Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about balance. As I was listening to a Horse Radio Network podcast, one of the hosts was talking about how to achieve a balanced seat. I’ve always thought that the entire sport of dressage is based on balance, in a myriad of forms.
For humans, our main balance mechanism is our arms and hands. Think about when you watch ice skaters skittering off balance. The first thing they will do is flail their arms to regain balance on the ice.
Now think about horses. Their primary balance mechanism is their head and neck.
Then you try to put these two balance mechanisms together in a gorgeous display of harmony and oneness.
And that’s what makes dressage so hard. There are a thousand bits of balance that you need to keep in order.
You have to balance your leg aids and hand aids, how much energy your horse gives you, and how much energy you keep in your hand. And, on a most basic level, you have to be able to maintain your balance atop the horse, not tipping forward, backward, or sideways.
Balance is the foundation of dressage training and it’s the base of the training pyramid. An unbalance horse tires easily and is more prone to muscle/tendon strains and injuries. With a little practice, it is quite easy to point out an unbalanced horse; their movements are performed with tension, hesitancy, and mistrust of their rider. Most of the time we don’t even realize that we are setting our horses off balance. An ill fitting saddle or a seat slightly slipped to one side is enough to make his job harder, and as riders our job is to avoid getting in the horse’s way. An unbalanced horse cannot have a balanced mind. And vice versa.
It’s a little difficult to gauge one’s own sense of balance without eyes on the ground. I envy those of you that have access to mirror-lined arenas. I’ve often ridden in front of the house, just to get millisecond glimpses of myself in the windows.
I’ve also tried filming myself. Ideally, it’s best to get a buddy to film you while you ride. Unfortunately, I rarely get this luxury. Unless extreme bribery measures are taken to convince someone to schlep out to the barn with me.
Right now I’m trying to take some time to set up a camera on a tripod and marking off the space that the camera “sees” through trial and error.
Happy horsing around, and may the balance be strong with you!