How to find your (horse riding) Centre of Gravity (CoG)May 22, 2021
Where is your (horse riding) centre of gravity?
Your CoG is the centre of your weight mass. This means that if you were made of cardboard and someone stuck a pin in you at that point, they would be able to spin you around easily! The CoG of an average human is around their navel. Understanding this important rider biomechanics principle will help you to ride better - so keep reading :)
Your CoG differs depending on your body type and gender (in most cases). A female’s CoG tends to be lower than a male’s because the upper body tends to be proportionately shorter, with more weight carried in the hips and thighs. A typically shaped female with hips wider than her shoulders naturally has a LOW CoG (which is a plus point). If she also has a large chest, that negates some of the benefits.
A typically shaped male with shoulders wider than his hips will naturally have a higher CoG (which is a disadvantage).
Make sure you also read this blog article - www.equiculture.net/blog/your-body-and-how-it-affects-your-riding
Why is it better to have a low center of gravity when riding a horse?
The lower your weight is, and the more it surrounds the CoG of the horse, the more secure you are. Conversely, the further you are from your horse's CoG, the more likely you will bounce, be out of sync or even fall off!
The body on the left has the better scenario
Your horse’s CoG is underneath where you sit. It used to be thought that the CoG of a horse was lower and further forward than it is. The picture below shows a more accurate approximation of a horse’s CoG.
This picture shows a more accurate approximation of a horse’s CoG.
Again, a horse’s CoG differs depending on their conformation (body type), so a Quarter Horse that is typically lower in the wither (or ‘built downhill’) will naturally have a CoG that is slightly forward of this point. A dressage-bred Warmblood typically higher in the wither (or ‘built uphill’) will naturally have a CoG slightly further back.
Training will alter the CoG of a horse to some extent if that training changes the horse’s balance. So a horse that starts ‘downhill’ (with a forward CoG) will end up more ‘uphill’ (with a CoG that is further back).
For most riding disciplines (other than some of the Western disciplines such as ‘cutting’), a horse should have a CoG that is further back, which means that the horse will be reducing the weight carried on the front end (the forehand) and increasing the weight carried on the hind end (the hindquarters).
If you have ever ridden a horse that has a beautiful canter, a canter that felt 'light' and 'balanced', that would be because the horse was NOT 'on the forehand' but instead was able to 'engage' and use their hind end properly, something a horse can only do when they have learned to carry a rider and themselves.
A horse can carry their own body properly before a rider gets on their back, but they have to learn to do that when they have a rider onboard. That is what good horse training is all about.
Back to the rider - good rider training teaches the rider to keep their CoG LOW and as CLOSE to the CoG of their horse as possible.
How can you learn more about rider biomechanics?
How does a horse rider achieve a low centre of gravity?
By sitting in the correct part of the saddle - i.e. in the lowest part. Not tipping forwards, which puts too much weight on the horse’s forehand and makes it even more difficult for the horse to carry themselves (and their rider) correctly. Not sitting toward the back, which puts too much weight on the weakest part of the horse’s back.
By keeping their weight LOW and learning how to distribute their weight correctly between their seat and their feet; in this way, a rider ends up surrounding the CoG of their horse.
A good rider ends up surrounding the CoG of their horse
A rider who can do this is far more secure and more manageable for their horse to carry than a rider who cannot. However, this does not mean that they should be 'clinging to their horse with their legs wrapped around them, far from it; it is balance that keeps a rider on a horse, not grip.
Why is having a low center of gravity safer when horse riding?
Surrounding the CoG of a horse is also by far the most comfortable (and safest) place to be. Think about how it feels to sit at the back of a bus (well away from the CoG of the vehicle) and how much bouncier it is than if you sit in the middle of the vehicle (between the wheels and over the GoG).
So next time you ride your horse think about where you are sitting. Are you sitting in the centre of the saddle, upright and balanced? Is your head above your torso, torso above your hips, and ankles directly below your hips?
Are you sitting in the centre of the saddle, upright and balanced? Is your head above your torso, torso above your hips, and ankles directly below your hips?
If your horse were to disappear ‘in a puff of smoke’, would you land on your feet with your knees slightly bent (correct)...
Or would you fall on your face or your backside (incorrect)?
If you are leaning forward or backwards, you are not correctly balanced. It will be more difficult for your horse to carry you, and you will use unnecessary energy to ride. This means that you will tire more quickly and become even more difficult for your horse to carry! A downward spiral of events.
Unfortunately, you cannot always tell by feeling alone if you are sitting upright - so ask an assistant or instructor to tell you what they see. Failing that, ask someone to take a video of you as you ride and see for yourself if you are upright.
Learning about how to keep the lower legs ‘engaged’ underneath you, improving the stability of your lower legs, and improving your position and balance are at the heart of The Horse Rider’s Mechanic books and Horse Rider's Mechanic online course
''Brilliant, I've been working with a biomechanical coach; it's amazed me at my horse's different way of going, fab article thank you.''
How can you learn more about rider biomechanics?