One thing that most of us have struggled with at some time is allowing the seat to find a good natural balance; we might find it in walk but we still have the faster gaits to master.
My current preoccupation with archery atop a horse has got me revisiting my own balance in the saddle. Imagine keeping your balance and shooting an arrow whilst the horse moves! Forget hitting the target, just letting an arrow go seems a difficult task right now and the idea of doing it all in good balance even more tricky.
I recently spent an illuminating time with Felicity Mann who is an Alexander Technique practitioner using an equine simulator to correct balance issues for riders. Again I was reminded of the intrinsic link between rider balance and horse balance.
Every month in my tips and advice at Interdressage I give guidance on natural rider balance as a way to improve the horse’s balance and suppleness. I’m sure riders would like a ‘fix’ for their horse but until their own balance is better it is hard to make a case for attempting to address the balance of the horse; truly a case of putting the cart before the horse!
If you’re like me you can carry the troubles of the week in your body so it is essential to learn to let go of each area of muscles. Not floppy and over relaxed but decontracted; this release leads to the perfect muscle tone and lack of ‘holding’ tension.
Start with your head and make sure you don’t have the jutting chin tortoise look (working at a computer induced posture in the photo right below) but be careful to balance the head on top of the spine in its natural balance. Looking down can encourage a head down position so try to look down with the eyes (if you have to look down) not the whole head.
The head is ‘hinged’ at the human ‘poll’ as the spine meets the cranium. The cervical spine (neck) meets the cranium (skull) at the atlas- have a feel about in your neck and see how it corresponds to the skeleton below. The atlas allows us to nod and the axis below it plays its part in side to side action.
The human head weighs around 5kg (11lbs) and if not naturally balanced above the spine will create tension in the neck and back causing chronic pain over time.
Imagine 5kg and what a difference it makes to your balance in the saddle and therefore to your horse’s balance. I often find that when a rider is reminded of the correct head balance they free up their shoulders and neck, and as a result lots more below, allowing for more freedom of movement and the possibility to harmonise better with the horse’s movement.
Starting in front of a mirror (better still strategically placed multiple mirrors) assess your head balance taking care with this as it doesn’t always feel wrong if you have been balancing it that way for some time; look for the ears being central over the shoulders. If your chin is forwards take it back and down at the same time as lifting up from the top of your head. If your chin is up and the head tilted back (often a posture adopted by those who have been told to sit up tall and hold their shoulders back) again drop your chin and lift up from the top of your head- use a finger on the chin and the other hand cupped and sliding upwards from the base of the skull to feel this. Welcome to a world of double chins!
Put your riding hat on and check your balance again- notice where the peak sits and again adjust your head balance, many hats will add 600g in extra weight to your head which is not insignificant in itself.
If you have school mirrors the next check is easy but if not make sure to have eyes on the ground or video yourself to get a feel for that head balance once mounted. Check your head in all paces but don’t foget that rider balance is dynamic, don’t fix one imbalance by creating another in trying to ‘fix’ your head in one place! If you’re like me you can become fascinated by something happening with the horse and constantly look down, the first step to change is becoming aware of this and changing becomes easier once you know about it.
I can thoroughly recommend a simulator session and Alexander Technique, Pilates, Craniosacral sessions too. Be sure you get the heads up on all these awareness systems for your balance!
Next time we’ll check out shoulders.
If you would like help with your rider balance or your horse’s balance check out my video assessments with full feedback.
Note: if you experience any back/neck pain or headaches whether riding or not then always consult your doctor or physio.