The Horse Forum banner

Building lower leg strength

1343 Views 23 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Part-Boarder
I’m making progress in my lessons and identified that many of my long-standing problems can be solved by building flexibility or strength between lessons.

Another issue that would help me improve my riding is having enough power for the horse to feel when I have my leg on. This would be for extending the posting trot, engaging the hind, getting more energy into the sitting trot - ie the leg press that would accompany each step when I want the horse to be more active in the hind or step bigger (note: any errors in describing this are mine not my riding coach’s).

I think it’s a leg strength issue as my coach says my leg is in the correct spot she just can’t see the squeeze and I get a bit worse at it though the course of the lesson as my legs get tired.

So just wondering what exercises I can do to help build that lower leg strength. It’s a bit of an unusual thing to be pushing inwards like that other than for riding so I could see why those muscles would be weak.

I got a weighted ball and am thinking of doing leg lefts of some kind. I also started trying to press my leg against my other leg or maybe I could do that against a door way.

Also wondering if it should be pressing with my heel rather than my leg? I’ll probably clarify that with my coach but welcome any refinements in my thinking as well.

Suggestions?
1 - 20 of 24 Posts

· Registered
Joined
·
1,443 Posts
I don't know what your coach would say, but I had the same problem until I was advised to turn my heels in and toes out to give a squeeze, only doing it for a cue. That gave me strength for the cue and I have not had a problem since.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,008 Posts
How often are you able to ride? For me, the more time I can spend in the saddle definitely makes a difference. Outside of riding when I go to the gym, one of the exercises I like is to do squats with 2 squishy exercise balls (size of big cantaloupe). One is between my knees and the other is pressed up against a wall at outer knee level. The idea is to squeeze the knee balls both at the same time against the wall and against each other. This helps both outer hip and inner thigh.
Another thing that I find interesting that helps to stabilize my knee without pinching against the saddle....a very slight internal knee rotation as you post on the "up" position. It sounds like it would torque your knee but it feels satisfyingly solid. One of my coaches suggested this and when I tried it, I liked it.
I am learning to better use my heel when I spur by turning my toe out but find that awkward as I get used to it.
Stirrup-less work posting will do wonders, too. Have fun!
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,970 Posts
I will have a bit of a controversial opinion but I don’t think your leg strength matters much if the horse is responsive. Remember, they can feel a fly land on their skin. I personally don’t even use leg for forward, just my seat - and very lightly. I only use my leg for lateral work.

The big question is how to get the horse responsive. Forgive me, I forget - is this your own horse or a school horse? Because school horses are notoriously dull to leg aids (well, most of them). If it is a school horse you cannot really do much long term. Ask your instructor to do ground poles, cones, LOTS of transitions (especially trot-canter), dressage tests (intro) - all of these would synch you and your horse. The problem with school horses is that many people ride them and dull them between your rides - just the way it is, and the way it has to be. My mare is not beginner-friendly, not because she has dangerous vices but because she responds immediately to any change in balance or any other aid. That isn’t very good for beginners at all.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
509 Posts
I will have a bit of a controversial opinion but I don’t think your leg strength matters much if the horse is responsive. Remember, they can feel a fly land on their skin. I personally don’t even use leg for forward, just my seat - and very lightly. I only use my leg for lateral work.

The big question is how to get the horse responsive. Forgive me, I forget - is this your own horse or a school horse? Because school horses are notoriously dull to leg aids (well, most of them). If it is a school horse you cannot really do much long term. Ask your instructor to do ground poles, cones, LOTS of transitions (especially trot-canter), dressage tests (intro) - all of these would synch you and your horse. The problem with school horses is that many people ride them and dull them between your rides - just the way it is, and the way it has to be. My mare is not beginner-friendly, not because she has dangerous vices but because she responds immediately to any change in balance or any other aid. That isn’t very good for beginners at all.
This, totally! I recently rode the horse of one of my trainers, an Andalusian. He could be steered just by rotating my eyes! Incredible. But I was so tense - like, the wrong movement/touch and he would bolt on me!
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,970 Posts
This, totally! I recently rode the horse of one of my trainers, an Andalusian. He could be steered just by rotating my eyes! Incredible. But I was so tense - like, the wrong movement/touch and he would bolt on me!
A really well tuned horse might bolt - but you can also stop him by just exhaling :)

I love responsive horses even though I am the biggest coward ever. Those slow poke ones that you have to squeeze like a toothpaste give me anxiety.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
950 Posts
I have been told to press with the back of my calf and kind of like @Whinnie to turn my toes out and heels in before I do it.

Like @Horsef and @Luna’s rider I have also ridden horses that don't need a lot of leg either and will stop if you exhale, but if you are stuck riding a horse that is not responsive to leg then you kind of have to work in with what your coach wants you to do. My current coach would prefer that I used a crop to reinforce light leg aids that are not responded to, than to try to have a stronger leg aid and get ignored.

I also remember in my last lesson when we had a chat about leg versus other aids and my coach was talking about how many people were all about leg, but she was about less leg. I remember commenting that my legs would just not be strong enough to out-leg the current horse I am riding, and she was like "yes, that is why I am more about other aids" (this was more about moving over than forward though). Her big thing is outside rein as an aid. And if I can only remember one thing when I am riding, it is to make sure I have my outside rein, lol :) Not as if that helps you but that was a random conversation I had about leg recently.

Nothing wrong with making your legs stronger though. I try to work on mine daily. Calf raises, inner thigh lifts with ankle weights, stuff with a big exercise ball where you press inward, stuff with a little exercise ball. You may have noticed I am all about the free Youtube workouts. Will try find some of my favourites for legs and post them for you.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
817 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Amazing, thanks for all the ideas! This is exactly what I was looking for.

