As a riding instructor, one of the biggest challenges I face is that of convincing my students that the key to all successful riding is acquiring proper balance in the saddle.
For some strange reason, many students think that horseback riding is easy and does not require much work. It's as though they should be born with the natural talent to ride horses. It is not until after the first few lessons that they realize that proper riding requires the rider to do more than just sit in the saddle. It takes hard work and, particularly, a strong focus on developing a balanced seat.
How does one "find" their seat? The following exercises have been designed to teach riders the necessary skills to help them acquire balance on their horse.
The first step toward achieving balance is learning to "feel" the horse's movements. This can be done quite easily by simply dropping your stirrups and relaxing in the saddle while your horse walks. Keep in mind that the "walk" is a four beat gait. The easiest movements to feel are those of the hind hoof. The rider should lean back and rest his right hand on the horse's right hip. Remember to really lean into the horse and shift your weight back into your hand. You should be able to feel when the right hind hoof is moving forward. Repeat the exercise on the other side.
The next step is to ride your horse outside of the arena. Again, no stirrups. Walk your horse through ditches, up and down hills and over objects on the ground. Notice how your weight shifts as your horse travels down a hill. This exercise is about feel so do not try to correct your body position. Just be aware of it. You should feel your body moving with your horse. Your center of gravity has changed and you are "centered" with your horse. Note your body position with every change of movement from your horse. If you relax, you will always find your "center" and thus be balanced.
If you feel confident enough, try these exercises without a saddle. This is the ultimate riding experience and the best way to become one with your horse. These exercises may seem very basic and, frankly, they are. Acquiring balance is not difficult. It does, however, require practice, time and patience.
This ends Part 1 of my series on "The Art of Acquiring Balance". Please check back to continue the series and discover what every good rider must strive toward to become a better rider.