The Horse Stance

‘If the controversy settled nothing else
it did prove one thing conclusively
-that some horsemen experienced and skilled enough
To be classed as professionals
Do not understand what a balanced seat is.
If they ever achieve it in action
They do so unconsciously
And by actions of which they are unaware.
If they do not achieve it,
They have no idea
How hard they make their horses work
Merely to carry them.’

Pg 171 Schooling for Young Riders by John Richard Young

Sore backed horses abound despite the many recent advances in saddle construction for one simple reason:

“Most persons do not ride, they are conveyed”

M. F. McTaggart

It does not matter to the horse how wondrously well made your saddle is if you flop yourself into it and lounge about, inevitably startling, stiffening up, falling behind, and generally losing your balance with every move the horse makes. If you wish to save your horse’s back, if you would be light in the saddle, not a dead weight for the horse to haul around, you must learn to move with the horse.

Start with changing the image in your mind. Instead of seeing yourself passively sitting as dead weight, see yourself:

• standing with your legs around your horse,
• ready and able to respond to any move

This balanced alert responsive position is called the Horse Stance in many martial arts practices. Horses all over would breathe a great sigh of relief if aspiring equestrians were to take the Horse Stance to heart and practice it in and out of the saddle. Here is a description of the horse stance from the ba gua school:

In the horse stance
The feet are
Shoulder width apart
Parallel
And flat on the ground.
Body weight is distributed evenly
with fifty percent on each foot.
Tuck the tailbone slightly inward
And keep the spine,
Neck,
And head straight.
Keep the chest
and face relaxed
and the mind calm.
Your focus is soft and relaxed too-
Let the images come to your eyes
Instead of projecting your vision
Onto images in front of you.
Lower your center of gravity
by breathing
in the abdominal area
instead of the upper chest.
This breathing is continuous-
Never hold your breath.
The breathing,
focus and
state of mind
described here
are used throughout
all ba gua zhang training.
To complete the horse stance
Settle into a sitting position.

Page 58, The Whirling Circles of Ba Gua Zhang

by Frank Allen and Tina Chunna Zhang

Unfortunately, the many hours spent sitting in school, at work, in front of the television/computer screen, and behind the wheel of a car leaves even the best intentioned of us weak, unbalanced, and unaware of our own bodies. Taking the Horse Stance seriously and properly will not only inform your awareness of the multitude of muscles, tendons and bones that work to keep you not only on but moving with your horse, but will also aid you in defining, developing , and understanding how to use them. When you take the Horse Stance in the saddle, your core body muscles are able to follow the slightest shift in the horse’s back. Becoming acquainted with this area is the first step to developing both strength and control of your:

• pelvic bowl
• lumbar vertebrae
• sacrum
• buttocks
• loins
• lower abdominal muscles
• diaphragm

Only then may your hips, knees, and ankles become resilient, absorbent, and flexible, and your aids subtle, timely, and comprehensible to the horse. Standing on a small indoor exercise trampoline insures that you have immediate feedback on how your stance affects your balance, the most vital component to an educated seat on horseback. It will also allow you to work on your balance at home on days when you cannot make it out to the stable. Start by:

  1. Settle yourself in the center of your trampoline
  2. Standing with your feet shoulder width apart
  3. Check by leaning slightly forward with your arms hanging loosely by your side
  4. Your fingertips should point at your toes
  5. Straighten your head, neck and back
  6. Take a few slow deep breaths to relax
  7. Soften your vision, be aware of change without focusing on details
  8. Roll your weight forward onto your toes
  9. Slide your heels out until your feet are parallel to each other
  10. Settle your feet flat on the ground
  11. Make sure your knees are directly above your feet
  12. arch and tuck your tail bone a few times to find the best spot
  13. Then tuck your tail bone slightly under and
  14. Follow the urge to slowly bend your knees as far as is comfortable
  15. Make sure your knees are still directly above your feet
  16. Make sure your spine is straight with your head balanced above your tail bone
  17. Stabilize your stance, finding the balance that feels effortless
  18. Relax your arms and torso
  19. Breath into your abdomen
  20. as you scan your body
  21. Allow any tension or stress to melt away
  22. When you can stand quiet and balanced on the trampoline with your eyes closed,
  23. you are done for that session.

It also helps to learn to keep your balance and composure on the ground before you ever mount up. If you would like to have an attentive, relaxed, and reliable partner, practice the Horse Stance in the stable before you halter your horse. Keep in mind that while it might take a little longer for the horse to join you if your horse is out at pasture instead of a stall or small paddock, but the horse’s curious nature will bring them to you by and by. So:

  1. Stand by the gate
  2. Settle yourself into the stance
  3. Relax your vision
  4. And breath
  5. Make sure you have plenty of time and
  6. WAIT for your horse to come to you
  7. Take the Horse Stance EVERYTIME you visit your horse.
  8. Anytime you or your horse feels challenged, return to the Horse Stance.

You will know you are doing it right when horse comes to the gate, stands, and breaths with you. Be aware that some horses may be very intrigued, check you over thoroughly, and respond to the movement of your breath and energy rather vigorously. If this unnerves you, start by standing just outside the gate until you and the horse are comfortable with each other. And yes:

• There will be distractions. Your horse will gain respect for you if you note and dismiss them, returning to a relaxed and settled state.
• Neither the stance nor the horse will come all at once. Your horse will only decide to trust and rely on you if your behavior is consistent over time.
• Other people may well think you are strange. Let them. It is your horse’s opinion that matters.

Eventually it will become second nature for you and your horse to stand calmly, relaxed and balanced together. In the herd, the horse who is most aware and least reactive sets the mood for the whole group. If you want a horse that is reliable under saddle, be a trustworthy companion on the ground. Once you have sought and found your own center, and made a basic connection with your fellow being, the horse, you will have a basis to begin to be able to discriminate what is actually useful to you of all the multitude of offerings available out there in the way of saddles, seats, breeds, and training.

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