You are going to very likely hear this piece of advice from your riding instructor frequently in the beginning, “Keep your heels down.” It’s a very important thing to do but it isn’t always that easy for a beginner. Here’s why it is a bit more difficult than it sounds.
While you do want to learn how to keep your heels down when riding, you also don’t want to shove your heels into the stirrups. This will make your toes point upwards. Cramming your heel down is just going to give you stiff and tired leg muscles.
Plus with your heels shoved down, your entire body is going to lean forward which will impact your ability to remain balanced. So if you are holding onto the reins or saddle for balance, you’ll quickly discover that something isn' t right.
Therefore you are going to have to find a way to change this. Because the last thing you want is to be that horse rider who looks as if their life is dependent on being suspended between the reins and the stirrups. Aside from being uncomfortable for you, it’s no picnic for your horse either. You have to learn a slightly different technique.
How To Keep Your Heels Down When Riding Techniques
The Heels Down Technique
Here’s how you achieve this:
Let your weight drop naturally into the heels (not the balls of your feet).
It sounds difficult, but that is essentially the secret. When your instructor tells you to keep your heels down, they are telling you to have your feet at a slight angle, not so severe that your heels are pointing in any direction. If you were to actually point them downwards, it would tire your leg muscles and would be a position that would be difficult to maintain for any length of time.
The Straight Line
Here’s the trick to keeping your heels ‘down’ when riding:
Your ear, shoulder, hip and stirrups should align to where an invisible straight line can be drawn.
If that is not possible, it tells you that you are possibly forcing your heels down. This will then pull something out of alignment to the point where you can’t draw that straight line.
Some Other Tips
Don’t let all of your weight rest on the balls of your feet in the stirrups. Your legs should hang down and this will increase your balance which gives you more control. This technique will not wear out your leg muscles and is far more comfortable for your horse as well.
It will take some practice but you will soon be able to keep a lower centre of gravity by letting your weight fall into your heels.
The Horse Stance
There is something in martial arts known as the horse stance. Simply stand with your knees slightly bent at a 30-degree angle with your feet shoulder width apart. When you do this and shift your weight to the balls of your feet you may tip forward. That is exactly what happens when you put your weight on the balls of your feet when riding a horse. When you do this on a horse, the forward tipping action may cause you to pull on the reins or shift your body forward to counter balance. This results in discomfort to your horse and it will give you a fair deal of back pain.
The Shoes And Stirrups
One more thing to consider is footwear. You need to be wearing the right shoes for riding. Any shoe that pinches the ankle is not a good choice. The stirrups also have to be adjusted to be the right length. You can measure this by letting your legs hang freely and the stirrups should lightly touch your ankles. The stirrups can’t be too long as that will make you point your toes down. And with stirrups that are too short, your toes will point up.
Before you become a serious horse rider you can help yourself a great deal by doing calf exercises. With strong calves, your legs will not tire as easily when riding. Some of the most effective exercises to help with this include:
- Standing calf stretches
- Standing calf raises
- Calf stretches
- Any other exercise that targets the calf muscles
How To Keep Your Heels Down When Riding Conclusion
When your riding instructor tells you how to keep your heels down when riding, they are telling you to change the angle slightly. You can do this by sitting straight and aligning your body for that invisible ear to hip line. Also remain aware of what your horse is doing and the path they are following.