One of the discussion topics in the past week on this site has been around the problem of legs creeping forward when you ride. From what I see in clinics, this problem spans disciplines- it doesn't seem to matter whether you're in an English or Western saddle. Getting that heel more aligned under your hips is a challenge.
If you look at the past three weeks' worth of Ride Better/Ride Fit! blogs, each of the three riders in the examples also shared this problem.
The problem isn't limited to a style or aesthetic issue either. Your body is connected in a chain from top to bottom. When some part is out of correct vertical alignment, your body will compensate somewhere else created biomechanical compensating patterns which will affect the way your horse is going- and your stability in the saddle. I really liked Chris Irwin's last posting about flying changes because it showed how clearly rider positioning is connected to the way the horse in going in response to your timing and weight distribution.
I don't have any photos from the rider who brought up the forward legs problem, but we can discuss some general contributing factors here, and some associated issues.
Legs forward is often compensated for by your upper body tipping slightly forward, bringing your seat out of the saddle. You can't sit as deeply in the saddle with legs creeping forward. Sometimes, I see the same result, in a little bit of a reverse causality: the rider's lack of balance is causing her to tip forward, and her legs go forward in compensation. Either way, there is often an associated tightness in the hip flexor muscles, which close the angle of your pelvis and femur and pull the leg up. Usually, it gets worse as you get into problems in the ride, or pick up speed, or fatigue.
The shifting of the centre of gravity somewhat forward also often reveals weakness in the lower back and glutes (you are not holding your shoulders over your hips either- the back is giving forward). And, typically, where there is weakness in the lower back it is often paired with weak lower abdominals since these two opposing muscle groups are major contributors in your ability to hold your body erect: shoulders over hips, over heels.
Finally, you may have tight calves. I know they aren't anywhere near your knees, but if they are tight, then your ankle doesn't flex adequately to get your heel down in the angle required when placed under your hip. Your body wants to keep a more open angle at the ankle, and shifts your leg forward for relief.
So, corrective stretching that might help would be a runners' lunge for your hip flexors, and a calf stretch hanging one heel off the edge of a stair with the other foot on the stair.
However, stretching on its own is not enough because it won't prevent your body from reverting to its old habits when fatigued. You need to also strengthen appropriate areas which would help maintain the desired alignment. I would start with strengthening your lower back through back extensions (lying on your stomach on an exercise ball or back extension apparatus at a gym, and lifting your back up and down in a kind of reverse situp).
Of course, there are many reasons for legs creeping forward, and you may have other contributing issues. It would be great to see some photos submitted for next weeks' blog.
Until next week- happy riding!
Heather Sansom, Equifitt.com Equestrian Fitness