The Athletic Rider: Finding Your Balance

Balance is key when riding horses… but where does balance come from, and how can we improve ours? Personal trainer Leah Hinnefeld breaks it down.

From Leah:

The ability of a rider to remain in balance while riding is unquestionably one of the five foundation focuses of rider fitness. Ask any rider who has had an unexpected lesson in the power of gravity! First, a rider needs to develop balance in a stationary position (sitting in the saddle while not moving).  Then she can progress to developing dynamic balance (the ability to remain in balance while in motion). Additionally, she must learn awareness and skill regarding the balance of her horse in order to teach him to rebalance when necessary! All of these tasks of the athletic rider will come easier if she invests in balance training while unmounted.

Balance is the close companion of core stabilization (check out last week’s column here). Without core stabilization, a rider can never achieve consistent balance in the saddle. A fitness program that focuses on balance also improves core stabilization. All you need to do to test the relationship between the two is stand on one leg and see how much your core engages to ‘come to the rescue’ when you start to falter.

Not only is balance crucial for remaining safe while riding, it is essential to developing an independent seat that leads to oneness and unity with your horse. Without balance, a rider will never be able to properly sit on a horse, communicate with her horse or establish trust as the thoughtful leader in the partnership with her horse. A rider who does not embrace balance will sit too heavy or too light in the saddle, grip with her legs/knees or rely on the reins for balance.

Because riding is a sport of two, we are always communicating with our horse-even if we are not aware that we are doing so. Horses are incredibly sensitive animals that have an awareness and feel that dwarfs ours on so many levels. When we ignore the impact of our lack of balance on the balance of our horse, we communicate to the horse our lack of awareness, reduced sensitivity, and on some level, a lack of concern of him.

Investing in a well rounded fitness program that addresses rider balance is an excellent foundation to improving rider fitness regardless of your level or goals in riding. Remember your safety depends on it and your horse will thank you for it. If you are looking for direction on how to improve your fitness out of the saddle so you can perform more athletically in the saddle, check out the Athletic Rider’s 30 Day Fitness Boot Camp! While you are waiting on our next boot camp, enjoy your Free Core Workout.

An interesting sidenote to rider balance: A fascinating attribute of so many old schoolmaster horses is the uncanny ability to recognize when the imbalanced rider is a child, a beginner or one who is putting in a great effort to learn. My long time show horse, Polo, was an example of one of these patient old souls. He never took it personally when my lack of balance interfered with his and often would do his best to keep underneath me when things were really going south.

Leah Hinnefeld is a lifelong equestrian who spent over a decade studying hoof health and metabolism in horses before turning her attention to rider fitness. Leah is a personal trainer certified by the National Academy of Sports Fitness and offers Virtual Fitness Training for riders and horse lovers. You can learn more about how to get fit to ride at Please contact Leah if you are interested in learning more about the virtual posture assessment offered by The Athletic Rider.



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