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-   -   WHY HEELS DOWN and not UP? (http://www.horseforum.com/english-riding/why-heels-down-not-up-37381/)

Barry Godden 10-04-2009 09:38 AM

WHY HEELS DOWN and not UP?
 
WHY HEELS DOWN not UP??
Here is the case for the prosecution:

Regularly we get a Post from a frustrated rider asking how to keep the heels down. I know exactly how that rider feels and for the last ten years or so I have fought to keep my heels down in direct opposition to my foot’s natural tendencies. It was not until relatively recently that I was made aware that a constriction in both my ham strings and calf muscles made it almost impossible for me to bend my heels down. Only after some excruciating stretching exercises at Pilates classes have I been enabled to bend the sole of my feet up instead of down.


Whenever I walk I rotate the sole of my foot up not down. I kick myself forwards off an upward bent foot When I run, climb the stairs, dance or do anything which calls for flexibility in the foot, I always bend the foot up not down. It won’t go down. I can’t think of any thing I might want to do that I could gain from it going down - except riding in full glare of a dressage riding instructor or using a set of scuba flippers.


As and when I get the occasional attack of gout in the ball of my right foot, then I am crippled. The joint of the big toe becomes locked solid. I can’t bend my toe either way. At such times when I can not use my foot, I can barely walk. I could not stand without a crutch. I simply can not take any weight on the same side of my body as the gouty ball of the foot. Undoubtedly the capability of the ball of the feet to bend is crucial to human mobility. But a stiff ankle is a stiff ankle; one can readily walk on that. I do not desperately need Indometacin to free up an ankle but I do need it for gout in the ball of my foot. ( Urr - I have never had gout in my ankle).


Not too long ago after a painful visit to a physio therapist and a rough manipulation of my leg by the riding instructor, I was able, for the first time ever, to sit in the saddle with my heels down without having to actively push down the heel by exercising the muscle in the ankle. I have never managed to repeat that leg (flaccid) position since. I can’t do it on my own - I can only do it as and when that woman were to reappear (but being truthful, it is highly unlikely that she will visit me ever again). I was told at the time of her last visit that my hamstrings were tight, and my pelvis was misaligned. The newly acquired posture was to be the correct posture with my heels down.
Mine was not to reason why, mine was but to do or try.

I still am not convinced. I now find myself looking at all riders to see if their heels are down or up. The majority are up for most of the time. I am not alone in this world. The question must arise: If it doesn‘t come naturally, then why are we doing it?”. Every time I ask a rider instructor the question, I get the same answer.

Heels down is correct; heels up is bad.

Never have I heard a detailed explanation as to why they want me to do something which I find unnatural. Is it perhaps because they can do it in a dressage arena and I can’t? Does it matter that I am incapable?


The Bareback/Bitless Lady Stacey shows us that saddles and stirrups are not necessary when riding or controlling a horse. Seemingly the major purpose of the saddle is to make the use of stirrups possible - so why have we designed the saddle and the irons in such a way that the only way to use them “properly” is by the unnatural use of the ankle? Or are we just using the stirrups wrongly?


My toes bend Up more than they curve Down. My foot rotates up and down from the ankle. But there is more leverage exerted on the ball of my foot when I bend the foot down rather than up. Anyway it is the sole of the shoe that presses against the stirrup iron, not the actual ball of my naked foot.

I can stand on the ball of my foot with my toes bent up, - I can’t stand on the heels of my foot without support.


Now I know that by joining the side of the Heels Up rider, then I am committing heresy. I am moving over to the dark side. But you guys on the Heels Down side now have the opportunity to make your case.

Please explain your side of the argument.
You are right, maybe we are wrong - but why??
Then perhaps you might also tell us how to do the impossibly difficult.

Barry G

Note you can‘t read this and understand what I have written until you take your shoes and socks off.
(This thread could go on for years.)

paintluver 10-04-2009 09:44 AM

I have always been told that heels down so that if you fall off, your foot will slip out of the stirrup easier.

I don't think I ever really had a problem getting my heels down, now I do it out of habit.

ridingismylife2 10-04-2009 09:50 AM

The ideal position is sitting with your ear, shoulder, hip and heel in a perfect vertical line. Forcing your heel down, or letting it float up with most of your weight on the ball of your foot will distort this line. Letting your weight fall down into your heels allows you to stay relaxed and lets your leg sit against your horse more comfortably, effectively and securely.

I've never had problems getting mine down. :)

riccil0ve 10-04-2009 09:50 AM

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. All of your weight is supposed to go down your body into the heels of your feet.

As for most of the "heels up" riders, they are simply unbalanced in their seat, and if there horse were to randomly jump, bolt, spook, whatever, the chances of them staying in the saddle are much smaller than if their heels were down.

