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Your Balance

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Learn how to improve your balance so that you feel more secure when riding. This book is the second in this series and it shows you how to increase your balance. It contains 18 lessons for you to follow in your own time.

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What a simple way to improve balance, I now teach this method to all of my students, from beginners to advanced. Fiona, Toronto, Canada

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Your body

Approximately 1,967 words article

This article is about your body and how it can affect your riding. Most of the information about riding assumes that you have a pretty standard body shape and no previous injuries or disabilities. Of course the reality is quite the opposite.

We all, even those that at first glance appear ‘perfect’, have a variety of issues with our body.

Not all of these issues are necessarily a problem, but being aware of your body, its strong points and it weak points, will help you to be a better rider.

Think about how different the human body can be:

This list could of course be much longer. There are also gender differences, with females tending to have certain body shapes and males tending to have quite different body shapes (more about this later in this article).

Other factors include ‘handedness’; some people are strongly right handed, some strongly left handed and others are actually closer to ambidextrous (can work both sides of their body equally).

Add changes brought about by age, previous injuries, and disabilities and you should be starting to see just how different we all are, with some people having minor disadvantages and many advantages - and others quite the opposite.

So, as most people do not have a body that is ideal for riding, we have to make the best of what we have.

The purpose of this article is to outline the importance of making sure you acknowledge any weak areas and if possible protect or improve on them.

This article is concerned with your body, fortunately it is not the only thing that affects your ability to ride, Your attitude play a very big part and this is why many people, despite previous injuries/disabilities etc. still manage to ride very well, (often even better than less physically challenged riders) so don’t despair if you do not have a ‘perfect body’ (no one does by the way), instead learn to use what you have in the best way possible.

The ‘ideal’ body shape for riding

There is an ideal body shape for riding but no one actually possesses it (or would want to - as you will soon see!). The ‘ideal’ shape is very long in the leg and very short in the body (in order to keep the centre of gravity low), wide in the hips (for a wide base of support), flat chested (because excess weight in the chest is superfluous to a rider and raises their centre of gravity) and to top it all this ‘ideal rider’ would have a very small head (to keep the weight down).

It is important that your centre of gravity is always kept as low as possible in order to keep you on the horse (this point is discussed in much more detail in Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position and Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance.

 So, from this description (see picture below) you can see why you would not necessarily want all of these attributes at the same time (for everyday life).

If nothing else a person with disproportionately long legs, a very short body, flat chest and wide hips (not to mention the very small head) would be rather strange to look at!

Gender differences

You may also be able to see that women tend to possess some of these advantages and men tend to possess the others. The pictures below show the hypothetical and unrealistic unisex ‘ideal rider’ body shape on the left (the same one as in the picture above), next, a close to ‘ideal’ female body shape.

This body shape, as well as being ‘ideal’ for riding, is also one that many women aspire to. Next a heavier version of the same body shape (still a good shape for riding) and lastly, on the right, a more challenging body shape because the legs are relatively shorter and heavier, and the upper body relatively longer and heavier. This type of rider will tend to experience balance problems more often than her less ‘physically challenged’ sisters. Of course this is just a snapshot to give you an idea, there are many, many more scenarios than this in real life.

When we look at the male body we tend to see very different challenges in body shape, again, starting with the hypothetical and unrealistic unisex ‘ideal rider’ body shape on the left for comparison. Next, a close to ‘ideal’ male shape, however this time, the shape that many men aspire to (in everyday life) is not actually that ideal for riding, because it is top heavy and narrow in the hips (even though the hips do not appear narrow it is only because there is muscling around the tops of the thighs, the actually pelvis is generally narrower in a male than a female).

The next body shape along is probably the best (male) scenario for riding because it is not as top heavy due to being less muscled, but males tend to have ‘skinnier’ legs if they do not have muscling in that area, whereas the fat that women tend to have in their thighs is actually an advantage (to some extent). Lastly, on the right, the most challenging body shape for a male, very top heavy, as well as long in the upper body and short (and skinny) in the leg. Again this type of rider will tend to experience the most balance problems.

