Before man domesticated horses for working animals, they were prey animals. Their survival depended on their speed, agility, intelligence, and strength. Since the domestication of the horse, man has tried to improve those traits for personal gain through selective breeding programs.
Different objectives have capitalized on different traits such as the intelligence deviating from strong survival characteristics to avoid man to more tolerant characteristics of trusting man, which would make the horse more trainable. But to whatever degree, the size, speed, strength and agility of the horse have been the focus of the majority of man’s breeding efforts for a long time.
In most situations, speed, agility and strength are used to combat the gravitational forces and help the horse to perform better. The better the horse can balance, the better his performance. Through the years the success of competition horses, warhorses, and many working horses depended on their ability to adapt and handle themselves while packing the weight of a person on their back. At the same time the person was influencing or restricting the movement of the horse’s head, which also affects the way he balances himself. In order for the horse to perform to its peak ability, the rider needs to learn how to have a neutral or positive influence and enhance how they affect the horse’s balance.
A negative influence will obviously inhibit the horse’s movement, and being able to identify the effects of the two can be very valuable. Most of the balance-related problems will be while the horse is changing directions, turning or during lateral movement. It is easier for both horse and rider to stay balanced while moving straight forward. Disrupting the horse’s natural way of balancing and movement will result in unnatural effects such as undesirable head position, dropping the shoulders while turning, stiff shoulders while stopping, etc. All the movement a horse makes can be inhibited or enhanced by where we position our weight while sitting on his back. At the same time, where we allow, or how we affect where the horse positions his head will inhibit or enhance the horse’s movement. Where our weight is affects how the horse balances himself and will strongly influence how the horse positions his head and neck. The head and neck is the first part to move to change positions of the weight distributions to the feet.
Being able to feel how the horse is reacting to our weight position while in motion is one of the most influential and, in my experience, the most overlooked aid available aid to us. Whatever movement the horse is making; forward, backward, or sideways, there is a center of gravity. From the center of gravity if you experiment with positioning your weight, you will discover a “sweet spot.”
This is a place that you can feel your horse move freer and easier. It will vary from side to side and front to back. Consistency is one of the key factors to finding the “sweet spot” and maintaining your position. This spot is not in relation to a certain position in the saddle necessarily but where your weight is in relation to the center of gravity as the horse is in motion. As the horse moves, this spot will change with each step as it is affected by where the horse is placing the hind feet and pushing or pulling with the hindquarters. Centrifugal force is also a factor, and measuring just the right amount of it, using and applying this can create a “sweet spot.” It is also affected by how the horse is placing the front feet to balance the power initiated by the hindquarters, and last but not least, how the horse can position the weight from the shoulders forward, the head and neck.
Generally, while turning a horse, having the rider’s weight inside the center of gravity will cause the horse’s head to move outside the center of gravity and try to raise the shoulder up to counter balance the person’s weight pushing the shoulder down. When the rider is outside the center of gravity, the horse can maintain his head position lower and to the inside the way they have practiced from the time they first got up and nursed. We can utilize all the experience and knowledge the horse has in placing his feet and moving by letting him move the way he has naturally practiced his whole life. The same theory applies to forward and reverse movement. There is a “sweet spot” that allows the horse to move freer here also, and again it all relates to the center of gravity. Stopping, backing, collecting, and accelerating motion all have a “sweet spot.”
So many times I watch all levels of horse people, professionals and pleasure riders, as their horses are having trouble performing the requests of the rider. The person may resort to drastic measures at the horse’s expense to deal with this issue when all that is needed is for the person to realize that many problems are balance-related and are the responsibility of how we cause and affect how the horse balances himself. Eliminate the cause and the problem goes away.