Grounded in the Saddle

Part 7. Letting Go

As you work with your horse, you are teaching him to trust you as the leader. But trust is a two-way street: you also need to learn to trust your horse. In this exercise you will be letting go of the reins. This can be a very scary thing to do, but it can make a huge difference in your confidence level and in your horse’s.

We all have a tendency to rely too much on our reins for control and balance. This exercise will teach you to balance without those reins. Your horse will thank you for it. It will also help you to place your leg back where it should be. I strongly recommend that at first you do this in a controlled space, an arena, round pen, or fenced paddock.

While seated at a standstill, lay your reins on your horse’s neck and just relax. If at any time he starts to walk off, simply pick up the reins and ask for a stop, then resume the exercise. Rise in the stirrups; let your heels sink as low as they will go and move your leg back. Place your hands behind your back and lean slightly forward over the withers. You are looking for the balance point where it becomes easy to hold this position. To help you find it, experiment by moving your legs forward and back. When you bring them too far forward you will fall backward into the saddle. Move your legs too far back and you will fall forward onto his neck. It will probably take you several tries to find this balance point. Keep trying — this is really worth the effort. When you feel comfortable in this position, hold your legs where they are and slowly sit back in the saddle. You should find that your heels are well back and in line with your shoulders and hips, right where they should be.

Once you can reliably find this balance point at a standstill, try it at a walk. You may be surprised at how much more difficult it is to say balanced while your horse is in motion. Keep trying. It takes muscle control and strength to hold this position for long. Practice a little every day and it will soon become easier and easier. Once you have mastered this at the walk, do it at the trot. You may have to reach down and pick up your reins occasionally just to steer, especially if you are doing this exercise in an arena with other riders whom you need to avoid.

Keep at it — this exercise will help improve your leg position and your balance, and it will build both your confidence in your horse and his in you.