The maxim no hoof, no horse is so true! Anyone who’s had a horse have an abscess knows it’s probably the best lameness diagnoses to hear, versus something like suspensory or arthritic changes. But it’s so hard to watch your horse hobble around in pain until it heals. The healing process is a fun carnival of soaking and wrapping and praying, as well! I’m a card-carrying member of the artistic duct tape club—I can wrap a hoof over a 4x4, liniment pads, or a diaper in about 30 seconds flat. This really should be a true Equine X-Games competition—especially on horses with super sensitive feet. But, I digress. This is an article about your foot—the human foot. You know, the one in the boot that you don’t think too much about, but should give a little attention to it.
Your foot is part of a very important component of the base of support, AKA the BOS. You need to consider your foot and its placement. Let’s discuss some basics. The bar of the stirrup should be under the ball of your foot. That’s the widest part of your foot and gives you more space both to spread the weight of your body and provide grip. You stirrup pads should get some attention by being cleaned regularly or replaced as needed so the foot doesn’t slip around. The pinky toe should be gently up against the outside bar, or super close to the band if you have quick release stirrups. The toes themselves should be relaxed and flat. Sometimes you can press down with your toes when you need to get a little more grip onto the stirrup. This probably happens more as a reflex than you know, but if it tightens the ankle at the same time, a little bit of your following leg gets off balance.
The next part of the foot to think about is the ankle, The ankles should relax and sink down into your feet to the amount your Achilles tendon can handle. If you think of the balls of your feet as being glued to the bar of the stirrup, you then relax the ankles and ‘walk, trot, canter’ in the ankles, also. Meaning it feels a little like little bends of the ankle as you are absorbing the motion of the horse but not so drastically that it can be ‘seen’ or cause the leg to swing. It’s more a result of just flowing with the motion because the ankle is relaxed.
Take some time and at the walk and focus on the foot and ankle following the horse. Let the ankles walk in your boot with the horse. Try some basic exercises of posting, two-point and sitting from one letter to the next during your trot warm-up, focusing on letting the ankles follow softly and the feet stay relaxed in the boot. As you change between posting and two point, there’s more effort on your part to keep the ankle soft and following by letting the heel dip down to the ground with the motion. From posting to sitting, the bend of the angle of the ankle may increase just a bit and alternate some side to side to follow the up-down and side-to-side motion of your hips with the horse's hips.
In the canter the ankles and foot follow the stride in what I think of as a forward-rolling ankle rotation. I like to think of stretching down and round into the balls of my feet in the gaits to quiet my legs and avoid the reflex of scrunching the leg up—and then losing your stirrup! It’s also good to see if you can turn out the heels, and turn them in at will.
If you find that you struggle with part of any of the exercises mentioned, some great off-horse exercises to add to your exercise routine are calf stretches and some hip and thigh stretches. Things you can do at your desk or watching TV, like crossing the leg and placing your foot over knee and letting the hip stretch. This should look like when a man crosses his legs while sitting. Take a few seconds to rotate the foot gently to stretch the tendons in the ankle area.
You can strengthen your calves with some calf raises. There’s great yoga stretches, like the pigeon or the runner’s stretch, which also help open up the hip muscles. Take some time in your next ride and check in with your feet and ankles in each area of your ride and see if you can relax the ankle and follow more with this part of your BOS – base of support – to help your leg get quieter and your seat follow a little more closely!
Stay tuned for next week’s Two-minute Training Tip! If you need help building a training plan you can always email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out revelationfarm.com for upcoming events. Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RevelationFm!