In University I had a prof that would make us take magazine articles on fitness and dissect them, calling out any blatant errors or marketing grabs that were incorrect based on appropriate exercise science and biomechanics…
So.. prepare yourself…
This article from FEI.org came across my newsfeed the other day, and I hesitated on clicking on it because I knew I likely wouldn’t like what I was reading.. however I was in a bit of a ranty mood, so clicked away.
The first exercise in this article is “light seat with short stirrups”… now.. I am ALL for practicing a light seat or two point to build leg balance and conditioning.. but their reasoning behind shortening your stirrups a few holes is fairly unnecessary… after all, if you can’t balance at your regular length, what is shortening and putting yourself into a jammed up position going to do?
I’ll tell you, it’s going to crank your joints into a stiffened position, negate any conditioning work happening in your muscular control (this article states you will feel your calves working hard…. sorry, that’s just your ankle joint being compressed and the lack of force absorption causing potential damage to your joint). Anything that limits your joint capacity IS NOT BENEFICIAL. This is simply giving you a false sense of stability and not training anything worth training. I’ll rant more about ankles later….
The second exercise in this article, posting trot with two beats, is great.. Do this. BUT do it with the awareness of elasticity through your lower body, NOT stiffness to attempt control. When we stiffen joints, we lock force absorption out of the picture.. which translates into more force getting stuck in us and our horse’s body/movement. This is not ideal.
#3… This is potentially the most commonly suggested, and least effective, thing out there in the realm of “correct your lower leg” articles… IF YOUR GOAL IS STRETCHING YOUR CALVES, THIS IS APPROPRIATE.. HOWEVER! THIS WILL NOT HELP YOU KEEP YOUR HEELS EFFECTIVELY IN PLACE WHILE RIDING. If you feel the need to stretch your calves to this extent, we need to talk regardless… feel free to message me for more rants.
As riders, we SERIOUSLY, need to re-examine the aesthetic of jamming our gd heels down. Our ankles are one of the most important joints for us as riders when it comes to appropriate biomechanics and force absorption… yet so many of us have been instructed to lock them as far down as we can. Doing this = stiffening of a joint that we should be using as a spring board. It’s the difference between running and landing on your heels and running and landing mid-foot.. Just as an experiment, stand up right now and walk around the room landing ONLY on your heels, keeping your ankles stiff and flexed. IT DOESN”T FEEL RIGHT! Try riding a bike with your heels down. What happens?
Biomechanically, and functionally speaking, our heels in the stirrup should be maleable. Obviously don’t go around with them up in the air, BUT the engagement should forwards through the front of your foot into the stirrup (like pressing on a gas pedal) NOT down towards the ground through your heel. If you goal is a stable lower leg, and avoiding the infamous creeping or scrubbing heel, you WILL NOT accomplish this by hanging your ankle off a stair, doing calf raises or jamming that heel down.
#4- This description confirmed for me that the author does not have any advanced (or basic) training in human biomechanics or functional anatomy. I’ll say this once..
IF YOUR HIP FLEXORS ARE TIGHT CHECK YOUR GLUTES FIRST.
9.5/10 times our glutes and lateral stabilizers ARE THE CULPRIT behind tightness in hip flexors AND hamstrings. Shockingly (or not) these are also the reason behind lower leg instabilities. Until you address this problem, the problem of hip flexors will not go away. I promise you.
I’ve written a few blogs on this topic.. check them out!
I’d LOVE to answer your questions on this rant, feel free to comment (respectfully please) or message. There are professionals all around this country that have training and expertise in analyzing and helping you MOVE better (which WILL help your horse move better too). If you want to improve these things, reach out to one of them for advice.. magazines rarely give the level of detail and advice needed to properly correct an issue.
Your local equestrian biomechanics expert.
*PS I mean no personal attack on the author or FEI specifically, this is just the first round of me speaking out against poor functional movement advice in the industry.