Updated: Jun 17
It was a windy fall morning and I had a young mare out in the hay field to do some conditioning. The cool air must’ve gotten under her skin; before I knew it, our canter turned into a full blown sprint. The sheer excitement (and minor panic) that she wanted to run faster than I did was a surprise. What should I do? Stop her? Try to slow her down? Then, I remembered the words of the sage horseman, Ray Hunt; “You can ride as fast as any horse can run.” I took a breath, lowered my center of gravity, and went with her, acting as if the gallop was my idea. A few hundred yards later, she slowed down on her own accord, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
In moments of feeling out of control, everything in our bodies gets tense. Reflexively, we start to brace and curl up, bringing shoulders and knees up and forward, but in reality, this does not help the situation. Quite the contrary; it makes us an unbalanced, unstable load. When we leave our center behind, our head and/or feet go forward, putting us in a fight with gravity itself. But, if we can get our center right, the rest will fall into place. The way to overcome our reflexes is through reprogramming; putting thought into practice. Let’s start by exploring how to find our center, so we will have a chance of being able to rebalance ourselves when things get tense.
Your center of balance lies behind your belt buckle and at the front of your spine. Can you visualize where in your body this place resides? Now, use your breath; breathe to and through your center while visualizing being weighted in this area. This will help you to stop bracing. Stretch up through the spine and top of the head above your center, and stretch down through the the hips, thighs and knees below your center. By making this a practice, you’ll find it easier to move with the horse, and the horse will become more calm and relaxed as a result.
“By allowing gravity to work through us we are much more secure than the rider who hangs on for dear life. (The seat) is a powerful aid. It requires little effort - quite the opposite. We simply let go!” - Sylvia Loch, The Rider’s Balance
Alignment is the ability to find vertical balance; we stack all of the parts of our body over one another. A plumb line could be drawn from our shoulder, straight down through our center and hip joint, and down to our heel. If any one of these areas tips forward or back, we become an unbalanced load, using more energy than is necessary to stay in the saddle, and creating tension, which becomes a negative feedback loop between horse and rider.
Start by making sure that your seat bones are in the center of the saddle. The deepest part of the seat of your saddle should be in the middle of the seat, not sloped back towards the cantle (as many western saddles do). Sit tall without being rigid, think of an imaginary string tied to the top of your head, gently tugging you upwards. Sit deep without bracing down into your stirrups. The taller we sit, the more gravity works with us instead of against us.
The most common issues preventing us from maintaining a deep, centered position in the saddle are: lack of core strength, stiffness in the hip joints, and lack of confidence. To overcome these issues that the majority of riders face, we must make time for self-improvement. Whether going to the gym, practicing yoga, or Feldenkrais (visit catherinemccrum.com for more), core strength and coordination of our bodies is a necessity. When we feel strong and coordinated, we also feel confident, thereby eliminating tension.
When we can sit naturally centered and in alignment, it becomes easy to let the tension go. We’re no longer holding ourselves up, we are working with gravity, and the taller we sit, the more grounded we become. Our job becomes finding balance, finding center, finding alignment, and the rest we can let go of, just let it happen.