As humans, we use balance almost constantly. From the time we tack up, get on, hack, all the way to mucking out and feeding- our body is constantly regulating and balancing us through movement. One of the first things I look at in riders is how they can stabilize themselves through movement, and from side to side. Surprisingly, I see many riders who have trouble even balancing on one leg standing still- and then wonder why they have certain issues in the saddle.
Issues that can stem from lack of balance in the saddle include pain in the lower body- specifically the ankles and knees, trouble staying stable landing jumps, trouble asking for certain cues such as lateral work and lead changes, and the list could go on. Our base of support at our feet create so much of our movement potential. Balance of course is also important if we take a tumble. While we can’t always control how we land, those of use who fine tune our balance and proprioceptive skills (our ability to know where our joints are in space..without using our eyes) have a much better chance at landing in a better position.
The month I bring to you some balance exercises, ranging from simple to more intense. These exercises are meant to challenge your stability on your feet, improve strength and proprioception/awareness in the lower body, and help you to find your balance.
Let’s start with the basics.
Tree Pose: If you’ve done yoga, you’ll have seen this one. Standing on one leg, raise the other leg and place the sole of the foot on either the calf or above the knee. If these too options are still causing you to sway a little too much, try resting just your tippy toes on the ground to start. Hold here for 30seconds, repeat on both sides x5!
Now we move to Flamingo Walks: This doubles as an excellent warm up/mobility/strength tool for the hips pre-ride! Use the aisle of your barn or some space outside to move through this sequence. Taking a step forwards, hinge from the hips and bring the back leg backwards and the torso forwards (If you remember single leg deadlifts from previous articles- this is the same movement!), slowly move back to an upright position but before you put that foot down, swing the leg forwards and bring the knee up high to 90degrees and hold for 3seconds. Now, straighten out that leg and slowly take a step forwards. Now you repeat the whole cycle on the opposite foot! Continue walking forwards for 10-16steps total (alternating lead legs each step) and do at least three rounds of this!
Here’s a intense one to try. Reverse Lunges with a High Knee.
Taking a step backwards and lowering into a lunge, now step that back leg up and forwards to a high knee position. Keep this entire movement slow and controlled. Do 10/side, finishing all on one side before moving to the other side. You will feel this in both legs, but definitely in the standing leg’s hip and calf. Repeat 3 rounds on each leg.