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Proper Posture Series - Posture IN balance

Updated: Oct 21, 2020


A picture is worth a thousand words, but one word might be the key that makes the adjustment. Balance! Have you ever evaluated your run, riding, or technique just from a postural standpoint? Have you ever looked at a run or seen a picture after you tipped a barrel and thought...'Man I was leaning so hard and I didn't even know it!'. Try this easy visual exercise to give yourself some feedback on where your riding is at. Sometimes it just takes a second set of eyes!




The key things to look for when you are seated on your horse or on a ball are this:


  • Spinal straightness/alignment

  • Shoulder height/position

  • Hip position/resting weight

  • The arms

  • The legs

  • The focus

  • Tension

Spinal straightness and alignment brings focus to where the back is. Straightness means you are not sitting in a way that is hunched, or arched. You're not in a 'C' shape to the forward, back, or side to side.


Shoulder height means you look at how high you carry your shoulders or shoulder. Are the shoulders close to the ears or closer to the collar bone? Is one shoulder higher or more turned in/out than the other shoulder?


Hip position means that you are paying attention to where the top of your pelvis and bottom of your seat bones land on the plane of a grid, while on the ball or horse. Can you tell if there is more weight in one hip or emphasis on how you carry yourself to one side?


The arms, legs and our head/focus can be indicative of what the rest of our body is doing. Think about what your arms and legs do when you are upright and lose your balance. Usually we will pinwheel our arms and bend our knees to get our balance. When we ride, sometimes we try to recover by gripping the reins or using the saddle to counter-weight our balance.


Remember, the more asymmetrical we have a tendency to fall in our posture is indicating the amount of pressure we are putting on our horse. Just the act of looking down can change the feel of weight from 10lbs of pressure to 80lbs! If we weight our stirrups unevenly or sit with a hip heavier on one side, it might feel 'normal' to us, but to a horse it can be excruciating pounds of difference if we aren't in congruence with him.

Habits


Here are a few common habits that are at the base of every imbalanced riding technique. You can identify these postures easily, and correct them through adjusting your riding, and conditioning your body to support a stronger 'base' that you ride from. Think of these concepts as Goldie Locks and the 3 Bears, too hot, too cold, just right.....


Too Far Forward ( "Too English" )


Too far forward is not quite right. When we drop our belt buckle forward and rock to the tip of our pelvis it puts major strain on the horse and rider. Even through the saddle our horse will hollow out his back, because our pointy pelvis is poking him underneath. When our lower back gets torqued and tweaked, we put pressure on it which stiffens it and takes away mobility and flexibility. Because we've dropped our belly, now our core is NOT engaged, which completely relinquishes our course of power and stability. The way we 'control' our horse in the position is wrestling through the wrists and fighting the scapula.


To fix this (not overnight) try remembering your barrel pose, squash blossom, campfire, ab-tenna, and rainbows! This pose has a scrunched neck, t-rex arms, and hollow back - which those exercises will help straighten out and strengthen. Never think of controlling your horse by pulling your upper body closer to him - think about letting him come up to your body.




Too Far Back ( "Too Western" )



Too far back isn't right either! Now the bottom of your seat bones are gouging your poor horses back. Paired with the sitting trot and tight turns, he will probably be sore from this.

By making our seat extra heavy, we might stay grounded, but we now default to a lot of force happening around our chest and neck. Again, this defaults to feeling like we can only operate from our shoulders pulling and managing the reins. This makes our chest tight, and therefore most of our core immobile, because of the lack of flexibility here.


To fix this habit think about your breath filling your chest as well as your belly. As the breath fills you up it will reactivate your squash blossom and then help your chin come off your chest. Ab-tennas and leg lunge are also good for correcting this posture, because they will add stability to the core and stretch out the hip flexors. Don't think that the way to control your horse is pulling him back to you, think about getting better control of his feet through feel.



Off Kilter (Too Far Sideways)


Too far to the side doesn't work! When we weight either hip too heavy then the rest of our posture usually follows. At best it's uncomfortable at a standstill and walk. At worst we are liable to come off at speed and create long term soreness in both the horse and us. Usually to get control of the momentum and posture, we will default to straight arms and a really stiff neck, and hunched upper body. Just look at what the shortened side body silhouette does to our frame - it is anything but athletic! To fix this habit, think about the importance and the strong grounded feel you have when you practice your barrel pose, campfire, and lunge. The core is activated in these positions, but the feet are rooting into the ground. Then think about the uplifting feeling you have in squash blossom and spur squat. The crown of your head is reaching tall and takes the ribs with it. Don't think that the way to control your horse is by yanking him to the side, think about shaping him by teaching him to hunt feel, instead of react to a 'jerky command'.




Neutral


The neutral posture is one we want to aim for as our resting 'go to' posture. We want our neck to be long, our shoulders relaxed and even, our hips level and square, our legs hanging in a way that is not far behind us. The more we practice this posture, the more relaxed our horse will be, because there isn't any 'uneven' pressure anywhere - it makes it easier for his head to relax down and his back to come up to us.


To learn this posture, think of how your body felt in the first 3 postures we learned in the workout. Breath, Squash, and Barrel Pose. We are continually breathing, and not holding any tension in our body because of a lack of breath. We are continually asking our chest to open and our shoulders/scapula to fall down and back, which makes our arms be able to move with fluidity. We are rooted in our seat, and through the stirrups of our feet, which allows our lower back to be mobile and our core can engage. Our head should be level with the ground from our chin and our eyes should be able to softly focus forward.




Posture AND Balance


Proper posture or posture in balance? Here's the thing about what we've been learning about posture during this course. Posture isn't designed to make you stiff, rigid and trapped in a particular 'frame. Posture is designed to support you in dynamic movements and give you feed back on where your body is. Proper posture is posture that is in balance for both human and horse.


Since we can 'see' posture with our eyes - we automatically want to judge a good or bad posture. This is NOT what this series is for. We can 'see' posture, but most importantly we can 'feel' it - and when we put the two together then we can learn. Know, there is not a "perfect" posture, but there is a proper posture according to the task, rate of speed, style of horse you have, level of challenge, etc... There IS a place and a posture for certain things.


Have you ever looked at a photographers booth at a rodeo, scanned through the pictures during a run that had a down barrel? Could you almost see the dominos falling before they tipped? Many times a series of photos will show us what WILL happen before it's happened. Sometimes a horse will be on his front end, with his neck overflowed - and the horse and rider will nearly spiral right into, and on top of the barrel. And sure enough the series of pictures in the booth shows this happening.


This is not about 'bad' riding technique (although there is a training way to fix the problem), but so much of what happens in the area can be based on if the horse already IS sore, or the way we ride him WILL cause him to be sore. Going through the pictures is sometimes a good 'freeze frame' tactic to comparing problems in video footage. Photo by photo we can have the chance to evaluate: footing, footfall, horse's focus, riders focus, horse's balance, riders balance and quality of turn.


The following pictures are to articulate one thing: balance. (This is not a critique on riding ability, training, physic). We will see if we can observe the ratio of balance pilot, to balance horse and athleticism of the turn. At the end of the day (and at the end of a horses career) there is one thing that matters greatly, which is the horse's soundness. If we are better able to jockey our horse, without inhibiting his ability or hurting him then, we can have a wonderful time stewarding his talent through his career without compromising.