How To Improve Your Balance For Horse Riding
Balance is an important skill in horseback riding and it is directly connected to good riding. It is vital not only in show jumping or cross-country but also in dressage to keep the balanced posture when you need to sit the trots or canters. The balance is the main thing that keeps the rider on the horse and helps the rider control the horse better with muscular movements, and reduces the fall or injury risk when the horse spooks or bolts. If the rider has a stable balance in the saddle, they can use their aids independently, and this enables the horse to better understand the true meaning of each aid. It also reduces the hard work of the horse as he has to keep himself balanced with the rider even though the rider is imbalanced.
Creating a good balance in the saddle starts with creating a balanced skeleton and muscle system off-the-saddle. Most of us don’t have active lives out of the barn. Therefore, we tend to use some muscles more and some muscles less. Less used muscles generally get shorter and lose their strength. This makes it hard for the riders to balance themselves in the saddle. To restrengthen these muscles, the only way is to make them work with both off-the-saddle and in-the-saddle exercises.
In all the sports activities, the best way to create a muscular balance and avoid injuries is to warm-up. This is the same in horse riding. A proper warm-up prepares your whole body to work by increasing respiration allowing a speedier delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your muscles and removal of their metabolic byproducts. If you are a busy equestrian and don’t have enough time to warm up just before you get in the saddle, you can try to have a regular exercise routine of 20-30 minutes every day. The muscles remember the workout you do even hours ago and make it easier for you to balance yourself in the saddle.
Here are some tips and exercises we picked for balance improvement:
- Leg Extention: Lay down on your back on the ground. Bend your knees and try to raise your head off the ground and try to raise one leg up and keep it straight. Hold for a few seconds and try with the other leg.
- Plank: This one is a commonly known exercise and it helps a lot to improve your core hence to your overall balance. Lay on your belly and push your upper body up only forearms touching the floor. Tighten the core and keep your body straight. Hold the position for around 1 minute and repeat.
- Squat: Another commonly known exercise that you can do anywhere anytime. Keep your upper body straight and your feet apart. Lower your body 90-degree angle and slowly rise to stand. Repeat as much as you feel you can.
- Skipping: This exercise is perfect for cross-coordination of your legs and arms. A strong cross-coordination helps you have a better balance on the horse. Skip and push off with one foot while lifting the other one. Reach across your body with the opposite arm and repeat it with opposite leg-arm.
- Warrior Pose: Doing yoga is another effective way to improve your balance. You can try to learn different yoga poses and do them at home. Warrior pose is one of our choices to improve the balance. Stand straight and stretch your leg back behind you. Stretch your arms straight above your head and take a few deep breaths and repeat with the opposite leg.
Any type of exercise that improves your muscle strength will help you have a balanced seat in the saddle as your muscles will work in better harmony with your horse’s muscles. If you want to improve your fitness off-the-saddle, you can also check out our Equestrian Fitness Guide.
Before working on your balance in the saddle, make sure that you have a correct saddle that fits your needs and it is well-fit on the horse. Check all leathers and the girth, make sure that the stirrup length is right for you. Consult your trainer about these if you have any doubts.
- Posture: The first thing we all learn on the horseback is how to be in the correct posture. Your posture is an important element in creating a strong balance in the saddle. A wrong posture will cause you to lose your balance easily when the horse makes a different sudden movement. Sit in the saddle looking forward with a straight back and check the position of your shoulders, hips, and heels. All should be in the straight same line. You can check your posture in a mirror or ask someone to help you do this while your horse is standing still.
- Arm Flexibility: Our shoulders and arms play an important role in the overall balance. When we feel like we are losing balance, we tend to balance our bodies using our arms and hands. If you don’t have a good balance in the saddle, you may end up pulling the reins, holding the saddle or saddle horn as a reflex. Loose reins or too tight reins will interrupt your communication with the horse terribly and relying on the saddle will not help you create your own balance. Try to keep your elbows at the same level as the horse’s mouth and try not to pull the reins too much or not to lose them. Adjust the movement of your elbows with the movement of the horse’s head as he moves his head differently with each gait.
- Weight Distribution: In many cases, an unbalanced rider tends to put all their weight in the saddle with their seat bones. Putting all the weight in one direction is going to cause a worse balance loss and the horse will have a harder time trying to balance the weight on his back. To adjust your muscles with the horse’s muscles, you need to distribute your body weight in different directions equally. Both of your legs must have the same weight and your upper body must be flexible enough to help the horse carry you.
In addition, you can try several different exercises on horseback to learn how to balance yourself. Riding without stirrups is one of the best ways to figure out how to work your muscles with the horse. You can also try to ride bareback if you believe that you have enough balance or if not, you can get help from someone and try to do stretching exercises on horseback while someone is lounging the horse in walk, trot or canter.
Never forget that balance is not forever and even the professional riders can sometimes lose their balance in the saddle. It is ok to lose your balance but if you are strong and flexible enough, it will be much easier to regain it.