Use this “5-Minute Fix” from biomechanics expert Wendy Murdoch’s 40 5-Minute Jumping Fixes to establish good thigh contact and a solid base of support over fences.
Next time you ride, pay attention to your thighs. Are they close to the saddle, or are your knees turned out? Is there a gap between your knee and the saddle flap? Do your knees ride forward over the knee roll? Does it feel as if your thighs are being “pushed” out by the saddle or the horse? Can someone see daylight between your thighs and the saddle over fences?
First take a moment to assess how well your saddle fits you. Your saddle has a tremendous influence on the way your thighs rest on your horse. You want to feel secure over fences so that you don’t have to resort to gripping, which, of course, interferes with your horse’s ability to jump.
Sitting in full seat with your thighs flat against your saddle, your weight is distributed across your seat and along the horse’s back over the rib cage. Spreading your weight over a larger surface area like this decreases pressure on the horse’s back in any one place.
When your thigh lies flat (correctly) on the saddle, the femur becomes a structural support for your stability without you having to brace your legs. This minimizes the amount of muscular effort needed to properly adhere to the saddle—and horse. Jumping with your knees turned out places your weight largely on the stirrups. This concentrates the pressure onto the area of the stirrup bars on the horse’s back. Even if you grip with the back of your calf you are subject to the stirrup’s pendulum effect, which is very unstable.
Pinching or gripping with your knees minimizes the surface area over which your weight is distributed to just your knees, and takes a lot of muscular effort. Pinching can cause knee rubs, limit your ability to follow the horse’s motion, and restrict the horse’s breathing since you are essentially squeezing his rib cage. Can you imagine what it would be like to have someone constantly gripping your ribs? Pinching also causes your knee to act as a pivot point around which your upper body and lower leg swing forward and back. Instead of absorbing the jump with flexible hips, knees, and ankles, your upper body rotates over your knee. This causes your lower leg to flip backward no matter how much weight you try to put into your heels. (A saddle that is too small for you, or doesn’t fit well in other aspects, can also cause the lower leg to swing back.)
The three primary bones of your seat are your pelvis and two femurs (thigh bones). These three form what is known as the “fork” of the seat. In full seat all three are in contact with the saddle, with primarily the thighs in contact when jumping. A correct leg position is often referred to as “the flat of the thigh” on the horse. This position of the femur distributes your weight around the horse’s sides through the saddle. However, when the back of the thigh is in contact (and knees are turned out) the femur is not positioned to transmit your weight to the horse’s sides. You have to compensate by resorting to other less-effective solutions, such as gripping with the back of your calf.
1. To feel what good thigh support is like, make an upside-down “V” with your index and middle finger to simulate your femurs.
2. Place them over your other forearm, which simulates the horse’s barrel. Feel how the “V” shape will only go down so far supporting the weight of your hand on the sides of your forearm. This is how your thigh transmits your weight to the horse’s sides, thus alleviating pressure on his back. When you widen your fingers (i.e. turn your knees out), you eliminate that thigh support. And when you pinch your fingers (i.e. gripping with your knees), you restrict your hips and pinch yourself off the saddle.