One of the biggest no-no’s of riding is getting up into the saddle and sitting like a sack of potatoes. Most of us, however, don’t even realize that we may not even know how to sit correctly in the saddle. But did you know that how you sit affects how you are able to communicate with your horse?
In Simplify Your Riding: Ride Like a Natural, author Wendy Murdoch teaches you how to differentiate and utilize parts of your body previously restricted or untrained in the necessary functions, and you learn to understand how your whole body cooperates in any movement for a completely improved riding experience. The set, available for $80.85 on HorseBooksEtc.com, offers some of the most useful tips I’ve seen on using your body to naturally communicate with your horse.
In the first DVD, Wendy explains why a correct seat in the saddle is important, and how it your correct seat should feel. If you’re looking for tips on how to adjust your alignment and ways to improve your balance and breathing, this DVD is extremely helpful.
Timing your movements with the gait of your horse is just as important as knowing what movements to make, and that is discussed at length in the second volume of the set.
In the third volume, Wendy teaches you exercises for building strength and stability while on the Equiball®.
To get a sample of what Wendy has to offer in Simplify Your Riding: Ride Like a Natural, here’s a quick tip from Wendy for finding a good comfortable head position next time you ride, as seen in Practical Horseman:
Do you have trouble looking where you are going when riding? Find your neck is tense when you ride, or stiff afterward? Have difficulty sitting the trot? The solution may be all in your head.
Good head alignment means that you use a minimum amount of muscular effort to hold up your head, allowing the skeleton to do most of the work. When your head is well-aligned front to back, you can lengthen through your spine all the way through the top of your head, thereby countering the downward force of gravity.
Poor head carriage requires more work than good head carriage. When you habitually carry the head forward or pulled back (in the horse, the equivalent of high carriage or overly tucked in) you inhibit ordinary movement such as turning to look where you are going on a jumping course or dressage test. In addition, your inability to lengthen upward creates a heavy, downward pressure, making you more like a sack of potatoes on your horse’s back than a good dance.
Exercise (On the Ground)
To find a good position slowly and gently turn your head side-to-side as you move it forward and back. Find the place where your head turns most freely.
How far down your spine can you sense the turning of your head? Do you notice movement only in your neck, or can you feel something happening between your shoulder blades or even lower in your spine? Is there any movement in your sternum?
Stop turning and notice that you breathe easier when your head is balanced. See if you can lengthen your neck so that the head moves slightly upward. Think of “pricking your ears” as if you were a horse.
As you lengthen through the neck, turn your head slowly again and find out if turning is easier. Do you sense or feel anything change in your seat when you lengthen your neck? If you are attentive you may feel your hips open and your seat deepen as you do this.
Whenever you feel “stuck” simply take a second to repeat this process to free your whole body.
Comparable Parts: The Head
Human: To state the obvious, your head contains your brain and most of your sensory organs: eyes, ears nose, and mouth. You might be able to feel all over your body but you can’t take in food through your toes. One of the major functions of the brain is to receive input regarding your balance, then make appropriate adjustments so you can stand, walk, run and ride. This certainly requires a lot of “internal” attention.
For most of us, this balancing act goes on “behind the scenes” without our being aware of it. Our nervous system constantly monitors where we are in space and makes sure we don’t succumb to gravity.
Horse: The horse’s head also contains most of his sensory organs–eyes, ears, mouth and nose–in addition to his brain. His head is about four percent of his overall body weight. In a 1,000-pound horse, we are talking about 40 pounds. The horse’s head hangs on a neck that sticks out horizontally out from the chest, which makes it much harder for him to balance than your head is for you.
To understand how much effort is required, grab a gallon of milk. Hold it horizontally away from your body at arm’s length. I guarantee you aren’t going to keep it there very long! Fortunately, the horse is designed to carry the weight of his head in this position, thanks to the strength of his nuchal ligament, which runs from the poll to the withers. It acts like the cable on a suspension bridge passively supporting the weight of the horse’s head.