Balance: theory and practice
You should always bear in mind that the responses of a horse are always a reaction to the quality of our riding.
Horse riding can be practised for pure fun, with outdoor rides and leisure time spent in the company of our horse friends, or it might be for sporting purposes, even competitive, in one of the many equestrian disciplines. Aside, however, from the objective that we set for ourselves, the problems that a rider needs to address tend to be the same ones and need to be resolved using the same methods; what changes is the level, therefore the quality of our riding. Riding, for a rider, mainly consists of knowing how to sit in the saddle safety, correctly and comfortably and of being able to convey to the horse their intentions correctly, therefore first and foremost the horse understanding and then obeying when undertaking the work that is set, whether it's simple walking or a show jumping circuit.
For the horse, however, the rider is someone to be transported, thus a 'passenger', and someone to obey, therefore, shall we say, a 'boss'. Consequently, a rider needs to be able to manage two types of situation: as a 'passenger' they must, with appropriate exercises, ensure solidity and stability in the saddle with ease and comfort, minimising the interference and bulk that their presence inevitably causes for the horse. This is the purpose of 'being in the saddle'.
As a 'boss', however, they must learn to be understood by the horse to therefore instil obedience in it with intelligence, knowledge, psychology, equity and authority. This is the purpose of the use of aids and communication with the horse.
The rider cannot have a good influence and properly communicate with the horse if they are not safe in the saddle as they will lose freedom of movement of the body and therefore of the mind, and if it disturbs the horse it will prevent it from fully expressing the physical and psychological qualities in the actions being asked of it As a result, the rider must always bear in mind that the obedience of the horse and the responses to their requests are always based on the quality of their riding.
During riding, the horse is the executor of the actions and efforts to be made to obtain the result to be achieved.
In sporting/competitive equestrianism, the horse athlete expresses its value according to its natural abilities, which depend on its origins and its morphological and mental characteristics and its physical condition. These all depend on the management and daily fitness routine, its training and, last but not least, the good use that the rider makes of the results obtained from the athletic development of the horse.
The rider must acquire a good position. The position is the quality that ensures solidity, therefore safety and fluency in the saddle at all speeds and under all circumstances and reactions from the horse. Position is based on the balance that allows you to stay upright on the horse without the use of force and the set of actions that allows you to track the movements of the horse and absorbing the minimum reactions. A good position allows firmness, i.e. the absence of any non-voluntary or useless movement, and leads to confidence that expresses the freedom of physical action, something that is essential for successful and effective use of the aids and the freedom of spirit necessary to instantly and consciously perform the appropriate actions.
Acquiring a good position is therefore of fundamental importance not only to pursue personal training goals but also because a rider without position can lead to considerable discomfort: not feeling solid you cling on, not feeling comfortable you stiffen and tire easily. For these two main reasons, the horse feels the actions of legs, hands and body weight to which it reacts with contractures, defences or disorders.
To obtain a good position the rider must have certain qualities, most notably balance. A sense of balance is instinctive. Balance must be maintained without effort. Another essential quality is ease, a quality that allows the easy execution of each movement; essentially it depends on the free play of the joints and ligaments and the ability to relax the relevant muscles. Decontraction is the quality of the muscles whose tone, i.e. the state of contraction, is minimised. Decontraction must be present in any situation, whether moving or stationary. Relaxation is instead a psychological state that allows you to become aware of the body parts and to decontract them. Relaxation depends on the will to do so and allows decontraction that is essential for fluency. It is important to reflect on the fact that riding does not require extraordinary fluency because it does not need gestures or extraordinary movements. These qualities enable the rider to acquire and retain without effort the basic position in the saddle and, in addition, ensure the attitude necessary to maintain balance and cohesion with the horse in motion. In riding, as the horse's movements are never uniform, even if they are regular in their pace and in their breadth, the rider cannot ensure their own balance and posture with an unchangeable position, even though it might be the most correct one; it can only be achieved without the use of force, therefore smoothly, and by making small movements that adapt to those of the horse and in perfect harmony with them, developing muscle coordination, in other words allowing the muscles involved to interact in the execution of these movements.
Balance in the saddle is therefore an essential quality but it is not sufficient to establish a link or a bond without having a good position. A bond with a horse is obtained, primarily, through the willingness of the rider to listen to the horse, to feel its movements and to follow them without losing balance, agility, decontraction and relaxation. In addition, you both need to work every day with exercises for position, with and without stirrups, training to move from the sitting to the half-seat position, stepping on simple barriers on the ground at a trot. As balance grows stronger and bonding with the horse increases, the rider increases the difficulty of the exercises, for example with transitions and changes in range of motion: lengthening and shortening the three gaits. When the rider is able to absorb every movement of the horse in depth light seat riding, to maintain constant stability in fluency, in using aids autonomously and in complete independence from the rest of the body, they can start performing the first jump exercises such as cavalletti, small crosses, trotting and galloping. To achieve stability, adhesion and good light seat riding, the length of the stirrups plays a fundamental role: the right length is that which allows the rider to go from the sitting position to the half-seat position easily, effortlessly and while maintaining balance.