As we ride, we hear a lot about getting our horses “off their forehands” or “off their shoulders”—and most of us engage in any number of schooling figures and half-halts with just this goal in mind. But without an inner sense of what it is we are doing for our horses when we shift the balance, playing with that center of gravity and center of energy and control, it’s all just circles and walk-halt-walk transitions. Here’s a quick and easy exercise from Sally Swift’s CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, to really hit the message home.
The horse’s center of gravity is the balance point of his body, and it is located in the girth area. His center of control and energy, however, is below his spine at the back of his loin, just below the lumbosacral joint. Similarly, our center of control and energy is in our lower back, just in front of our lumbosacral joint. Because we stand vertically, in contrast to the horizontal horse, our center of gravity is not near our shoulder blades but rather is in the same area as our center of control and energy. As a result, when we put our center of gravity over our feet for balance, we also find our center of control and energy in the same spot.
The location of the center of gravity in both rider and horse changes at times. When you are startled or frightened your center of gravity rises above its desired depth, as it does in times of tension, or apprehension. In either case it makes you less grounded. The center of gravity of a startled or actively engaged horse moves slightly back as he tips his pelvis down to bring his hind feet more nearly under his center of gravity.
You can get a sense of center of gravity vs. center of energy and control from the horse’s viewpoint with this short exercise:
1 Get down on your hands and knees. Find a balance with your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hip joints.
2 Gently engage your center, and allowing your hip joints to slightly close and open, rock back a tiny bit and then back again to balance. Notice how this pelvic rocking motion tends to fill your lower back across the loin. This puts you in a position for balanced, fluid, forward motion.
3 Notice that your shoulders are also part of the rocking motion and since they are not carrying a lot of weight, they are free for forward movement. Shift your balance forward, putting your weight on your shoulders and hands, and you will no longer be able to move forward; your hands will seem to be stuck to the ground. This is how your horse feels when he is too much on his forehand.
For more riding insight from the legendary Sally Swift, check out CENTERED RIDING 2: FURTHER EXPLORATION, available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.
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