toes, it typically meant my balance was too far forward and when we landed, I launched over her head. Eventually, I decided I was flat out done falling off that horse, and practically drug my heels in the dirt trying to keep them down. Once I figured it out, I was able to stay on no matter what she threw at me.

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #13 of 88 Old 10-05-2009, 06:36 AM Thread Starter
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Amazing since I started this thread yesterday there have been 90 viewers - obviously this is indeed a hot topic.

Your first post was one which I have heard from instructors - indeed it seems to be a mantra with many to call out "Heels down" but few instructors come across and manipulate my leg to make sure that it is in the correct alignment to allow my foot to lie parallel with the horse with heels down. (In Britain nowadays one has to be very carfeful how one touches young people for legal reasons)

My opinion is much along the lines of what MIE has said in her posting, it matters not so much if the heels are down , it matters more that the rider is sitting correctly and that the leg is turned to allow the underside of the thigh to lie correctly on the back of the saddle.
If the riders pelvis is misaligned or the hip is for some reason out of place then the rider will probably find the foot in the wrong position. The rider may also be sitting lop sided or tilted backwards or forwards.
Pushing the heel down ( the typical response to the tutor's cry) as against allowing it to fall down may do no more than add unnecessary tension in the calf.
If the rider is correctly in the classical position then there will be no weight in the heel - the stirrup is merely there to keep the foot still.

So the heel not being down is merely an indication that the seat of the rider is incorrect - so artificially pushing the heel down is of no help. The rider is in fact generating pressure when none is needed.

Riding a flat, wide backed horse will also be more difficult for a slim rider with narrow hips. The barrel of a wide backed horse will force the legs open

Stacey Westfall rides without stirrups. She doesn't see them to be necessary because she has a superb seat.
But the correct seat comes first - riding without stirrups won't bring about the right seat unless the rider understands how to sit first. Ideally there should be available in tack shops pressure pads to confirm that the rider is dispersing his weight correctly when sitting on the saddle.

You yourself go on to describe how a difficult horse led to your keeping your heels down - but it is likely that at the time you also changed the way you sat. The feet hanging down came as an outcome.

The other neglected element is the influence of the brain of the rider. If the rider has come to use pressure thru the ball of the foot onto the stirrup bars to counter forces of motion and gravity then very quickly that response will be absorbed by the brain and thereby become automatic whenever the rider feels out of balance. The long term rider who was not taught to sit properly in the first few months of riding, will have developed his/her own responses. That rider will under stress automatically revert to his first learned response - he'll push down on the stirrup bars instantly he feels unsafe - even if seconds before his heels were down.
Which is why I believe that correct tuition from a knowledgeable instructor is of prime importance at the very beginning of learning to ride English.

The naturally gifted rider, especially those who learned to ride at a very young age, will most likely come to sit in the correct position with minimal instruction.

All sorts of comments come forth as to why heels should be "down" - like "not losing the stirrups" , or "getting caught up when falling off" or even "looking better".
Heels should be down because they hang down because the riding is sitting correctly,

It is a shame that some of us old fogeys who still manage to ride won't ever get it correct. I blame my mother for not sending me to riding lessons when I was 5.

Barry G

Whenever I watch old Clint Eastwood films I get upset - as a young man he sat beautifully with an upright posture at all paces. He sat like a well schooled Spaniard riding his stallion in a fiesta. Sadly I might think I know what to do, I just can't do it.
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post #14 of 88 Old 10-05-2009, 10:50 AM
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That's very interesting. Now that you mention it, I'm sure I probably learned to sit better on that ridiculous horse, causing my heels to go down. It's a very interesting thread, that's for sure. The main reason I was told to keep them down was because it better allows your foot to slide out of the stirrup if you fall off and get hung up. Of course, I've fallen off and got dragged because the loop from either my spurs or my halfchaps got caught, haha.

By saying a rider will start riding on the toes when a problem arises, do you mean actually bringing the heels up and standing on the toes? Or that you simply force your legs further down, increasing the pressure on the toes? I guess I just got confused, because when I'm riding a horse that acts up, I typically sink my heels further, which increases the pressure on my toes even though I'm not actually standing on my tippytoes.

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."
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post #15 of 88 Old 10-05-2009, 12:06 PM Thread Starter
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Ricci - try this - I have attempted to explain my thinking on the matter. Take your time.

