Positive Balanced Riding & Classical Equitation/Groundwork

“Brutality begins where knowledge ends. Ignorance and compulsion appear simultaneously.” Charles de Kunffy

Our modern leisure riding has strayed so far away from the historical roots of classical equitation. As a direct consequence, it’s having a negative impact on our horses from both physical and emotional points of view.

The Classical Principles

Classical equitation has one fundamental purpose – to enhance the health of and prolong the soundness of the horse. This can only be achieved when a set of age-old principles are adhered to. My training, research, study, and experience over the years has developed a passion and hunger for nurturing these age-old principles of good biomechanically correct classical riding and training in both my students and their horses.

Equine Anatomy & Biomechanics

Biomechanics is a science. It is the study of the mechanics of a living body, which includes the forces exerted by muscles, fascia and gravity on the skeletal structure.  Mechanics of movement

What many horse riders aren’t aware of is that horses are not physically designed to carry somebody on their back. The presence of the rider’s weight perpendicular to their spine compromises their biomechanics and amplifies their existing imbalances by changing their centre of gravity and inhibiting the movement of their skeleton and legs.

When the horse feels out of balance because of the rider’s mere physical presence in the saddle, he tightens certain muscles and braces in order stay upright, which in turn leads to resistance and unhealthy movement patterns.

This bracing through muscle contractions reduces the range of movement of the horse’s joints resulting in shorter, choppier strides and more forceful impact with the ground. Ultimately this produces higher levels of wear and tear on both the joints and soft tissues which will worsen with time.

How often have you ridden a horse that you could describe as ‘tense’, ‘resistant’, ‘stiff’, ‘heavy in the hand’ etc. – the list of adjectives used to describe these feelings that we as riders experience is endless! These all describe unbalanced horses whose biomechanical function is impaired.

Natural Asymmetries

In addition to the biomechanical imbalances directly caused by the weight of the rider, just like us, horses also struggle with their own natural crookedness as a direct result of their in-born asymmetries. There are 7 different asymmetry areas which all contribute and produce even more resistance and imbalance when a rider is on board.  These asymmetries show up through the behaviours in our horses when they are ridden. Your horse may:
  • find it harder to turn to one side
  • fall in on a circle to the right and so the circle gets smaller
  • fall out on a circle to the left where the circle gets larger
  • cut corners on one rein
  • always lean more on one rein than the other
  • find it more difficult to pick up canter on one rein than the other
You may find you always need to work harder to keep him bent around your inside leg when going in that direction. Or maybe you have even experienced what tends to be described as bridle lameness – where the horse feels very slightly unlevel on one of its forelegs when moving on a smaller circle on one rein? All of these issues result from the horse’s in-born natural crookedness and asymmetry which are amplified even further by the weight of the rider. With time, it can even result in the horse developing quite severe and dangerous behaviours problems including but not limited to bucking, rearing, head tossing, striking, bolting etc. If we want to keep riding horses sound and healthy into their old age, we MUST counter these negative effects of carrying our weight on their back. We have to acknowledge, address and then work to minimise their natural asymmetries which will in turn improve the mechanics of their movement to produce even better balance, grace, suppleness and freedom of motion under the rider than without.

Rider Balance & Posture

The rider’s balance and posture is as important a focus as the horse’s.

Classical riding (whether on the flat or when jumping) is primarily concerned with the acquisition and development of a classical seat. Classical riders develop wonderfully light, responsive horses because they ride from their core. By developing this seat alongside understanding the impact our own body posture can have and how even slight variations in the way we hold ourselves effects the way the horse moves beneath us, we can begin to positively influence our horse’s balance simply by becoming more self aware within our own bodies.

We cannot expect our horses to achieve self-carriage if we are not body aware enough to be in self-carriage ourselves. 

These age-old classical principles are always at the heart of Jo’s coaching, whether it’s developing the horse’s balance and posture and/or the human’s, both on the ground and in the saddle. These foundation principles are those on which all good riding is built – the laws of balance and harmony.

Harmony can only be achieved when the horse and rider are resistance-free; resistance-free movement can only arise from being in a balanced posture and brace-free.

If you would like to organise an event or book live coaching, please contact Jo (link to the contact page) directly.