Balance. Part I.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, August 3, 2009 06:00 PM
One of my video lesson students asked me to write a blog about issues of balance when riding a horse. Before we can go into deep and murky waters of balancing ourselves on top of our horses and balancing our horses at the same time lets see what balance is and how a human body is dealing with questions of balance.
The definition of balance from The Free Dictionary by Farlex - A state of equilibrium or parity characterized by cancellation of all forces by equal opposing forces.
The definition of equilibrium from The Free Dictionary by Farlex - The state of a body or physical system at rest or in unaccelerated motion in which the resultant of all forces acting on it is zero and the sum of all torques about any axis is zero.
Now, do not panic from all these scientific definitions of balance and equilibrium. The most important phrase I would like you to understand is cancellation of all forces or absence of forces. The stable or balanced object either has no forces acted upon it or all these forces cancel each other. On the planet Earth we cannot have the first variant of no forces. There is always one major force that acts upon us all, this force is gravity. Gravity acts from top to bottom, squishing us down or making us fall. To cancel gravity out the object must have the base of support under it's center of mass. The center of mass in a human body is located slightly below a person's belly button inside the body. We are quite balanced when we stand on a flat firm surface because we had our feet under our center of mass and there is no other force to change our equilibrium.
In what situations the balance gets challenged?
  • When the center of mass has moved away from the base of support. During walk we constantly challenge our balance by falling forward and catching ourselves with the step. If something catches our leg we trip and fall down.
  • When the base of support has moved away from the center of mass. When we are walking on ice our feet can slide from under our center of mass and we fall. It is hard to sit on a ball because it constantly tries to roll from under our center of mass. Sitting on a horse presents the same challenge.To stay balanced is to constantly adjust yourself to have your mobile base of support right under you, or always keep the center of your mass on top of the base of support no matter where it is going.
To deal with challenges of balance our body is equipped with vestibular apparatus, proprioceptive system and muscle's ability to learn.
Lets look at each of these components in more details:
  • The vestibular system is like the “compass” of our brain! The vestibular system is a uniquely designed structure located in the middle ear. It is primary to our ability to function on a daily basis. The vestibular system detects movement, and gives us an understanding of where our head and body are in space in relation to the pull of gravity....The vestibular system also activates our visual system. Movement stimulates the muscles that support the vertical axis of our body. A strong center is required as a stable support in order for us to use our eyes effectively. A strong and stable core allows us to hold our eyes steady on a target while moving our body through space. From Sensory Integration Therapy at Your Home
  • "Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body... It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other." Wikipedia Exercises that challenge our balance even a little bit can greatly increase ability of your body to "sense" itself in space. Walking on uneven ground, walking on logs and wobbly boards, sitting/exercising on a ball, playing push and pull games, climbing, jumping, Yoga, Tai Chi, etc. Proprioception is very important ability of our body. Without it learning to drive a car, dance or ride a horse will be impossible.
  • Muscle's ability to react and learn help us to become better with practice. This is why it is very important to live an active life style and challenge yourself with different activities that require your muscles to practice new and unfamiliar ways of moving and balancing. Muscles must "learn" and become skillful to do the movement well. No matter how hard we try for the first time we will not be able to perform a new movement with grace and little effort. It takes time and practice for the muscles to adapt and "learn". Muscles that are constantly challenged with new movements will "accept" learning something new with much less effort than muscles that are grooved in constant, repetitive and limited way of working.
The above systems work together to give us ability to deal with the forces around us while we are in motion. Developing proprioception will give us better awareness of our body, it's position in space and how much tension we have in your muscles. Training our core muscles creates stability around the center of mass. A stable center of mass is easier to control. This allows us to stop, turn or advance our body with less effort. Walking, running, jumping, etc becomes more graceful. Strong legs with flexible hip and ankle joints can propel our stable torsos in all directions. All these abilities are very important in riding because they allow a rider to effectively sense and counteract the forces created by a moving horse. In the next blog I will explain about challenges that a rider is facing in order to be balanced and then to be able to balance his/her horse.
Happy riding...
 
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My blog is about teaching, riding and training. I share what is important to me in my work with horses and riders. The writing helps me to think things over and have a better understanding of training ideas and priciples.
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