Last week I read an article, by a blogger who I usually find very informative, but to my surprise I was left very confused. The article is here.
I think many other readers were also confused by the article, judging by the conflicting comments flashing across social media.
So I stored it in the back of my mind until I was out hacking on Thursday, when it popped back into my head.
If you`ve just read the article you will have seen that the author is pro thighs in.
I didn`t want to judge, I just wanted to know where my thighs were, and the effect of moving them had on the rest of my body.
Firstly, my thighs were relaxed – I could wobble the muscle easily with my hand. I could feel my seat bones, I felt quite central and sat tall. My knees and ankles were soft and slightly flexed. My feet were horizontal – it was a dressage saddle and I hadn`t bothered to shorten the leathers by a single hole, but I was still comfortable and safe – we weren’t on a gallopy hack!
I turned my thighs out. My lower leg came into closer contact with the horse`s belly. Imagine sitting on a ball; as the knees come out the ankle closes. My gluteals contracted and my seat lightened. I would have also found it more wobbly if we had trotted.
Then I put my thighs in. My knees gripped the knee rolls, the angle of my seat changed and I felt like I was blocking the movement of the horse, limiting him. My lower leg also came away from the girth, making it harder to apply the leg aid. I think the tension in my thighs would have caused me to become unstable in the saddle in trot and canter.
My humble thoughts on whether your thighs should be in or out? They should be sitting on the fence in the middle.
You don`t want your thighs tense, bringing your centre of gravity higher up your body and making it harder to absorb the horse`s movement, yet you also don`t want floppy thighs which make you sit like a sack of potatoes and destabilises you. Your thighs, in the ideal world where we all have toned, cellulite-free legs, should be relaxed yet engaged, causing them to drape around your horse`s barrel. In a similar way that a strong core is not difficult to maintain and looks effortless, your thighs want to be self-sufficient and holding themselves against the horse`s sides with just the muscle tone.
Some people have narrower hips than others, some have legs which turn inwards slightly; both aspects make it harder to drape the leg around the horse. These people do sometimes have to think about relaxing the knee, and letting the thigh roll out for a few strides to prevent them gripping too tightly, to drop the weight into the foot, and to allow their muscles to develop or change. Other people, perhaps those duck-footed or with bowed legs, sometimes have to think about closing the thigh in order to correct the position of the lower leg and seat, and again to improve their muscle tone and the way they carry themselves so that the whole of the upper thigh is in contact with the saddle, ready to apply aids and adjust to the horse`s way of going. The contact between thigh and horse should be uniform (both legs gripping to the same extent), enough that he knows you are there yet will not so heavy he becomes dead to the leg. It`s like holding your hand on the detonator button – ready to blow up your enemies at a moments notice, yet not blowing up your allies.
In the end I decided that I didn`t fully agree with the article because thighs should not be either or; they should be closer to the median because at different times in your riding you may need to adjust the position of your thigh to stabilise you in that particular moment on that particular shaped horse. He does highlight the errors of both ends of the scale though, and it`s a useful exercise for getting the rider aware of their body, position, and self carriage.