The instinctive reaction of a rider taught originally or used to riding forwards will be to increase the pressure on the stirrup bars - it will be the way he typically resists the unbalancing forces being generated by the horse. Newton says:"every force to be neutralised must be countered by an equal and opposite force"

The rider can't increase the weight of his body, that is determined by his body weight and gravity but by pressing down on the stirrup bars he will re-direct the weight. By pressing down more forcibly on one side or the other he can counter the forces created by the horse's movement.

This is similar to what the cross country rider is doing.
The stirrups have been shortened, elegance is not relevant - just staying in balance on the saddle over the horse's centre of gravity is all that counts when moving at speed over undulating terrain.
The rider is up, almost slightly off the saddle with weight being transferred constantly between the stirrups and the thighs and calves and the saddle.
An analogy is skiing downhill - where one foot can be lifted to offset undulations in the snow.

All of these reactions take place in what Parelli calls a "moment" - a milli second. The rider is not thinking what to do, the sub conscious brain is reacting - just a milli second or two after the horse. The capable rider does not know exactly what he/she has done - he/she just did it, instinctively as an acquired response learned by rote - constant repetition - over years of riding.

Elsewhere, say in dressage riding, the rider is seeking to be in supreme control of the horse with a light touch. It is almost like dancing - 'elegance' is the key word. The forces involved are much more gentle.

In cross country riding the forces involved are far greater because of the equation: force= mass x speed. (I've wandered off topic)

So the rider who has the heels up (instead of heels down) is using a contrived response mechanism because he has not acquired the correct/optimum seat and the responses therewith relevant.

The human body will usually find a way to do something demanded of it - even if the muscles used are not the best muscles to use for the movements. I cheat at Pilates classes because my stomach muscles are weak - I use other muscles. In addition I breathe in when I should be breathing out because I used to be a scuba diver. etc etc. My brain finds a way.

In theory it must be better to be able to sit upright with most of the rider's weight either in the saddle or the under thighs. If the rider does have a secure seat then he can, in the milli second available, redirect his weight to offset the force of the horse's movement. But acquiring that seat takes more than just being told how to do it. As MIE said, it can take a year of constant practice.

The human's brain always wants to stay in balance and upright but to do that it must have full use of the human's balancing mechanism - the eyes, the ears etc. Some riders don't have good balance and never will - me included but that doesn't mean we need to stop riding - yet. We do find a way - we lift our heels up. (then we get shouted at)

This is a complex issue - but in reading one has to think. In thinking one learns. I try to express my thinking - I hope to have written it in an understandable way.
The truth probably won't come out, until we get those pressure pads.

But this exercise illustrates only too well why the riding instructor takes the easy way out and calls "Heels down" - it is all too complicated for him/her to explain in a training arena.


PS Look over in English Riding under "Teaching the Horse the Classical Way" - the latest posting. I took Joe off the course - because of me - my body is bent. I could not get my heels down but other things were wrong too.
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post #16 of 88 Old 10-05-2009, 05:24 PM
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Oh my, this is a good one........ I like Barry am in the "old fogey" group. My body has been used/abused from the years on this earth. I go every 6 weeks to the chiropractor just so that I CAN ride. I go to the gym 2-3 times a weeks so that my muscles are strong which helps with the joint pain.

I've worked with several instructors over the years and one of the best was a lady who helped me ride well in-spite of my body. There are positions, like Barry, that I can not hold for any length of time. This lady helped me achieve a good seat because I'm a level boarding on up footed person. Trying to keep my heels down results in the complete loss of feeling in one foot.

You can still achieve that invisible line of shoulder, hip and heel with a level foot. You can still achieve a solid seat without your heels down. You can still maintain the correct leg position without your heel down. None of us have perfectly aligned bodies. I have one leg long than the other, and one hip is turned in which causes me to walk funny......Over the years I have had to find ways to compensate for my body.

I've spent years trying to hone my equitation skills and have some ribbons to show it's not too shabby, in spite of the fact that my body doesn't always bend the way I would like it to.

But this exercise illustrates only too well why the riding instructor takes the easy way out and calls "Heels down" - it is all too complicated for him/her to explain in a training arena.
LOL, I think it's more of a CYA sort of thing. If the kid falls then the instructor can say "I told you to keep your heels down"......

