Richard Weiss used to tell me that a balanced rider was one that if you suddenly took the horse out from underneath, the rider would land evenly on their two feet in a squat position with their elbows and hands relaxed and in a symmetrical position in front of them.
The rider in this scenario is balancing himself around the horse and channeling the energy up and out the top of the head.
Sadly, in most cases, the rider uses the horse to balance. We see riders that use the reins and thus the horse’s mouth to hold themselves in place. We see riders that sit almost entirely on one seat bone, and possibly more often than not, if we took the horse out from under the rider, the rider would land on one leg and fall over to the side.
The other thing we see is riders that stick their legs onto the horse’s side to hold themselves in place, and if we ask the rider to take the legs off, the horse stops immediately or falls out of canter or trot. We see riders that almost do fall off the back of the horse in the canter movements and while Brett Kidding does a brilliant take off sometimes his performance is sadly not that much of an exaggeration .
The most obvious sign that a rider is using the horse to balance, besides excessive rein tension, legs clamped on, or rocking chair seat, is an inability to give the horse clear and even requests.
Colonel Christian Carde says that we can tell a rider is using the horse to balance themselves when we see the way the riders puts things together.
“We say that he lacks coordination of his aids, which is the main mistake,” Carde explained. “We see this a lot today because when learning how to ride, we don't spend enough time to control our balance on the horse and only a perfect balance allows us to use our aids with great precision.”
It makes sense. If we are not even on the horse how can our aids be clear? If we sit on the left of the horse there is absolutely no possibility that our aids on the left will be equal to those on the right.
In dressage tests this shows up in many ways.
O-judge Maribel Alonso says that the rhythm is normally the most obvious element to be affected and this transcends into the exercises where the lack of rider balance will be given away.
“If the rider is unbalanced this will alter the balance of the horse and the horse will lose rhythm especially in the mediums and extensions, and the exercises on two tracks,” Maribel explained. “Because the rider is using the horse to balance, the horse will lose confidence in the rider and will not follow the rider’s hands into a soft contact. The horse’s back will hollow because of this lack of connection.”
Basically, Maribel agrees that a rider with gripping legs, a stiff back and unsteady hands, will lose balance on the horse, and as a result disrupt the horse’s balance.
So how can we work to overcome this imbalance?
I would say first have someone film you riding a straight line and ask the question “am I in the middle of the horse?” You might be surprised by the answer! We must also work off the horse to discover our own imbalances as no person is completely even on their left and right sides.
Christian Carde says that the ideal would be to learn on a simulator to preserve the poor horse’s mouth. “Riders could also use a collar on the horse’s neck to ensure the rider's balance, “ Carde explained.
I believe that while no one is equal on both sides some riders do have a greater natural balance than others but Christian believes that perfect balance on the horse is not natural and must be worked on.
“It's not natural, but it must become so perfect that we can focus our attention on complete coordination, harmony and equality of the aids, “ Carde added.
by Sarah Warne - Photo © Astrid Appels