I have worked on my shoulders, arms, core strength, hips and all aspects have helped so far and now legs are the next frontier. By working on my body positioning, strength and flexibility between lessons I’ve seen the most improvement I’ve ever had. So now thinking about legs, I think some of the videos hit on the exact muscles I want to develop.

The max I could ride in a week is four rides - one lesson and 3 rides on trail or arena but more typically, I would do one lesson and 2 trail rides or one lesson and one trail ride (usually one after the other). I just started the lessons with this coach in Nov and I’m making progress so I think I will continue if I can. I’m also trying to arrange some time off work so I can ride on Wednesday afternoons so that would be a steady 3 rides a week (ie one on Wed and two on Sun). That said, I do skip some weeks particularly when it is -17 plus windchill!

The horses I ride are not typical school horses - when I was looking for a new barn, I rode some school horses at two places as part of an assessment of my level. They were completely non-responsive, and could barely be moved to get into a trot (the BO’s tip was to kick them! Not my kind of riding facility).

Where I ride now, they do not have lesson programs/camps for children and do not cater to beginners. It is mostly for adults who are experienced riders and there is an excellent selection of horses at the intermediate and advanced level and they keep their beginner horses responsive by having more experienced riders ride them as well sometimes so they enjoy their job and keep their skills/posture. I try different horses for trail rides and arena rides and they all challenge me in different ways. Some are really responsive and others less so (but no where near school horse level). Good experience to be able to adapt to the particular horse and sometimes they can change based on their mood, how long it’s been since they were ridden etc.
 

· Premium Member
Joined
·
51,795 Posts
you didnn't mention what discipline you are riding. That makes a difference.

If it is jumping, well , I have little to say. But most other disciplines rely much less on lower leg strength. I have formal training only in dressage, and only lower levels, and a fair amount of western style trail riding, too.

We do NOT grip with lower leg, and using a lot of strength in the lower leg will usually result in the leg tensing, and coming upward, or the knee coming off, or just exhausting the rider and irritating the horse.
I was taught if I need to give a FIRM signal, I use my ANKLE and not squeeze, but rather 'bump' or 'flutter' it against the horse's side until I get a response. If it takes actual strength , then it's high time to break out the whip and tune the horse's respect for the leg back up!
Also, if you are asking the horse to do a shoulder in, or a side pass, then one uses kind of the whole leg, from your hip, pushing inward against the horse. And, you might lift or lighten the WHOLE leg on the other side to encourage the horse to move into that space of greater lightness.

Experienced riders do this. They just don't now how to explain it to beginners . The say, "kick!". or "Squeeze!". But that's not how they ride, at least not if they are riding well.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
817 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
@tinyliny They are dressage exercises but I’m not preparing for competition or proceeding through levels so the coach jumps around with whatever technique would suit the students that day (it’s a flexible program and I can shift my lesson time to suit my family’s schedule which I appreciate).

This is the exact set of exercises we were working on last lesson:

Previously I had stiff hips so my legs were falling forward and my shoulders were moving and my hands were also moving too much. So I worked on hip flexibility and the issue with the shoulder, hands and legs was much improved (and thank goodness for this coach who told me it was caused by a hip issue so I could fix that).

Well I may have over compensated. At my last lesson, she told me I should move my hips less and more leg. It was along the lines of every time I come down in the rising trot when I want to extend the trot, I should do a squeeze. I would try squeezing but nothing happened. I thought it was leg strength but maybe I should have been doing ankle. One of the other students was having trouble transitioning to the canter and so my teacher was focussed on her. I was able to do the exercise and was just thinking how I can improve that squeeze. Could be a combination of changing the body part, I have not done with ankle (sometimes do heel) and more precision in placement. And some of the horses are not keen in the arena and I get told to put more leg on. I will ask my coach exactly what she means by that next time but welcome further thoughts.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
817 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 · (Edited)
@tinyliny I found it - this is what we were working on as well (putting leg on to build impulsion): Tune Your Riding Position to Put Your Horse into “Drive”

It’s this part:
• Apply pressure with the upper calf area of both legs momentarily. • Immediately release and soften the pressure. The horse should make a transition to trot right away.
• If the horse did not respond, make a correction immediately by giving a stronger aid with the leg.

Also this (putting on calf and then kick if needed until shift happens then release):

I would like to refine my technique and muscle tone so I get the result on the first squeeze. Or so I can do a meaningful controlled (not hard) but well placed, effective and quick kick while posting without losing my rhythm.

A lot of this will need to be worked on during lesson but I am finding great improvement from practising positioning and strength at home and then I already have some muscle memory when I get in the saddle. Also a lot of things happen with the horse, other students, obstacles, visitors/other riders I am friends with watching etc so hard to really absorb everything in the moment - I swear half my learning happens outside of lessons when I think through what happened.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,970 Posts
@Part-Boarder It sounds like it’s not the strength of your legs that you are struggling with but “independence”. Like a ballet dancer, all your body parts should be able to move independently, precisely and effectively. I am not even sure how this is practiced - apart from just riding - does anyone else know?
 

· Registered
Joined
·
950 Posts
@Horsef There are various exercises. Like swimming in different strokes using arms and legs in different ways. Doing free weights with single sided moves. Some pilates and ballet barre type exercises I have done have had movements that I thought replicated riding well where you needed to move a certain leg or arm independently and hold the rest of your body in a certain position. Animal movement type exercises are great too because you have to move in ways that we do not usually do.
 
1 - 20 of 24 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top