Losing Stirrups – Anne’s Creepy Legs

In the first of our Real Life Rider Series of blogs subscriber Anne wrote to me to say that she has issues with legs “creeping up” and losing stirrups.  So, especially for you Anne …

…any rider that has had a problem for some time with legs that creep up and/or forward are displaying the symptoms of muscle memory which will take some fixing.

As with most rider issues there are two areas to address – the physical and the psychological nature of the problem.

The physical:

The best way to start is by stretching the tight areas. I’m afraid I don’t have the time or space in this blog post to go through all the stretches that you could do, suffice to say the muscles indicated on the pictures are the ones that you should target and you should get professional advice about how to do it.  Losing StirrupsNow I know that this is not easy.  You have enough to do right?  When are you going to find the time to go through a thorough stretching regime?  Well I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but all the time you are spending trying to sit deeper, push the weight into your heels, grip on for dear life is wasted time.  Put aside some quality time (20 mins) to go through some stretching exercises focussed on the muscle groups above and you WILL see results.  Not immediately, but soon.

Also, let us not forget that we are correcting a problem, if you sit in your job all day chances are your Psoas muscle needs a workout.  There’s an interesting article by Karen Gunn “The Psoas Muscle and its Importance in Riding” – Happy Horse – well worth the read.

Another simple method of fixing the improper muscle firing sequence which should be utilised alongside stretching, is to pause it, continuing just strengthens it, so instead of continuing trying to hold the tense position, stop, refocus, get back into position and off we go again.

After all, you know when your horse is ready to stretch or needs a break, you have exactly the same need when you are trying to fix an ingrained problem.  At first, you may have to pause quite a lot and if you are truly committed to advancing your riding, you may have to spend several rides pausing, your horse may not get his full workout, but the time will be worth it.

As long as you are seeing progression and the time between the pausing is getting longer, you can continue happy in the knowledge that your legs will soon no longer be creepy!

The Psychological:

You need to train your body to have an ‘off’ switch.  At the same time, let go of any mental tension which may be building up.  Your brain will be releasing tension related signals whether you are conscious of them or not.

Riding with a pattern like inner thighs tightening, or heels creeping up, or legs creeping forward causes a constant firing signal to the muscles involved.  It creates a very strong ‘on’ signal to those areas.

Teaching your brain to have an ‘off’ switch by stretching and pausing is a good start.

For dressage riders, it can be helpful to think of these stages as similar to the training scale. Without addressing the tension in your thighs you will not be able to progress through the scales of training.

If you’re creepy legs are giving you difficulty with sitting trot there are two posts with helpful tips bumb-n-grind and more on sitting trot ... go take a look.

The next ‘Real Life Rider’ post looks at rushing in the long-and-low frame and how to re-establish the rhythm.

As always, have fun!

Patricia – The Dressage Tipster


9 Responses

  1. So far as I can tell, I don’t have creepy legs but this theory can be applied to my issues also. Thanks ladies x

  2. Hi I tend to have creeping legs when I ride with stirrups but without stirrups they sit very well and I even seem to have better contact with my horse. I was wondering if you have any insight into why I seem to become unbalance with stirrups and what can I do about it. Thanks

    1. Hi – The good news is that the majority of folks find working without stirrups the difficult bit, you have balance and know how to use it when riding without stirrups, even if it is subconsciously!

      You are spreading the balance and weight, gravity is dropping the weight down your legs and you will be using your lower back, abdominals to absorb the horses movement. When you take back your stirrups the balance changes, you begin putting weight into the stirrups instead of just allowing them to support your foot, you get tense through the thigh and stop using your abdominals because you’re heightened sense of self preservation is removed!

      My advice would be to leave your stirrups dangling (assuming your horse will allow this safely) and whilst trotting simply lift your foot into the stirrup cup and continue with nothing changing. Practice this for 5 minutes, every time you ride. Soon you will be able to keep the balance that you are getting without stirrups, with them. Hope this makes sense. Please let me know how you get on.

      1. I have the exact same problem! When I ride with stirrups my legs creep up and I constantly lose them.
        But without stirrups – no problem!!
        I used to think it was due to my having nerve damage to my legs (especially my left leg) after major spinal surgery. My instructor even says that I ride better without stirrups, so do you think I should perhaps ditch the stirrups altogether? I was looking into obtaining a discretionary letter from BD, allowing me to compete without them. Any advice would be much appreciated 🙂

        1. Hi Johanne
          Clearly you could have a unique problem but I may have an answer for you. I had this very same problem in the early days and it wasn’t until I discovered the relationship between my lower back and my heels that I cracked it. It was one of those Eureka moments for me so, I will do a separate post for you about this, because it’s too big a subject to do in a simple comment reply. Look out for it, I’ll do it in the next day or so.

          Patricia xxx

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