Tag Archives: body awareness

A few fun ways to Increase Body Awareness and Balance Perception for Riding


But I can’t feel it…

Lack of feel for the right moment/thing/motion is something many riders struggle with and I have met quite a few who think you either feel it or you don’t.

In my experience, there are people with a very strong, natural, innate feeling of balance able to feel loses of it immediately whether they stand on their own legs or sit on a horse. They somewhat grasp the idea of equilibrium very fast. Then there are those who have very little natural body awareness. And of course, there are millions shades of variations of both in the middle.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that feel cannot be learnt. I have seen to the contrary over and over again with riders who started off with very little of it and slowly developed significantly more awareness.

Arguably, there will always be those riders whose balance is superior, even at a relatively low level of equestrian pursuits. This doesn’t mean that if yours is muted, you can’t improve.

Fun ways of Developing More Awareness and Perception

Children, although they might be falling off a lot in some cases 😉 , do have a great sense of balance. They often sit very naturally upright with no tension in hip joints allowing for a very soft, absorbing seat. There is one thing kids do a lot of to have that heightened body awareness. They PLAY 🙂

I get riders to carry poles, to lunge each-other, to walk on lines, to be pulled off XC jumps, to do many exercises on the lunge, to do the wrong things (like collapsing in the waist, or carrying hands unevenly)  – all with just one aim: play with balance and feel of own posture in space.

Below is a short video of several different exercises I like to use. The carrying a pole trick has many advantages. The variant you see on the video is focused on teaching the rider to feel for her upper body posture and rhythm of her steps (especially in leg yield). She tends to angle her upper body when riding lateral work so the exercise is helping her remain parallel to the fence. She can then “carry” that feel with her into the saddle.

Continue reading A few fun ways to Increase Body Awareness and Balance Perception for Riding

The forward thinking hand…- quick, visual suggestion to try if you just can’t get it

www.aspireequestrianacademy.com (2)Many riders struggle with the concept of forward thinking, soft contact that isn’t a loose rein. This seems especially so when we learn about the connecting aids and the concept of riding the horse from leg to hand. I’ve used the below suggestion with riders who tend to pull back on one or both reins, with riders who have hard time understanding how to encourage the horse to seek the contact forwards or riders with busy hands altogether. It has worked a treat 100% of the time so I am sharing it on here in case it helps you too.


All you need to do to try it is to go food shopping 🙂 You will need to go to one of the bigger markets with trolleys available, load it with decent amount of products (you can always replace it back if you don’t actually want to buy anything!) and take a stroll around the shop…

Your mission is to make the trolley wheel smoothly, dynamically, walking rhythmically yourself, purposefully and straight. 

As you attempt to accomplish that mission, make mental notes with answers to the following questions:

1. What’s the best way to keep the trolley straight when in motion?

2. Which side of my body works harder during turns?

3. What happens if I only engage/use one side of my body?

4. What happens when I pull back towards me on the handle?

5. What if I alter my steps?

6. From which part of my body is “the forward pushing” coming from when it feels most effortless?

Let’s assume you went and did the little experiment. Are there any immediate ideas coming to you that might connect the feel you just had with most ordinary object and the complex and emotional process of having forward thinking, soft hand on a living animal? Give yourself a minute or two before you scroll to read further. Your own ideas might be better than mine! Apparently, we learn more effectively when we figure things out ourselves based on helpful clues…

www.aspireequestrianacademy.com (3)

Here are my suggestions:

– learning new feel can be helped by comparing it to similar feel that is easier to experience

– picture the trolley as shoulder/neck and head of your horse

– when taking up the contact, always maintain the “ready to push the trolley forward” feel through your lower and upper arms,

– when riding downwards transitions, keep “the trolley” off your own feet to discourage yourself from pulling your hands towards your own belly…keep it at a distance that allows you to effortlessly move it on again,

– your arms transmit forward energy from your body, if you retract them back you are confusing your horse (with a sensitive horse it doesn’t matter if the rein actually pulls on his/her mouth, they will feel the backward action/energy from you)

– your forwards thinking hand comes from forward thinking body – not so much the legs although they are important too – but from your lower back/pelvis

– to have “forward” hand you don’t need to extend your arms/loosen your reins/drop connection but you can set boundaries of energy that are very alike the ones you set for a trolley full of food! Fixed upper body and shoulders but supple elbows that transmit the go or whoa from your own legs to the trolley…(or a horse).

– every time your horse hollows his back and lifts his neck, visualise the trolley being pushed back into you by another shopper in front of you. If your seat is balanced (i.e. if you are independent of your horse’s back posture and can maintain your own position) it should be possible to stop the head/neck and shoulder of the horse (the trolley) from coming at you. In those moments, visualise stubbornly maintaining your hands in front of you and pushing the energy away from you and forwards.

