Lower leg stability is important for protecting both you and your horse. Your lower leg absorbs the shock of your horse’s movements – but only if it’s in the right place. When your leg swings out of position, it’s easy to fall back hard on the saddle or lose your seat altogether.
The most stable position for the leg is one that keeps the inner thigh, knee and lower leg in close contact with the saddle. This is largely dependent on how we use the muscles of our hips, particularly the adductors. These are the muscles of our inner thighs, which control how much contact we have between the saddle and our knees. If your adductors are weak, your knee will float away from the saddle, making you less stable. Conversely, too much pinching with your knees can also make you less stable by pushing your seat out of the saddle and reducing the contact of your calf.
These problems can be improved by becoming more aware and in control of your adductor muscles. The following exercises can be used by riders of any age, experience, or skill level to improve their leg stability and enhance their ride.
Rider Exercise: The Adductor Ball Squeeze
Adductor squeezes with a ball are a great way to improve your control through these muscles. Start by lying on your back with a soft ball between your knees. You can also do this with a pillow if you don’t have a ball available. This exercise has several parts: gradually increasing pressure, holding that pressure, then gradually releasing pressure. Spend about five seconds on each stage. Focus on the motion being smooth and controlled, with no quick increases or drops in pressure. Spend between two and five minutes repeating this process, stopping earlier if you find the quality of the movement is decreasing.
To make the exercise more challenging, try performing these same squeezes in a glute bridge. You now must apply smooth pressure while also keeping your low back and hips stable, just like you do while riding. Focus on keeping your low back flat and your arms relaxed, and hold the bridge position as you squeeze and release.
The most challenging variation of this exercise is a glute bridge with one leg extended. This position makes it even harder to stabilize your lower body, challenging you to keep your hips level while maintaining good form. Take your time and use a mirror if you need help.
With both glute bridge exercises, be careful to avoid any hollowing in your low back. Think about drawing your lower ribs toward your pelvis to subtly flatten your back. If you struggle with stability, go back to one of the easier exercises until you feel more comfortable.
Applying These Principals to Riding
Try doing these exercises shortly before riding. They will help you to fine-tune the pressure you are applying through your knees during that ride. Try to become aware of any moments where your knee turns out or pinches in – especially during fast or explosive movements.
By increasing your awareness of how you use these muscles, you may find that you struggle with body symmetry, tight muscles, weakness, or even pain. A physiotherapist may help you to identify and resolve