Part 3: Applying Observations of Balance to Under Saddle Work
by Alice Trindle
Last month we observed balance primarily from the ground. I asked you to watch balance shifts within movements along with rhythm, carriage, and overall structure of the horse. We looked at some specific maneuvers and attempted to observe where the energy or impulse started from and then moved to in order for the horse to accomplish them in a balanced attitude, both physically and mentally. By watching, we move closer to accomplishing a critical element of the Horsemen’s Protocol – our ability to visualize what it is we are asking of the horse. It is difficult to feel of, for, and with the horse without having some knowledge and a clear picture first. Hopefully by observing, combined with a bit of study last month, you are prepared to offer the horse the clarity and consistency he is seeking.
Observation is critical, but for most of us we need to physically feel what it’s like to be in balance so we can seek and apply it under saddle. If we have a clear picture of energy movement with the horse, we can then ask how to influence these movements in balance with the horse. There are several key elements that will affect success. These include a positive attitude; vigilance regarding your posture, conditioning, and over-all health; knowledge in the use of your aids, both natural and artificial; and your ability to experiment with being out of balance and making a mistake.
Positive Attitude and the Horsemen’s Protocol
As we discussed previously, all master horsemen have something in common: the desire to develop feel—of, for, and with the horse in a balanced relationship. I am suggesting that the foundation of this partnership and perhaps every transition of movement, could be felt by accomplishing a series of steps. This protocol begins with becoming present, breathing, and giving yourself time. Second, we need to be committed to thinking about what will be asked of the horse and why. Next is that all important mental picture. Most of the time, this prepares our body very naturally and forces us to focus our attention and our aids. This sets it up for us to accomplish the last two elements: Allow the horse to find your suggestion – seek balance with you— and, most importantly, reward his slightest try. (Note articles on the Horsemen’s Protocol at: www.tnthorsemanship.com/articles)
Vigilance of Posture
If we are to find true balance with our horses, then we must develop good posture. It is that simple. To have good posture we need to have a strong core area and be in good physical and mental health. While your posture may change some with different disciplines of riding, physical fitness is essential to find balance. (Note Tip for the Ride videos Preparing for a Great Ride and more on Alice’s website.)
Use of Your Aids
In order to change the movement of the balance, we must look to how our seat, leg, and hands can influence or enhance that movement. As an example: It is difficult for the horse to accomplish a flowing balance in a leg yield if we are pushing with our leg and yet sitting on the leg of the horse we wish to move! Our aids and their use greatly influence how we balance, and therefore affect the horse. If we are gross in how we use the balance of our shoulders, head, elbows and legs we will most likely receive a gross picture with the horse. My goal is to be impeccable and imperceptible with the aids, so that I have a private conversation happening with the horse. (Note articles on Pressure and Balance and many of the Tip for the Ride videos)
Experiment and Laugh
The final ingredient to finding balance with your horse involves giving yourself permission to experiment and chuckle. Every moment is different. While your horse wants clarity and consistency in fairness and understanding, he is constantly fixing, refining, and adjusting his balance. Be open to experiment to find the sweet spot of a particular moment. Play around and see how your horse “answers” to various aids. They desire balance with us, without pulling, prodding, or begging. Laugh a little—or a lot. Make mistakes and learn from them. It is a balancing act that is forever changing. Have fun and let your horse do the same!
Originally Published July 2014 Issue
Alice was born on a ranch in eastern Oregon, the only daughter in a family of five brothers. She learned to ride behind the back of the saddle holding on to her brother’s belt loops. In the past 15 years Alice has studied with horsemen such as Tom Dorrance, Ray Hun, Dennis Reis, and Bettina Drummon. Her focus is on building a balanced relationship, applying Classical Dressage and Traditional Vaquero principles, via multi-day horsemanship retreats at her ranch in eastern OR.