Q. My horse often gallops off after a jump. Sometimes he even humps his back and pitches. My trainer said my lower legs are slipping back and I’m catching my horse in the sides with my heels. Can you recommend any exercises for me to fix this problem?
The first is to jump low fences without your irons. (You’ll be more comfortable if you remove your irons and leathers from your saddle.) It’ll become evident right away that you must keep your legs tight and still or you’ll have a hard time staying with your horse’s motion over the jump. When jumping without irons, it often helps to think about raising your toes up rather than keeping your heels down. Either way, concentrate on stretching your calf muscles down and holding your lower legs at the girth.
Once you’ve put your stirrups back on the saddle, try the next exercise. Jump with only one hand holding the reins. You can hold your free arm out to the side or place it behind your back. You might be surprised to discover how much you’d been relying on your hands for support. By holding the reins with only one hand, you’ll have to depend on your lower legs to support your upper body. Again, in order to maintain a secure seat, you’ll have to keep your heels down and your legs still.
Finally, tie the stirrup irons to your girth with strands of yarn. Make two loops from the inside branch of your iron to your girth. Each iron should only move about six inches in any direction. This will physically hold your lower legs in the correct position and will prevent your heels from bumping your horse’s sides. The goal here is to help you feel where your legs should remain when you jump. Once your legs are more secure, your upper body won’t tip forward in mid-air over the jump and your horse will be less likely to speed up when he lands.
Expert: Cindy Hale is the author of Riding for the Blue and A Passion for Horses.