As riders, we know how important balance is when it comes to riding. In fact, most of us found out how important balance was during a moment when we didn’t have quite as much as we needed. There are a few factors that can affect our balance that I wanted to mention, along with a few ways to help improve our balance. A major benefit of improving our balance on the ground is that it will also help us to improve our balance in the saddle.
The best place to start is by checking your physical balance. Many things we do regularly can affect our body, and ultimately our balance, for example sitting for long periods of time is one. Another example is that most people have a dominant side, such as I am right-handed, and most often out of habit, I will start doing just about everything with my right hand. I will also commonly start walking, or go upstairs with my right foot first. By predominantly using the right side of my body it has made the muscle groups on my right side stronger than the muscle groups on my left side, ultimately putting my body slightly off balance.
How it showed up in my riding was that it caused me to be a little lop-sided in the saddle, slightly heavier on one rein, as well as caused me to struggle with transitions, straight lines, and circles. Which is basically every area of riding.
Though it takes time to correct, balancing out your muscle groups is relatively easy. First, you need to determine a starting point that is best for you, then from there you can consciously start thinking about using your less dominant side more in everyday tasks to help you build up strength on that side. Along with that, you can also do exercises that focus on working the weaker side, while only doing maintenance-level exercises on the dominant side. This will help to balance your muscle groups on both sides.
However, let me caution you to start really slow! Part of the reason we may see this imbalance in our riding is that our dominant side is overcompensating for the weaker muscles on the other side in an effort to not lose our balance. If you try to build muscle too fast on the weaker side, it could make matters worse in the long run. That is why I highly recommend checking with your healthcare provider, or a fitness professional before you get started.
How the mind affects the body is truly fascinating! Overthinking, whether it be about our position, or if we are dealing with any type of fear in our riding, can really affect our balance. When we are first learning how to ride the amount of information can quickly become overwhelming. Remembering where our hands need to be, keeping our legs aligned, keeping our heels down, and knowing where to look can be a lot to focus on at once. Typically when one of those derails, so does the rest of our riding form in that moment because we are suddenly trying to think of everything we have to remember all at once. This is why it is best to find a really good trainer who will teach you everything step by step.
Focus Exercise To Help With Balance
One exercise that I have found really helpful in the area of training focus, and balance, as well as showing the correlation between the two is walking while holding cups of water. Plus you can do this exercise without your horse, so you don’t have to think about all the other aspects of riding while you get the hang of it. All you need is 2 cups of water filled about a half inch from the top, and level ground to be able to walk straight ahead for however long you feel like practicing.
The point of this exercise is that if you stare at the cups of water while you are walking forward the water is going to slosh around and spill out of the cup. However, if you focus on where you are going, instead of staring at the cups, you won’t spill as much water, if any. It is similar to when we are riding, if we are looking down to check where our hands are, or where the horse’s feet are, we tend to lose our balance a lot.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Where the head goes the body will follow.” If you are looking down your body naturally wants to follow in that direction. However, when you focus on where you are going, your body will naturally follow in that direction. When your focus is looking forward your stride becomes smoother, your hands become steady, and your body automatically relaxes. As opposed to when your focus was on the cups, for example, it made your stride shorter, and your body overall less relaxed.
This exercise does take some getting used to at first, because your mind is still thinking about the cups of water, but after a few practice rounds, you will notice how much your focus improves.
Leave us a comment, and tell us what has helped you improve your balance in riding!
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