Balance, Feel, & Rhythm


We look in awe at gymnasts, wondering how they are able to achieve such complete body coordination. They have control over different parts of their body, giving them the ability to perform movements that require ultimate flexibility and suppleness. On a horse, however, performance is not dependent on the horse alone. It is the rider who brings out the radiance in any dressage display.

A rider who has no control over his body will find great difficulty in achieving harmony with his horse. One must be aware of the function of every muscle movement of their body and how it should affect the horse. Mere awareness of this will aid in the progress of every rider.

Balance

All that is required of a rider seated centrally and in balance on a horse are subtle aids that are almost invisible to the onlooker. A well balanced rider results in a well balanced horse, thereby more responsive and alert. The more awkward the seat, the more awkward the aids; the more refined the seat, the more refined the aids. It is the classical seat that can lead to perfect balance on a horse, as will be described later in detail.

Gravity

Gravity should help you remain in the correct position, or it can help you crash to the ground, which is why it should always be used to your advantage. Sitting on a horse with the legs too far forward disturbs the vertical line of gravity. Lets imagine standing stationary on the ground. We will find that we are in balance. If we try to stand with our legs forward or backward, it will be impossible to maintain any balance. The same principle applies on horseback, a weak seat with wrongly positioned legs is not a balanced seat.

It is not right to simply say that balance should be maintained on horseback as is it maintained on the ground. Obtaining balance over a horse's constantly changing center of gravity takes time to learn. By practicing the correct position on the ground in front of a mirror, you can form a visual image of how you should look like when seated on a horse. Grasping on to that image, try to imitate it the next time you're mounted. Feel the gravity flowing through the checkpoints of your body. Let your legs grow long, as though reaching for the ground. Sit upright, as though reaching for the sky. This is a natural position, so breathe deeply and relax any tense muscles.

It is worth mentioning that short stirrups make a classical seat virtually impossible. Showjumpers often ride with shortened stirrups as it helps their legs absorb the shock of the jump. Shortened stirrups misplace the legs in a forward position for the dressage rider. It is advisable to sit in the classical position, letting the legs hang loose and long naturally, then lengthening or shortening the stirrup to complement the length of your legs.

A common mistake is to relax completely. An upright position would not be possible if the whole body was to relax. The spine must always support the upper body, so it must remain perpendicular and erect. The trick is to relax the lower body. Think that your body, from the waist down to your legs, has become part of the horse, while the upper half must remain upright and supporting itself.

"Mentally tell yourself your lower body has become part of the horse."

Sylvia Loch, "The Classical Seat"

Over time, a natural sense of balance will develop. This will not happen overnight. It will take much practice, but awareness will speed up the process. Developing a sense of rhythm also takes time, as the body must be trained to listen to the horse's motion. With the horse in walk, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Block out any external disturbance. Focus on the horse's motion. Feel his muscles stretching and contracting as he takes his steps. Listen to each hoof as it hits the ground. Then try to predict which hoof is now going to hit the ground. Eventually, visualize the horse's complete movement with each stride he takes as if you were watching him from the ground.

This exercise can also be practiced while trotting and cantering, but make sure this happens on the lunge. The feel for balance and the feel for rhythm cannot be separated, as they both lead to a confident and secure seat.

   
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