The Athletic Rider: Toes In, Heels Down

No rider is perfectly symmetrical and ambidextrous, but there are actions we can take to improve our imbalances. Leah Hinnefeld explains.

From Leah:

Have you ever been riding and had your instructor remind you to bring your toes in or put your heels down? I don’t think I ever remember one of my coaches NOT telling me to bring my right toe in and right heel down! When I was born, I had a weakness in my right foot and ankle that contributed to several sprained ankles over the years. The repeated injuries created a strength imbalance in my right leg. As a result of that imbalance, I have always struggled to keep my toes in and heel down on that leg.

It was only when I began studying how to better develop my young horses that I started to consider what impact my imbalance might be having on the balance of my horses. I had always thought that the weakness of my right was very slight compared to my left. It was not something that I thought about in my daily activities. It was enough that it created a similar left to right imbalance in each of the horses I had owned over the years.

A few years back, I was training for my first trail running series and decided to complement my training with Tai Cheng, a home fitness program created by Dr Mark Cheng. The Tai Cheng program teaches the basic principles and concepts of Tai Chi. It was during this 12 week training period that I became acutely aware of the significant impact that my right leg imbalance had on my riding and my running. Through the Tai Cheng program, I had the initial tools available to address and improve these imbalances. Within a short period of time of focusing on and improving my imbalances, I noticed a significant improvement in not only my running but also in the balance of each of my horses.

An overhead assessment is a simple yet valuable tool for assessing postural imbalances in people of all ages, skills and fitness levels. Once imbalances are identified through the assessment, a fitness professional can then provide a program that includes flexibility and strength exercises that are customized for that individual’s unique imbalances.

If you ride a horse that struggles bending in one direction, argues during lateral movements or shows some other sign of a balance issue, it might be time to have you own posture assessed. Your horse may just thank you for it!


Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the virtual posture assessment offered by The Athletic Rider.

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