Balance problems due to shape

So, now that you may be more aware of why you might be experiencing balance problems when riding, what can you do about it? You need to improve your balance as much possible. You do this by maximising the ‘anchoring’ ability of your lower legs in particular. This involves learning how to get your body weight as low as possible and learning how to keep it there (picture below).

Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance covers this subject in detail (start reading this book now (for free) by clicking the title above). This article cannot cover of the information required as it is only a short article (compared to a long book) but it involves carrying out exercises that teach you how to move with your horse while at the same time keep your weight low on your horse’s back. As well as vastly improving your balance this vastly improves your security, and therefore safety, as a rider. The free part of the book Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance gets you started down this track so why not have a look?

Flexibility issues

On the subject of flexibility for riders, it is often assumed that the more flexible the better, but the joints should be strong and firm, not too stiff or too loose. You will see why if you read Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position, start reading this book now (for free) by clicking the title above.

Joints that are very loose also tend to be inherently weak and require constant strengthening exercises (plus external support in many cases) to keep them strong whereas stiff joints tend to be inherently strong.

As with most things, a happy medium is generally best because you then may experience the best of both worlds, flexibility and strength.

Stiff jointed individuals need to keep working on their flexibility with a certain amount of stretching both on and off a horse. Riding (well) will in itself help to keep you flexible. If you do not already know how to do so it is crucial that you learn how to ‘engage’ your lower leg because the stiffness in your ankles will tend to prevent you from doing this naturally (picture a). An engaged lower leg keeps you on your horse and at the same time is much more effected for giving the leg aids (picture b). These pictures are from Chapter 4: Your lower legs in Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position and there is much more information there about how to achieve an engaged lower leg.

If you have problems with over flexible joints you may need to support them because once a joint is loose it is very difficult (if not impossible) to ‘firm’ that joint up again. Ankles are a prime example of this, many people strain or sprain their ankle/s at some point (unless they have stiff joints to start with) and this leads to more ankle injuries as the ankle/s become weaker.

Picture a (below) shows an ankle support (readily available at a pharmacy). This will help in the case of a loose ankle joint. Before you go to the trouble of buying one, try wrapping an equine tail or leg bandage around the outside of your boot/s and see what a difference it makes to a loose ankle joint (picture b).

Your ankles are crucial to riding well so it is important that you help your ankles to perform as well as possible so that they in turn can help you to perform as well as possible, for more information see Chapter 2: Your ankles in Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position.

Straightness issues

You may have straightness issues with your body. This scenario is far more common than you would think. No one is totally straight, we are all within a range, and that range goes from almost straight to nowhere near straight. You should aim to ride as straight as is possible for your own body and its peculiarities. This will help your horse to move as freely as possible.

Minor straightness issues can usually be sorted out by having someone watch you as you ride (see the article Your assistant). It is not too difficult to train someone to be able see when you are not straight and how to correct you. The ease of use of modern technology helps enormously in this respect too, as someone can take photos and/or film you while you ride.

More serious straightness issues need addressing with more serious exercises that will help you to learn how to straighten your body. For example you may have previous injuries that have now healed but have left your body much stronger on one side than the other. In this case you need to re learn how to use your body correctly. There are various exercises for straightening the body in both of the Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbooks currently available.

Even more serious straightness issues need expert help from a human body worker. Once you have improved your straightness then you need to make sure that your horse is strong and fit enough to be able to carry you and keep working in a way that further improves your straightness. Again, the Horse Rider’s Mechanic Workbooks will help you to do this.

This is a goal that we all should have, to be the best rider we can be (for the sake of our horse and ourselves).

Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 1: Your Position and Horse Rider's Mechanic Workbook 2: Your Balance cover these interrelated subjects in detail. Start reading these books now (for free) by clicking the titles above.

We hope this article has been useful to you. If you think it could be added to or improved please let us know (contact us).



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