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The Balanced Position De-Mystified

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by Marilyn Yike, former Vice President of Instruction
(This article is reprinted from Winter 1994 USPC News)

Basic Balanced Position

You’ll hear this phrase over and over again as you progress through the standards. Do you really know what it means? What is primary where riding in Pony Club is concerned? First, the balanced position is the foundation for riding in Pony Club. Second, the progression of the Standards is built around the basic seat. A balanced position means the rider is balanced on the horse and in balance with the horse’s movement. This position allows more effective application of the aids, gives better control of gaits, and is more comfortable for both horse and rider. By being in balance, the rider does not use muscle power to maintain his position, but relies on the same balance used in standing and walking. This allows the body to relax and be able to move with the horse’s motion. A balanced rider permits the horse to move more freely and naturally, not impeded by a lack of rider stability and able to maintain its own balance and respond to its rider’s aids. Other specialized styles of riding, such as hunt seat, saddle seat, and western, are all adaptations of this same balanced seat. 

Taught in Earliest Lessons

Pony Club teaches the balanced position from the earliest lessons. The D-1 test requires demonstration of correct position (at the halt). The position described for beginners remains unchanged for upper levels; it merely develops sophistication, becoming more secure, independent, and effective.  The most common reason for failure in the riding sections of the upper-level testing is lack of basic position, which prevents an independent seat and hinders effectiveness. The seat cannot become independent if it is not balanced. The aids cannot be effective without an independent seat. The balanced seat is primary! For riding in a balanced position on the flat, the rider should sit on the seat bones, shoulders over hips, head carried erect, arms hanging relaxed from shoulders, elbows at sides and bent, allowing forearm and hand to maintain a straight line to the bit. The relaxed leg should lay softly against the horse’s sides, knee pointing down, heel under hip, toe lifted into stirrup, stirrup leather remaining vertical. For jumping and for posting to the trot, the hip angle closes slightly, bringing the shoulders forward over the knees. The heel remains under the hip, maintaining the rider’s balance over the horse. This is the two-point or half-seat position. 


Knees Flexed, Body Upright

The riding position is the same on the horse as it is on the ground. Stand with feet apart, knees flexed, body upright. If you are not balanced, you will fall over! Ride a horse with the same balance, feet under seat. Use that “on the ground” image to check for correct position. Visualize the rider without the horse. Would the rider stand… or fall? The two most common position faults are these: First, the rider’s upper body is tipped forward, perched on crotch bones, causing the leg to be unsteady. Second is the modified chair seat with rider sitting on tailbone, legs forward rather than under seat. Neither is balanced, and both inhibit effectiveness.


Imbalanced Rider, Imbalanced Horse 
The rider’s tipped-forward position places his weight in front of the horse’s center of balance, pushing him onto his forehand and making it difficult for him to balance himself. The rider’s seat bones are not in contact; the legs move back and forth. The rider is in front of the horse’s motion. The chair seat places the rider’s weight on the back of the saddle and behind the motion of the horse. The seat bones are in a constant driving position. This is uncomfortable for the horse, which then hollows its back and raises it’s head. It cannot relax or round its back or move freely forward on the aids. Again, effectiveness of the rider’s seat and legs is lost. The rider must be balanced laterally, as well. Some riders sit unevenly, collapsed through the waist, pushing the hips to one side and tilting the shoulders to compensate. Watch the rider from behind to check for straightness. The horse cannot be straight if its rider is crooked.