Keeping my leg long enough when cantering - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 12:12 PM Thread Starter
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Keeping my leg long enough when cantering

I've been having trouble keeping my leg elongated when cantering. My instructor forces me to make me stirrups longer than I like, and because of this I'm having trouble keeping my legs long enough when cantering to where I can keep the ball of my feet in the stirrups, heels down without my foot slipping too far back in the stirrups. Yesterday I was so exasperated with this that I asked my instructor if I really needed my stirrups this long, and she insisted that I must keep them as long as she made me have them and told me that I like them too short and that when I make them as short as I'd like I'm not using my legs properly since they're not long enough. But then I have trouble, like I said, keeping my feet in the proper position in the stirrups.

Do you guys have any tips to help me out here? And why is it so important anyways to keep my stirrups longer even if I don't like them that way? I get that having your legs scrunched up too much would cause your position to be incorrect, but if the length I like is short and I'm able to keep my feet in the proper position better that way, why can't I just do that?
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post #2 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 12:26 PM
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I have the same issue. Don’t stress it as it will come with time. Not sure about changing the stirrup length so weird. All my amazing instructor does is remind me chest out, shoulders back and imagine that this lengthens your legs long into the stirrup heels down. It works. As you make yourself sit taller think about lengthening. Making the stirrups longer you will struggle more. My instructor gives me exercises on my horse where I take my feet out of the stirrups and at a walk I’ve got to stretch my legs to the ground.
Another method is GET A NEW INSTRUCTOR🤣 this one doesn’t sound to helpful or encouraging. It’s taken me about 4 instructors to find one who is patient and thinks outside the square to meet my learning style and help get me over my fears and anxieties as a green rider who had some nasty riding injuries resulting in surgery. Good luck and keep us posted.
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post #3 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 12:42 PM
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Stirrupless work would be my initial recommendation, even at just a walk if you are less experienced. Also, instead of thinking of keeping your heels down, which creates muscle tension in the leg, think of keeping your toes up. And it is ESSENTIAL to stretch hamstrings and your Achilles tendons/calf muscles before riding.
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post #4 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 02:13 PM
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Honestly as someone who spent several years losing their stirrups in canter it's much better to practice stirrupless than with too-long stirrups. They just distract me. Cantering stirrupless is actually very easy - far easier than trot. To help ease the transition when learning I might suggest what I was taught: walk, sitting trot in a corner and straight into canter. This is because MY horse is very bouncy. The entire canter was spent not worrying too much about steering and more on keeping my lower body relaxed. I would habitually lift my knees. I was very safe but I gripped entirely wrong. On another horse I basically went stirrupless and sitting-trot the entire one hour lesson (group).

And stretches. If you are like me and have tight calves and hips you won't get far very fast unless you a) ride at minimum twice a week or b) make up for it by doing daily stretches as mentioned by @Spanish Rider . I will be the first to admit I was lazy in the beginning but it takes far more outside of being in the saddle to help you get better in it. Unless of course riding is your full time profession coz they just "cheat" :P :P

Lastly tap the top of your head while rubbing your stomach anti-clockwise. Cantering while keeping my leg long gave me that exact same strange feeling. Of being split into two. It's just like learning playing piano and how to use left and right hands independently. Riding is the same. But it's much harder because you have to deal with your hands, your seat, your head position, your leg... then do it at funny gaits. For me personally "separating" my legs from my body was the hardest. For some it might be keeping their hands neutral. Others, the way they sit. You're not alone in your crux. BTW you pay for your lessons. You should be allowed 100% to ask to try something different that you think might better suit you.

Good luck!
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post #5 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 02:14 PM
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I"m assuming you are riding dressage, right?


I think your instructor is WRONG to think that giving your stirrups that are way too long will help you achieve a long leg. Better to take them away, totally.
No, riding with stirrups too long is one of the MOST common things that amature dressage riders do to mess up their riding quality.


I remember reading a really great article, years back, in "Dressage Today" (I used to subscribe to that magazine), by rider Heather Blitz, where she described exactly what happens when you have stirrups that are too long. She described it in detail, and I cannot remember all of it, but basically because you are 'fishing' for your stirrups, you will often roll forward onto your 'fork', which puts you in a 'weak' position where you are easily pulled out of balance by your horse. It is harder for you to get your horse in front of your leg, and you may end up pulling downward on the reins to balance yourself.
(oh , how I wish I could find that article! Ms. Blitz wrote it so beautifully!)


Anyway, your leg should have a roughly 90 to 95 degree angle of opening behind the knee. With very long stirrups, that opening becomes way too open. You leg becomes of no help to you, and in fact, becomes a literal 'drag' on your body as you reach with your toe for your stirrup.


A long leg has more to do with how the energy and weight go down into a supporting leg, than how far down the horse's barrel your leg reaches.
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post #6 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 02:15 PM
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I'd do some no-stirrup work to help you with this, at the walk/trot first. It will help you a lot more when you have stirrups. Just breathe too, try not to think about your position too much because that will cause you to tense up & grip with your knees.

I have longer stirrups now, & I actually like it a lot better. At first, it was tough to get used to. But after awhile it feels right...shorter stirrups don't feel good anymore!
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post #7 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 02:34 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tinyliny View Post
I"m assuming you are riding dressage, right?
No, actually, I am riding in a jump saddle. That's also why I get so frustrated that I have to keep my stirrups so long- this isn't dressage I'm trying to do here. But yet she keeps forcing me to have dressage-length stirrups when I'm trying to learn how to jump, or so it feels that way to me.
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post #8 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 02:56 PM
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There should be around a 90 degree angle behind your calf, knee, thigh angle with the jumping saddle. The stirrups, when at rest beside your foot should hit your ankle bone. Another measure is standing up in the saddle and having adequate space between your crotch and the saddle.

If this is a jumping lesson, and your stirrups are longer than that then something is wrong. I agree that working without stirrups is always beneficial

Riding equitation you may have a longer length to show off your leg.
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post #9 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 02:57 PM
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Oh, that's odd. Well, could you post some videos of your riding ? I wonder what this instructor is seeing that she is trying to 'counter'?
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post #10 of 19 Old 07-15-2019, 03:53 PM
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OP stated that she is riding in a "jump saddle". However, if she is having problems with cantering, I am assuming that she is still working on hunt seat equitation, not jumping per se.

@OctoberEquestrian , it is very common in hunt seat classes to work on basic equitation with longer stirrups in order to develop proper leg position. This is not merely for the sake of aesthetics, but for your own stability and safety as you develop your seat and inner thigh muscles. Plus, your leg stretches and lengthens during warm-up and your pelvis opens, so what sometimes seems 'too short' at the start of class often starts to feel 'just right' when you are warmed up.

In college jumper classes, we used to do the warm-up with stirrups at tip-to-pit arm's length, then shortening stirrups by two holes before starting the jumps. It is easier (and safer) to ride in two-point and jump with a long, stretched leg.


No worries! The great thing about riding is that everything gets easier with practice. We're all still learning and improving.
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