I used to have this problem in the saddle that my leg would go numb sometimes.
At first, I tried to ignore it. I thought maybe it was just my body adjusting the activity.
But as the weeks went by, it didn’t go away.
It was frustrating, to say the least. I would have to shift my weight constantly, trying to get the feeling back in my leg.
Sometimes I even had to dismount and take a break, which was embarrassing and made me feel like I was holding back the rest of the group.
My instructor kept telling me to sit up, open from the hip and pull my shoulders back.
I made sure to sit up straight and distribute my weight evenly across the saddle, open from the hip, pull my shoulders back and remembered to breathe.
But even with these changes, my leg still went numb. It was like a constant battle between me and my body.
If you’ve ever had this problem, you’ll know how irritating it is. I eventually decided to take some private lessons (with a different instructor) to troubleshoot the issue and see what I could do about it.
We considered things like the fit of my shoes, which was fine because there was enough space in my shoes for my feet to expand and contract.
I once learned from a ballet shoe fitter that people with quite pale, translucent skin like mine tend to have a lot of swelling and need to buy shoes with enough space to accommodate the change in size.
We confirmed I was wearing the right shoes.
Riding boots should fit well and not be too tight or too loose. It’s important to have enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes, but not so much that your foot slides around in the boot.
It wasn’t a medical issue and was only triggered by riding. It wasn’t an issue with the saddle either, as I’d ridden different horses with different saddles and still experienced the same problem in varying degrees.
We decided to do a few lessons in a clinic style to see if making changes to my seat and position would have an effect.
The main cause of foot pain and numbness while riding is a lack of circulation to the nerves in your feet.
This is typically caused by uneven pressure, which can result in a change in blood flow.
Uneven pressure can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Poorly fitting shoes
- Pressure that’s putting too much weight in one location
- Putting too much weight on the inside of the stirrup (pronating the foot)
- Putting too much weight on the outside of the stirrup (supinating the foot)
Some of the things we went over to prevent my foot pain and numbness while riding:
- Checked my stirrup level. When your stirrup is just hanging, it should hang level. If it’s on an angle, consider using a stirrup shim made from foam or wood to level it out.
- Lifted and resettled my foot. To help find even weight distribution, lift your foot out of the stirrup and let it settle back down. Do this a few times and each time you let it settle down, think about the weight of your leg settling evenly, not pushing into the heel.
- I worked on being aware of my foot position. The stirrup should be slightly behind the ball of your foot, not directly under the ball of your foot. This helps to ensure even weight distribution and can prevent foot pain and numbness.
- I tried stretching before and after riding. Stretching can help to prevent muscle tension and cramping, which can contribute to foot pain and numbness while riding.
The thing that finally made a difference for me was learning to properly place my foot in the stirrup.
Without realising it, I’d been putting the stirrup right underneath the ball of my foot, which had caused my joints to lock up and put stress on my leg.
My other instructor telling me to pull my shoulders back had only made it worse as it threw my seat further out of alignment.
Proper stirrup placement and why it matters.
Proper stirrup placement is essential to riding well, and it is something that you should know because it can fundamentally affecting how you ride.
To understand why stirrup placement matters, you need to understand how you want your legs to function on relation to the stirrup.
You want our legs to be soft and flexible, with joints that can move and absorb the movement of your horse.
You don’t want your joints to be at their maximum range of motion, as this can cause strain and limit your range of motion.
A soft, flexible leg is essential for maintaining a good seat and riding well.
Now, let’s look at how stirrup placement affects the leg. You don’t want your ankle to be flexed too deeply as that has an effect on your entire posture.
It’s a small adjustment and takes some practise before you recognise the difference.
I asked around with other riders and confirmed that a lot (if not most) riders are told to place the stirrup on the ball of the foot.
However, this can trigger a responsive pushing movement that locks the joints, limiting your range of motion.
You push off the ball of your feet all the time when you walk, run, or stand up out of a chair.
When you do this with the stirrup on the ball of our foot, it can cause tension in the leg and limit our range of motion.
This is what caused the numbness in mine, the constant stress of pushing against the stirrup.
To avoid this, you need to place the stirrup just behind the ball of the foot.
This allows the ankle to act as a shock absorber and improves your contact with the horse.
Placing the stirrup just behind the ball of the foot also helps to maintain a soft, flexible leg that has ankle, knee, and hip joints that can move freely.
So, when placing your stirrup, remember to line up the centre of the stirrup’s footbed just behind the ball of your foot. This applies to both English and Western stirrups, regardless of the footbed’s width.
Placing the stirrup just behind the ball of the foot allows for a soft, flexible leg with better contact and communication with the horse.
And I’ve noticed this can make a huge difference when riding a sensitive horse. Not having a leg with locked joints made it easier to ride horses that are very attentive to rider cues.
It is the small things, like the position of your foot in the stirrup, that can make a big difference in your riding.