Yogi Berra says, “You can see a lot just by watching.” He should have been standing at an event with me recently, watching cross-country riders gallop past in a galloping position. He would have seen that riders have lost both the ability to gallop their horses in balance and the ability to keep themselves balanced above their horses in a galloping position. This bothers me, both because it is uncomfortable for our horses and because it reveals a basic lack of understanding about how we connect to them.
Before we start talking about our galloping position, let me ask you a question: How many jumping efforts are on a recognized Preliminary cross-country course? The US Equestrian Federation Rule Book says 24 to 32. OK, now how many strides does your horse take while going around that course? Lots, right? We spend a lot more time galloping than we do jumping, so we need to pay attention to how we gallop. (For my purposes, let’s define “gallop” as anything faster than 350 meters per minute.)
Everything we do with our horses should make them comfortable. It is obvious that horses are not as comfortable galloping with riders seated in the saddle as they are with riders suspended above their backs. I usually call this suspended position the two-point, meaning riders support their weight on the two points of their knees while their seat bones do not make contact with the saddle.
This sounds simple, but the next time you are at an event, watch riders gallop by on cross-country. It’s not a pretty sight. Almost every rider going by you will be “posting” at the gallop. Posting at the gallop means riders are alternating between falling (sitting?) down on their horses’ backs, then standing up and falling over their horses’ forehands. When you multiply this banging on horses’ backs by the number of strides they take, it explains why so many horses need special saddle pads, chiropractors, back injections and so on.
This month, I am going to focus more on your galloping position than on how your horse gallops. The two topics are really one and the same, but it is a little easier to understand if we break it down into different parts. I will return to how we want our horses to gallop and how to jump from that gallop in another column. First of all, let’s examine the two-point. There are four times we use the two point:
- “Up” phase of the posting trot motion
- Any other time we want to take our weight off our horse’s back, such as walking up a steep incline.
Before you start any of the exercises I am going to describe, go to the rider rating system in the March 2008 issue and self-rate yourself. I would prefer that you be at least at Level 5 before trying these exercises. If you are at a lower level but have expert supervision, you can certainly attempt them. They are not that complicated; it is just that I try to be very aware of safety around the stable and in the saddle. I will give you two exercises to help you find a better galloping position. Do them in an enclosed area first, and then when you are certain you are comfortable and your horse is relaxed, you can attempt them in an open field.