Let me know if the above image/suggestions were helpful and what your first ideas were… 

All the best,


P.S. This experiment is not designed to work “literally” i.e. it is not aimed at achieving certain hand position (since hands on trolley handle sit differently to when we hold the reins correctly), exact body positioning (since we are standing on our feet rather than sitting on our seat bones) etc. It is designed as a fun experiment in discovering how to create energy in our bodies and make things move, how to taste the feel of “letting the neck move away and relax”. If your arms get tense as you direct the trolley, investigate – “push” harder with your legs/hips, focus on where you are going, check and triple check your posture…Happy playing! 🙂

Riding Posture vs. Riding Mindset

kate d
Rider on Aspire training course learning about the amount of tension she has in her upper body and shoulders even when just lunging her horse. Increasing body awareness is fun and allows the rider to address their effectiveness not only in lesson environment but most of all, when they ride on their own or compete. Photo credit: Jon Smith

A really insightful comment left under my Riding Emotions.. post has made me think about expanding on the subject of riding posture vs rider’s mindset…The comment said:

What I’m learning more and more is that rider’s emotions quite often tie hand in hand with their posture and body language in the saddle. Improve their mindset, and their position improves- and sometimes even vice versa- as many frustrations can be caused by those pesky bad habits. Horses can no doubt read our minds- but they can for sure read our bodies. Position biomechanics, thought process, and resulting performance are all within the same dynamic process.

By Kathma of www.katmah.wordpress.com/training

Controlling the controllable 

You see, the reason I focus 80% of my teaching efforts on the rider and about 20% on the horse is that, from my experience and observations of thousands of grassroots riders out there, it is the second relation (improved posture = improved mindset = improved performance) that provides the key to sustainable improvement.

As discussed in the comments to the other post, every person comes to this sport/recreation with own set of prejudices, worries, beliefs etc and to address them well might not be possible. Posture or rider’s seat on the other hand, is what all good instructors can teach and control. Sometimes it takes a long time – many years – to achieve lasting postural changes in the saddle but I learnt to never underestimate what effective, balanced, sympathetic seat skill can do to rider’s confidence and emotional control in and out of the saddle…

Understanding movement

It is a well known fact that both adults and children learn best when having fun. It doesn’t have to be a laugh-out-loud type of fun but when something makes you smile, you are bound to remember how it made you feel…Riding training that focuses on improving understanding of the rider’s and horse’s movement rather than just “making moves happen” builds rider’s confidence almost imperceptibly.

posture collage
Understanding meaning of posture and crookedness in rider and horse…simple but very effective exercises that make you think and never forget 🙂 Riders at Aspire Grassroots clinics at Charlton Village Stables, London (left) and Lindrick Livery, North Yorks (right). Photo credits: Bella Giles Smith (left) and Pure Essence Photography (right)

Understanding posture

Could it really be that by sitting in a certain way we can become more confident riders? Could it be that simply the way we sit instils confidence and quality of movement in our horse? And if so, how much focus on our own training need we have alongside our focus on our horse’s way of going?

From my experience, I could describe the answers like this: if I sit on a horse and correct him by 80%, his rider can correct/improve themselves and the horse by 20% (not always in absence of trainer). However, if I establish a 20% correction in the rider, they themselves can achieve a much more positive mindset and the relative 80% improvement in the horse…(also when riding independently).

Do you teach grassroots (non-professional) riders? What are your experiences? How much attention do you pay to rider’s technical and feel abilities vs horse’s way of going? Are you a rider taking lessons? How much of your lesson content with your trainer(s) is focused on you and how much on your horse? Do you think it matters?

Click on image below to watch an interesting talk 🙂

body vs mind

The Day I got Hit by a Train (oh, sorry – the day I tried Yoga for the first time!)


Some time ago I got given a voucher for yoga sessions. Having done Pilates and various exercise programmes over the years I didn’t think this would be much different but I have always wanted to give it a go. The reason for this and for my general interest in various posture, body awareness and breathing exercises in more depth is to understand what can be a good, sustainable, complimentary exercise routine for an ambitious, amateur rider.

What I mean by sustainable is that it brings clear improvement to the rider’s performance (i.e. feel, body control, posture control, balance control) in such a way that the rider is encouraged to stick to the regime.

There are riders using yoga on horseback (not quite the thing I was after) and there are also numerous books about Pilates and Yoga for riders out there. From my own experience, Pilates can and does help with riding but not everybody is keen on it. Some of my riders do yoga and I wanted to know the difference first hand. Since I had the voucher I finally got organised and booked my first Yoga session.

Well, let me tell you, this thing is BRUTAL 😀

It started with a lovely ambient of candle lights and relaxing scents all warmed by wooden interiors and barefoot, quiet people. And then, my body got ripped apart. In fact, it’s a couple of hours since my session now and I still feel most muscles in my body as if I had done some serious workout or ridden a few horses more than I am used to. It’s quite amusing and surprising. I feel no localised pain, just a low grade muscular tiredness that washes off all over me and makes me feel rather good!

My class was a beginner one and the things I noticed brought me most difficulties were positions requiring a lot of hip flexibility. I am noting this down because pelvis flexibility as well as lower back stability is what we need as riders.

I liked the overall theme of very precise positioning, emphasis on neutral spine, straightness, symmetry and deep muscular engagement without force. My favourite exercise was an odd floating one (the crow? – see image below) when you pretty much lift yourself off the floor on your hands with your knees on your elbows.

Continue reading The Day I got Hit by a Train (oh, sorry – the day I tried Yoga for the first time!)