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How to Use Your Upper Leg

How to Use Your Upper Leg dressage rider


All riders in all disciplines know that your lower leg is an essential aid. But what about your upper leg?

In this article, we take a look at the function of the upper leg in dressage riding and explain how you can achieve the perfect position.

The importance of the upper leg position in dressage

The classical dressage position sees the rider’s thigh laying long and flat against the saddle.

Correct positioning of the thigh acts to pull your seat bones down deeper into the saddle. That has the effect of creating a very deep seat that stabilizes your position and allows your body to become more connected with your horse’s back.

So, why is that important?

Well, a rider’s seat comprises the seat bones, lower back, pelvis, lower abdominal muscles, and thighs. An experienced rider who has developed an independent seat can use that to influence the horse’s way of going, purely from the connection in her upper legs, seat, and position.

The correct upper leg position

Your thigh, which is essentially your upper leg, begins at your hip flexor and runs down toward your knee.

Your thigh should lay flat against the saddle with your femur slightly rotated inward.

In this position, your hip will be more flexible, following the horse’s movement, stabilizing your seat, and keeping you in perfect balance on the horse.

A flat, long thigh also has the effect of opening out your seat bones. That allows you to sit deeper into your horse, over a greater area of the saddle.

Your knees should be relaxed, and your weight should be right down into your heel.

When viewed from the side, your whole leg should lie flat and relaxed against your horse’s sides with your knees and toes pointing forward.

To achieve that position consistently, you’ll need to be able to extend your thigh’s inner adductor muscles. That will take time, so don’t expect instant results!

Flexible inner adductor muscles are critical, as it’s that flexibility that allows your seat bones to drop down deeper into the horse.

Gripping with your thighs and knees only serves to push you upwards and out of the saddle, locking your hips and making your seat unstable.

Using your upper leg to control the horse’s shoulders

Your upper leg influences the horse’s shoulders. The weight aid of your seat together with your upper leg can be used to determine the direction in which the horse’s shoulders are moving.

So, to guide your horse’s shoulders, relax and lengthen your upper leg, keeping the muscles toned and engaged. You’ll feel a slight rotation inside of your thigh, which has the effect of deepening your seat. Use both your seat bones to move the horse’s shoulders in the direction you want.

By using one thigh and seat bone on the same side, you can prevent the horse from falling out through his shoulder. Use the same aid to turn the horse or make him straight. There should be no need to draw your knee up or tighten your core to achieve that.

Regulating tempo

The upper leg can also be used together with your weight aids and seat bones to assist in controlling the tempo of the horse’s rhythm.

To slow the tempo or to prepare for a halt transition, slow down the rhythm of your seat while lengthening and contracting your inner thigh.

The intensity of this aid determines whether you slow the horse or stop altogether.

Balancing the horse

Many horses drop onto their forehand, and you can use your upper leg to help develop engagement and lighten the horse’s shoulders and make him come up at the withers.

So, by using your seat, upper leg, and upper body, you can ride an effective half-halt that will help to bring the horse’s hind legs more underneath him and tighten his core, lifting the forehand and improving his balance.

Exercises for developing a longer upper leg

Your riding position is something that you should always be working on. Here are a few simple exercises that you can use to help develop a longer upper leg:

  • With your feet out of the stirrups, make alternate leg swings.
  • Draw your knees up in front of the pommel of your saddle. Now, slowly push your heels backward and down.
  • Bicycle your legs backward, holding them away from your horse’s sides.

After completing all these exercises, return your legs to a long, stretched position.

Try to spend at least five minutes at the end of every schooling session working through these exercises to build muscle memory and suppleness in your thighs.

In conclusion

No matter what your body shape, you can achieve a long, flat thigh, which will benefit your dressage schooling tremendously.

Spend five minutes of each day working on your upper leg. You will notice and feel improvements within a matter of days, and you’ll also see a difference in your horse’s way of going and in your dressage scores!

Let us know how you get on by sharing your story in the comments section below.

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