Let's say that you are a 130 pound woman, in good shape. Find two kids, one that is roughly 20% of your body weight, so about 26 pounds; and the other about 30% of your body weight, so about 39 pounds. Please use either your kids or a friend's kids for this, I don't want you going to jail and saying that I told you to do it. Lol! Just playing with ya some. Now, with you standing upright, like you normally would put the first kid on your back, and have him/her stay as balanced as they can and hand on as best they can. Walk around with them like that for a little while to see how it feels. Once you get the feel for that, start having the kid lean left or right, forward or backwards. Compare the two feelings mentally. Now, get down on your hands and knees and give them a horsey ride. Again, once with them balanced and again with them leaning in every direction. Notice how differently you have to move to stay underneath them when they are leaning. Now, repeat his entire process with the heavier kid.
By the time you finish this exercise with both kids, you will more clearly see how your balance or lack thereof effects you horse's performance of even the simplest tasks. The weights that I used as examples are common percentages that we regularly expect our horses to cart around on a daily basis, so it really isn't unrealistic to use those same figures.
Ok, so you have some balance issues that are effecting your horse's performance. Where do you start to correct it? Well, first things first. Check out yesterday's entry titles "Importance of Saddle Fit for Horse and Rider." Make sure that your saddle is not hindering your effort at a balanced ride. For the sake of this post we're going to say that the saddle fits the horse and you properly, and move right along.
Ok, the saddle fits you and the horse, what's next? Let's do some exercises that will help evaluate your balance. Take a 4" x 4" x 8', and place it on the ground. Can you walk from one end to the other without falling off or rushing through because you lost your balance? If the answer is no, then you need to work on your balance on the ground before worrying too much about your balance when mounted.
How do you work on your balance to improve it? You have quite a few options and they can be a simple or a complicated as you wish to make them. On the simple side, you can work on increasing the time that you can stand on one foot without losing your balance. Start on level ground and work up to using a balance board or ball. On the more complicated end, hire a personal trainer, and work with him/her to improve and balance out your over-all strength. Also go to some yoga classes to help you remain flexible and also aide in increasing your balance. Now, most of us will fall somewhere between those two extremes, and some of us will do nothing at all to improve out balance.
So, let's say that you fall somewhere between the two extremes. You have access to a gym, either at home or a membership, but you don't really have access to a personal trainer, or you really just can't afford to use one. That's alright, in today's world the internet can provide you with plenty of information to get you started. Sites like www.bodybuilding.com offer free memberships, and offer thousands of articles written by personal trainers to get you started. The thing that you have to keep in mind, is that your core strength is what helps keep you balanced. I mean your abs, right? Wrong! I mean the entire trunk of your body, abs, chest, upper back, lower back, and obliques, trained in symmetry to create a strong base from with your arms, legs, and head extent from. If your core is symmetrically strong, it will increase your over all balance, both in and out of the saddle. The key is for opposing muscle groups to be equally strong, because they pull on each other, to stabilize the body.
Many exercises work more than one area of the body at the same time. So, instead of just aimlessly going from station to station at the gym, write out a clear and precise plan for the day that includes; which part of the body you will target, which exercises, how many sets, how many reps per set, and the weight used for each exercise, even if it is just your own body weight. Make a plan and stick to it. Your balance will not improve over night, but it will improve, but it is something that will have to be continually worked on. Which is only fair, we expect our horses to get into shape for riding, so should we.
Improving your balance will not only improve your riding ability, it will increase your horse's athletic performance as well, because he/she will no longer have to compensate for your imbalance. Over time, as you and the horse get accustomed to your new found balance, your confidence will increase and so will your horse's.
Good luck, happy trails, stay safe, and God bless you and yours.
Until next time,