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Mastering Leg Position in the Saddle: Your Guide to Improved Riding

Finding the correct leg position while riding has been a lifelong endeavor. I’ve worked with different trainers from multiple disciplines, and it seems there are as many opinions on where your position should be as there are trainers.


I went a long time trying to manipulate my seat position by contorting my legs, torso, and upper body in various ways. What I’ve learned is that it’s much simpler than I ever thought possible.


It’s not just about your leg


Something important to recognize is that ‘leg position’ is only a telltale sign of a greater issue. Poor leg position can lead to several problems, including:


  • Feeling unstable and unbalanced while riding

  • Causing soreness in your horse's back or stifles

  • Experiencing lower back pain after riding

  • Receiving lower marks on maneuvers during competitions

  • Decreased endurance for both you and your horse


This is why I focus heavily on leg position at MaK Athletes. If I can help my rider find a stronger, more stable leg position, then I’m also helping them become more balanced in the saddle and getting out of their horse’s way, thus greatly improving their riding!


Whether you're a weekend trail rider or a top-level competitive rider, a strong and stable leg position is essential. It directly impacts every aspect of your riding.


Key Elements of Proper Leg Position


When evaluating a rider’s leg position, I focus on three critical aspects:


1. Alignment with the Horse


Your leg placement should help your body stay aligned with the horse. This alignment ensures better balance and coordination.


2. Freedom of Movement for the Horse


Your legs should not impede your horse’s ability to move. Proper leg placement allows your horse to perform and move efficiently.


3. Balance and Maneuverability


Your legs should be positioned in a way that allows you to easily maneuver and respond to the horse's movements and cues.



Take a look


If we take a look at the past me, you’ll see that my lower leg comes out in front of my seat quite a ways. This makes it so the majority of my weight gets pushed back into the cantle of my saddle, but it also impedes my horse’s shoulder movement.


Girl riding a horse in an arena

On the straight, it might not look quite as bad, but take a look at how this shifted both me and my horse as we curved.


Girl riding a horse in an arena

The red lines point to where the most pressure is put on my horse. My weight is back into my cantle, which has put a lot of pressure on her lumbar spine and hips. Her hips are having a hard time balancing through the turn, which puts more strain on her stifles, and her forelimb has a lot more load on it than it should. (Can you guess what lameness issues we were struggling with then?)


Fast forward to my current seat.


There are still many improvements to be made, but you can see the shift in not just my posture but also in how my horse is able to stretch forward and utilize her body more efficiently.


Girl riding horse

I’m no longer shoving the majority of my weight into my cantle but am more upright and balanced through the middle of my saddle. This has allowed my saddle to distribute my weight more evenly, so my horse doesn’t get back sore and can utilize her core more effectively. And look at how much better she’s able to reach!


Girl sitting on a horse

The benefits:


Me

  • My lower back doesn’t kill me after hours in the saddle. 

  • My knees don’t hurt anymore

  • My toes don’t go numb

  • I don’t get bruises on my butt ;) 


My horse


  • No longer has hip, shoulder, or stifle soreness

  • Has improved her muscle tone 

  • Can reach farther

  • Has improved her trot from a consistent 5mp to 7.7-9 mph



How can you improve your leg position?


Now that we’ve covered why it’s important to focus on correct leg position no matter what discipline you’re in, let’s talk about HOW to do this.


First, let’s cover what the correct leg position is.


The correct leg position will keep contact through your thigh with your heel aligned with the center of your pelvis (where your sit bones are).


If we revisit this picture…


girls sitting on horse

You’ll see that my heel is aligned with the center of my body. I always think about how I would land if my horse were to suddenly disappear from beneath me. Would I land on my feet? Would I fall back onto my butt? Would I fall forward onto my knees? If you look at me in this picture, I would most likely land on my feet, which is what we want. But if you scroll back up to some of my older pictures, the likelihood of me landing on my butt is great.


Practice


  1. Take a look at you, where do your heels fall? 


  1. Notice when you ride next, how much of your weight is in your thighs? Seat bones? Feet?

*** HINT: You want about 80% of the weight to be held in your thighs


Once you know where you are, you can start strengthening yourself to get into the right position. Along with your practice in the saddle, it’s vital that you also work on strengthening outside of the saddle. My general rule of thumb is to incorporate 2-3 days of full-body strength training each week, making sure to include movements like squats, deadlifts, and anti-movements.


If you’re unsure what specifically to work on, reach out to me and we can talk through what you need and create a customized plan for both you and your horse so that you make the improvements as quickly as possible and learn:


  • To maintain progress without falling into extremes. 

  • How to boost your energy levels for better performance

  • How to balance your nutrition to support your training and riding goals

  • How to incorporate your horse into your health goals so you both excel. 


You can email me at mak.athletes@gmail.com or Click this link to schedule a FREE consultation call with me


Other resources you might find helpful. 



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