There is a point in every rider’s journey where balance becomes less about staying on and more about increasing overall effectiveness. However, in order to positively influence the horse, the rider needs to begin working on developing better balance.
I feel that one of the best ways to do this is by developing independent aids. Independent from both the influence of each other’s movement. And independent from any potential ‘speed wobbles’ our horse might experience when working together.
So, all of that being said, becoming more independent through your body will encourage better balance overall; for you and your horse. For the month of August 2022 inside of Connection, we are focusing on “Developing Independent Aids While Riding”. If you want step-by-step riding plans to help you achieve this, make sure you join Connection and check out August 2022’s training.
Working Without Stirrups
For many riders having a conversation around balance can often turn to riding without stirrups. And yes, I do think that this can be beneficial… However, riding for the sake of riding without your stirrups is not going to improve you or your horse.
It is only by becoming aware of what you are doing and intentional about what you plan to do that you can genuinely benefit from riding without your stirrups.
Focus on being symmetrical in the saddle. Keep equal amounts of your body on the right and left sides of your horse. Pay attention to your lines that help you remain ‘in position’ and ready to communicate using your aids. The ‘head, shoulder, hip, heel’ line and the ‘elbow, wrist, thumb, rein, bit’ line.
Riding without stirrups, especially when energy is added, can very quickly shine a spotlight on any minor habits that not serving you in your riding… Rather than complaining – do something to change it!
Be Intentional About Balance
I don’t recommend that riders work for hours on end without stirrups. This sort of ‘push on through’ work ethic rarely helps anyone to improve. And, it often can negatively impact both horses and riders. Rather focus on short 10 to 20-minute sessions that are focused and have a specific intention behind them.
By riding for too long without your stirrups, you allow tiredness to set in. Over time, this will cause you to develop more unhelpful habits, which will work against your goal of ‘better balance’.
A great exercise to ride is one that allows you to see possible differences in how your body responds on each rein. My personal favorite for this is the serpentine. By noticing where there is a lack of independence through your aids between the left bend and the right bend, you have definite things to work on and improve in your later sessions with your horse.
Lacking Independence of Aids
One of the biggest reasons we are not positively influencing our horses is due to a lack of independence between aids. Things like being unaware that each time you engage your inside leg, you also twist your outside shoulder. Or every time you ask for ‘more’ while on a circle, you also grip up with your inside thigh.
Devote time in each riding session to working on really becoming truly independent with each of your aids. Especially the ones that you have already put on ‘autopilot’ in your riding.
Things we tend to do without thinking about them are the perfect places for bad habits to creep in. They are also places where, if you are not regularly revisiting and upgrading, can be holding the rest of your skills as a rider back. This could be the half halt, the transition from walk to trot, or trot to walk. Maybe it is the transition into the canter.
Some riders, when they feel their horse becoming crooked, react by trying to pull or push the horse back to where they want… Riding is not about moving your horse, it’s about asking your horse to move.
Again, working without your stirrups can help you to begin to discover the parts of your riding that need attention, upgrading, changing, or replacing.
Bouncing To Balanced
So, all of that being said, riding without stirrups can really help your riding – if it is done right. This is the focus for August 2022 inside of Connection, my online membership for equestrians working alone without a trainer or coach.
The first group of new audio horse riding lessons is called “From Bouncing to Balanced Without Stirrups” and it will help you do just that…
All of the lessons are created to be listened to while riding your horse so that you can work and improve in real-time. Your own horse, your own arena, your own time; join Connection today and see if you can truly improve your independence and balance.