Balance is Not Something You Find, it is Something You Create
Having just heard about someone who lost her balance, fell and broke her arm, I began to rethink this thing called balance and how important it is not only in our everyday movements but even more importantly when we ride. Do we sometimes take balance for granted?
Just think for a minute the last time you felt imbalanced..perhaps you were climbing some stairs with a heavy parcel, or walking on a rocky surface or even trying to put your boots on without the help of a wall. It may have made you feel very uneasy as you were more concerned about not falling instead of attending to the task at hand. We often make modifications at this point like sitting down or going around something or hanging onto the handrail and rightly so as it is an instinct not to want to fall.
It is important to work on our balance every day because as we get older we begin to lose the senses involved with balance. Vision as well as senses of touch, temperature and pressure all have an effect on our balance. The lack of core strength of the human body at any age also has a huge effect on keeping upright as does the proprioceptors (sensors that provide information about joint angle and balance). The development of both of these alone makes a difference to our ability to balance ourselves. There are many good articles written about balance and our bodies but what does balance have to do with riding? We sure hear it enough.
Balance builds confidence for both you and your horse.
No matter what you are doing on your horse, a balanced position will help with absolutely everything. When you are balanced, it allows your horse to move freely and promotes synchronicity. After all if you are not balanced then your horse feels out of balance and the overwhelming response for him is the same as for us, we do not want to fall.
For a sensitive horse, being balanced will build confidence in you as a leader because he does not feel that there is something that he has to worry about on his back. For a fearful rider, it will be the number one aspect that will support growth and confidence in riding. As your confidence grows, your balance gets better and your horse's confidence grows and that cycle repeats itself again and again.
Proper balance starts from the bottom up: Helping to balance your horse's movement and physical development on the ground first is paramount. Horses have certain areas in their own balance that may need attention. Work with an equine chiropractor to help with the understanding of what exercises and stretches that your horse needs to develop healthier movement and make them part of your time with your horse.
A properly fitting saddle will also make a huge difference in the way balance is developed within your horse's body. An ill-fitting one has such huge potential for long-lasting physical misalignment of their body and as well as chronic back problems. Work with a saddle fitter that you trust or who represents the company that you bought your saddle from. Buying a cheap, ill-fitting saddle may be good for your pocketbook but it really should be what you mortgage your house for.
Take the time to develop your own balance off your horse. There are numerous strategies and practices that you can explore, from Yoga to Pilates to the use of a Boso Ball or Balance Pad. It's a simple case of “use it or lose it”. A strong core is also part of this equation. Don't put it off! After all, it is now not only for your own health but for the health of your horse while you ride.
Lastly, read, watch, work with a teacher who truly understands the biomechanics of balance. There is a lot out there and most of it sometimes can be overwhelming, so find something that is in simple language and from someone that you trust who has a kinetic background and listen to your horse. He will let you know that you are not balanced but you may not know what you are looking for.
I have had first-hand experience with balance with my horse Dreamer. He is a very sensitive horse with all things but the balance was huge for him and without this awareness on my part, he had the potential to be a runaway. This is something that I have become very aware of and only through development of balance while riding (and it can be very subtle) and the help of a coach that helped me with biomechanics, was I able to finally feel what true harmony feels like. This is still a work in progress.
If you have a horse that seems unconfident with you on your back. Before you too lose your confidence, think about Balance! You will find that the harmony that you find with your horse will open up a whole new level of riding finesse as well as healthy biomechanics for both you and your horse.