3 reasons why you are losing your balance when riding.
Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Do you feel insecure in the saddle?
Many riders feel insecure on top of a horse for various different reasons and feeling unbalanced on a horse can be a symptom of many issues. I always encourage any rider who feels insecure, regardless of discipline or experience, to invest in biomechanics lessons to tackle this issue. Sitting on a moving horse is not easy, especially when the horse is excited or agitated. Even the best riders struggle to remain relaxed and carefree in the face of unexpected circumstances.
As a biomechanics riding coach, I teach riders of all levels, ages and sizes. These are the three most common mistakes I have found people make concerning their seat.
1. Your stirrup is too long
Many, many people ride with stirrups that are too long, often encouraged by their coaches, who tell them a good rider has a long leg. This myth still lives strong, even though having your leg hanging long by the horses side as your toes are desperately trying to reach the stirrup, has no biomechanical value, quite the contrary. It is true that owning a long thigh makes riding easier, especially if you are riding large horses, but under no circumstances should your stirrup be so long that you barely can reach it even if you feel this is a somewhat comfortable position.
Why am I so sure about this? First of all, with a long stirrup, the rider's leg is often too far forward. When I see a rider for the first time, I imagine what would happen if the horse would disappear from underneath her, like magic. Would the rider fall on the ground on her feet or with she end up on her bum? In a balanced seat the rider's leg is directly below her, like in downhill skiing. Maybe you have heard of the straight line from your malleolus, the bony prominence on the side of your ankle, to your hip, shoulders and head. This straight line is extremely difficult to achieve, if the stirrup is too long, as the leg wants to slip forward. Also, with long stirrups, your thigh comes off the saddle easily and your knees roll out, causing most of your weight to end up on your bum, which makes life more uncomfortable for your mount. Also, when your thighs rotate outward, it tightens the muscles in your pelvis and often also your bottom.
A good rule of thumb, when measuring the stirrup length, is to see that when the stirrups and legs hang loosely down, the bottom of the stirrups are no lower than the malleoli. Specifically the thigh is in an ideal position when it is at a 45-55 degree angle in relation to the ground and snug on the saddle allowing the rider's weight to be distributed over a larger area.
2. You are leaning back
The second mistake riders make, often in conjunction with the first one, is leaning back. This is extremely common and has lead to many riders thinking this is the correct position in which one absorbs the horse's movement. This position, however, is biomechanically incorrect.
Let's imagine taking the horse away from underneath the horse again, because this image helps us understand what it means to have a balanced seat. If we lean back, we would fall on our bum, if the horse was taken a way. This means that when we are sitting on the horse, most of our weight is on our bum. But as I mentioned before, for the horse it is far more comfortable, if our weight is distributed over a larger area including our pubic bone and our thigh.
Leaning back also changes the way our seat bones are positioned on the horse. Ideally, the pressure from our seat bones should be pointing straight down, but when we lean back, this pressure is directed forward, pushing the horse more on its forehand. This affects our downward transitions, resulting for example in a horse that creeps forward in halts. This is turn makes us use the rein more, which is something all riders should strive to do less.
It is also possible to lean back only with your shoulders. Such a rider often has an arched back (more or less), which puts a lot of pressure on the rider's spine, especially in sitting trot. Many are under the false belief, that it is our spine that absorbs the movements of the horse, when it should be done by our joints. Absorbing the movement with your spine will eventually lead to back problems and other physical issues. Also, in this position is is very difficult to engage your core muscles. Rider's who lean back often don't utilize their core muscled correctly, which in turn gives them an unbalanced feeling (and adds to the back problems later). Activating your core correctly creates stability.
3. You forget to breath
Breathing is maybe the most important tool in your rider toolkit, since you are sitting atop a living, breathing animal. In addition, breathing is an important part of physical activity, which is what riding is. Despite all this, breathing is the first thing we forget to do when we are focusing on trying to stay on a horse. Nobody stops breathing completely (since the consequences would be disastrous!), but intermittent or superficial breathing is often all the rider can manage even during a normal, every day ride.
Why is breathing so hard, when it is the one thing we do all the time? Even though we all know how to breath on some level, we don't necessarily know how to do it correctly. This is why it is sometimes important to focus solely on breathing, also when you aren't on a horse.
Sit or stand comfortably and put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Focus on inhaling and exhaling through your nose. Which hand do you feel moving the most, the one on your chest or your abdomen? If you notice the upper hand on your chest rising, you are breathing too much using your upper lungs. Bring your focus to your diaphragm. It should be rising with every exhale, when it expands. If it is difficult for your to find this while standing or sitting, try lying down. Place both hands on your abdomen and notice how they rise and fall with every inhale and exhale. Focus on emptying all the air out of your lungs. Pause for a second after each exhale, letting all your "breathing muscles" relax.
The benefits of practicing correct breathing are immediate, as your body and brain will learn from even a little practice. The more you practice correct breathing, the deeper the learning. Take a few minutes a day to focus solely on breathing while you ride. Pay attention to your horse. How does correct breathing affect him? If you are struggling with a particular exercise, try focusing on your breathing while doing the exercise. Does this make it easier? Breathing can have an enormous effect on how your horse feels underneath you and that is exactly why becoming aware and practicing breathing is worth your time. Sometimes breathing is the very thing that is missing, preventing you and your horse from advancing to the next level or helping you to stay on top of him, at times of trouble. Breathing should be the first thing you do, no matter what the situation, as you can't go wrong with it.
The writer is a biomechanics coach, equestrian emotion coach, life coach and speaker, who helps people connect with their horses through their bodies, hearts and minds.
For more information about Katariina Alongi, visit www.withconnection.net