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Upsetting Balance by Looking Down

What happens when you look down while mounted? Generally, you see the ground. This is what I do every time I want to see what my horse might be standing upon (or in, as the case may be). And I only do this while we're standing still or walking on level ground. But you probably asked this question for another reason, such as why your riding instructor keeps telling you to look ahead and not down?

Instructors usually advise riders to look ahead and not down so the rider will maintain proper posture, position, and balance while riding. When you look down, you change the position of the single heaviest part of your body: your head. So think about this: rather than keeping it on top, you've now placed this heavy object out in front of you or hanging off to one side. To stay balanced, you've got to compensate, or you'll fall forward or sidewards. Some people do this by leaning back or to the side while others will hollow, arch, or twist their back (ARGHHH!) Regardless of the chosen compensation method, your horse senses the change in your weight distribution, your center of gravity has moved and is likely not now aligned with your horse's center of gravity, and even applying your leg feels differently to the horse than when you're sitting up properly. If you've done this while standing or at the walk, you're usually ok and the horse can compensate, though it is harder for him than when you're properly balanced.

Now, if you're jumping, looking down is even worse. Many a rider has messed up a jump by looking down instead of ahead. Looking down upsets your balance, which in turn can upset your horse's balance — not a good thing to do while in motion on a horse at any time — far worse to do before or during a jump. If you're lucky, your horse may just abort the jump — hopefully, you're both not committed. If you're in the air, you've caused a risky situation that could result in you falling off your horse when you land, or worse, your horse could fall forward or over and who knows what will happen to you? And worst of all, you fall off and your horse falls on you — what a short life you had!

So, try to do most of your ground viewing while on foot, or at least when standing or walking when mounted. Even then, make sure you've got room and are on level ground. Think about what could happen if you were walking your horse along a narrow ledge on a steep, high cliff and you suddenly got the urge to look down to the side and leaned over with your head a little too farů

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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