A lot has been written about how to position and use your leg. You know how to use each part of your leg and how to get your horse moving off it but do you know when to use it? Knowing the perfect time to put your leg on can make a huge difference when you start to ride more difficult movements.
In standard paces (medium walk or working trot and canter) you shouldn’t need to use your legs just to keep your horse moving. For more on this read ‘Be a Lazy Rider’ (December 2010). Your legs are there to control the hindquarters and to generate extra energy. An extra push with your leg will increase the effort your horse puts into a pace but do it at the right time and he’ll make three times the effort.
Walk large around the school. Ride without stirrups if you feel happy to or lengthen them so you can wrap your legs around your horse’s barrel. Make sure he’s walking forward. Keep your body as relaxed as possible. You should be able to feel his barrel swinging from one side to the other.
When a horse walks he brings his hind legs under his body. To make room for each leg he has to swing his barrel away to the side. When his right hind leg comes forward his barrel swings away to the left. When the left leg comes forward his barrel swings away to the right.
As your horse swings his barrel away from your right leg his right hind leg is coming under his body. This is the time to use your right leg. Use your left leg as his barrel swings to the right. Think of using each leg to push his barrel from side to side. Pushing as he lifts his hind leg up and forward will encourage him to stretch further under his body and his steps will become more energetic.
This is so much more accurate than just pushing. Now you can alter the effort he makes with each hind leg. The harder you push his barrel to one side the further he’ll stretch with the leg that’s leaving the floor.
Trot and canter are harder to feel. In the long term you’ll learn to feel the exact moment each hind leg leaves the floor. As with the walk the stronger you push the further he’ll stretch. Initially try something a little easier.
In trot and canter you need to be sitting. Both paces have an up stride and a down stride. Keep your seat relaxed and be patient. If your horse is going forward you’ll find it easier to feel. The time to use your legs is on the down stride. At this moment his inside hind leg is about to leave the floor. Catch it at the right time and you can encourage your horse to lift it higher and push it further under his body.
Think of using your legs to lift your horse up off the floor. The harder you push the higher his back comes up for the up stride and the more powerful his steps become.
Using your leg at the right time will have an instant effect. You may find it easier to concentrate on walk out hacking. Stay relaxed. Tension in your body will stop you from feeling anything. Be patient. It’s similar to learning about trot diagonals. Once you get it you’ll wonder why you ever had a problem. Good luck.