Why is the rider’s balance so important?
Balance is the first of the three corner stones that build a good position in the saddle. As a rider, you need to learn the ability to keep your balance on a moving horse without falling off. Moreover, each rider needs to learn to maintain balance and rhythm on a moving horse in all gaits, both vertically and horizontally. Without a good balance you will never become a skilled rider. And it will be impossible to rider your horse in a good balance. Balance is also significantly aligned with rhythm.
Even if many riders and trainers talk about the importance of a balanced rider, there is no universal accepted definition of human balance. Depending of the situation that needs to be coped with, we differentiate between standing balance and trans locational balance which is defined and the ability to enable balance for instance when sitting on a horse.
Balance is often used in association with terms like stability and posture. In riding, we often talk about the rider’s posture control defined as the ability to control the body in space and ensure its stability and orientation.
Every time the horse takes a stride, we are asking the body to balance from one side to the next. The key when it comes to riding, however, is that our body needs to react with the horse’s movement and not after because if you are constantly reacting after each stride you will be continuing to try and fix your balance versus staying in balance and moving with the horse.
Our own balance is not something we really think about as riders, but as we age balance does become more of an issue and becomes more of a challenge. So, it is important to pay attention to it today so that you can prevent any unnecessary falls and long recovery times. The more we improve our balance off the horse, the better we will be on. This will not only help that beautiful sitting trot but will also help you stay centered and confident when a horse spooks or has a quick reaction to something.
What if the rider is unbalanced?
The famous rider/trainer Kyra Kyrklund describes why balance is so important for riders: “You cannot have control over your horse’s balance until you have control over your own balance. When you are balanced, you are the leader who oversees your horse’s length of step, speed, rhythm, and direction. To be balanced, you need to have a correct riding position—you need to be sitting equally on both of your seat bones, centered in your body and strong in your middle part”. Thus, an unbalanced rider is not able to ride the horse in balance. Instead, the horse needs to concentrate on balancing his or her rider.
Balance – how does it work?
In the human, the vestibular and kinaesthetic systems are responsible for the balance. The vestibular system is in the inner ear and there are three additional systems in the inner ear that are responsible for transmitting forward, backward, up and down, and rotating movement.
The kinestethic system (sense of movement) receives information from receptors at joints, tendons, and muscles – so-called proprioceptors (which means awareness of your body’s position). These register the position of the rider’s body and position changes in the body faster than any receptors of the other senses (eye, ear, skin). The proprioceptors are connected to all other receptors and form a complete functioning unit. They help the rider to follow the horse’s movement. To obtain a high sensibility, humans need to train these systems to maintain their performance and transmission ability. connection between balance and proprioception
Balance is connected to your proprioception, which is the ability to tell where your body and its parts are in space. Without good proprioception, we do not have good balance. For good balance we need good proprioception and a reactive neuromuscular system, as well as enough muscular strength to maintain balance. This requires good reaction times and muscle coordination.
Following the horse’s movements in sitting trot
Sitting trot is challenging for the rider. In trot, the horse’s trotting action is produced by the diagonal pairs of legs. The horses back drop to the right and to the left alternatively. Thus, there is a shift of the rider’s weight to the side combined with a forward movement. The horses back perform a forward-upwards and forwards-downwards movement, and the latter is more difficult for the rider. The rider can imagine a forwards-downwards sliding with the seat bones and tense the tummy muscle a little to prevent too fast a vertical drop by the pelvis. In sitting trot there is also a change between acceleration and breaking that the rider needs to adapt to. If the rider is asymmetric, the rider will land differently on right and left side, and this is likely to affect the horses balance.
How can you, as a rider, improve your balance?
Exercises on a swiss ball or a Balimo stool can be used to improve a rider’s balance. With the swiss ball, we are increasing the firing of our muscles within a dynamic environment, like that when we ride. Great for understanding where our body is in space and our reaction time. All of which improve balance.
Another exercise is to stand on a balance trainer, for instance standing on both feet and turning. And to build on further by standing first on one leg and then on the outer edge, the inner edge, the heel, and the ball of the foot. You can also perform these exercises with your eyes closed.
Riding bareback and/or without stirrups helps the rider to find a good balance while mounted. Another useful exercise is to perform seat exercises on the longe line. This can help the rider to be relaxed and flexible and to focus on being “moved” by the horse. It is however important that the rider is not rigidly pressed into a specific position.