Balance. Part III.
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, August 26, 2009 08:59 AM
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.
A rider can influence a horse in a positive way and in a negative way. We will talk about positive way much more later. However, I would like my readers to be aware that negative influence is very common and sometimes riders do not even know about it. Most of the time negative influence comes from an unbalanced rider - crooked and collapsed body, very weak and unstable core, seatbones are not evenly loaded and not level, hips are not level, stiff hip joints, one hip joint is too stiff compare to the other, too much mobility in the body, legs are rotated outward from the hips joints and calves are holding on to the horse's sides, one leg is stronger than the other, etc. The list can go on and on. All these mistakes push the horse to adjust himself to deal with uneven, unstable and sometimes unpredictable load on his back. The thing that amazes me most is horses can figure out what riders want despite of all these problems and constant "noise" they create.
Positive influence starts with being responsible for your own balance and developing ability of simply staying with the horse's movement, adjusting to his speed and changes of direction, being so quiet that he can forget you are on his back. Well balanced riders have level seats with legs under themselves. Their posture is very similar to the martial arts position in preparation for the fight. They stay focused but quiet. From that state of readiness and quiet balance the rider can feel the movement of the horse, the symmetry, the fluidity, and the tendencies every horse has. There are three dimensions of influencing a horse: longitudinal balance, lateral balance and up/down balance. Lets look at them one at a time.
Longitudinal Balance - This is an ability to control the horse's weight distribution from back to front during different gaits and different speeds. The most common mistake horses do and riders allow them is load their forehand too much and then simply run forward in a similar way a person would run behind a heavy wheelbarrow going downhill. This is where thighs play such crucial role in changing horse's balance. Rider's thighs can literally stop the horse from falling on the forehand during trot or canter in a similar way you stop yourself from falling on your nose after a jump forward. You jump, you land, your knees bent slightly and you stop yourself primarily with your thigh muscles. Your torso plays a role too by stabilizing itself and making thigh muscle's job easier. This is an exact mechanism that works on a horse, only it works every stride and not as obvious. From the above explanation becomes very clear why it is very important to have thighs rotated inward like in a martial art stance with knees and feet pointing forward. Because only when thigh muscles can work directly from front to back they are effective. The more they are rotated outward the more their action is away from the longitudinal plane of a horse. Try jumping forward and landing with your feet and knees rotated outward and you will immediately feel the difference. You do not even need to jump. Simply stand with your knees slightly bent feet apart and pointing forward, feel how stable you are. Now rotate your feet and knees outward and realize how vulnerable you become, even little force can make you lose your balance. The best way to learn to use your thighs is during rising trot. From proper position and technique you will be able to learn to slow down your horse's tempo without using reins, thigh action is the vital part of a half-halt and any downward transition. This is what it means to use your seat and not driving seatbones into horse's back while holding the reins. ALL thigh muscles are working together during rebalancing of a horse: primary engagement comes from quads and hamstrings, adductors and abductors are synergists helping to keep thigh firmly positioned on the saddle. The feeling is amazing. You literally can suck horse's back up and make his movement springy, powerful and very round. This is how you develop thoroughness in your horse, he responses as a whole entity from the jaw to the hocks. He does not have much of a choice when thighs are strong and properly used. Horses who don't understand going on the bit will start dropping their heads and stretch their necks in response to the thigh muscles providing you keep elastic but steady connection with the bit.
I'm having trouble containing the information only in one blog. I have too much to say on the subject. I'm going to continue Balance series and I will talk about lateral and up/down balance in the next Balance blogs. However, next time my blog will be about first ever in Alberta CDI Dressage competition at Amberlea Meadows.
Happy riding...
Comment by Bill Bartmann on Wednesday, September 2, 2009 12:02 PM
Excellent site, keep up the good work
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