Guest Author - Susan Hopf
The word balance as it applies to riding horses is now very much in vogue. But what exactly does it mean to ride in balance.
The simple answer is that we ride in accordance with the horse’s movements. Of course as simple as this sounds it is more complex than that – however it is not that difficult to achieve as long as you consider that it must be a partnership between both the rider and the horse.
When you watch a good rider schooling a horse you often believe that this rider never moves. This assessment is incorrect and in fact every bone, muscle, tendon and ligament is in constant motion – some of that energy is used to correct imbalances in the rider’s body that come from the bigger motion of the horse’s body and the rest is used to influence the horse to perform the rider’s wishes – most times the two are indistinguishable from each other.
So now the question is – how do we all accomplish such amazing control of our own body? And to answer this we must rethink our approach to our riding.
To begin when you first sit upon a horse you must feel how this big, graceful creature moves before you interfere with more than just your weight in the middle of her back. Let the horse walk freely and feel the sway and push. Without restricting your own motion you should feel as though your hips move in the same way as peddling a bicycle backwards – your hips move up, back, down, forward and your knees and ankles follow in various ways to counter balance your hips. Once you get the feel of this motion (from the horse) then play with your own additional movement. Peddle bigger then smaller and see what happens to your horse’s movement. If you move your seat – which really means left buttock up, back, down, forward and then right buttock up, back, down, forward – more than a few inches around or back and forth the horse will most likely speed up, fall on her shoulders and then trot off if you do not stop such motion. The horse’s back stiffens when you make more motion than it can handle and the horse then has no option other than to rush. As soon as you feel your horse begin to rush engage your core muscles – the abdominals and trapezius muscles (those around your shoulder blades) work together to slow and shorten the motion in your seat and lower back.
When you successfully engage these muscles – and you can do so quite easily by deeply inhaling and pushing your belly button through the horse’s ears without hollowing your lower back – your horse will slow and collect the walk. And there you are – riding in balance because you no longer interfere with the horse’s way of going and you have stabilized your seat in the process.
If you are not in the habit of using your core when you ride you will need time to build up the correct muscling and endurance. To do so practice the following exercise:
Follow the motion of your horse then relax your breath and your muscles. Take a deep breath, engage your core, wait for the horse to shorten his stride toward collection and relax your breath again but do not relax your core – hold your core as long as you can without holding your breath – relax and repeat – do this during all of your riding and in less time than you imagine you will be able to control your core muscles without trying so hard.
Next week we work with trot and canter in balance - in the meantime practice at the walk - and practice - and practice!