If you watch any given lesson at Crimson Stables, you’re likely to hear the phrase “heels down!” from any one of our instructors. But, rarely do instructors ever get the chance to break down all of the reasons that keeping your heels down is a good idea.
Reason Number 1
First and foremost, a rider’s heels being down helps to keep the foot from getting caught in the stirrup, which could turn into a dangerous situation very quickly—especially if the rider were to fall. If a rider’s toes slip too far forward, their foot can go through the stirrup instead of balancing on the bar. (This is also why it is a good idea to ride in boots with a sturdy heel—they also prevent the foot from getting caught in the stirrup!)
Reason Number 2
Keeping your heels down also helps keep the rider in a balanced position. When you’re riding, your hip, heel and shoulder should all be in a vertical alignment. A toe pushing down throws the rider’s balance forward and causes them to grip at the knee, rather than with the lower leg. Again, this is also a big safety concern: some horses feel restricted if the rider is gripping at the knee and either won’t perform correctly or will even act up.
Unlike some aspects of riding, it is easy to practice keeping your heels down at home! If you have a stool or a set of stairs in your house, stand on the lowest one (it is also a good idea to hang on to a railing or other solid object while doing so) and stand with the front half of your foot on the step, while lowering your heel off of the back—creating the same “heels down” position you would while riding. You can repeat this several times a day to help build muscle memory. Another quick and easy exercise to walk on your heels; again, it is a good idea to be near a railing or have a spotter just in case you lose your balance!