Have you considered what it is like for your horse to have you on its back?
That may seem like a silly question to some, but really, a conscientious horseperson does consider their horse’s point of view. Not in a babysitting type of way or treating your horse like a big dog, but imagining being the horse. When I teach handlers how to pick out a hoof, for example, I will have them pretend to be the horse. I let them ‘feel’ in their hips and joints what it is like when I hold their bent leg from one position to the next. They are amazed to realize the pressure or ease in the body depending on the position of the leg. Especially when we are picking out hind legs, there may be a tendency to bring the horse’s hoof towards our body rather than simply up.
What does it mean to ride well? It means you are in harmony with your horse when you turn and when you make transitions in your walk, trot, canter and gallop. Walk is a four-beat. Trot is a two-beat. Canter is a three-beat and gallop is a four-beat.
We “foaled” a colt in the late 90s. This horse displayed hunter/English style characteristics that brought me to the intersection of decision making. Either I needed to learn English style riding or sell the horse. I met a gal who gave lessons and signed up.
What was fun and natural to me became awkward and unnatural. In fact, the night of my first riding lesson, I dreamt about “toes up; heels down.” One day, after having lessons for several weeks, I cried all the way from the barn to my home. In that forty minute drive, I had convinced myself I needed to get out of horses altogether. When I pulled up to my mailbox, there was a package from my Colorado girlfriend, Marsha, who had purchased me a beautiful horse bracelet with an encouraging note. I dried my tears, changed instructor, and returned to “fun,” “relaxation,” and “progressing.” I did learn a personal lesson here. I needed a “teacher” not a “mocker.”
My horse did not care if my toes were up and my heels down or what was “correct” from this instructor’s point of view, but what was connecting and naturally effective for him. Prior to lessons, I had a beautiful balanced “correct” seat and like Matt Damon in The Legend of Bagger Vance (who needed to get his swing back); I needed to get my “seat” back. So I did.
Horses mirror what you do in your body because what you do in your body, they do in their body – good or bad. Braiding these three “awarenesses” together will help you ride well: (1) improve your seat (2) balance (3) communication.
How you sit on your horse determines how well your horse can move. Your position on his back determines how he uses his back, how he uses freedom of movement in his shoulders, and how he uses his hindquarters.
Learn to find your balance point. My what? This place is found somewhere between your crotch and your tailbone. Practice this on a barrel or a log. Sit on your crotch; slowly roll back towards your tailbone until you find that spot you “naturally” relax in. This is the place where your back will be straight, yet supple. It is an unforced position, and you will feel balanced and secure in your seat.
Once you get the “feel” of this relaxed balance point, you are ready to offer this to your horse as you sit on its back. Once mounted you can test yourself to see if you are on your balance point. Rest the palm of your hand on your horse’s rump. If you can only touch with your fingers, you are too far forward and more than likely on your crotch. If you can touch your horse’s tail or put your elbow on his rump, you are too far back on your jean pockets. Your balanced point is relaxed, unforced, and you simply rest the palm of your hand on your horse’s rump. Palm of hand, not fingers or elbow, on the back of your horse.
Ride well and enjoy your ride. I know your horse will.