The Riding Tree: Balance
WAVERLY, WV When a student gets on a horse to take that first riding lesson, their greatest concern is staying there. Everyone is afraid of falling off, particularly in the beginning. Whether you are the student or whether you are the instructor, you need to be aware of this fear and aware that it is very normal.
Fear of falling creates
both mental and physical tension. Thats why relaxation is at the
base of the riding tree, the set of skills a rider needs to master in
order to develop an independent seat. In order to relax, you have to become
aware of every part of your
Essentially, the horses center of gravity is right where you sit. If you are gripping with your calves or gripping with your thighs or hanging on the reins in order to stay there, you are not balanced. Good balance requires both being relaxed and being centered. You need both vertical balance and side-to-side balance.
The vertical balance refers to the position of your upper body. When you are vertically balanced you are not tipping too far forward and you are not leaning too far back. Side-to-side balance means that you have even pressure on both seat bones. You are not leaning or falling off to the left side or to the right side.
You need to use your muscles correctly in order to maintain this centered alignment over the horses center of gravity. Using your muscles correctly means tensing the right muscle groups to help keep your body stabilized over the horses center of gravity but this is an athletic muscle tension rather than the nervous muscle tension that destroys relaxation. The primary muscle groups that you use to maintain alignment or balance are your upper and lower abdominal muscles.
Remember that balance is an issue for the horse, too. Depending on where the horse is in his progressive training the horse may be learning how to carry himself and the weight of the rider while staying balanced. When you balance quietly over the horses center of gravity, you help him stay balanced. If you lose your balance, you will throw the horse off balance, too.
Becoming aware of how your body is aligned will help you develop better balance. Riding instructors preach to beginning students about lining up the elbow, the hip, and the ankle so that everything drops straight down. If your feet are stuck straight out in front of you, your upper body is going to come back behind the motion of the horse. If your legs are too far behind you, your upper body is going to go in front of the motion of the horse. When the horse feels this, he wants to correct it.
If you fall behind the motion, horses will do one of two things. They will either run forward or they will slow down, perhaps even stop, as they try to position you back over their center of gravity where it feels comfortable for them to carry your weight.
As your body stays relaxed and centered over the horses center of gravity, its alignment may change depending on the horses direction, speed, and gait. This is particularly true when you finally reach the higher levels of any riding sport. As her horse leaves the ground in front of a jump, for example, the jumper riders upper body folds forward because she must realign her body to stay over the horses center of gravity. In the same way, a cutting horse rider may sit heavier on one seat bone as his horse changes direction or a reining horse rider may put burdening weight on both seat bones as his horse does a sliding stop. They are realigning their bodies to stay over the horses center of gravity and remain in balance as the horses shift their own balance in order to perform at higher levels.
riding tree helps you build a solid foundation, an independent seat that
will take you into the higher levels of whatever riding discipline you
choose to pursue. When you are relaxed and balanced, you can begin to
work on following the horses
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Updated: October 2005.