Horseback riding is all about balance. Staying centered and balanced on the horse makes it easier to stay on if a horse spooks, takes a misstep, or does something unexpected. Balanced riders also keep their horses content. Think of a backpack on your back. If it’s sliding to one side, you are constantly shrugging your shoulder to center the bag. The horse feels the same way with an off-center rider.
In therapeutic riding, many riders struggle with balanced, centered riding so how do we work on it in lessons to make our clients better riders and our horses more content?
I’ve written about this before, but the movement of the horse is so close to a human’s movement that riding can actually help clients learn to walk correctly. The balance required to stay astride the horse can also help clients stay balanced on the ground.
Using the horse’s movement is a great way to encourage balance. This can be done by doing circles, whoa’s and walk on’s, going over poles, and any turn that engages the horse’s entire body. The rider will need to use their core and hip strength to stay on the horse through turns, stops, and upward/downward movement.
Another way to work on balance is to let rider’s self-correct. Humans naturally have a center of gravity that they like to return to. It’s why we instinctively catch ourselves when we fall or quickly regain balance if we trip. We don’t need to think about it, we just allow our bodies to react in the moment and stop us from falling as often as possible. If a rider has the strength to center himself but does not do it, the instructor can allow that rider to come off balance if it is safe. Eventually, the rider will correct herself. (Read: This may not work if a rider cannot physically move him or herself into the center of the horse.)
A rider may need to be very off center in order to feel it. Sometimes riders can be halfway off the horse before they center themselves. As long as this is safe and a rider has two side walkers able to support the weight, I let this happen. Riders will often get off centered after a turn so I will stop the horse right after a turn and ask a rider to get centered at the whoa. I ask verbally or with a physical tap.
It is important that the rider gets centered independently because they need to know how it feels. If the instructor or volunteers physically help the rider, it takes away the learning opportunity for the client. I will help after a rider makes an initial effort. If a rider is not strong enough to get all the way centered but shifts his hips, I will help the rider finish centering.
For volunteers, parents, and new instructors it can be unnerving to see a rider extremely off balance but it is important for riders to have the freedom to adjust themselves.
Have you experienced this in your lessons? Have you seen a client center themselves without prompting? Have more suggestions on how to work on a client’s balance? Leave a comment below!