Increasing My Stability in the Saddle    

When I got my new Pegasus Butterfly jumping saddle, I noticed that the saddle leather was more slippery than the leather in my old Stubben and Crosby saddles.  My riding teacher, Debbie, started getting after me more about the position of my lower legs.  Where before, when I was riding in the Stubben or Crosby saddles, she was pretty much content with the stability of my lower leg, she changed to correcting my lower leg several times each lesson when I changed my saddle.  I tried all my usual methods of keeping my lower leg stable, but nothing seemed to work for long.

Then I remembered reading long ago that the leather of hunting boots gave increased friction against the leather of the saddle flaps (I think I read about it first in one of Santini’s books, but I cannot remember which one.)  I have not ridden in hunt boots for decades; since my MS makes me super sensitive to heat I worked on getting a system up that would not cause heat build-up in my lower leg.  I had tried the suede half-chaps but I did not have that much more grip with the suede, and in the summer I had to take them off since I got so hot.  I finally found ventilated half chaps, but, alas, these chaps were not made of leather and did not help me keep my lower leg stable.  Putting straight saddle soap (Fiebing’s) on my saddle flaps and the gripping surface of my synthetic half-chaps helped some, but once the horse started moving my lower leg would drift out of position.

So this winter I decided to buy myself something that would increase my frictional grip with the flap of my saddle.  I first thought of buying myself tall leather boots, but my body, remembering the pain of breaking in leather hunt boots, rebelled.  I have some trouble walking, and if my legs hurt my walking becomes worse.  If I was riding several hours a day every day of the week it would not take terribly long to break in tall boots, but with me just riding 1½ hours a week I was looking forward to a few months of misery.

Then I decided I would try the full grain leather half-chaps, at least during the winter.  I bought a pair of Ariat Breeze chaps during my “local” tack store’s after Christmas sale.  I was fitted with a pair, but when I tried to put them on for my lesson that week I just could not get them zipped up.  So the next week I went back to the tack store, explained my problem, and this time the lady who helped me made sure I could zip them up without any help.  She had to search to find a pair that was black and that was my size, but finally I walked out of the store with a pair of leather half-chaps that I could put on without help.

During my lesson on Bingo I immediately noticed that when I put my lower legs in the correct position they STAYED there instead of roaming back and forth.  From the usual 6 to 10 sharp comments from Debbie to get my lower legs back to their proper position, on Wednesday Debbie made just one comment after I gave an aid with my lower leg and I forgot to bring it back to its proper position.  For the first time in over a year Debbie started to praise my lower leg position!  She did note that when I was doing a two-point position that I was not getting my crotch out of the saddle and she told me to work on that.

On Friday, when I rode Mia for my homework ride, I decided to work mostly on my two-point position.  Before, with my other half-chaps, I just was not stable enough to stay completely out of the saddle in two-point, my crotch was still touching the front of the saddle.  But on Friday I finally succeeded in getting all the way up out of the saddle!  My thigh muscles immediately started complaining and hurting, obviously I will have to build up my leg strength.  Mia seemed to greatly appreciate my more stable lower leg both when I was seated in the saddle and when I was up in two-point.  She kept contact better, she seemed less irritated with me, and she seemed a little bit more responsive to my leg aids.  Since Mia is the most persnickety horse I ride, easy to irritate and constantly demanding perfection, I obviously improved my riding by changing to the full grain leather half-chaps.  I also felt a lot more secure in the saddle; in fact I felt 30 years younger! 

I am quite sure that when summer comes and it starts getting hot, that I will have to stop wearing my wonderful new half-chaps and change back to my ventilated pair.  I had the same problems with the heat with my suede half-chaps and I do not think that the full grain leather half-chaps will be any cooler than they were.  Then I will have to give up my new stability in the saddle and go back to having Debbie repeatedly get after me for my lower leg as my legs go back to sliding back and forth on the saddle flap.  Of course, at the same time I will also have to change my breeches from my FITS deerskin full seat breeches to the much more slippery technical fabric riding tights that are much cooler.  Right now I am hoping, that with me wearing both the cooler riding tights and the cooling riding shirts, I will be able to stand the added heat in my lower leg so I can continue to wear my new leather half chaps and keep my lower leg stable.

Lower leg stability really helps my security in the saddle.  This will greatly improve my riding, and the horses will be much more content with me.  The horses have been forgiving me my unstable lower leg, they seem to pick up my intention and obey that rather than my unstable, wandering lower leg.  At least for a few months we will be able to make progress until the heat ruins my riding ability and my stability in the saddle.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran          

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