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Heels Down!
 By Winniefield Park   •   9th Sep 2013   •   5,942 views   •   0 comments
Heels Down

If you take riding lessons, 'heels down' might be something you start to hear in your sleep. The temptation, as you hear your coach yell this for what seems the hundredth time, is to shove your heels downwards, with your toes pointing skywards. However, just shoving your heels down may not be the full answer if you're having trouble keeping them down.

Shoving your heels down can lead to stiff ankles and legs, forcing you out of the best position to remain secure in the saddle, and effectively cue your horse. Letting your heels float up also causes problems. You'll likely end up sitting oddly and your feet can slip through the stirrups more easily if you fall.

The problem may be in that we don't actually hold our heels down when we ride well. We should be letting our weight drop down through our legs and into our heels. Your heels really don't need to be pointing straight down, but just slightly below vertical. Look at photos of dressage and equitation riders and you'll see that their heels aren't jammed down, but the rider is balanced lightly in the stirrups with the heel slightly below the level of the footbed of the stirrup. Your ankle actually stays quite flexible, and is part of your shock absorbing system as you ride.

If you downhill ski, snowboard, or do martial arts or other sports that require you to keep your center of gravity low, you may already understand how to drop your weight down into your heels. You can experiment with this by standing on the floor in the 'ready position' used by many martial artists. Try tipping your balance onto your toes, and then back to your heels. Notice what happens when you put your weight forward onto your toes. Then try forcing your weight onto your heels, stiffening your ankles and allowing your toes to come up. In both cases, you'll probably lose your balance. You don't actually feel like falling forward or backwards in the saddle, but your seat and posture will be affected.

If you are having problems flexing your ankles, and letting your heels drop here are some tips that may help:

1. Be sure your boots or half-chaps are flexible. If they aren't folding and flexing where they should it can make dropping your heel uncomfortable.

2. Check your stirrup length. It's impossible to drop your weight into your heels if you're reaching for the stirrups. Don't make the mistake that many beginner dressage riders make, of dropping their stirrup length. It may make your leg look longer, but it will also be harder to maintain a good seat and effective leg aids. Too short a stirrup length can make your legs feel cramped, and cause you to jam your heels down uncomfortably.

3. Stretch the tendons and muscles by letting your heels sink every time you step up a stair step. Aim gradually for a little more stretch every day. Try calf stretches and strengthening exercises. Grooming or stall cleaning and then a little stretching are ideal ways to warm up all of your muscles before you ride.

Image Credit: © Iurii Konoval | Dreamstime.com
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