In horsemanship, a strong, steady, leg will provide a balanced foundation for your upper body. It'll also allow you to invisibly cue your horse. Both benefits can boost your overall score. Here's an in-saddle exercise to help you take the loose out of your leg.
1. Stand up in the stirrups. At a standstill, hold the reins in your left hand, and the saddle horn with right one. Place the balls of your feet in the stirrups. Using the saddle horn for balance, stand up tall and straight in the stirrups. Maintain this position until you feel your body balance over your feet. That is, when you can stand without leaning forward or backward without the help of the saddle horn--but don't let go of it completely.
2. Sit back down. Gradually let your weight sink deep into your heels, then bend your knees, and slowly sit back down. Stretch your heels as low as you can without pain, and keep your body in the same balanced position that you attained in Step 1. Sit in the middle of your saddle without bracing your seat against the cantle. Let your toes turn out slightly (at about a 40-degree angle) so that the backs of your calves rest against your horse. If your body tips forward or back, stand up and sit down again, until you sit straight.
3. Let go, and speed up. Once you find your balance, perform Steps 1 and 2 without holding the saddle horn. Repeat at the walk, jog, and lope. In motion, first use the saddle horn for balance, then try letting go for progressively longer periods of time. If you can master this exercise at the lope, without the saddle horn's help, your leg will be quite steady indeed!
Karen Stone-Graham is a world champion Quarter Horse trainer who uses this exercise to help her amateur and youth students develop strong, steady legs. She trains out of Karen Stone-Graham All Around Horses in Scottsdale, Arizona.
This article first appeared in the July 2003 issue of Horse & Rider.