This may sound wierd, but I'm trying to figure out what my leg should "feel like" while I'm riding. I ride English in an all-purpose saddle (training in hunter/jumper), and I know what my leg position should look like (heels down, straight line from ear to hip to heel), but my question is: what part of my leg do I grip with? Am I supposed to have equal pressure from my thighs and my calves, or should my thighs be tightly holding on and my calves looser?
Thank you!

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If your thighs hold tightly, they will constrict the horse. Think of your legs hanging in an upside down U rather than an upside down V. Which discipline are you working on? In dressage, the calves stay quietly against the horse's side and the thigh is also on, but not with more pressure than the calves. When I think about it, I guess my entire leg is on evenly, then I use the part of the leg I need at a given moment for a specific aid.
I can't speak about the other disciplines.
You never grip with any part of your legs. This causes endless problems for riders and horses. Horses are taught to move away from pressure and when the rider grips the horse may go faster or may ignore your leg causing the rider to use more leg and the horse to ignore the rider even more. A vicious circle.
Your legs should take the shape of the horse in such away that if the horse was removed the rider would still retain the shape with their own legs. (your legs should be like wet cloths). This takes muscle and flexibility for the rider and is something many riders lack. Mary Wanless has the best explanation in her books of how to achieve a good seat. Basically the rider must use their femurs to "pull" themselves into the saddle with positive muscular pressure. To get a feel for this you need somebody to gently pull on one of your legs at the knee while you are in your saddle. The rider has to build up enough muscle to supply their own pull. Eckart Meyners has great exercises for riders, off the horse.
Queenrider's comments reminded me to say that when I say my legs are on the horse, they are not gripping tightly, they are just there in soft steady contact (ideally!;)). I apply an aid, then soften, but my leg is always in contact with my horse's side.
For someone to help you with exercises on site, you can post your questions in the Ride Better 1-2-3 Blog clinic and Heather will help you.
As others have already commented, you shouldn't be gripping anywhere. THat's the most sure-fire way to desensitize your horse to pressure, and you don't want to do that as you need him/her to be sensitive to the leg pressure. Ideally your thigh should be in contact with the saddle at all times as without that contact you won't feel your horse's movement clearly and you won't know when his stride shortens, when he is falling out with his shoulder - just generally you won't have the awareness of where he is at any given point. However, be careful that while trying to achieve that contact, you don't end up losing your posture in other ways - e.g. careful not to have your lower leg move too far back, and careful not to sit too far forward so that you are almost sitting on your crotch. So don't tip your pelvis forward.

something that my teacher told me: while learning (for both you and your horse) it's actually OK to lean your upper body forward slightly as long as you don't slump and as long as you don't tip your pelvis forward. You can start straightening up gradually once your muscles have strengthened and you gained the required felexibility.

The best advice really is this: take riding lesson from a good instructor or, if you cannot manage that, see if you can get a friend to video record you while you ride so you can see exactly what you are doing and compare that to closeups of riders whose riding style you consider to be exceptional.

Exercise you might try that have helped me: ride without stirrups but maintaining the proper leg and thigh position. First at walk and then try a sitting trot if your horse is up to it. That will really show you where you have a tendency to grip. It may even show you that your stirrups are the wrong length :-) (as it did with me after my teacher put me through a lesson of that - I ended up lengthening my stirrups by 2 inches and all of a sudden I stopped having the problem of my lower legs creeping forward!)

I am lucky personally: I have a great teacher who is able to adjust my seat for the better gradually as she judges I am ready. Which is why I am recommending lessons as having a proper seat is such an essential part of riding.
It should feel like you are giving the horse a cuddle with your lower leg , and you can feel the movement of the horses belly as it swings from side to side. Think about knees down, toes up . Remember cuddles are not gripping . Only put more pressure with your thighs when you want a downward transition. The tighter you grip the less secure you will feel, gravity will keep you in the saddle if you have an independant seat. Lessons are an absolute must!!! Cheers Geoffrey
I am taking lessons with a great trainer. I just forget to ask all of my questions during my lessons, so it's easy to ask on here and get a lot of input.


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