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Why the Heels?
 By Fox Crest Stables   •   23rd Sep 2010   •   3,933 views   •   9 comments
I'm a big supporter of 'heels down'. Why, you ask? Well, here is the technical stuff behind it all. When we ride a horse our balance comes from our legs and seat. The longer the leg the more contact you have with your horse, which helps you 'hang on', per say, and maintain correct balance.

Why the Heels

When you lengthen your leg you bring your center of balance down into your hips and down through your legs allowing your upper body to move freely.

Why the HeelsWhen riding Dressage you work with a long, free moving leg. You're hips are rocked back and you're sitting back slightly bringing all your balance down through your hips into your legs. Its very easy for a rider to maintain their balance when in this position. In dressage you'll have a long, straighter leg and heels that fluctuate from being slightly lower to being slightly higher than the toe. Because all your weight and your balance is though your hips and seat down into your leg you DO NOT need to sink deeper into your heels. While many prefer to simply because of the added mental stability it isn't something that you need to do in order to maintain proper position. Dressage is about the fluid movement between the horse and the rider, not about the length of your heels. Many dressage riders, should their irons be taken away, would have the exact same position as they would should they have their irons. In my eyes irons are simply there for looks when it comes to dressage.

Now all this changes when you start working in a Hunt Seat position. When you bring up your irons your entire center of balance is moved upward. Your leg becomes shorter which in turn gives you less contact on the horse's side with your leg. In order to compensate for the now lack of leg length we sink down into our heels, lengthening our leg and giving us that long leg contact we need for balance. With our heels down we bring our balance lower into our hips allowing us that same balance we work for in dressage. When the heel is level in a Hunt Seat position the body automatically feels the need to rotate the hips forward. Once we put our heels down we are no longer tipped forward from the short iron length, we now have a long leg and are able to balance accordingly.

Why the Heels

Now a longer leg is only a small bit of why we work with our heels down when riding in a Hunt Seat position. Another aspect of it is when you have your heels up you're tipping your body forward (as discussed before) which then tips your shoulders forward, which then moves your entire center of balance up into your shoulders and forward. When all your weight is forward you, by nature, cramp up your stomach muscles, which causes you to curl up your shoulders and, basically, curl into a fetal position. You can't control your balance, let alone a horse, when you're all tense, cramped up and pitched forward.

So when you're riding and you feel those heels coming up, or you feel your shoulders tipping forward just think to yourself, "Where is my balance at? Can I feel my weight down in my hips and in my legs? Can I feel the length in my leg allowing me to hang on should my horse bolt off to the side?" If you ask yourself these things then perhaps sinking down into your heels, lengthening out your leg and balancing yourself up will make you a better, more balanced rider.
Horse News More In This Category:  Dressage      Horse News More From This Author:  Fox Crest Stables
Dark Star  
Well, I see you support western...lol good article
  Sep 23, 2010  •  3,028 views
 
Fox Crest Stables  
DS - In western you have a different position and thats a WHOLE different article. lol
  Sep 23, 2010  •  3,307 views
 
Sonic Illusion  
I ride western and I keep my heels down. Keeping your heels down in a western saddle helps to maintain a steady seat, keeping you from rolling forward or from getting too high on the back of the seat.
  Sep 23, 2010  •  3,115 views
 
EmeraldEagle  
Thank you for this information. I am a western rider, but am going to start riding my arab english. Don't have the best balance, so this will be a big challenge for me. :D
  Sep 24, 2010  •  3,132 views
 
Dreamer100  
I think this will help my balance. Thanks.
  Sep 24, 2010  •  3,456 views
 
Breezing Hill  
Yup, Foxie you said it all, as always :))

Another good point to add is also stirrup length, especially when it comes to jumping. If your heels are down but stirrups too long (or too short) your going to tip forward and/or get left behind no matter what unless you have a super strong leg. A good test is to sit straight up in the saddle at a halt, take your hands out to your sides (like your flying) and stand straight up. If you fall backwards, your stirrups are too long. If you fall forward your stirrups are too short and your most likely tipping and gripping on your toe and knee. You should be able to stand straight up, like someone is pulling a string that is attached to your head. It also takes a great deal of core strength. But that is your next article )
  Sep 24, 2010  •  3,214 views
 
Prarie Rose  
Thanks for the great article! I'm new to riding english. I used to ride western and I was having a lot of issues with my balance. This helped me a lot!
  Sep 24, 2010  •  3,029 views
 
Evita  
BHF--Good point there. I learned that the hard way last show.

Great article Foxie!
  Sep 26, 2010  •  3,063 views
 
Wanderin Boy Memorial  
Great article !
I always have trouble keep my heels down
  Feb 1, 2011  •  3,040 views
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