In order to work together harmoniously, both horse and rider
need good balance. Riders who do not have a good sense of balance cannot
follow a horse's motion. Unbalanced riders tend to stay on a horse by
gripping with their calves, gripping with their thighs, or hanging on the
reins. Without good balance of their own, they interfere with the horse's
balance and, as a result, with its motion. Their ability to turn in a good,
much less top, performance is severely compromised.
A rider mounted on a goldie oldie school horse or show ring packer can get
away with riding off balance. That is why these horses are so prized by
instructors. They are tolerant and patient by temperament and athletic
enough to compensate for the rider's faults. Their forgiving nature makes
them wonderful as beginner's mounts or for riders with confidence problems
that make it hard for them to relax.
The green baby horse is another story. Even if he has incredibly good
natural balance to begin with, any young horse just starting under saddle
is going to have a lot of balance issues. He has to learn how to move all
over again while carrying weight on his back. Depending on his training
background up to that point and his temperament, the young horse may be
apprehensive or confused. If his rider is confident, relaxed and has good
balance, the horse's first experiences will be positive. If the rider is
unbalanced in any way, however, the young horse may become nervous or
frightened. That's just one of the many reasons why green horses and green
riders are not a good match.
The trained older horse that is out of shape or the horse whose muscles are
unevenly developed for whatever reason can also have balance issues until
their fitness and muscling improves. Under an unbalanced rider, these
horses may trip or stumble or develop more sore muscles than necessary as
their conditioning program begins.
Understanding how the rider's balance can affect the horse's movement can
give riders and their instructors important feedback. An off-balance rider
Falls behind the motion of the horse,
Leans too far forward,
Leans off to one side, or
Shifts weight onto the wrong seat bone.
When a rider gets badly out of balance, the horse gets uncomfortable.
Depending on its age, experience, and temperament, the horse will typically
try to escape this feeling of discomfort in one of several ways:
Speeding up, shooting forward or even running away;
Slowing down or even stopping;
Turning or drifting when the rider intended to go straight;
Turning more or less than the rider intended; or
Turning in a different direction than the rider intended.
For example, if a horse is excitable and nervous, its "flight" instincts
are probably a lot stronger than its "fight" instincts. If its rider's
weight gets too far back, not only is the horse uncomfortable but the rider
has figuratively opened the front door and invited him to take off through
it. These horses seem to be saying, "Being out of balance is scary. I'm out
Similarly, the rider who loses balance and falls forward closes that front
door. The horse's inclination to go forward is frustrated. If the horse
feels blocked altogether he is likely to stop. These horses almost seem to
be saying, "Get your act together if you expect me to carry you around."
When a rider gets out of balance and shifts his or her weight on to the
wrong seat bone, there are usually other things going on that affect
balance, too. The rider may also be collapsing her ribs toward her hip. Or
he may have let his shoulder move forward, effectively blocking any turn in
In all of these cases, the horse's reaction is a clue to the rider's
balance issue. If your horse presents you with any of these reactions, pay
closer attention to your own balance and body position before blaming the
When riders first mount, they need to take a moment to position themselves
correctly in the center of saddle before moving off. The upper body should
be tall but not stiff. Be careful not to hollow the lower back. The rider
should feel an equal amount of weight on both seat bones. The joints should
all be loose and elastic. This allows the leg to drop and the hip joint to
open up. From the side, there should be a plumb line from the rider's ear
through the elbow and hip to the ankle.
Everyone starts off with balance issues and they come up again and again as
a rider advances. Use balance exercises both on and off the horse to help
you progress and just keep riding.
Faith Meredith coaches riders in dressage, reining, and eventing and has
successfully trained and competed horses through FEI levels of dressage.
She is the Director of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre (Route 1, Box 66, Waverly, WV 26184;
1-304-679-3128; http://www.meredithmanor.com), an ACCET accredited
equestrian educational institution.