Balanced riding is somewhere between sitting and standing, but more towards standing. “Put your legs under your torso” is a common directive, which is a good beginning. Many riders make “big adjustments,” pulling their leg away from the saddle and swinging it back, to “correct” their position. Major movements do not make improvements, most of the time the leg “sneaks” back to where it came because these big movements were done with effort. When you do too much, you will not get the sensory feedback necessary to uncover the changes that need to happen. Find your balanced riding position through slow movements done with attention.
Change your reference points. Explore how the position of the pelvis/spine relates to the position of the legs. What happens in your legs when you round your back or arch your back? What happens when you lean back or forward from the hip joint? Where do you have tension? Is it in your toes, ankles, or knees? You do not have to make big movements to affect your position. Move slowly with little effort and you will become aware of the connections between your different parts. The more you can sense and feel what you are doing in the saddle, the more you can make decisions and help yourself. These movements, done with attention, will help change how you ride.
Next is to bring the torso over the legs. This is a change that occurs with little effort when the rider releases unnecessary muscular work in the hips and belly. Of course, the challenge is to bring this all together on a moving horse. Accomplishing that will bring you in the vertical alignment that helps you stay with the movement of the horse and make it easier for your horse to carry you.
Frustration in the rider indicates that we have recognized a problem and made unsuccessful attempt(s) at solving it. When it becomes excessive, it blocks the learning process. Let us hope that it is the rider blaming herself when frustration becomes part of the equation. When solutions to problems are not resolved, many times the horse will suffer. All too often when the rider is “digging deeper” and it has been going on for a while, she is digging the wrong hole and needs to step back and find a different way to approach the problem.
The instructor’s job is to facilitate the learning process, not just re-state the goal, and give directives or reprimand. There are many techniques that help riders find new options to try. These include, but not limited to the following. Vary reference points; give the rider more than one way to observe themselves or horse. Slow down; this gets the rider out of automatic patterns. Let go of excess effort; whether it be muscular or mental. Allowing time for the rider/horse to process without interference when the rider is on the right track is also important.
Most students are trying hard to figure things out. Many times that effort impedes progress. When the rider is focused on the goal without flexibility within the process, difficulties arise. Observation of the student’s situation can give the instructor the information to strategize in order to guide the rider appropriately through a lesson. Learning to ride does not have to be dominated by effort.
There are aspects of riding that require much dedication from the rider to discover. Those elusive skills do take time and mistakes do happen. Instructors help by breaking down goals to obtainable steps based upon the student’s abilities. When the instructor guides appropriately, students learn and become more proficient, confident and self-reliant.