Excerpt from Andrea Datz’s Integrative Horsemanship spring newsletter:
I’ve come to define the quality that horses find attractive in humans not so much as leadership but as balance. I think horses are attracted to people who have good balance. I’ve always known it was important to be mentally/emotionally balanced – consistent and stable in my mind. But I’ve also come to realize they like it when you are physically balanced. People who have good balance and coordination have a presence about them. They know how to move and carry themselves in a way that is attractive to horses. They are naturally confident and agile. Perhaps it is that quality that the horses ‘respect’ more than a particular technique.Horses are hardwired to move efficiently. From an evolutionary standpoint, efficient movement = survival. Horses that don’t have good balance or coordination can’t move efficiently and pose a threat to the safety of the herd. Those horses tend to be a bit ostracized, certainly not respected and followed as a leader. Thinking about things from this perspective has helped me let go of methods that include any form of herd hierarchy or dominance when I am working one on one with my horses. By focusing on my balance and coordination I find myself focusing more on their balance and coordination. We begin to genuinely move together and they become willing followers in the dance.
Andrea got me thinking about balance today. I work on balance quite a bit, as I have a weak left knee from years of injuries and surgeries. I have become very aware of my compensating patterns and practice balance exercises, so that I can stand/sit straight to prevent soreness in my back, and most importantly, so that I don’t upset my horses’ balance when I ride them. I agree with Andrea that balance is the key to rider influence and effectiveness. Work on improving balance when not in the saddle. Then practice your new feel while on your horse and see how it makes a difference. During every rest break for your horse, check in to monitor your position. Realign, breathe, and balance. When schooling, if your horse becomes resistant, immediately check your position. Since your position is a mirror of the horse, assess whether you are helping or hindering his movement. Then re-prepare the horse and build on baby steps, as you focus on your position. Examples of baby steps: begin movement at the walk, use less angle, use larger circles:(less bend), use the wall for support.
To improve your balance try these exercises:
Stand on 1 leg with your eyes closed for 30 seconds- it’s very hard. Then switch legs. Which side is easier? Is it because you are stronger on one side of your body? Or, like me, is it your weaker side? When you have been hurt, you learn to better align your body to prevent future and further injuries. If your practice this quick exercise on a regular basis, your balance will improve.
Buy or make a balance board. There are many sites on the internet for directions; mine is a plywood circle with two center circle drilled to the size of pool balls. Find old pool balls at flea markets or a pool hall. This fun and challenging exercise can be practiced while watching TV or talking on the phone.
Beth Glosten has many good exercises on her DVD, “Ride in Balance.” I do her hip loosening exercise standing, instead of lying on a mat, as she demonstrates. This gives you the benefit of loosening the hip while developing balance. Stand on one leg, circle the other leg across the standing leg, up and around and back to neutral. Repeat 3-5 times, then reverse by moving the leg away from the standing leg, circle up and around and back to the standing leg. After 3-5 reps on one leg, repeat the whole sequence on the other leg.
Practice tai chi. In yesterday’s class we focused on balance, practicing the first qiqong swing and “Marriage of Heaven and Earth.” Stand barefooted or in loose, flat shoes; put all your awareness into your foot. Feel your feet relax and spread. Grow roots into the earth. Feel the energy that runs down your body through your feet grow roots into the ground. This “root” energy gives you an opposite rising energy running up from your feet, up your spine, and out your head into the heavens. Play with subtle shifts of weight- forward, back, side to side. Roll your weight around your feet, doing ankle circles. Practice the first swing: press up out of one foot, turn in the qwa, and shift weight into the other foot, turn the qwa back toward first foot, and return weight to the foot. This swing will develop energy like a slinky back and forth, energize chi awareness while developing balance. Find a tai chi instructor to learn this swing without torquing your knees. Sit deep in “your tai chi seat” and make sure you keep your knees stable over your feet. Here is a video link to help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKG9L2Xs0dY