I have been asked a lot recently about why riders have such a hard time keeping their heels down. A heel that is not "down" may not have anything to do with the heel its self, but rather the knee and the calf muscle.
Many times the heel is not down because the calf needs to be stretched. A soft calf allows for the heel to drop below the toe when the foot is resting on the stirrup bar. When the heel is "down" in a rider, it drops just below the stirrup bar. The more important thing, however, is how FLEXIBLE the calf and ankle are and how they absorb the movement of the horse. The ankle plays an important role in helping absorb the movement of the horse under your body. it's a shock absorber. If there is too much pressure on the toe of the rider down on the stirrup, a stiff and rigid calf muscle and knee is present. On the other hand, if the heel is forced down too far, the back of the calf and knee also becomes stiff and non-spring like.The front and back of your calf should feel soft and springy as should your knee. If you feel like your heel is up then chances are you are gripping with your knee as well and you need to point your knee cap down to lengthen your thigh and drop the whole length of your leg.
The following is a simple exercise that will help stretch your calf to keep it soft and springy. Once you have found the correct place for your upper and lower leg around your horse, you should anchor that feeling both mentally and physically to help your muscle memory and subconscious mind take over positive position corrections!
Stand facing the wall about 3 feet away.
Take 1 step forward with your left foot.
Place your hands on the wall in front of you. Elbows slightly bent, shoulders, hips and feet are pointed directly towards the wall.
Bend your left knee slowly using the movement to control the amount of stretch you feel in your right calf muscle. Both heels stay on the ground.
Keep your right knee (back leg) straight and hold still for 15 seconds.
To stretch the other calf muscle (soleus) in the same leg, slowly bend your right knee, making sure to keep your right heel on the ground. Hold 15 seconds.
Slowly push yourself back to starting position.
Switch legs and repeat both the straight knee and bent knee stretches on the other leg to completely stretch your calf.
Now that the physical side of training your body has begun, now the mental training and conditioning begins!! Look for more information on your mental training at www.programyourposition.com
Attached are a few pictures of some mental images that will help your visualization of your new position!!