Balance is super-important because when your pony can carry himself in a balanced way, he’ll be able to work more easily and it’ll seem effortless. He’ll also work his muscles evenly, building strength equally over his body, which makes it easier for him to carry you.
It’s important for you to have good balance, too, so you can move with your pony, rather than him having to put in extra effort to counteract you. A lack of balance also makes you less secure in the saddle, so it’s a good idea to work on it!
Did you know? Balance is a very important skill for ponies in the wild, which is why they’re naturally good at it. If a wild pony loses balance and falls over, they’re putting themselves in danger from predators.
4 ways to improve your balance
1. Ride without stirrups
Riding without stirrups makes you find your own centre of gravity to keep you secure in the saddle. Start by walking without stirrups, and work on staying relaxed and moving with your pony. When you feel confident in walk, build up to trot and canter.
2. Ride on the lunge
When you ride on the lunge, your instructor’s in control of your pony from the ground, so you’re free to focus on your riding and position. Ask your instructor if you can ride without your reins, as it’ll help improve your core stability and you won’t be able to rely on them for support should you lose your balance.
3. Perfect your position
Each time you ride, regularly check that all the elements of your position are correct. Your weight should be over your pony’s centre of gravity, so it’s particularly important that you keep sitting upright – tilting forwards will put too much weight on his forehand and unbalance him.
4. Practise when you’re not riding
Sit on a large exercise ball, lift your feet off the ground and try to balance. It takes lots of effort and concentration to remain in a steady, seated position without your legs on the floor. It’ll strengthen your core muscles, which are essential for good balance.
5 ways to improve your pony’s balance
1. Ride up and down hills
Hillwork helps because your pony will have to work out the best way to carry himself (and you!) over the terrain, while remaining steady on his feet. Start in walk, and build up to trot and canter when you’re more confident. Go with your pony’s movement to help him stay balanced by leaning slightly forward going uphill and back going downhill.
Top tip – keep hills gentle to start with and build up to steeper slopes as your pony’s balance improves.
2. Keep him moving forwards
Maintaining impulsion encourages him to work through his back and use his hindquarters, helping him stay in balance. If he lacks impulsion, chances are he’ll drag his hind end rather than push through, and his weight will fall onto his forehand, unbalancing him.
3. Make lots of transitions
It’s easy for ponies to become unbalanced when changing pace, particularly from trot to canter and canter to trot, so the more you practise, the more balanced he’ll be.
Did you know? Ponies are most likely to lose balance when changing pace or direction.
4. Ride circles
If your pony falls in or drifts out on circles, he’s losing his balance. Start riding a variety of sizes of circle in walk then, once you can do this well, build up to trot and then canter. Aim to ride a well-balanced 20m circle in canter on both reins.
If your pony already has good balance, you can test yourselves by trying some counter-canter – where you canter on the incorrect lead for the rein you’re on.
Make sure you plan for counter-canter, rather than letting him canter on the incorrect lead without you asking! Pick up the correct canter lead, then ride across the long diagonal to change the rein, canter around the short side of the track in counter-canter, then change the rein again across the next long diagonal and you’ll be back onto the correct lead.
Top tip – make sure you spend the same time riding on both reins so your pony’s equally balanced.