Training

Better Balance at the Lope and Canter, Part 1

Learn these common horse-training problems that affect horse and rider balance.

The horse’s center of gravity shifts with what he is doing. Good basic position helps a rider keep his own center of gravity in balance with the horse’s. Journal photo.

One of the most common problems people have is losing balance at the canter or lope.

It’s natural for that to happen. The canter is the most advanced of the three gaits to ride. You cover more ground and it takes concentration and requires a lot of balance.

When you bounce at the canter/lope, your seat is coming out of the saddle,

you are shifted forward, your legs shift too far back, and you lose body position. Your weight isn’t centered and in sync with your horse’s center of gravity as he moves.

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The horse’s center of gravity shifts slightly with what he is doing. The more collected a horse is, the more his center of gravity shifts slightly backward. For example, when you’re cutting, you have to push down on the horn and with your feet to keep your weight back into the saddle for that very reason, so you can stay low and over the horse’s center of gravity as it shifts toward his haunches.

It’s not that you are consciously shifting your body backward and forward on the horse’s back, it’s that you keep your balance in sync with his. The goal is to maintain a correct, upright position so your balance can move with the horse’s center of gravity.

If you can keep your body weight balanced with your horse’s center of gravity, then you have a 100 percent chance of not interfering with your horse’s performance in any way. That’s when your horse can maintain consistency at the jog or lope, cut a cow effortlessly, run faster to a barrel, spin faster or jump cleanly.

Problems

When you start to lose your balance at any gait, your instinct can work against you.

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First, your eyes tend to drop down immediately. When you feel like you are starting to lose control, you want to look down at your horse, but when you look down, you will tilt forward even more and lose your balance.

Second, your hands and arms want to take charge. It’s the same thing that happens when you’re walking and you trip: Your eyes go down, and your hands and arms go out to catch you.

Third, you tense up. Any time we start to lose balance, we all tense somewhere to get it back. Your horse is going too fast, you start to bounce and your shoulders come up, your back and hips get tense, you might start to grip with your thighs, knees or stirrups. All of that only serves to throw you more out of balance. You bounce and lose synchronization with the animal moving under you.

You have to recognize these things, because you have to consciously think about not doing them in the moment: Look up, shift your upper body back, tell your shoulders to go back toward your horse’s tail, sink down into your stirrups, breathe, relax.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Better Balance at the Lope and Canter, which will cover solutions to balance problems and outline confidence-building techniques.