Rider posture and your horse

Very often I have come across riders that have no idea how rider posture can affect their horse.  Horse riding is like a dance, where two beings need to merge their movements and intentions in the same direction and at the right speed to produce “the magic” of horse riding.

Scientifically speaking horses respond to a very limited amount of verbal cues, with inconsistency, and therefore the communication of “Enter at working canter and halt at X”, is normally only a concept for the rider’s mind.  We are incredibly lucky that horses are one of the most sensitive and perceptive creatures on the planet and therefore I do strongly believe that 95% of “ALL COMMUNICATION” is non-verbal, is more than just a scientific fact.  What we underestimate often, is the ability of a rider to control his or her own body during riding determines the success of communication in this partnership.

A very basic analogy is that of a duet of two ballet dancers; one will never come across a graceful pair on stage where one partner is in magnificent graceful poised control, and the other partner looks more like a ragdoll being flung around due to lack of tone and core strength.  It is mechanically and physically impossible.  For a male dancer to pick up and handle a female dancer in these maneuvers, requires the ultimate control, core stability and muscle tone of each dancer over their own bodies.

Another analogy is that of the potato filled back pack; hang this loosely on your shoulders, and compare the difference “in a trot”, that it makes, when you are able to stabilize the back pack by securely strapping it to your body.  The operative meaning here is: be in control of your own body.

Rider posture rests on two basic legs:

  1. Alignment:  Rider alignment is as important for your own balance as it is for your horse.  If you can achieve a vertical shoulder-hip-heel alignment, during all paces and movements, that will make the task of intricate balance so much easier for your horse.  Achievement of this alignment is difficult for most riders, due to rider lack of suppleness and underlying asymmetry and compensatory mechanisms of both horse and rider.  Becoming aware, very often with the help of an “outside pair of eyes”, like your trainer, is the first step any rider can make in the journey of continually correcting our own body alignment, to help our horses.
  2. Muscle tone: The alignment of a rider can only be maintained in horse riding with the very important muscle tone and core strength.  Muscle tone is the one controllable means we have to maintain our own body alignment.  Muscle TONE should not be confused with muscle RIGIDITY.  Although in my personal experience the biggest problem is, the LACK OF muscle tone in most riders.  Developing and improving your muscle tone symmetrically, is a lifelong endeavor for which there are a few easy but effective home based exercises one can use to test and improve yourself with.   Due to the fact that there are two partners, it is unfortunately not as simple as going to the gym to develop muscle tone for riding, although a certain level of fitness does help.  Again, becoming aware of your muscle tone, or the lack thereof, empowers one to make the changes where it is needed.  I often advise people to use ‘unproductive’ time behind the steering wheel, or in front of your computer, to passively exercise your core, and overall muscle tone.

It is pertinent to know that I mentioned there are two partners in this dance.  I do recognize and see the role the horse plays, and the difficulty of riding a horse with old compensatory mechanisms or underlying asymmetry.  The answer for that is good basic ground work, or in hand work with your horse.  That is where you ask your horse to bend and develop the muscles that allow him to be responsible for his own body.

Because of the horse, the journey of becoming aware of, and the strive for, rider perfection is where the MAGIC lies.  Allow them to show you the magic every day.