As a rider, you may have developed the habit of gripping with some part of your leg, such as your thigh, knee, or calf.
Although you might think that gripping can help you stay on the horse or keep the horse moving, it can actually hinder your riding in several ways.
Gripping increases tension in your hips, which prevents your hips from moving freely with the horse’s motion.
As a result, you may feel unbalanced or uncomfortable in the saddle, and your horse may sense your tightness as a brake on their movement.
Additionally, gripping can cause you to lose your stirrups or inhibit the movement of the horse.
But why do riders grip in the first place?
Gripping often stems from a fear of falling off or a misconception that a tight leg equals a better ride.
You may have also been taught to grip as a way to keep the horse moving forward or maintain your balance.
However, gripping with any part of your leg can actually have the opposite effect.
To stop gripping and loosen up your leg, you can try some simple exercises that increase your awareness of your leg tension and help you develop a softer, more relaxed leg.
Exercise 1: Experiment with gripping
Start by identifying which part of your leg you tend to grip with and experiment with gripping all three parts of your leg: your thigh, knee, and calf.
As you grip, notice how it feels in your hips and whether your horse responds differently.
By becoming more aware of your gripping habits, you can begin to change them.
Exercise 2: Drop your stirrups
Next, drop your stirrups and let your legs hang down with your toes pointed down.
This position makes it difficult to grip with your thighs, so it helps you develop a more relaxed leg.
Walk around and feel the movement in your hips, and if you notice yourself wanting to grip, focus on pointing your toes down.
Exercise 3: Practice leg yielding
Finally, practice leg yielding, a lateral movement that helps you develop a softer, more responsive leg.
To leg yield, use your leg aids to ask your horse to move sideways while keeping your seat and upper body still.
This movement requires a soft, supple leg and helps you develop better communication with your horse.
Tight muscles in your legs, hips, and lower back can also cause gripping.
The spinal column houses the nerves and flexes when the body moves, holds the body upright, and muscles line the column for protection.
These vital muscles begin at the base of the skull, and continue down the column into the buttocks, with some attaching to the upper legs.
The muscles are arranged in three layers, with the innermost layer attaching from disc to disc for the further protection of your spine.
The next layer acts as a cushion and attaches to a few discs. It’s the top layer of muscle that most people feel beneath their hands when they hold the painful area.
In addition to these, the abdominal muscles are the ones that most commonly give off painful sensations in the small of the back and hip area.
The transverse abdominus is the innermost muscle, wrapping around the body like a corset. It goes from ribs to hips, and from breastbone to spine, and while it doesn’t move the body, it aids in breathing.
The rectus abdominus is what looks like a “6-pack” or “washboard abs.” It runs from the ribs down to the pubic bone. It helps the spine flex the body, like when you bend down to pick something up for instance.
The obliques line the sides of the body, along the waistline. They attach at the lower ribs and continue down to the pelvis. These muscles help the body bend sideways, twist, and turn.
Beneath these are the internal obliques. This extra layer of muscle attaches at the ribs and runs down to the hip. They help the external obliques help the body twist, turn, and bend sideways.
The psoas muscle acts as a thigh and hip flexor.
When your walk, you can thank this muscle for making you move. When sitting, this muscle bends the body forward and balances the torso.
Just about no one has heard of the psoas muscle, but because it can cause so much damage to the body, we should all know more about it.
This muscle is often responsible for knee pain, lower back and hip pain, menstrual pain, sciatica, and scoliosis among other troubles.
The psoas muscle attaches around the mid-spine and connects to each vertebra as it continues down the body. It passes through the hip to attach to the top of the leg on the inside.
9 stretches to release the hips and lower back.
Many things cause hip and lower back tension.
Walking incorrectly, shock to the spine and hip, and muscle strain from improper posture, are among a few causes.
Here are nine ways to relieve such common tensions:
- Knee to Chest – Lie flat on a bed or a mat. Bring one knee toward the chest, holding for eight to ten seconds. Return to a neutral position and lift the opposite leg. Hold for eight to ten seconds. Do three repetitions.
- Both Knees to Chest – Lying flat on a bed or mat, bring both knees to the chest. Hold gently with both hands for eight to ten seconds. Return legs to bed or mat. Repeat three times for a count of eight to ten.
- Knee Rotations – Lying flat on a bed or mat, bring knees up, keeping feet flat. Gently rotate knees to one side, then the other. Do this rotation ten times. Repeat three times.
- Bridge – This exercise strengthens the small of the back and glutes. Lying flat on a bed or mat, keep the feet flat on the surface. Bend the knees. Gently lift the buttocks until the body forms a flat surface like a bridge or table. Gently lower the body. Repeat this rise and fall ten times. Do this for a repetition of three times.
- The Child Yoga Pose – On your hands and knees, lower the body until sitting on the legs. Separate the legs until the body is positioned between them. Stretch arms and lower body until lying between the legs. The forehead should touch the floor, and the arms should be stretched as far as they can go. This lengthens the back, hips, and glutes. Hold pose for ten seconds. Do this for three repetitions.
- Runner’s Lunge – Standing with feet hip width apart, bend over and place hands on the floor. Bend one leg beneath the arms. Push the other leg behind the body. The shoulders should be over the bent knee with the leg behind lying flat on the floor. This pose lengthens the hip flexors and abdominal muscles.
- Happy Baby Pose – This yoga pose stretches the hips and small of the back. Lying flat on a bed or mat, lift the legs toward the chest. Splay your legs open from side to side. Lift your feet into the air above the chest. Grasp feet with both hands. The body should look like an infant checking out their toes. Hold the pose for ten seconds and for three repetitions.
- Cobra Pose – This a heart-opening backbend that allows you to stretch your entire upper body. You can adjust the intensity of the backbend by straightening or bending your elbows to suit your needs. Begin flat on your belly with your hands beside your ribs. Pressing down lightly with your hands, start to lift your head and chest, rolling your shoulders back and down. Keep the back of your neck long and focus on lifting your sternum instead of lifting your chin. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat three times.
- Cat Pose – This yoga pose opens up everything: hips, back, abdominals, legs and more. On hands and knees, make sure the shoulders are above the hands and hips above the knees. Arch the back upward like a cat. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat three times.
- Cow Pose – Remain in the same position as the Cat Pose. Instead of arching the back, dip it with the belly button aiming for the floor. Lift the head as if looking at the ceiling as well as lifting the tailbone. Hold for ten seconds, repeating three times. These two stretches should be done together for a complete stretch.
Using a cat-cow pose as a warming up exercise is a great idea.
It it opens up the spine, it starts to move fluids through the spine, and joins the breath and the body together nicely.
On an inhale, go into cat pose, and on an exhale go into cow pose. Rinse and repeat.
You don’t have to be down on all fours to make this flexing in your spine, and can just as easily stand up straight or even lean your hands against a wall.
By practising these exercises regularly, you can break the habit of gripping and develop a more relaxed, effective leg that helps you communicate with your horse and enjoy a more comfortable ride.