How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion to Keep Your Heels Down When You Ride

by | May 10, 2020 | equestrian, fitness

Ankle dorsiflexion, or how much you can bend your ankle, is an important motion for riders. If you ride with shorter stirrups, such as in a jump saddle, you need to have ankle dorsiflexion to keep your heels down and stay aligned in the saddle. Your ankle also acts as in important shock absorber when a horse lands from a fence.

I’ll never forget the time I got a new pair of boots and decided to wear them into the show ring right out of the box. They fit well and didn’t seem that stiff . . .  Each time my horse landed from a fence, I could feel those boots prevent me from sinking into my heel to absorb shock. Not my finest decision, but it did really show how much shock our ankle absorbs!

For those of you who ride with longer stirrups, such as in a dressage or western saddle, ankle dorsiflexion is still very important. Each time you dismount your horse, you send forces through your body. Your ankle flexibility helps absorb and direct those forces to prevent injuries from going up the chain to your knee, hip, and back.

I’m going to show you how to assess your ankle dorsiflexion and tools to increase your range of motion if needed.

Testing Motion

To see if you have enough ankle dorsiflexion, stand with your great toe 5”
from a wall. Keeping your foot flat on the floor, bend your knee and try to touch your knee to the wall. Can you get there without lifting your heel off the floor?

If yes, great! You have enough ankle dorsiflexion.

If no, then you probably need to work on your flexibility. Please look at your individual situation and use these exercises carefully. If you’ve had ankle surgery, have any hardware in your ankle from an old fracture, etc. this might not be appropriate.

Three Steps to Improving Mobility

I like to take a three step approach to improving mobility: Release tissue restrictions (self-myofascial release), stretching, and dynamic mobilization drills.

Release Tissue Restrictions

Here are two ways you can find those trigger points and improve fascia mobility.




Here is a good stretching exercise. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 3-4 times per side.


Dynamic Mobilization

Now that you’ve worked through some tight areas and stretched, dynamic mobilization drills help you move into the improved range of motion. Here are several drills you can try and see what feels useful.






If you need help with rider fitness or rehab, check out Shelley’s fitness and rehab programs here. If you’re not sure which program is best, schedule a free phone consultation here.

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Hi, I’m Shelley!

My exercise philosophy is simple – consistency beats perfection, strength should radiate from our core outward, and short, high intensity workouts are awesome. I’ve been a physical therapist for almost 20 years and see so many people struggle with consistency, accountability, and injury. Intrepid Wellness was born out of a desire to help people gain confidence, embrace the importance of fitness, and go after their goals.