One of the topics requiring discussion on the topic of rehabilitation is how and why a rider would balance themselves when on a horse. We find a lot of issues for horses when riders ride unbalanced in some way or another. Balance on the horse in the saddle is of the highest importance in regards to keeping the horse itself balanced and not building up one side of it’s body or the other, or even creating issues for joints, ligaments and tendons based on that poor balance. We tend to see and hear about the most common result of bad balance tends to be bad backs in horses. Poor saddle fit doesn’t help either of course, but that’s for another article.
For the most part, balance is a feeling and you’ll know it when you hit it. Imagine riding a bicycle or scooter or rollerblades, if you’re not quite on balance then you’ll likely fall. Skating on ice or cement for that matter is all about being balanced right, and even if you are mostly inept at it there will probably be a few moments when your balance is just right and you can cruise along comfortably. Your feet don’t hurt, back doesn’t hurt, your brain isn’t going into any level of concern or emergency and you just go along with ease. That is exactly what being balanced on a horse should feel like. Imagine also standing with your legs slightly apart, on the balls of your feet and ready to move one way or the other to catch a ball perhaps. That is the athletic stance that you should be able to be comfortable in when riding a horse.
The first place to start with balance is at the mount. This may seem odd and come as a surprise, but seriously, balance starts with mounting. I can’t even count how many people I see get on a horse unbalanced. Sometimes it’s a matter of barely making it on and being unbalanced left or right. Some accidentally kick their horse in the rump on the way over (on or off..), some lean forward too much etc. All of these things throw the horse off and that’s the start of your ride. When you’re off balance getting on your horse you may get into being in a rush to get on. This ends up making it so you crash down on your horse’s back, again, a bad start. This then ends up being a habit because the balance isn’t acquired right from the beginning of being able to balance in one stirrup and get on carefully.
It shouldn’t have to be said but it’s imperative that you mount your horse with balance and care. It’s not only rude to the horse but we can imagine it hurts as well to get on hard and throwing your body weight one way or the other. Getting on with true quality means you practice getting on as slow as you can and land with imagining to land as softly as possible. That takes practice and perseverance.
Now, the one thing that impedes a lot of people from getting mounting right is that their horse walks off as soon as they feel a bit of weight in one stirrup or they anticipate the rider about to sit down. Without correcting that, it makes it difficult to sit light and balanced at the mount as the anxiety and worry of the horse walking off supersedes that desire and again leads to a heavy mount. Learn to train your horse to stand until you say go and it will allow you time to mount carefully and in balance.
Once that is done, it’s time to just walk. Walking should almost never involve any side to side motion. Your hips should be going with the horse and your upper body stays up over the horse. Heels are down, back is straight with shoulders back. Staying on the balls of your feet will enable you to be balanced always as it’s almost impossible to be off balance while on the balls of your feet. This doesn’t mean you have your heels up with your weight on the balls of your feet, in fact, you should have your heels down, but be on the balls of your feet.
This is generally the optimal position to be in for riding and also if there is any trouble, like your horse spooking and scooting sideways suddenly etc. With your weight on the balls of your feet, your knees are bent and you’re riding light in the saddle, balance comes easy. The thing to always be feeling for though is what the horse is doing. Imagine the location of the feet and move with the horse to make it so that you aren’t taking any energy away from the horse and in fact you should be able to encourage the horse faster and slower just based on the movement of your hips being with the horse. It will get to a point where they will be waiting on your hip movement to take steps at a particular speed and location.
If you can get the above done with precision and quality, then trotting cantering and galloping shouldn’t be an issue. You’ve already got the framework in place to handle the other gaits. Now this is all talk in regards to going straight and forward. When it comes to turning and going backwards (while turning too maybe), there’s a reasonably good rule to keep your weight over the leg that the horse is using for it’s own balance. If you imagine having the front end come to the left. The horse will pivot on it’s back left, that’s where you might lean a bit into. It’s not so much to put weight onto that but to take weight off of where the horse is taking it off of to get the movement done.
I think it needs to be noted again that these are concepts and theory. Practical application and example would be best with visuals either in person or video, but with the above in mind of making sure your weight is over top of the balls of your feet, posture is good and not hunched over or leaning back and you are paying very close attention to where the horse is balancing, then getting good balance while riding should come naturally the more you practice. In time it will be second nature to lean a bit forward or backward depending on going up or downhill, making a turn with the haunch or front end or just going forward at a particular gait. The rule here to walk away with is to always be thinking on where you can be where you aren’t taking any energy from the horse when it needs to do the things it needs to do.