Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Tools for your work out: Balance disc
Bubble wrap and horses...the never ending saga.
I hope you haven't had the experience of taking care of a lame horse, but most likely you have. And if you have, you've most likely said the cliche line of "I wish I could wrap him in bubble wrap", pertaining to the fact that you wish you could protect him from himself. Consequently after our horse is seriously injured, with the scenic route to healing, you will most likely find yourself in the constant and agonizing state of 'walking on eggshells' which is the equivalent of 'walking on the bubble wrap,' You wish you could wrap your horse in. Every step you are worried about startling him, or you are anxiously anticipating the dreaded discovery of another injury. It is the very worst - and I share all the feelings of this treacherous journey with you.
How we navigate unfortunate (and repeated/never ending) circumstances is by having 'balance'. I think a definition of balance can be 'remaining stable in unstable circumstances'. To us horse riding gals, this means not only balance in our mind, but also our body. Our literal un'stable' circumstances can be taking care of a wound, rehabbing an injury, and reconditioning your horse after he's healed. Indeed all angles of balance are covered in this process.
So what makes us better balancers? Keeping things in perspective. Things might be a little shaky but we can have balance. We can be okay, when things are are anything
but okay. In our mind we can facilitate balance two ways. One way is by knowing that Jesus loves us a LOT, like enough to lay down his life for us and allow us to call him our rock. Another way is that our mind relies on our eyes, inner ears, and feel through proprioception to have balance.
Let's talk about rocks first. Rock's are pretty stable. Our Rock is not afraid or offended at our humanity in the struggle of something we've never been able to conquer before. Our Rock is not waiting for us to fail so he can harshly condemn us. Our Rock is there so we can stand ON it with whatever support we need. In a world that is nuts and in a barn full of nutcases, we need to be able to anchor our brain, heart and hope in something more stable than bubble wrap or a balance disc.
Now let's talk about what we are dealing with in the natural. Our eyes use depth perception, sight, and visualized focus to help us balance. They evaluate the space we we are in and how fast the scenario in our environment is so we can respond appropriately. Our ears can do something similar by hearing the sounds in the environment (have you ever ducked from a wasp flying by your ear?). But there is also something in our inner ear that helps us balance. There is a small spiral structure filled with tiny hairs and fluid that move when we move, and they send a signal to a nerve that runs to our brain. This process provides our brain feedback of where we are in space and time. When we add our limbs moving to this process, this is how we gauge and gain proprioception.
So, with the silly analogy of 'walking on bubble wrap' with lame horse drama, we can use that concept to remind ourselves of a few things. To have better balance we have to give our mind and body some perspective on where it's at. And to have better balance when we ride.... we can actually use a balance disc to simulate being on the horses back. It's a fun way to incorporate everything that our riding is - a physical and mental challenge!
How to use your tool:
Challenges to try:
Why add a balance tool?
Balance is not just for ballerina's and circus people. High level athletes and their teams of practitioners know the value of training with balance and body awareness. But unfortunately on a mainstream scale, balance training has a too-little too-late type application. Its common to use balancing techniques to re-train and rehab injured muscles, but not as common to be a technique in a proactive approach to training.
We could get into the nitty-gritty science of how balance works in the body, but just know this: proprioception matters. How we feel and function in space and time with in a specific task matters! If we only used our right hand for our whole life, and never used our left hand, even if it was perfectly fine, we would be totally one-sided, asymmetrical, movement challenged and out of balance. This is also true for our feet and the rest of our body when we ride. If we never test our balance in more dynamic ways than plopping our hind end in the saddle, we will be totally one-side, asymmetrical, movement challengers and out of balance.
Balancing, and the practice of balancing is good for our brain, good for our feet, and good for building strength in our body. We don't become good at a certain thing by only having a one-sided approach. The more puzzles and challenges we give our body to build on and flow through can build movement chains, which is healthy muscle memory in our body. The more equipped we are to move, the more function there will be in our movement.
Why is this tool especially applicable to riding?
Practicing your balance on something like a low profile balance disc is the one of the closest things you can get to replicating the movement of a horses back. If you are standing on a balance disc you are able to teach your foot to stabilize better in the stirrup. (For most of us that finally influences the use of our lower leg!) If you are sitting on a balance disc, you are getting the benefits of mobilizing your spine, relieving pelvic pressure, and strengthening the abdominals. It is one of the most practical ways to exercise and build similar technique you use to ride your horse!
Why is this considered the safest work-out tool?
I love the balance disc as well as the balance ball for practicing our riding principles. The disc is the safest option since you can control the amount of air/resistance it has in the chamber. It is also very low profile making it not very far to fall off of, and portable to take with you. The ball is great because it is wider like a horses back, and has more sway and roll like a horse's gait. It is great to utilize these when you are trying to build strength or learn a new habit and not wear your horse out. And since you control how long and in what way you sit on it, you have more control over the comfort of your back and hind end.