Getting the Best Ride: Who's Responsible for What? Part II

There are three areas of focus that help us to get the "best ride", with our horses as well as in our life:
  • The rider's balance
  • The horse's balance
  • The rider's confidence and leadership
Each of these areas of focus involves contributors from the physical, mental and emotional state of both bodies, the horse and the rider. If one area is out of balance, it will surely effect another area either subtlety or more dramatically. We often don't pay attention until the challenge is more dramatic, but if we were to have greater awareness and address an out of balance situation BEFORE it got dramatic, we'd be ahead of the game each and every time.
Last month in Part 1, I started the three part series focusing on rider balance, and expanded the information shared to include:
Rider balance~Part 1
  • Expansion vs compression
  • Rider weight and body awareness
  • Tension and release
  • Mental state and self-talk
If you'd like to read or reread Part 1, click here
Now let's focus on:
Horse Balance~Part 2 
*Author's note: I'll use male gender for ease of writing

  • Where are his feet?
  • How does he compensate?
  • His mental state when he's physically out of balance
  • Helping him rebalance

Where are his Feet?
It might seem silly to think that your horse may not know where his feet are, but all too often it seems as if horses have lost their sense of balance from the ground up, which often shows up by them tripping, stumbling and a loss of confidence. What's really happening is that your horse has lost his dynamic ability to balance and rebalance throughout his body, which seems like it's showing up in his feet because of the symptoms he exhibits. 
Understanding the importance of weight bearing posture and preparing the person to be in correct body carriage, or neutral posture, is vital to helping your horse find his dynamic balance throughout his body. Whenever we touch our horse, be it with a halter, lead line, saddle or otherwise, we're influencing his body either positively or negatively. We strive to be inviting, reassuring and guiding which can only be accomplished when our own bodies are free from tension or holding patterns. If there is stress, tension or blocked movement in horse or human, the horse cannot achieve his potential of movement, hence, imbalance occurs.
How does he Compensate?
Ease and comfort of horse movement comes from horses being able to stretch through their spine and truly bend their bodies left and right, while maintaining independent leg movement. The goal is to achieve as much symmetry as possible. All horses and humans are asymmetrical to some degree. When riders begin to brace, that brace becomes an instant catalyst to magnify asymmetry of both the horse and rider. The tighter muscles get tighter, and the weaker muscles get weaker in both bodies. It's important to note that when you start making changes to both you and your horses body, you give those weak muscles time to develop as you take away the tightness or holding of the tighter muscles. Horses naturally live on the forehand and when riders and handlers are tense, out of neutral, or bracing while they ride, the horse loses his own ability to rebalance.
If the horse has developed evasion techniques, it's important to remember to ask ourselves "is the horse in balance or out of balance"? When the focus is on rebalancing the horse through the rider, the evasions often subside.
When human tension is involved, the horse loses suspension, freedom of movement, and the ability to move equally to the left and to the right. And because horses are often not worked with dynamic movement, or neutral posture, they become more one sided. The training then tends to focus on one-sidedness, not the real root cause to the issue. The importance and use of the seat is often discussed but not put the language of functional posture. Neutral posture supports the rider to override bracing and tension patterns in their body and their horse while creating truly freer movement, hence the ability to rebalance dynamically!
Things that are pretty amazing happen when the rider is in neutral pelvis. What the rider's hands and body provide is a supportive invitation to move freely while carrying the rider's weight. When a horse is compressed by a rider not in neutral pelvis, or the rider is bracing, and ridged, the horse is forced onto the forehand, lacks freedom to rebalance, and cannot enjoy a dynamic rebalancing of his body while being ridden. His movement becomes forced, not allowed, and stiff - the opposite of flowing and suspension. Often it's believed that more training is needed, however, reducing the tension and brace will help create freedom and flow, which will produce wonderful results that may be unexpected if one does not understand the correlation between brace and inability to move freely.
His Mental State when he's Physically out of Balance
Just like us, when we feel forced, out of balance, or otherwise restricted we tend to evade in some form. We can become agitated, nervous, and reactive or shut down based on our constitution; our horses are no different. Many times an undesirable behavioral issue becomes a non-issue once the physical issues are resolved.
Before we look into behavior modification, a good question to ask would be "what is his physical state and support like?" Ensure that the rider or handler understands a non-bracing posture that invites freedom of movement is essential, and that the horse can be supported by this human to invite the horse's physical body to do the same. Inviting flow and freedom is essential to creating a healthy, happy mind and outlook; the same softness we look for in the physical horse has to be present in the mental state of the horse.
Helping him Rebalance

Connected Groundwork and Riding teaches the rider to understand the dynamics of proper horse movement instead of trying to fix the horses evasions. The rider changes their posture and body use and the horse immediately shifts. A horse should be able to shift weight from front to back, from side to side, down to up, and diagonally with every stride.
When the horse is on the forehand this cannot happen, then, when the rider gets on, the lack of free movement, as improper as it is, causes an immediate tension in the rider to counteract how the horse is moving. Rebalancing, freedom of movement must begin with the rider. In order to ride in neutral posture, the rider must be focused on making the change in their own body - this is of major importance not only when riding but throughout daily life.
The rider's daily tension pattern also influences the horse, and the rider may wonder why the horse won't listen. A 60 pound rider holding tension, or not in neutral, can make a horse rigid. Just think of what a 150 pound rider with tension can do?
Often the language that is used is compressive and invites rider's to squeeze, push and hold. What really needs to be taught is the powerful effect of elasticity and freedom in the rider's body begets twice as much from the horse, in a much faster way along with a lot of eradication of stress on both horse and rider.
In conclusion, it's obvious that to help the horse rebalance, it has to start with the rider; in the rider's body, their lifestyle, what they bring to the barn as well as the language and self-talk that's outwardly or inwardly spoken. Once we focus our attention on these things, our horse's issues seem to become easier, or dissipate altogether!