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When we talk about dressage, we discuss the arms and the aids at length. But what about the upper leg? Typically when we address the legs we are referring to the lower legs, but what you do with your upper leg is another important part of perfecting your technique as a rider.

A long, flat thigh is a key part of a classical dressage position. When the thigh is in this potion, the seat bones are pulled down into the saddle, adding stability to the rider’s position. The rider’s seat is made up of the lower back, the lower abdominal muscles, the pelvis, the seat bones, and the thighs. The thigh begins at the hip flexor and runs down toward your knee. Your thigh should be lying flat against the saddle, and the femur should be slightly rotated inward. This should open up your seat bones, let you sit deeply into the horse and cover a large area of the saddle. If you view a correctly positioned rider form the side, the rider’s entire leg lies flat against the horse in a relaxed way, and the knees and toes will point forward.

To achieve this position, you need to develop the ability to stretch the inner adductor muscles in your thighs. If you don’t stretch, you will be tight in the adductor muscle. As a result, the seat bones won’t be able to drop down into the horse, and the hip flexors will stay too tight. At this point you may be wondering about the exact effects that the thighs have on the horse’s movement. Here are a few ways that your thighs influence the horse:

  1. Shoulder Movement

Your thighs will typically influence the horse’s shoulders. The upper leg combined with the weight aid influences the direction that the horse’s shoulders are moving. To gain the ability to guide your horse’s shoulders, you need to lengthen your upper leg in a relaxed way while maintaining positive muscle tone. Using both seat bones will allow you to channel the horse’s shoulders in the direction that you want the horse to go. If you use one seat bone and thigh on the same side, you will turn or straighten the horse by way of the shoulder that is falling out.

2) Speed control

In addition to using your seat bones and weight aids, you can make your horse stop by slowing the rhythm of your seat in addition to lengthening and firming the inner thigh. Your horse will either slow or stop, depending on the intensity of the aid.

3) Balance

The seat and thigh can also be used to balance the horse. Horses tend to drop their shoulders and withers. If this occurs, you can use the seat, upper legs and upper body to create a balancing half halt. This will engage the the horse’s core and hind legs while rebalancing the shoulders up.

Many young riders want to advance quickly without perfecting their seat and position. This is a mistake, because the seat and position have an enormous impact on your performance. Make sure you work on achieving a long, flat thigh. It is achievable for every body type, and if you dedicate five minutes of your ride each day to work on the your upper leg, you will notice improvement in a few days.