Horse Riding Tips for Beginners: 4 Heels Down Exercises to Stretch Heels For Riding
One of the first things that we are taught when horse riding is to keep our heels DOWN. The ideal riding posture should have you sitting up straight and from the side your shoulder, hip, and heel should all fall into a straight line.
Having your heels down encourages your leg to lengthen. Think of it as letting your weight drop into your heels, instead of pushing them down and bracing, you want to have a relaxed leg position. When you have a long leg, you are less likely to fall off. If you feel your heels come up the rest of you will also begin to lift up causing you to lose balance and possibly fall from your horse. Not all riders are able to achieve the long heels down position right away, they may be lucky to keep their foot flat or level in the stirrup. To help lengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, that are restricting the flexion of heels down there are plenty of exercises and stretches that can be done on the ground and on the horse. Here are 4 different heels down exercises to help you to stretch your heels and keep them down while riding.
Favorite Exercises and Stretches for Heels Down While Horse Riding
1. The Step Stretch
The Step Stretch has been used by riders for years and is the oldest and most beneficial move to stretch your heels down when you are not riding. To do this stand at the bottom of the stairs,(1st or second step), curbs work well also. ( Make sure to stay low on the stairs to reduce the risk of falling and with curbs make sure you aren’t on a busy road etc.). Place the balls of your feet on the edge of the stairs and slowly stretch down into your heels. If you need to hold the handrail or another object close by to help you balance, do so. As you stretch down avoid bouncing, so you don’t cause muscle tears. You should do this up and down movement in sets of 15 several times per day.
2. Downward Facing Dog
If you are familiar with yoga you most likely have heard and possibly practiced the pose Downward Facing Dog. Both hands and feet should be placed flat on the ground. The lower you go in your arms the deeper stretch you will get. This stretch helps to lengthen the hamstrings, Achilles tendons, and this will help your heels down position.
3. Ankle Circles
This exercise is done when you are on your horse. Have your horse stand somewhere quietly and remove your feet from the stirrups. Pull your toe up allowing the heel to be down. Then rotate your ankle making circles stretching the heels and the top to foot by pointing the toe down as you are rotating around. Do this both clockwise and counterclockwise. You can do both ankles at the same time or individually, whatever you are most comfortable with, and this move should be done in sets 3-5 sets of 15-20 rotations. This will help you gain more flexibility and range of motion in your ankles so you will naturally be able to drop your heels down further.
4. Half-seat/ Two-Point Position
For those not familiar with half-seat it is your basic pre jumping position. Keeping your toe under your knee and heel under your hip lift up and out of the saddle slightly while hinging a bit forward at the hips. This should begin to transfer your weight over your knees, through the calf, and ending with more weight settled in the heel. When you cue the horse use your calf only, not your heel, so your leg stays down and long. When you feel comfortable at the walk, you can trot and then canter. 2 min each direction is ideal for this stretch, but you can start with 15 -30 seconds each way, and work your way up.
To obtain the most flexible and comfortable heels down position is to make sure the muscles and tendons that surround the ankle learn to lengthen. Remember to stretch slowly and regularly to avoid injury. Including calf and hamstring stretches can also be very helpful in letting your heels go down, although they are not directly attached many other tendons are and they would benefit from a good stretch also. If you are diligent in your stretches you will see the change in your flexibility and as you ride you will feel how much your heels down has improved.
Take a look at these tips if you are looking for additional horse riding exercises that you can do at home.