“Everything is energy, frequency and vibration”
• Nikola Tesla
I had one of those epiphany moments that I wanted to share with you. Something that never sits well with me when I hear the new horse industry buzzword “biomechanics” is that what I still often see is a physical manipulation of the horse’s body parts. My observation is that trainers and riders use the term “correct biomechanics” and may even have more knowledge about how the horse’s body needs to ideally function, but the method of achieving improvements still involves a lot of pushing, pulling, driving and leverage. The dominant thought is that we somehow have to directly affect body parts, flesh and bone, in order to gain improvements in our horse’s movement and coordination. But we don’t.
Authentic optimal balance or ideal mechanical coordination inside any horse’s body is incredibly complex and not something that can be pushed or pulled into place. The horse must discover internally any improvements in mechanical coordination through trial and error. Just like teaching someone to ride a bike, we can help, but ultimately that individual body must discover the coordination internally in order to ride the bike. Learning to separate the forces of motion from mechanical body parts is how we help our horse achieve better balance without having to directly alter any single body part in the process.
Finding Our Balance in the Middle of Chaos
The forces of motion, generated by the specific mechanical movement of the horse, are really what we “ride.” Traditional training focuses on where the legs are, how the head and neck are set and whether or not the horse can effectively execute the maneuver, pattern or task. The popularity of “biomechanics” in the horse industry is a welcome evolution and has softened our training approach substantially. But, we continue to use the same old perspective that our work is to manage leg use, head and neck use and back use through our aids, tools, maneuvers or by any means that cause the horse to look better.
I think this misses the point. Horses look better last – the feeling of the ride has to become better first.
Specific Mechanical Coordination Alters Forces of Motion and Vice Versa
The forces of motion we have to ride on a horse with dysfunctional mechanical coordination are like a rough river with a strong current and lots of waves. The current may be quick or slow, it may constantly snake side to side or bend towards one direction or another. We have to find our balance in chaotic, rough conditions. A horse with good balance, with good mechanical coordination, generates almost the opposite kind of forces. The current feels smooth with a consistent rate of flow and very few waves. The way we actually help our horses improve the complex, deep changes bio-mechanically is by improving the flow of the current or by helping our horse organize the forces of motion. As mechanics change, the current changes. As we influence the current of motion, we help our horse discover better mechanical coordination.
We Start with What We Have
The first “aid” we have to offer an imbalanced horse and the last aid we really need on a balanced horse is finding stability in our torso (seat bones to head). While it is easy to find our balance on a well balanced horse, we most often have to find our still point of balance despite crazy currents and waves of force. How well or how poorly we stabilize our center of mass during motion makes a dramatic difference to our horses. No matter what method or tradition we follow, there is no escaping the reality of physics. Our torso is the bulk of our weight and mass directly affecting the horse’s center of mass during motion. If our center is unstable, then we escalate the force of the waves, adding to chaotic currents of motion. If our center is stable, finding a quiet, adjusting stability in the middle of the current, then we help reduce the force of the waves and channel the current into a smoother flow. In other words, the more we learn to navigate the current and ride the waves like an expert kayaker, the more we guide our horses towards better and better mechanical function.
And… balancing in the current of the river is the fun part!
I used to feel sorry for myself that I didn’t have horses to ride that were already in balance. I was only able to catch glimpses of better and better movement on horses that were really struggling with their balance. I was also a bit frustrated as a teacher, wishing I could just put riders on a well balanced horse so that the experience of a smooth, lazy river could guide progress. My epiphany was how lucky we all are that we have to learn how to find our balance, as a quiet stability in our center of mass, on rough currents.
Why are we so lucky to have imbalanced horses to learn on? Because the forces of motion, with chaotic currents with many waves, are obvious!
All of us as riders have two main hurdles in the process of learning to ride really well. One is our human instincts and the other is our established neural pathway called “riding” that we put a lot of effort into developing. Our instincts as humans and our physical habits as riders can inhibit our horse’s ability to find balance more than any other factor. Our weight and mass is a constant influence that either supports balance in conjunction with aids and maneuvers or counteracts any training strategy we use. So having to find our own unique way of quieting down our center of mass in the flow of a strong, bumpy current of motion means that we really have to nail it. When we miss the mark, we succumb to strong waves of force by tightening our muscles and trying to control our horses more, often getting in the way of their balance. When we nail our balance, despite the strong forces of motion, which means we learn to go beyond our instincts, then that quiet moment in the middle of the rapids is so obvious we can’t miss it! The obvious contrast is what actually helps us learn better balance as riders.
Learning to stabilize, quiet or adjust our center of mass in motion, in order to find central stability in the middle of any current or wave of force, is rider balance in a nutshell. We see surfers, skiers, sailors, kayakers and skateboarders find this stable center while contending with massive forces of motion all the time. These athletes don’t grip and don’t have anything to grab or control. Riding is not that different when we become able to separate the forces of motion or currents of energy from trying to frame up our horse or move body parts around with our aids. As riders, we can find the still point in the middle of any force of motion. We can find our balance as riders in the middle of the chaos, where we feel safer and more stable even if our horse is struggling with poor mechanical coordination.
We are so lucky to have the horse we already have!