While teaching and riding, I began thinking about the many unintentional habits we tend to have as riders. Problems I see or experience are riders that do the following: leaning when they want to turn, sitting with their weight to one side more than the other, riding with greater tension or tone with only one extremity, or on only half of their body, or riding with the shoulders behind or way ahead of the hips. All of these asymmetries can and do have an effect on the horse. It makes horses not steer, lean on one rein, fall in, seem unwilling/unable to “reach through” the withers, rush fences and quit at jumps. Additionally, it can make them tight in the jaw, tight in the back, and over all stiff, or it can even make them go behind the bit. That’s a long list of problems and most of us have experienced at least a couple of them. The inclination was probably to “fix” the horse. It’s been my experience that many of these issues that we find in our horses, can be directly related to a flaw in the rider’s balance and symmetrical use of their own body.
Last year I had a very ambitious, self reliant young mother helping with the barn in the morning. She had a child who was approximately one year old whom she carried on her back while mucking stalls. Watching this, it suddenly occurred to me that her child playing on her back was similar to a rider on a horse. We had a discussion one day about the effects her son could have on her balance and how strong her core had to be to counter and absorb his movements; and she wasn’t trying to athletically perform, she was just trying to muck stalls!
It seems like our horse should be big and strong enough to cope with these rider problems, but let’s examine why that’s a tall order. For the sake of discussion, the horse stands 5 ½’ high, is about 2 ½ ‘ wide, has about 8’ total length, but whose mass is suspended approx 4’ above the ground. He’s QUITE top heavy!!!! Then we place a rider on him who extends an additional 3’ above the center of the mass, but that has dynamic properties, and matters get worse!
Looking at the longitudinal aspect of balance, to pick up a pile of manure with a fork, you place your hands apart to assist with the load. If you moved your hands closer together and further from the pile, you’d be hard pressed to pick the pile up off the ground! A small adjustment of position made a huge difference in your ability to carry the weight. In spite of his size and strength, the horse is still affected by the laws of physics. Another way to illustrate this; if you had a 1000 lb boulder in the bed of your pick-up truck versus a 1000 lb horse, which load would be unstable!
The bottom line is that you can see how we carry ourselves on a horse and where and how we distribute our weight could have a tremendous effect on how easily our horses can do their job. Sure, in time a horse develops the strength to deal with these issues, but they can’t compensate as well as just having the load centered, balanced and evenly toned. As time passes, these habits lead to much frustration as we try and try to change and improve the horse, but we keep hitting the same training issues over and over again. Maybe, if we start by finding balance and working on OUR OWN habits, our OWN equitation, we will find that the horse begins to show us how much easier his job can be!