This article is about why you need to get in touch with your inner centre of gravity...
Both yourself and your horse have what is called a centre of gravity (CoG). The CoG of an average human is around their navel. 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!
Your CoG differs slightly depending on your body type, and a female’s CoG tends to be lower than a male’s due to the upper body tending to be proportionately shorter in a female with more weight tending to be carried in the hips and thighs, so a typically shaped female with hips wider than her shoulders will naturally have a LOW CoG (which is a plus point). If she also has a large chest then that negates some of the benefit. A typically shaped male with shoulders wider than his hips will naturally have a higher CoG (which is a disadvantage).
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 actually is. The 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 and a dressage bred Warmblood, that is typically higher in the wither (or ‘built uphill’), will naturally have a CoG that is 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 out ‘downhill’ (with a CoG that is forward), 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’), it is better for a horse to 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 hind quarters).
If you have ever ridden a horse that has a wonderful canter, a canter that felt 'light' and 'balanced', that would have been because the horse was NOT 'on the forehand' but instead was able to 'engage' and use his or her hind end properly, something a horse can only do when they have learned to carry a rider and themselves properly.
A horse is already able to carry themselves properly of course, before a rider gets on their back, but they have to learn how to do that when they have a rider on board. 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.
So a rider needs to:
A rider who can do this is far more secure and far easier for their horse to carry than a rider who cannot. This does not mean however that you should be 'clinging to your horse with your legs wrapped around them', far from it, it is balance that keeps you on your horse, not grip.
Surrounding the CoG of your 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 in the middle of the saddle, upright and balanced, with your head above your torso, your torso above your hips, with your ankles directly below your hips in a balanced upright position?
If your horse were to disappear ‘in a puff of smoke’ would you land on your feet with you knees slightly bent (correct) or would you fall on your face or on your backside (incorrect)?
Remember, if you are leaning forwards or backwards you are not correctly balanced. You will be more difficult for your horse to carry and you will be using unnecessary energy in order to ride. This means that you will tire more quickly and you will become even more difficult for your horse to carry! A downward spiral of events…
Unfortunately you cannot always tell by feel alone whether you are sitting upright - so ask an assistant or your 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.
The key is to learn how to sit upright and balanced so that you can ride as effortlessly as possible. You can then continue to improve your riding and help your horse to go as well as possible - an ever-increasing upward spiral of events!
By the way - your saddle play a LARGE part in helping (or hindering) you to sit in the correct position so make sure to look out for the article/video on that subject by HRM.
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