So you have a day job. One where you have to dress like a ‘normal’ person, which actually means you are not wearing jodhpurs and you may even have removed all the hay from your hair. It may also mean that you slip your feet into some more refined footwear, some with a 2 inch heel for example. They do look lovely, by the way.
Unfortunately though, those leg sculpting calf tensing beauties are taking you further and further away from an elegant leg position on your horse. I know how boring that sounds, but bear with me.
We all know that a lovely looking lower leg in the saddle is long and sits above a relaxed and fully mobile ankle. For dressage positions, the foot tends to stay level in the stirrup maybe with the heel slightly lower than the toe. For jumping positions, it is helpful to have the heel further below the toes to act as an ‘anchor’ for the seat.
Calf and ankle health are rarely talked about, but there are many of you suffering with sore calves and achey ankles, often that is worse in one leg than the other. Shoes do play an important role; heeled shoes (actually a heel of any height) shorten the calf muscles and completely reorganise the positioning, relationship and communication of the joints and soft tissues of the ankle and foot.
Coupled with poor alignment and uneven loading through the legs, maintaining a jumping position for any length of time, or trying to keep a long leg in a dressage saddle becomes painful and debiliating to the whole seat.
With contracted calves and a shortened Achilles tendon, having a long and elegant lower leg with an ankle that can stay soft becomes a significant challenge.
So what can we do? We take steps to undo the contraction; calf stretches and ankle mobility movements to try and recover some length to our lower leg and to set the ankle back to it’s happy place; on the floor. I will be talking to you soon about how to align your bodies, but in the meantime, try these exercises;
Using a block of books, a bolster or some towels, place the ball of your foot onto the raised surface, keeping your heel on the ground. Your hips and shoulders should be upright and stacked on top of each other; try not to poke your bottom out the back or raise your shoulders. You will probably feel a stretch through your calf.
The next step is to try and take a step forward with your flat foot and place it in front of the bolster. Go as far as you can forward without losing your posture through the rest of your body. There shouldn’t be any clenching, butt poking, arm circling or shoulder lifting as you move your leg. Go as far forward as you can whilst keeping good posture everywhere else. Keep working on this stretch and you should start to be able to move your leg further forward.