As riders, we’re mostly pretty good at balancing in the saddle, until our horse moves in a way we weren’t expecting. Stunt riders Karl Greenwood and Zana Cousins-Greenwood show us how to remain firmly in the saddle.

Often it’s the little spooks that unseat riders – when that horse-eating crisp packet twitches in the wind.

“They take the rider by surprise and reaction times can be too slow to prevent a fall,” says Zana. “Or they don’t fall but take a pull on the reins and clamp the legs on causing their horse to panic, run off or buck.”

That’s why working on your balance is essential. The rider’s centre of balance is like a football around the belly button. This has to be central over the horse at all times for them to be truly at one with the movement.

“Most riders are fine when nothing is happening underneath them. But when it does, a buck for instance, they can be quickly thrown off balance but, to be effective, they need to be able to move themselves over the centre again whatever is happening and quickly,” says Zana.

Quick thinking, fast action

Whether the unbalancing movement is big or small, the action the rider takes is the same. “What’s important is that you get your belly button back over your horse’s centre of balance. This doesn’t need to look tidy,” explains Zana.

“Grab anything you can that’s stable – the breastplate, mane, saddle (never the reins) and push up and back into the saddle. You may not be upright or even fully in the saddle, but if your belly button is in the right place, you’re not coming off.”

Practice this, and your reactions will become quicker and quicker.

Child’s play

A very useful exercise to try is ‘around the world’ – yes that fun game you used to play at Pony Club when you had bags of balance and confidence.

Fast forward to adulthood and we don’t do this sort of thing anymore and our riding becomes static.

If you did ‘around the world’ at the end of every riding session, you’d be a much more balanced, stable rider. Give it a go!

Practice moving

Try putting yourself into odd positions in the saddle to test your balance, such as one leg up and over your horse’s neck (sort of like sitting side-saddle). Or turn so you’re looking over one shoulder, or leaning over to one side.

“Wiggle to get balanced if you need to and tell yourself you’re not coming off,” says Karl. “Feel the balance.”

Remember it’s all about keeping your belly button over your horse’s centre of balance. Try the same exercises with someone leading you in walk and trot.

To get yourself back in the right position, remember to push down and back up, holding on to anything stable – the momentum of your horse’s movement will help.

“Ask your helper to fire questions at you while you’re walking along,” advises Karl. “You’ll find it hard to feel scared at the same time as answering.”

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