Basics of Weight Balance – Horse and Rider Together

This month’s article is a continuation of the August and September articles.  In those, we discussed the center of gravity (COG) of man and horse.  This month, we will put the two together.  We will discuss the two COG’s being balanced together and the problems that occur when they are unbalanced. 

Man will usually find his COG and be walking upright on two legs by the end of his first year of life.  The horse will usually find his COG and be up and balanced on 4 legs within the first day of his life.  The COG of each human and horse will vary depending on their build and conformation.  (see Aug. and Sept issues)  Regardless of their build and conformation, when the 2 are balanced together, it is like watching a beautiful dance.  When they are not centered, it takes on the look of struggle. 

Lets divide the pattern into 4 sections – running straight, gathering, turning and running home. 

Running Straight:  When a horse is running straight in a full stride, his COG will be right behind his withers.  We can learn what our position should be by watching a jockey.  A jockey sits where he allows his horse to stride out with the very least amount of resistance.  Our upper body should be slightly forward, but our feet should be under us – unlike the jockey whose feet are tucked up under his body.  When our horse is running straight, we want to be sure to keep our COG perched exactly over the COG of our horse.  This means that we are not leaning to either side, but riding balanced over our horse on the way to each barrel and on the way home. 

Gathering:  The jockey of course will only run forward.  Our sport is much more difficult and requires some changes in our positions because out horse’s COG will change during the pattern.  The first change comes when he prepares to go from a long stride into a turning stride.  To do this, he must bring his hind legs up under himself.  Some call this a collection and others call it gathering.  At any rate, when he gathers, his COG will move slightly back.  At this point, we want to sit slightly up with our body to prepare to sit the turn without leaning in, out, too far forward or lean too far back.  Staying over the COG at this point requires a saddle that allows us to do so. 

Turning:  As the horse moves into the turn, it is so important to remain over the COG in the turn.  Each horse turns a bit differently, but it is up to us not to put our weight too far forward and weigh down his front legs making it difficult for him to use his hind legs in the turn.  As we move from the turning position back into the full stride when leaving the turn, it is important to put our body slightly forward to be over the COG as he goes back into the full stride.  At the leaving point, the horse uses his neck to balance and pull himself forward.  If you balance on his head using your reins instead of the saddle horn you will take away his ability to balance himself.  This will cause him to bring his head up and lose time.  Also, as he pushes off to the next barrel, if you fall behind his GOG, you will slow him down by hitting on his kidneys. 

Running Home:   As the horse makes his third barrel and starts for the finish line, you see people do many things that cost them time.  Again, the horse needs for our body to remain in a position over his COG to let him run with the least amount of resistance.  When a rider picks up and over and under and swings their upper body, it causes the horse to move slightly from side to side.  I also see riders lean into one stirrup and bat on with the other hand while leaning.  You will also see riders batting and spurring so wildly that their COG gets lost in all the motions.  Another common thing is to see people get way too far forward of the COG of the horse, trying to get him to go faster.  Again, think of the jockey sitting quietly and in balance over his horse.  When a jockey bats his horse, he uses his bat in timing with his horse’s stride, keeping his body quiet.   

Resistance that retards forward motion can come in any form that takes us off of center of the COG of our horse.  Think about balance in the 4 key points of the barrel pattern.  Remember that we are racing against the clock and forward motion is the clocking key.  If you are not clocking, you may find that the reason has something to do with your COG balance with your horse. 

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Last modified: January 05, 2014