Balance. Part II.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, August 10, 2009 04:37 PM
If you didn't read the part I of the Balance blog I strongly recommend doing it. Click here for the article.
Before we start talking about the balance on a horse's back I would like you to imagine a circus performer riding a unicycle. When he sits on a unicycle he constantly brings it under himself and do not let it run away. A good unicyclist does it so skillfully we are barely aware he is doing it, the effort looks minuscule. He can start riding forward or backwards with such an ease. If I on the other hand try riding a unicycle :)) I will probably fall in a first second no matter how hard I will try. My muscles and my proprioception are not trained to deal with the challenge. I do not recognize that I have already lost my balance until it is too late and nothing can stop me from falling. My muscles are unskilled and clumsy. When they try to keep the unicycle under my seat they either work too hard or not enough.
On a horse we are presented with the similar situation. The base of support is constantly moving, changing speed and does it sometimes on it's own without our consent :) The difference between a horse and a unicycle is a false sense of balance because the horse does not try to run away as soon as you mounted. That may as well happen too :) The horse is big and your saddle is comfortable to sit in. It is very hard for a beginner rider to realize that the body must be in constant state of readiness with core well engaged to keep torso stable and legs toned to adjust to the movement of the horse's body. It is very important to put a beginner rider in a proper position from the start especially regarding legs and pelvis. The beginner rider will be tense on a horse no matter what and telling him to relax legs and relax body to follow horse's movement is incorrect. It sets the wrong idea. If that idea gets established it is very hard to fix later. The beginner rider will be tense and clumsy like me on a unicycle no matter how hard he/she will try to do it right. However, relaxing everything will not fix the problem. In time while practicing and gaining confidence the beginner rider will develop necessary relaxation and suppleness. Working off the horse to supple and strengthen appropriate muscles and joints is very helpful.
The challenge for a beginner rider is to stay with the horse without disturbing his own balance and horse's balance when horse is in motion. Which means keeping the center of mass - the torso - on top of the base of support -legs and pelvis - during different gaits, change of gaits, change of speed and turns.
Lets look at these components separately:
  • The stable center of mass is easy to control. Center of mass in human body located behind and below our belly button. This is an abdomen area. Muscles around it create a core region. They must be well engaged. Learning to breathe properly and develop Abdominal Push is of vital importance to balanced riding. Pelvis is the bottom part of the torso, ALL abdominal muscles are connected to it. Pelvis will stay stable when core is engaged. Relaxing in the middle of the torso to follow horse's movement is major misconception. In such situation the pelvis which sits on a mobile horse will constantly move away from the rider's center of mass especially during change of speed or faster gaits. And the only way for upper torso to keep up is to hold on to the reins.
  • Every riding book prises quiet and steady legs. However, legs can be quiet only if they can adjust to forces of horse's barrel in motion. Absolutely relaxed legs with roll off the horse's round barrel and swing about the same way stirrups do when rider is not in the saddle. The leg's muscles must constantly adjust to the movement and change of speed. It is very similar to the exercise for developing proprioception when you stand with your legs slightly apart, toes forward, knees bent, torso vertical, spine in neutral and ask your friend to push you lightly from back, front, left and right at the pelvis level. You can use a big exercise ball for this. However, sit on it like on a horse and not like on a chair. Firm floor under your feet instead of the stirrups will make it easier then on a horse. This will give you an idea of amount of muscle's support required from your legs during riding. From this exercise you can clearly see that legs help keeping torso in the saddle. Thighs are inseparable part of the rider's seat. All muscles of the thighs work together to adjust to numerous forces of moving horse.
From the above explanations it is clear a beginner rider must learn to balance without reins, on the lunge line. Same with stirrups, for the beginner rider they are a distraction and an temptation to push up and try to get away from unfamiliar and very often uncomfortable movement of the horse's back. To make it easier to learn speed should be slow and steady. A good school horse with soft, steady and balanced gaits is a great asset to learn quicker and better. If the challenge of balance is too great the beginner rider will be very tense and probably scared. Instructor must watch diligently adjusting rider's position and reminding about proper breathing and core support. Until a rider can properly balance on a moving horse he/she will not be able to effectively influence the horse's movement.
There is another time when a rider must simply stay with the horse without trying to influence him too much. It is when a young horse is learning to carry a rider. If rider is quiet, balanced and knows how to stay with the horse's movement a young horse will accept the rider and relax.
In the next blog we will talk about influencing the horse's movement. Staying in balance and influencing a horse are two components that go hand in hand. No matter how well you can control your horse's balance you must be able to recognize when your horse is in proper equilibrium and simply stay quietly with his movement allowing him to carry himself and do the movement. Another thing, the more difficult the movement is the harder it is to stay in balance without disturbing your horse. 10 m circle is more difficult than 20 m, half-pass is much more difficult than shoulder-in, etc. To be able to ride a schooled horse that can show you the movement and simply sit quietly and learn to stay in good balance with the horse is an invaluable experience. Never pass such opportunity.
Happy riding...
 
Comment by FrankieB on Wednesday, September 23, 2009 10:38 PM
Hey, I found your blog while searching on Google your post looks very interesting for me. I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!
 
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