Section-3 Rider Balance

About Rider Balance

 

This course in the training program is useful for riders of every level. The skills outlined teach riding from a bio-mechanical point of view instead of traditional methods. Novice riders will rapidly gain their balance on the back of a horse and find security. Riders recovering from injuries or those experiencing soreness from riding will be able to develop mechanically sound riding skills. Experienced riders can learn to be more efficient, no matter the riding position for a sport, in order to become more effective.

The real aspect of training in this course is building a Learning Frame of Mind and Self-Carriage in the rider. As a rider (leader), you are responsible for yourself and the horse. If you are not able to take responsibility for yourself in mind and body, then the horse will not vote for you as the leader no matter how much money you spend. Controlling yourself and controlling your personal space are the first two aspects of leadership on the ground and under saddle.

The rider earns leadership by being calm, willing, attentive, and adaptable to maintain a Learning Frame of Mind no matter how the horse behaves in any given moment. The rider is also responsible for being balanced in all three planes – left/right, front/back, up/down – to maintain Self-Carriage no matter how the horse moves under saddle. What we want from our horses can only be given when we are able to lead the way. Maintaining your balance and harmonizing with the horse is the first step.

Basic balance and fitness is essential to any sport. Riding regularly is an athletic endeavor. It requires core strength, suppleness, flexibility, coordination and focus. Like any sport, your nervous system must be trained through practice to develop the skills of balance, feel and timing.

Focusing on and developing your skills from your core is the fastest way to improve. How you use your core affects your entire body automatically. A very small shift of your Point of Balance in the center of the three planes will “reverberate” throughout the extremities to create overall balance or imbalance. Most riding instruction focuses on the reins, seat or legs to teach or correct a rider’s position. The skills in this section are very different! The emphasis of each skill is to get your attention on your core and develop a sense of balance internally. Your horse and your own body will be your primary guides towards balance and improving your riding posture.

In this course you will spend most of the time listening, visualizing and feeling your own body in relation to the horse’s body. It is important that you remain safe. The riding skills can be practiced on a different horse that is reliable and safe if your horse is not. Another alternative is to have a helper on the ground lead or lunge the horse while you ride. It is also important that you work in a safe area that is not too challenging. You will need to concentrate internally, so the less you have to focus on the horse, the better.

 

 

Theory Topics For Rider Balance

 

The importance of maintaining independent balance or Self Carriage

Riding is not passive or neutral. Either the rider is in balance and constructively strengthening the horse’s body. Or, the rider is out of balance and passively taxing the horse’s body. When a rider sits on a horse, the horse’s structure is inherently compromised. Even if the rider is excellent, the horse must still learn how to re-balance with the un-natural, live weight of a rider.

An unbalanced rider is even more challenging for the horse. Not only is an unbalanced rider more effort to carry, the horse will have to compensate for the unbalanced load by using its body as a counter balance to avoid falling over. Compensating for an unbalanced rider makes the horse uncomfortable and sore, even if the horse can still do its job. When discomfort lasts long enough or becomes too much for the horse to cope with, the horse will begin to exhibit more serious behavioral problems or lameness.


Understanding human Patterns of Posture on and off the horse

Riding fashions lead people to believe that somehow riders should balance “differently” depending on the sport or job they want to do. But human anatomy interacting on horse anatomy is still governed by the same laws of physics no matter what kind of saddle is used or what kind of job the horse needs to perform. Jockeys and jump riders need to bend their joints into a crouched position for the job while dressage and western riders need a more open joint, lengthened position. But no matter the position, the rider’s body must still remain level over gravity at all times. Riding fashions tend to encourage riders to take a position that is either too far forward, ahead of the horse’s motion and tipped forward over gravity – or too far back, behind the horse’s motion and tipped backwards over gravity. But balance is balance is balance no matter the riding position, the rider should be able to keep his or her structure level over gravity at all times.

 

Simulations: Groundwork for the Rider

Understanding and correcting postural habits can be done on the ground before a rider has to balance on a horse. Whatever habits we carry in our daily posture – handedness, weak backs, slouching – is carried up to the saddle as long as they remain unconscious habits. Becoming aware of how to improve posture on the ground provides new information to the body that directly translates to riding.

