An incredibly common problem I see is riders toes turning out. It's frustrating isn’t it; as you have a lovely ride and someone takes a picture and all seems well until you realise your feet are pointing at quarter to three!
I also imagine over the years your instructor may have tried to turn your foot in causing you to yelp that it won’t go that way!
There can be a few common reasons why riders feet turn out.
One reason is tight abductors. The abductors are the muscles around your outer hip and bum. These are the muscles that turn your hip out -and therefore turn your foot out! When we sit on a horse these muscles which sit on the outside of our hip are put into a shortened position as our inner thighs (adductors) are lengthened to go around the horse. Due to this continual shortening they can become "over shortened" and unable to relax back down which then travels down the leg and rotates the whole thing.
Another reason could be a spasm in the Piriformis muscle. The Piriformis is a muscle located deep in the glutes and is a hip rotator, so it’s very action is to turn the foot out. As with the abductors it can become tight and then hold the hip externally rotated-causing the duck feet effect.
In both of these cases another issue that needs to be addressed is Hip Stability. If there is weakness in the abductor and glute muscles they will “latch on” to try and create stability.
For this reason I always like to take two pronged approach to this issue.
Step one. Release the muscle.
Step two. Strengthen the muscle.
We are of course going to start with releasing the muscle.
Release The Muscle:
In order to help the muscle relax and lengthen we need to release any impingement that may be present.
Start with the Anti Spasm exercise for the Piriformis.
Then try releasing the abductors and Piriformis with a ball or foam roller-personally I prefer a ball. Any ball will do such as a tennis ball, of a hockey ball or one of those spike physio balls I hand out all the time.
For the Piriformis sit with the ball somewhere between your seat ball and your outer thigh-you’ll know when you’ve hit it! Roll around there, pressing and releasing until you feel the tension fade.
For the abductors I find the traditional foam rolling technique too strong for most people so I suggest just hand rolling the ball down the outer thigh from the outside of the hip to the outside of the knee.
We will have a look at hip stability next week.