Pro Tips

We All Have Leg Position Challenges. Here’s How to Fix Them.

Photo by Carolynn Bunch

Dr. Beth Glosten earned her medical degree from the University of Washington and practiced as an academic anesthesiologist. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and operates RiderPilates from the Pacific Northwest. Her background and focus on Pilates training laid a foundation for her uniquely analytical approach to solving rider-position issues.

“In all of us,” Dr. Glosten explains in her book The Riding Doctor, “the weight of the leg comprises a significant portion of our body weight. As such, the legs can have significant unwanted effects on body position and function. Using the leg to aid the horse can alter posture, and overzealous leg muscles can inhibit the horse’s motion. Finally, leg position can influence your ability to balance efficiently. These are reasons to keep the legs under control and balanced in strength and flexibility.”

Dr. Glosten says that your legs can affect your posture in several ways.

“When you apply a leg aid you can cause your pelvis to tuck under your body, bringing your spine into flexed (rounded or C-shaped) posture. This is especially true if you tend to overuse your gluteal muscles,” she says. “This can strain your back because force is being applied to your rounded spine. Body awareness and core stability will improve your ability to give a leg aid without such a change in posture. This is one of the components of being able to give independent aids. So, work to become aware that leg movement at your hip joint need not change your spine alignment.”

Dr. Glosten recommends the following “off-horse” exercises to help you differentiate movement of your leg at the hip joint from movement of your pelvis and spine. The exercises will not only help you develop this awareness, they will also improve your core stability and encourage supple movement at the hip joint.

Knee Circles

Learn to separate movement at the hip joint from movement at the spine, and improve spine stability and hip-joint muscle suppleness.

Photo by Audrey Guidi

1. Lie on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-joint width apart.

2. On an exhale breath and while keeping neutral spine, lift your right knee toward your chest. Place your hand on top of your right knee. Straighten your left leg so it is flat on the mat.

3. On another exhale breath, move your right knee in a circle to the left, bringing the right knee over your left thigh, away from you, out to the right, then inhale as you return your knee to the start position.

4. Do 6 circles left, then 6 circles right.

5. Repeat with your left knee.

Use your trunk muscles to keep the pelvis stable, unaffected by your leg movement. Do not allow your pelvis or torso to rock side to side as your leg moves. Gradually let go of your knee and do the circles without the help of your hand.

Leg Circles

A further challenge to differentiate movement at the hip joint from movement at the spine. Leg Circles, harder to do than Knee Circles, also improve spine stability and hip-joint muscle suppleness.

Photo by Audrey Guidi

1. Lie on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the floor hip-joint width apart.

2. On an exhale breath and while keeping neutral spine, lift your right knee toward your chest. Straighten your right leg as much as possible while keeping neutral spine alignment. Straighten your left leg flat on the mat.

3. On the next exhale breath, move the right leg in a circle left, going across the left thigh, down toward the floor, and slightly out to the right side. Inhale as you return your leg to the start position.

4. Do 6 circles left, then 6 circles right.

5. Repeat with your left leg.

Use your trunk muscles to keep your pelvis stable, unaffected by your leg movement. Do not allow your pelvis or torso to rock side to side as your leg moves. Place your hands on the sides of your pelvis to feel if your pelvis is rocking during the circles. You’ll find it particularly challenging to maintain pelvic stability as your leg stretches out to the side.

The Knee and Leg Circle exercises allow you to feel what it is like to have a stable torso and a mobile hip joint with suppleness in these strong leg muscles. Adjust your circle size (smaller is easier), and keep your pelvis stable while you move your leg. Focus on feeling the stability of your pelvis with coordinated movement of your leg, as you should when riding.


This excerpt from “The Riding Doctor” by Dr. Beth Glosten is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books.

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