Balance. Part IV.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Friday, September 18, 2009 09:46 PM
If you didn't read the part I and II of the Balance blogs I strongly recommend doing it. Click here for Balance I and click here for Balance II, here for Balance III.
Lateral Balance- The problem with lateral balance exists because nobody is symmetrically developed from left to right, nor horses, nor riders. Horses like to lean on one shoulder (usually left one) and swing their haunches to the opposite side (usually right one). They push their ribcage to one sider and that makes one side of the ribcage lower than the other. Riders must have a very clear feel about their own levelness of the seatbones, hips, thighs, torso and shoulders to feel their horse's asymmetry. If a rider has collapsed hip, unevenly loaded seatbones and twisted torso she/he will not be able to feel the horse's lack of verticality. During turns and circles a horse must be vertical and he has to bend following the line of the circle. Riders must feel the deviations and put their horses back on track by asking them to fill the voids and soften and take away parts which are sticking out. To make it more clear lets use an example - left turn on a horse who leans on a left shoulder. This horse will try to negotiate the turn by leaning to the left like a motorcycle, swinging his haunches to the right and having much more of his ribcage on the left side of the vertical plane than on the right. Rider feels that her/his left thigh is pushed out and the right thigh is dropping down like there is not enough room to sit on. The horse may or may not be heavy on the inside rein. It depends on how rider thinks the horse is turning. Usually such turns happen faster and they are tighter. Rider may like the fact that the horse is turning well disregarding the balance. Sensitive horse when feeling rider's left rein may turn before contact gets heavy because it is easy to do. The rider who feels unbalanced turn and is trying to fix it with the reins only without taking horse's body into account will feel resistance on the inside rein. You have to work with the whole horse. The ribcage has to give in and move to the right, haunches at the same time must be prevented from swinging out and rider's hand must ask for the softening of the jaw and slight flexion to the left and through the whole neck from the poll to the base. Inside leg works not just at the lower leg level but from the hip joint rotating inward even more and creating a pillar like barrier around which the horse bends his body. Outside leg raps around horse's barrel from the hip joint all the way to the heel. There is no particular recipe to create straightness. It all depends on how crooked the horse is, how sensitive and responsive he is and how quickly the rider feels deviations and tries to correct them. There is no quick fix, it takes time and consistent training, the older and more crooked horse is the longer it takes to get desirable results. Horses sometimes change tactics and lean on the opposite shoulder, or push haunches the other way. The rider's job is to keep fixing and fixing until the horse develops more suppleness. Plus the horse will develop a habit of responding faster and staying in proper balance longer because he knows he is going to be corrected. Think what corrections are necessary to ride a balanced right turn if the horse is leaning on the left shoulder.
Up/Down Balance - Some horses have a natural talent to push themselves not just forward but upward too. This gives their movement a beautiful off the ground quality. Other horses are pretty flat by nature such as many Thoroughbreds and Quarter horses. However, with proper training and riding any horse can be improved to have more expressive gaits. Again the main tool for the rider is her/his thighs. When horse is going forward with energy and impulsion you want to preserve that energy and collect the horse in such a way that some of the forward energy starts going upward. If you try to do it only with the reins you simply slow down your horse that's all. Rising trot is the best way to learn how to send your horse more upward than forward. When you learn proper rising trot technique and you stay in balance with the horse even during powerful lengthenings imagine you are doing rising trot against resistance, like in the water or some other liquid substance. It's like you are sending yourself with the same amplitude forward but the feel that you are not doing so much forward but upward. It is like you are coming on the top of the pommel not because you moved your torso so much forward but because you brought your horse under you. Right now I cannot say more about it, I do not have enough words. I hope these few analogies give you some ideas what to look for. This is very different from the usual rising trot that dressage riders do jumping up and down and you must not let yourself fall behind the horse's motion. Some horses let you influence them quite easily, others resist and try to avoid strange sensation. Some horses try to slow down and loose impulsion, others try to push on the bit too much and drop their head down too much. However, with time and practice your horse will learn to enjoy the powerful, round and engaged trot you are asking him to do. This same technique can be used in sitting trot and in canter. However, dynamics of these are more intricate and difficult to execute compare to rising trot. This is how classical riders keep their horses in passage , piaffe or very collected canter. They use their thighs to send as much energy as possible upward instead of forward, literally keeping their horses under control with their seats. They can drop reins and their horses still continue to perform with the same balance.
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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