A few of us might picture a buff blonde in a bathing suit when we see the words “toned calves”…but don’t worry, this particular post is about riding better—not about muscle development! You can “give greater strength or firmness” to any muscle, momentarily, to change the way it feels, works, and impacts your movement (or lack of it), and when it comes to your legs and your horse, how your leg muscles “feel” can affect his response to your aids, as well as his overall way of going.
In her book 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, instructor and creator of the Sure Foot Equine Stability Program Wendy Murdoch says the rider can increase the strength of the lower leg (when needed) by “toning” the calf muscles. This firming of the calf muscles is achieved by varying the depth of the heels.
“But, when the heel is always pressed down as far as it will go all the time, this valuable aid is lost,” explains Wendy. “A constantly hard calf can makes the horse tense or dull to the lower leg aid because it is at maximum hardness (“volume”) without letup.
“From the basic position—that is, when the rider’s heel (not the boot’s heel but the foot inside) is level with the stirrup—the calf can give a soft leg aid. Pressing the heel down strongly makes the calf hard, which you can do when a stronger aid is required.”
To improve your ability to control the “tone” of your calf muscles, try this exercise from 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES:
1 Feel this while sitting on the floor. “Stand” one foot flat on the ground with the knee bent, and relax your calf.
2 Place your hand around the calf about midway between knee and ankle. Feel how the muscles are soft and pliable.
3 Lift the front of your foot off the floor, and feel muscle tone changes. It is somewhat firmer but still pliable. This position simulates your heel lower than your toes in the stirrup. The calf muscles can lengthen to allow the heel to sink without the muscles hardening.
4 Now, press your heel against the floor. What happens to the calf? Feel how it hardens due to the increase in muscle tone. This will create a stronger leg aid against your horse’s side. But you want to go back to the softer position for this subtle aid to be effective. If you keep your calf toned as firmly as possible all the time, the more subtle leg aid is lost.
Learn more great 5-minute exercises for improving your riding in Wendy Murdoch’s 40 5-MINUTE JUMPING FIXES, as well as her other bestselling book and DVDs, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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