Monday, April 6, 2009


Balance. This is one of the key elements in horsemanship. The rider must stay balanced in order to not interfere with the horses' balance.

In riding my new, green horse, I have become reaquainted just how important this principle is. Where an older, trained schoolmaster may be more forgiving of a rider's unbalanced moments, A young horse who is still finding his own balance and now having to cope with a rider on it's back will be in trouble if the rider also has not developed a feel for their own balance. This is one of the many reasons why many horsemen will say a green horse with a green rider is a recipe for trouble, hence the old saying, "Green + Green = Black and Blue".

Rugby has moments where it all falls into place, where you feel that he's carrying himself and I in balance and when that happens I become quiet with my aids and softly ride until the moment passes. Then you begin to ask again for him to find that same feel. At this stage, he is not fit, he will get tired and I'm sure the muscles will hurt when he starts to use them to hold himself correctly. That is why I am proceeding slowly, with mostly walk/trot work. Short intervals of trotting with much walking to encourage softness to the hand as he begins to build muscle. I am enjoying working with a horse who is just beginning to learn this, to feel those moments when it is correct and to be rewarded as he can hold the "moment" for longer periods each time.

And it's all being done with the most basic of equipment. An all-purpose saddle. A plain english bridle with a basic cavesson noseband and a D cheeked bit with a John Patterson comfort mouth.

Nowadays, there is much talk amongst horsemen of things being done to "speed up" a process that in classical horsemastership would take several years. There are riding methods such as the hotly-debated Rollkur or hyperflexion of the neck. There are the artificial aids such as martingales, draw reins, side reins, etc. to restrain the horse into what seems like a correct position. There are also items used to try and fix the rider's position and balance such as the "Shoulders Back" and "Unisit". Though I have never used either of these and do not wish to, there is a wonderful review article for both of these at this link: Sit Up Straight

I think this quote from the Unisit website's home page is a good guideline when considering a supplemental training device, "Though Unisit is not intended to replace hard work and traditional teaching methods, the system assists trainers and instructors to supplement the development of proper rider position and feel." And after reading about each of these items, none of the principles of basic horsemanship are conflicted in their use.

There is a product designed for the western pleasure rider to supposedly improve their balance and center called the Level Rider. I am an English style rider so maybe my thoughts about it are based on that style of riding but the barn I currently ride at has riders of both disciplines. And as I have been told by western riders who teach, the basic principles are the same for both english and western riding. You should sit straight, sit deep into your seat, keep your weight in your heels, have a soft, giving hand and look straight ahead at where you are going. So my first thought on the function of this item was, why is it asking the rider to look down at the device, when by doing so you go against the principles taught to affect balance?

I have a few links below to support what effect the rider's head position has on the horse.

Riding Balance

Horseless Riding

How Your Posture Can Unbalance Your Horse

Balance Seat Horsemanship

And now I leave it to all readers for discussion. Balance, training, natural and artificial aids and devices, your experiences, your thoughts.

The good of the horse befits the good of the rider


Nicku said...

This was a fanstastic blog post. I couldnt agree more. When I stop picking at my mare and start working on myself, using my core not my hands, my legs not my spurs, my seat not my whip it is amazing how through she gets. 9 times out of 10 she is not the problem when things arent going my way. I get SO irratated when I see the young riders especially at my farm using draw reins with thier trainer, I mean, you're paying $55 and hour to have your trainer teach you what exactly?? Keep on preaching!!!

OnTheBit said...

It has been many years since I have had to train a horse. Like really train them. I would NEVER have leased Texas had I known just how green he really was. At the same time everyone involved knew the horse and myself and knew I could handle it. It is VERY tempting to want to rush training. My lease boy still might not even have 100 rides on him so it is tough to watch all these other 5 year olds go on the FEI 5 year old classes. It is even more tough when his owner rides with us on her fancy horse who is only 6. The thing of it is that I like the FEEL of Texas so much more when he is going correctly. It takes me pretty much the first 45 minutes of my ride to get his shoulders open and for him to come all the way through his back and he is only strong enough to keep it for a few minutes. Those few minutes of bliss make it all worth the wait though. Sure, I could do a pully rein on his face and go into the show ring and probably get a higher score this year. I don't want that though. I want a correct horse next year so I have to be patient this year and teach him the right way. I have to teach him how to be balanced at the canter and how to carry himself in all 3 gaits. The feel of him going correctly for those few steps is worth the wait in my book because it is like heaven.

And as for a side note...I really wish that judges would stop rewarding poor training. It drives me CRAZY. When you have people like Anky winning the Olympics it makes the sport of dressage as a whole look bad.

Jean said...

Hey, my Boy is nine now and still not trained...well, sort of trained. What I mean is, so many horses are doing the upper levels at that age. Rolkured, pulleyreined, and lunged in short side reins, all forced to work "in a frame." I'll take it slowly, thanks, and if I don't get there, fine by me.

jmk said...

You have to want to enjoy the journey of your horsemanship. That means taking the time it takes, shortcuts will fail either the horse or the rider or both eventually. "Holes" due to rushed training always show up at some point.
Sometimes at very critical moments.