When we think of a balanced rider we think of a rider whose weight is distributed evenly and whose aids on the left and right reins are balanced and consistent. There is a lot more to it.
International judge Tiina Karkkolainen said in an interview recently that “dressage is mind and body control - if a rider does not control unconditionally his or her mind and body, the performance in a dressage test can not be of very high quality.”
I think this extends to not only mind and body control but also mind and body balance. We have all seen that rider who loses his cool constantly, screaming at his riders and punishing his horse unfairly. I was riding once a long time ago with such a person, and for me it came as no surprise that they also had no balance in their outside life.
I was watching my current coach riding this week and I thought about this. He is a family man, with a supportive and lovely wife and two great kids. Balance.
Think about a rider that you admire. Now ask yourself about who that person is off the horse. Do they have their act together or are they a highly strung mess? I have never, to this day, met a rider who was patient and balanced in the saddle, that didn’t also have a certain amount of balance and happiness in their outside lives.
If you watch a video or interview with Carl Hester or Kyra Kyrklund you will be impressed not only with their talent but also by their witty and welcoming personalities. It’s not hard then to wonder they they are so brilliant in the saddles.
We communicate who we are to our horse. Imagine you are making a new friend and you walk up and start punching him in the face and trying to bullying him into doing what you want. Surely not a great approach. When you meet new people you are polite, funny, welcoming, you attempt to find common ground. Why should our relationship with our horses be any different?
I used to be a worried mess, rushing about all over the place. And my horse with me was often also always stressed and tense. My injury made me stop, I believe that there is always a reason for most things, and stopping made me learn to wait and be patient and I honestly believe that will help a lot with my riding. I still worry but I have learnt to take a deep breathe and just let it go.
If you ask someone whether their personality affects their riding, the answer is of course it does.
Does what we do in life also affect our riding? Absolutely. Take for instance Rita Ralao, who is the daughter of Portuguese Grand Prix rider Miguel Raloa. She used to be a professional ballet dancer, and I have never seen anyone look more beautiful on a horse. She is a dancer on the horse. Don’t we all wish we could look like that.
For those of us who aren’t blessed with dancer legs and a killer posture, we can provide the horse with balance and consistency by working a lot off the horse on not just our physical but also our mental capacity to find equilibrium.
If you are constantly frustrated on the horse is it his fault or are you frustrated with yourself in a bigger sense? If your horse isn’t calm ask yourself first if you are calm! A balanced rider is far more than one who sits evenly in the saddle!
Don’t use your horse to vent your issues, that’s what counseling is for!
Text by Sarah Warne - Photo © Astrid Appels
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