There are TONS of people out there with "bad" ankles that just can't get their heels down, like yourself. But that doesn't mean you ride with your heels up. Keep your heels down as much as is comfortable, or at least even. When you start standing on your toes, it throws off your whole balance, with throws off your horses balance. It's an exaggerated point to shove your heels down so your toes are practically touching your calves, that's just not what it's meant to be. In all honesty, there should just be more weight in your heel than your toe. If you look at dressage riders, they ride in really long stirrups, and their heels really aren't down, but rather slightly lower than their toes.

As far as bareback goes, I could care less, I ride with my legs hanging. The heels down concept really stablizes you in the saddle and stirrups, but bareback, you are fine either way. I still wouldn't recommend riding with your toes pointed all the way down, but rather let your leg relax like they would if you were sitting in a chair where you feet don't touch the ground.

I hope that makes sense. It's really early, lol.

Barry Godden 10-04-2009 10:58 AM

Ricci,
Apologies, I am being pedantic, but in the process of my querying what you have said, I and the others can learn. I am not questioning that what you have written is necessarily untrue. I am merely asking for clarification.

A lot of us have trouble with heels down. Many of us query why it is necessary - especially if we were brought up to ride “forwards”.

It is a thought of mine that in HF we have a worldwide forum over which we can discuss matters of theoretical knowledge about horsemanship. This Forum reaches many riders whose commonality is not only the English language but also a love of horses and horsemanship. By thinking and writing, perhaps we can understand better.

What you have written is along the lines of what I have heard before - but it makes no difference, I still can’t keep my heels down in an emergency - the heels come up and the counter balancing pressure is exerted by my brain on the stirrup bars through the ball of the foot rather than the ankle. And I am not alone.

You obviously know your stuff, Are you willing for me to use your reply as a “lesson”?
I should like to query in detail what you have written - in the hope that you can explain to me and others what I find, at the moment, difficult to agree.

If I am to conduct an experiment then it is appropriate for me to ask a participant for their permission?

If you say 'No', then I understand.

Barry G

Barry Godden 10-04-2009 11:24 AM

Riding is my life
Again I repeat what I wrote to Ricci:
Apologies, I am being pedantic, but in the process of my querying what you have said, I and the others can learn. I am not questioning that what you have written is untrue. I am merely asking for clarification.
It is a thought of mine that in HF we have a worldwide forum over which we can discuss matters of theoretical knowledge about horsemanship. This Forum reaches many riders whose commonality is not only the English language but also a love of horses and horsemanship. By thinking and writing, perhaps we can understand better.
A lot of us have trouble with heels down. Many of us query why it is necessary - especially if we were brought up to ride “forwards”

May I question what you wrote? It is my wish to clarify.

The ideal position is sitting with your ear, shoulder, hip and heel in a perfect vertical line. Forcing your heel down, or letting it float up with most of your weight on the ball of your foot will distort this line.
Letting your weight fall down into your heels allows you to stay relaxed
Sitting vertically look tidy when only the force of gravity is involved - but when the horse moves the forces of both motion and gravity come into play. The body bends forwards and backwards , indeed it must to stay in the saddle. The body will automatically tend to bend forwards at waist level to counteract the forces of motion,
Those of us that allow the heel to float up - don’t actually allow it to float - we positively provoke it because we are pressing down with the ball of the foot on the stirrup bar as part of the process of maintaining balance in the saddle.
Those of us that have difficulty keeping our feet down, aren’t letting it fall - we have to push the heel down in order to comply with the instruction from the tutor.

and lets your leg sit against your horse more comfortably, effectively and securely.
With some sensitive horses it is appropriate to keep the leg off the side of the horse in case it gets the wrong cue/aid. Keeping the leg on (against) might encourage it to go forwards faster than we anticipated.
effectively” - what would “in-effectively” be seen as?
“securely” - do you mean: less prone to unwanted movement?

I've never had problems getting mine down.
We heels up folks have no problem getting them down - we push them down but we would love to know how you keep them down. Have you any idea of how the heels down position is obtained by you without conscious effort?

Please be patient with me
Barry G

Barry Godden 10-04-2009 11:27 AM

Paint Luvver

If you have never had a problem with heels down - then you must have got it right from the beginning.
I wish I had.

Barry G

MIEventer 10-04-2009 11:44 AM

Maybe I can help you out, hopefully.

It is not necessarily correct to have heels down or heels up. It is about what aids you, as the rider, to beable to have a solid and secure, supple leg.

Solid meaning, under you during flat work, at the girth during jumping. Secure meaning where your leg needs to be, but functional. Supple meaning, not stiff, while being able to do it's job with the task at hand.