 

Riding in Harmony with the Horse

Learning to follow the motion of the horse while maintaining independent balance is key to becoming an effective rider. The movement of a horse can sometimes be as unpredictable as water. Learning to follow a horse’s motion is similar to gaining your “sea-legs” on a boat. Once you can adjust and adapt to motion while maintaining levelness over gravity, you will understand how to then shape a horse’s motion. Riders without this awareness tend to tilt or tip with the horse’s motion, allowing their bodies to fall towards gravity. Just “going with the horse” often exacerbates a horse’s imbalance and the rider becomes part of the problem instead of part of the solution.


The challenges of speed, direction and transitions

This skill helps the rider develop body awareness and overcome poor postural habits. Using our bodies optimally is as much a learned skill as it is for the horse. Since the body is a closed system, a small imbalance in one area readily affects the whole. Learning to operate from your core and becoming aware of your Point of Balance helps improve posture and function rapidly.

 

3.2 Riding Simulations

Developing balance, feel and timing are fundamental skills for any rider and can be learned off the horse to prepare for riding. The more these skills are challenged and habituated on the ground, the easier it becomes to translate them to riding. These are also skills that can be developed in bad weather when riding is not an option.

 


3.3 Up/Down Balance – Engagement

Vertical alignment of the rider’s body is up/down balance. It requires engagement of core muscles to sustain this alignment as forces created by the horse’s motion challenge it.

 


3.4 Front/Back Balance – Impulsion

Horizontal alignment of the rider’s body is front/back balance. Humans are relatively small horizontally and so a minimal misalignment in this plane can throw the entire body either ahead of the horse or behind. This plane of the human body also has a significant effect on the horse’s ability to move freely or not.

 


3.5 Left/Right Balance – Straightness

Lateral alignment of the rider’s body is left/right balance. This is the most common plane in which riders become unbalanced because we all tend to be either right handed or left handed. Our “strong side” on the ground often gets carried unconsciously into riding and has a significant effect on the horse’s balance.

 


3.6 Staying on the Ball: Walk

Once the rider is aware of all three planes of balance and how to operate from a Point of Balance, it is another skill entirely to maintain that alignment on the back of a horse. This skill develops the ability to maintain balance over gravity no matter how the horse moves underneath the rider.

 


3.7 Rising and Sitting Trot

As speed changes from walk to trot the footfall pattern of the horse also changes. This changes the physics or how the forces of movement affect the rider’s body. Learning to maintain all three planes of balance in another context of motion again is a learned skill.

 


3.8 Two-Point and Rising Canter

Just like trotting, at canter the speed and footfall pattern change and so the forces affecting the rider’s body change. Learning to adapt in order to maintain equilibrium in all three planes of the body is another skill for a rider. This skill helps a rider learn to use their joints as shock absorbers for balance.

 


3.9 Sitting Canter

Because the speed and force of motion generated at canter are the toughest for the rider’s body to absorb, sitting the canter becomes tricky to do in balance. Maintaining balance not only requires core strength but also a great degree of flexibility in the body.

 


3.10 Passenger Riding

This skill allows the horse a safe amount of unpredictability in order for the rider to develop adaptability. While the horse is still under a reasonable amount of control, the rider takes every opportunity to give up control and learns how to follow unpredictable motion while maintaining independent balance.

 


3.11 Developing Contacts

Contacts are not aids – learning the difference between the two is critical for developing Self-Carriage in the horse. Seat, leg and rein contacts are primarily for listening to the horse through feel in order to decipher how a horse is loosing balance or when the horse is beginning to shift into balance. Isolating contacts as a skill helps the rider learn the difference.

 


3.12 Guiding while Maintaining Balance

This skill helps the rider learn to separate contacts from aids and coordinate the use of both appropriately. Clear communication is critical to developing Self-Carriage. Until a rider can offer this clarity through feel, knowing the difference between an aid and a contact, communication and results will be sloppy.

 

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

Quote Of The Day

The best horseman, trainers and teachers in all disciplines understand the horse’s structure and mechanism, his natural balance and way of moving, and how he should best use himself to do the particular job required in that specialty
~Susan Harris