In a recent trip out to Seattle, eventing trainer Whitney Spicher was able to fit me into her schedule. The morning of my flight, bright and early, I went to Capstone Training and did not know I was in for such an eye-opening experience. The thing is, I knew there was something off about my riding. Whitney, in just a few minutes, was able to evaluate exactly what I needed to work on. Her cure for what ailed me? Leg lifts.

I’ve done stretches on a horse to get comfortable with them and find my balance. I’ve ridden without stirrups. But doing something beyond thinking “stomach to spine, shoulders back, heels down”? This hadn’t come up in my lessons at all. But once Whitney explained to me not only what I was doing wrong, but how to fix it, my posture, balance, leg positon and length improved drastically.

For those who don’t know, a leg lift is when you take your feet out of the stirrups, balance your hands in front of you and without pushing on your horse, lift your knees up. What this forced me to do was correctly engage my core. When I stand up straight, shoulders back, I have a natural curve to my spine. To fix this, Whitney told me to bring my ribcage down and lift my pelvis while I was doing the leg lifts. For me, this was a huge lightbulb moment, flashing back to a lesson I took a year again when the trainer said she didn’t want to see a hollow back. When I was still having trouble with the leg lifts, Whitney evaluated where I was sitting in the saddle. Moving me forward, to a point that felt weird and uncomfortable, I had to make sure I could feel my seat bones in the saddle and repeat the leg lift exercise.

Once I had done the leg lifts correctly for a count of 10, Whitney had me trot on a 20-meter circle at a working trot and collected trot. As I stayed aware of how I was engaging my core, my horse began to trot more evenly. With my hips now stretched out (a little, this isn’t a miracle cure, I need to work at these) I was able to have a better feel for my lower leg and the position it needs to be in.

What I walked away from that lesson with was priceless information. Yes, I’m starting to form bad muscle memory. But I can stop it. I now have some of the tools I need to fix my posture, my leg position, and my ability to balance in the saddle. And I have a super bored horse wondering why we’re standing still so I can lift my leg off of him and put it back down.