Balance - and how to achieve it - part II

Last time I introduced the balance-series, and explained some of its backgrounds. Today, we dive into the middle of the practical side. What can we actually do to improve our physical balance?

1. I started growing sunflowers in the garden (to support bees and bumble bees). When I water them, I could use the stairs. Instead I jump up and down a small wall to get there - sometimes with the watering can in hand. That sounds (and looks) funny, yes. At first, I was about to wrench my ankles, but after a few days I quite know how to use my body to make it over there rather elegantly. And the best thing: It does not take much repetition (even for someone like my whose strengths are more on the theoretical, not practical side).
So my first advice: Use your body in new ways, break fresh ground, even or especially when not on horseback. Go to balance along this wall, stand on one foot when brushing your teeth and wrestle your car in a small parking space - from the side you are least comfortable with.

2. On horseback I'd recommend to ride bareback. Not all the time, not in situations that are likely to get out of control. But riding without a saddle can be very beneficial for your feel and balance. Not only are the horse's movements transferred directly with no saddle to muffle them. You'll also notice how likely you are to just slip of the horse's back when he moves unexpectedly. So you'll learn quickly about the state of your balance. At the beginning you'll probably be quick to push your knees in the horse's shoulders to gain balance (which is wrong) and grasp your reins for hold, but you'll learn to sit further back and balance with your core rather than the legs.

balance, horses
Is your body in balance? And how about your horse's? Foto: Nadja
3. I'd further recommend that you start jumping (I know what I am talking about. I am clueless about jumping but I want to learn it as the horse moves differently than normal and you are more likely to loose your balance). When I learnt riding at the riding club (or at least what was considered "riding" then) the jumping classes were always the ones when most people came off their horses. You don't have to overcome a whole course right away. Start with poles, trotting over them, cantering over them and practice the jumping style seat (two point seat). Do the same over cavalettis. Then, build the first small jump and start experimenting. Get yourself a teacher that accompanies you and that respects your limits (that can be the trickiest part).

4. Experiment with different positions of your body when riding. What happens when you lean forward with your upper body, what happens if your feet come to far forward, what happens when you stiffen your knee? Stand in your stirrups in all gaits, let go of the reins and move your arms like a windmill. Post the trot and stay up not one but two strides (this imbalanced me enormously). If we tense, we tend to bring our balance point up from the saddle (to me it feels like it was somewhere in my ribcage where my breath stopped). We don't want that to happen. Instead our core should be way down in our belly button area. The higher it becomes, the more likely we are to fall off.

5. Ride different horses. You can be the perfect fit for one horse and be at a total loss with another. So get on as many horses as possible. Find if and how you can flow along with them, where you are in the way of their movement and what comes easy to both of you. Try to get as good as possible for all of them. It will help your balance and improve your self-confidence.

I found some great advice in several horse blogs I'd like to share with you.
Wiola from Aspire Equstrian recommends biking to help improve your balance (I am sure you'll find more posts on her page covering that subject). 
Jenn Zeller will tell you how brushing your teeth can relate to better riding. 
Stephanie Krahl from Soulful Equine shares her favorite pilates techniques. 
And Pat Parelli has something to say about flowing along with the horse.

PS: You find the first part of the balance series here.

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