What? How can riding a horse be like riding a bicycle?
Finding our own balanced position on a horse is very similar to riding a bicycle. Our bodies must make constant, small adjustments to maintain balance. The stability of the bicycle (or not) reflects our constant relationship to gravity during motion. Balance is balance is balance, whether we ride a bike or have a thinking, feeling partner that is our horse.
As beginners, learning to ride a bike, we may lean too much weight on the handlebars, on the seat or on the pedals. We may lean too far forward, too far back or too far to one side while learning but we rapidly discover imbalances in our body use because a bicycle will not compensate very well for a loss of balance; and we can’t blame the bike for being naughty when we crash.
While riding a bike, we may be in an upright, lengthened position when riding a cruiser, a partially folded or shortened position when riding a mountain bike or a very folded, crouched position if riding a racing bike. Even though the angles of our body change for each type of bike or sport we are still able to find a stable relationship with gravity through our torso that allows us to balance and move on two skinny tires. Riding a bike over uneven, unpredictable terrain requires better balance as does riding at fast speeds or on tight turns. It is also a big challenge to ride a bike that is not operating correctly.
Balancing over gravity, independent of the object we are on or the terrain we travel, is what it takes to ride a horse. Just like riding a bike, a rider’s body must remain stable and level over gravity, especially if the horse loses balance and becomes unstable. This simple concept is what excellent riders have either learned to do or figure out instinctively.
A horse will always have its own challenges to moving in balance, especially while carrying a rider. It is up to the rider to find self-carriage despite an unbalanced horse, creating stability with subtle weight shifts instead of gripping with muscular tension. A rider that is stable and balanced over gravity can act as the hub in the center of the horse’s movement and help the horse to organize in balance.
Finding correct balance on a horse is entirely an internal process for every rider. Correct balance creates the sensation of almost floating above the horse, in an alignment with gravity so that if the horse could evaporate out from under us at any moment, we would land squarely on our feet without falling forward, backward, left or right. To do this on a horse that is struggling with its own balance may mean that we are adjusting our own weight side to side or from front to back as needed. Our ability to internally shift weight and adapt in order to maintain a balanced torso over gravity is the essence of riding well. It is not as simple as just sitting in the middle of the saddle and using the stirrups or reins to help us not fall off.
The next time you are on a bike, try taking your hands off the handlebars. Can you maintain stability in motion just from your torso balance? Does the bike veer to the left or right suddenly? Does the bike start to wobble? The direction and stability of the bicycle, as an inanimate object, can give us a lot of feedback about the balance and control we have with our torso during motion. After all, balance is balance is balance.