While yes when we jump our heels are supposed to anchor us into our tack. Why? Because the majority of the riders out there do not train their seats.

Lets start at the beginning. Studdy the Spanish Riding School Masters in Vienna. When a rider has been chosen to be a part of their phenominal riding academy, the rider is put on a horse, with a lunge line, with no reins what-so-ever.

Why? Because they are taught to use their seat first. Our seats are the most important factor to riding. Not out legs, not our heels, definately not our hands.

These riders are stuck on the lunge for a whole year before they are even given their reins.

Studdy their videos on youtube. The majority ride with long leathers and yes, heels are even with their toes or higher. Why? Because they are impecably well balanced, because they have phenominally trained seats.

The longer the leather in highly educated riders, the better balanced they are - because they use their seats first and foremost. Their seats are their heart to functional, balanced form.

Now - lets go back to the norm. Because the majority of us are not taught properly nor educatedly, and are permitted to to things on our horses before we should be - we are not as educated in our seats as we should be. Lets admit it, the majority of us ride hands first and have no clue how to even use our seats nor are taught that our seats are the most important factor to riding.

So - we aren't as well balanced. We are not as secure in our tack as those who are taught properly. So we have to resort to other parts of our body to secure us and solidify us in our tack....aka...our heels.

So the question isn't should our heels be up or should our heels be down - the question really is, "How can we solidify our seats to obtain a more balanced and secure form when we ride?"

A) I have seen riders with solid legs at the girth over fences, with their heels even with their toes. I wouldn't complain because they are solid and sunk in their tack, they aren't going to budge. Their seats are low to their saddle, their seats are centered over their tack, their legs are glued to that girth and they are over their horses center of gravity, without impeding their horses movement and job.

B) But, there are MANY out there who have no solidity in their lower leg over fences. They pinch their knees instead to obtain that security in their tack, their seats are lurched way out of their tack, crotch over pommel and lower leg so far behind them - they are going to do a face plant into their horses necks, or the dirt.

Which rider would I stress to resort in relying on their lower leg and heels? Which rider would I stress how important it is to rely on their lower leg and heels? Rider B, naturally.

Because they do not have the security in their seat, the balance to solidify themselves in their tack, so they must learn to re-establish their leg placement to aid them in that ultimate goal - secure, balanced seats.

That is why we hear George Morris stress over and over and over again, stirrupless work - so that we turn to our seats to secure us, not our knees, not our legs.

Flat work - really, it isn't our heels that anchor us, it is our seat.

~~~~

So - it isn't incorrect to have heels up, it isn't incorrect to have heels down.........what it ultimately is - is how balanced and solid is the riders seat?

IF they do not have the seat, they MUST have their lower leg, and their heels - to aid in anchoring them.

If they have a solid leg and a solid, balanced seat - who cares if their heels are up.

Barry Godden 10-04-2009 12:24 PM

MIE
Thank you for the expose.
Interesting what you say. I was introduced to horses
and vaguely taught to ride using the English hunting seat which as far as I can see is exactly how Vlad Littauer might have taught me. 8 years ago I went to Andalucia on holiday and watched a relatively uneducated Spanish farm worker ride his stallion. He was a guide at the riding centre. I was fascinated and over a couple of days came to realize that I had wasted a lifetime of riding. He sat easily and gracefully what I, English trained, had to cling on to.
As you say, it is all in the seat.

I have visited both Jerez and Saumur. I missed out on Vienna but the differences in methodology are marginal. (In Jerez one has to be male to be taken on as a rider, although stable maids are permitted).

What kicked me off on this subject is the pedantry of some tutors who dictate rather than explain. Lots of riders struggle with heels down.

Noone ever mentions Newtons Laws of Motion or talks generally about the forces of physics involved in riding.
Few bother to explain how the human body distorts with age and use.
And then of course, there is the question of different styles for different disciplines.

Your posting has provoked me to reread my copies of Podhajsky & L'Hotte. I might understand them better if I could find locally a like minded horse owner with whom to read them.
Sadly Jose, doesn't read English but he does live near Jerez where the Spanish School of Artistic Riding is located (just round the corner from the Spanish Military's Andalucian stud).
Well worth a holiday visit.

Let us see what response your espose provokes.

Barry G

MIEventer 10-04-2009 12:30 PM

What I have learnt over all the years I have been riding and paying "Instructors" to teach me - is:

"There are far too many Uneducated Coaches, turning out Uneducated Riders"

that is why I stress over and over and over to people, to really do your reasearch on the coach you choose to guide you on your pathway to being a functional, educated rider.

Be Very Picky!


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