Are you Riding for Fashion or Soundness?

There is sometimes a huge difference in riding positions between what is fashionable and what is bio-mechanically sound.  The reality is that balance is balance is balance. Whether you are riding a bike, rollerblading, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, gaining your sea-legs or even hiking, the control of your skeleton and weight distribution used to balance your human structure over gravity on an inanimate object is exactly the same as those needed to ride a horse.

Long Boarder

For example, surfers all use a very similar posture to ride the waves. While there is a slight difference in the amount of bend through the body for a long boarder compared to a shredder, the basic function of balancing on a surfboard looks pretty much the same or the surfer falls off.

Shredder

Because horses have the ability to adapt to our balance – unlike a surfboard and ocean waves – riders can adopt a huge variety of postures and manage not to fall off. But this doesn’t mean the postures are actually balanced. Much like surfing, there is a narrow margin of correct function for a rider on a horse.

To ride well, or ride effectively or even begin to know how to balance a horse, a rider’s skeleton must be in alignment with gravity at all times during motion.

Balanced top to bottom

Internal rider balance means the angles and weight through the body create stability front to back, left to right and top to bottom.

Rider balanced left to right

The body needs enough muscular tension and strength to support a stable position of the skeleton while coping with outside forces. The body also needs enough relaxation and suppleness to allow the joints a full range of motion for adapting to motion and changes in force.

Correct bio-mechaincal function while riding means the rider can move and balance her own body in relationship to gravity and not stabilize on the equipment, counterbalance on the horse or most importantly, impede the horse’s ability to balance.

Rider balanced front to back

This ends up looking pretty similar whether the rider is in an English or Western saddle. A dressage rider and cowboy both ride in a lengthened position. Ideally you should be able to extract the rider’s images off the horses and see that the bodies are balanced and aligned exactly the same.

What I refer to regarding fashionable riding is the unbalanced, incorrect forward or backward positions that is often taught, encouraged and rewarded in various riding disciplines.

Forward seat

For example, in the sports of hunter it is often an encouraged fashion for the rider to sit too far forward. In a forward seat the rider’s pelvis is tipped forward, ahead of the horse’s motion, throwing the rider’s weight onto the horse’s forehand. The rider compensates by arching the back, jamming weight into the stirrups and throwing the shoulders back. Not only is this an uncomfortable load for the horse, it often causes low back and knee pain for the rider.

Backwards seat

On the other side of imbalance is the backward seat often seen in western, natural horsemanship, and dressage. In this fashion, the rider’s pelvis is tipped backwards, behind the horse’s motion, throwing the rider’s weight into the seat or stirrups and pushing the horse’s back down. The riders compensate by either rounding the shoulders forward or leaning the shoulders back behind the hip joint and sticking their legs forward. This position allows the rider to counterbalance on the horse for stability but creates tension and discomfort for the horse, especially in its back and hindquarters.

So why is the forward and backward seat so darn prevalent in riders? Mostly because the horses can and must make do with whatever we decide is the “right” way to ride – too bad for the horse. When horse’s do object and demonstrate a negative opinion, instead of looking at ourselves and improving our own abilities as a rider, we tend to look for more training techniques that will “fix” the horse.  Fashion and opinion easily sneak into the sport of riding for four main reasons:

  1. It is very easy to blame the horse for a loss of balance because the horse is a living, thinking, feeling creature. It is much harder to blame an inanimate object when a person loses balance.
  2. A horse has some inherent stability with four legs and a broad back. It is easy for a rider to grip the horse or the equipment for stability. When a rider looses balance it is not always immediately apparent because the rider may not be falling off.
  3. The horse will compensate for a loss of balance in the rider by adapting its own balance to stay upright. An inanimate object does not have the ability to do this.
  4. The horse will indeed have its own challenges regarding balance and may not always offer predictability or stability. This is similar to sports involving water. The water may become more or less challenging depending on conditions, so the athlete has to become more adaptable to maintain balance.

Just because it is possible for a rider to stay on a horse while out of balance doesn’t make it right. It is not the best thing for the horse. Unfortunately it is entirely possible to compete at a very high level and win with a horse and rider out of correct balance. But riding out of balance is what promotes behavioral problems, injuries, illness and early breakdowns in horses. Correct balance for both the rider and the horse are important skills to master because healthy function is what builds strength, soundness and health.

Comments

One Response to “Are you Riding for Fashion or Soundness?”
  1. Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

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Equine Imbalance

...."Many problems (of the horse) can be caused by unbalanced patterns of tension in the body"........
....."Uneven tension will often result in uneven body use, difficulty carrying a saddle and rider, stiffness generally 'through the back' or the body as a whole, behavioural problems etc..... " Gavin Scofield D.O.
Founder of Equine Postural Training &
Official Osteopath for the British Endurance team

Acknowledgements

Photos Contributed by:
Jim McCleary - McCleary Photography
Christianne Gentile - True by Christianne
Sarah Wengernuk - Essence Photography

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