Basics of Weight Balance:   Rider

Last month, we talked about understanding the basics and how important it is to build your technique on sound, workable basics.  I ended the article saying that I am seeing a lot of horses that are light on the back end and heavy on the front end.  Their weight (with rider on back) is not balanced in a way that makes it easy for the horse to perform effortlessly.  Letís go into some of the causes for this.  Since barrel racing is a team sport, the basics of weight balance must include the rider, the horse and the two together.  Iíll discuss the rider this month and continue on next month with the horse.

Every human has a center of gravity. (COG) It will vary a bit for each of us depending upon our height, weight and build.  A person who is tall, or long legged, or long armed, or huge chested, or large hipped, or heavy, etc. will have a different COG from a tiny, or thin, or smaller limbed and smaller built person.  We all desire to be good jockeys on our barrel horses, but we arenít all jockey weight, build and height.  Even if we are in top shape, some of us would never meet jockey stats.  So, we must do everything possible to understand the dynamics of balancing our weight Ė first as an athlete and second as an athlete riding on a horse. 

Humans have usually found a way to walk uprightly and balance their COG by age 1.  An easy way to understand dynamics of weight balance is to watch a baby learning to walk. If they lean off their COG forward, backward, or left or right, they will fall that same direction.  Once a human masters the walk, they usually have it for a lifetime-barring any accidents that are severe enough to interrupt their muscle memory.  If muscle memory is disrupted, then humans must have therapy to re-establish the ability to balance their bodies and walk again.

Back to the child-once the child learns to balance uprightly and walk, everything else they do is based upon that basic maneuver.  Soon they are learning to ride a trycylce, skate, play ball, and any variety of activities. They learn to balance their COG in an athletic stance Ė just as the baby learned to walk.  They learn by doing.  Basically, the athletic stance is learning to balance your body with the weight balanced over your trunk and perform a variety of moves while staying balanced. (without falling)  Athletes who excel at their sports spend hours upon hours to perfect their muscle control, strength and memory.  In other words, they build a skill that is based on the simple basics of GOG balance.  Some athletes are more naturally balanced and others have to work extremely hard to achieve it.

When a human gets on a horse, our body weight will effect the horse in two ways Ė side to side and front to back.  Our saddle must place us over the COG of the horse we are on or we will already be out of basic balance with the horse.  And, our saddle must allow us to remain in an athletic stance at speed, gathering and turning.  If your saddle puts your feet behind you or in front of you, you will lose your balance very easily and find it difficult to stay centered and balanced.  If you find yourself falling forward or back Ė check two things:  your saddle and your body fitness.  Your saddle must aid you in balancing your COG over the COG of the horse and your body muscle memory must be fit and under control enough for you to do your part. These two things must be correct for you and your horse to perform effortlessly on a consistent basis. 

To check your body fitness and balance, stand and lift one leg and place it on your back pocket while holding it with your hand. (Take left leg and hold it with left hand back to left pocket.)  Now try the same with the right leg.  When you can successfully do this, then hold the leg on your pocket and lean forward and touch the floor.  See how far you can get without falling forward, backward or side to side. You will find it easier to do this while balancing on a rail or fence just as you will find balance easier on your horse when you use the saddle horn to aid in balancing yourself. 

If you are truly out of shape, start now to form muscle memory balance and control.  The more control we have over our body before mounting a horse, the easier it will be to become one with the horse when riding.  Becoming one is to have your COG over the COG of the horse at all times.  We donít want to ride ON the back of the horse, (bouncing and out of balance,  but to ride IN and WITH the horse (balanced and flowing with him.) 

The point of this article is simply this:  What we do with our body weight will greatly effect how our horse can perform with us.  How much we weigh is a factor of course, but how we balance that weight on a horse is also a huge factor.  The human body can be trained to do incredible athletic things.  Why do many barrel racers think so much about getting their horse in shape and so little about their own body fitness?  Horseback riding is said to be the only exercise that moves our muscles in 4 dimensions.  That makes our sport one that requires control over every muscle group.  In light of that fact, letís spend some time this month on not only fitting our horses, but fitting ourselves for a balanced weight performance.  Our horses will thank us! 

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Last modified: January 05, 2014