I tried to make this picture bigger to show my feet but I don't think it worked well. This is a grid clinic, jumps are very low. The purpose of the clinic was to work on body position. It's not the best picture, but I think you can see my feet are level, my leg is solid, I'm jumping with him and not ahead or behind him, I've given George lots of release and even though he's going at the jump like it's over 2 feet I think my position is very solid. I'll try to find some other jumping pictures on the computer at home.

Last edited by G and K's Mom; 10-05-2009 at 05:28 PM.
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post #17 of 88 Old 10-05-2009, 10:40 PM
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Originally Posted by riccil0ve View Post
It is correct to ride with your heels down because it gives you more balance, it will help prevent your foot from going through and getting stuck in the stirrup.
Which, of course, brings up another question: why are stirrups made so that your foot can get stuck in them? Look at for instance bicycle toe clips: your foot goes in just so far, and no farther. There's really no way you could get it stuck (at least I've never come close in maybe 30 years of biking), your feet are secure for the proper pedaling motion, yet come right out when you want to stop...
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post #18 of 88 Old 10-05-2009, 11:06 PM
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jamesqf, stirrups aren't made so that your feet can get stuck in them. Sure, emergencies and accidents do happen and sometimes peoples foot get stuck, but riding in the correct position and having proper foot placement should help prevent it. The person who made stirrups didn't make them so people's feet could get stuck and he could have a laugh.
I've always been taught heels down. I've had 4 instructors and every one of them told me heels down, however only 2 took the time to move my leg. The other 2 just constantly shouted it. I've been taught it is the correct way to ride, it helps keep you in balance, and in the event of an emergency will help you. I had a problem with my heels for about a year, but I took up pilates and my instructor helped. I think all horse-riders should do pilates, it really helps the muscles you use.
Barry G, imagine you rode with your heels up, (like when you point your toes down, that kind of heels up). I'm sure your leg would be less secure, your foot in the stirrup would be un-balanced and I'm sure your seat would struggle.
I'm actually going to try riding with my heels level with my toe, and my heels up and down just to see the difference. I've been taught heels down for balance and correct seat. This thread is very interesting.
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post #19 of 88 Old 10-06-2009, 07:03 AM Thread Starter
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In the period 2001 to late 2006 I was riding horses hired out from riding centres in a mountainous area. Very often each week I would be faced with getting on a strange horse to ride sometimes quite fast over tricky terrain.

I just looked at the horse, mounted up, did a few simple "what kind of horse have I got today?" check and rode off. I never knew in advance whether I had a fireball or a dobbin between my legs until 15 minutes into the ride.

As I discovered later my pelvis and my hips were out of line and my hamstrings tight. No way did I sit upright in a classical pose. I read Littauer's books and rode what I deemed to be "forward".
Instantly we got to canter, I would come up off the saddle and put a signficant amount of weight into the stirrup bars. My knees locked into the knee rolls and I leaned forwards. I worked the stirrups like a set of pedals and could rebalance myself easily by working the balls of my feet. Essentially the heels were always up and rarely down.
All I noticed was that I went thru leather stirrup leathers within a few months and on one occasion when I galloping along a ridge the stirrup bar actually broke. I stayed on and survived to the amazement of my friends on that ride.

Of course there was no finesse. But over that period the fun was charging about in over moors, national parks,
mountain tracks and beaches, I went fox hunting a few times and did 5 overseas riding holidays. But over that period I only came off twice, whereas in truth I should have broken my neck several times.

My problems started when I allowed myself to be taught the classical way - then everything started to go wrong. But that is another story.

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post #20 of 88 Old 10-06-2009, 05:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Gidji View Post
The person who made stirrups didn't make them so people's feet could get stuck and he could have a laugh.
Well, no. The person who invented stirrups (if I'm remembering my history correctly) did it so that he could stand in them and use both hands to shoot arrows at pursuing foes. The possibility of a foot getting stuck probably wasn't foremost in his mind

But from what I've read and been told, it does happen, so you wear a particular kind of boot to make it less likely, perhaps learn to ride with your heels down, and so on, when it seems pretty easy to design a stirrup that a foot couldn't possibly get caught in. Which makes me wonder if there's a reason I don't know about, and the best way to find that out is to ask.
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