I’ve recently taught a couple of teenagers about core stability and improving their position to best help their pony, and passive resistance is an important part of this.
First of all we need to establish your core. I’ve found Pilates to be very useful in helping me identify my core muscles and switch them on, so have taken this forward to my clients. Core muscles are the deep abdominal muscles, and sit as close to the centre of your body as possible. To identify your core muscles you need to stand up straight, and then take a couple of deep breaths, feeling what muscles are involved. Then, take a really long, slow out breath until your lungs feel totally empty. Then you can feel a little muscle lift deep in your pelvis. That’s your core. Some people liken it stopping yourself going to the toilet. When your core muscles are engaged you can usually feel a bit of tightness at the base of your tummy – if you pat it with your hand you should easily resist the movement.
Core muscles are important in life in general as they improve your posture, but they are important in riding as they help stabilise you, which is vital with regard to balance and moving with your horse.
With these teenage riders I had them thinking about their core muscles when they rode to give them a stronger position. They don’t want to be rigid, but they need to be more stable and more independent from their horse’s movement. What I mean is that when they use their core muscles they are better able to keep their rising trot rhythm and less influenced by a loss of balance from their horse. Imagine being a horse or pony; you need to balance yourself over all sorts of terrain. Now imaging doing it with potatoes rattling around in their sack on your back. It would be much easier to balance with a solid box on your back.
Once these riders got the idea of core muscles I brought them into the centre of the school and explained about passive resistance. Horses are always significantly bigger and stronger than us, so we never want to get into the tug of war situation because we will never win. Instead you want to think about having a solid position, which is very stable. Like a rock. Think about the difficultly you have pushing a large rock along. On the ground you can use partners to practice making yourself very dense and solid. I’m always being told off by my other half for making myself into a dead weight which means that he can’t lift me up. Neither can he push me along.
Whilst sat on a horse it’s a bit different. Engage your core muscles and think of making yourself as stable as possible without being tense. Then, get someone to push your shoulder backwards. Resist the push. But when they let go without warning, you shouldn’t flop forwards. You can try this on both sides and pushing forwards and back. It may take a couple of goes, but you should soon feel that dense, immovable feeling.
When people start riding with this new stability they often find that it makes a huge difference to their ability to maintain the trot and canter in their horses; there’s no longer stopping and starting, choppy strides, but more of a fluid correction, which ends up becoming more consistent. With the upper body being more stable micro adjustments can be made to the horse. If you have a scale of 1-10 of trot rhythm with 5 being perfect, then using the passive resistance technique you can bring the trot back to 5 if it slips into a 6 or down to a 4… Instead of fluctuating between 3 and 8.
I also noticed that when my teenagers learnt to keep their bodies stiller without being tense their rein contact naturally stabilised and the ponies started to soften themselves and drop into an outline. Furthermore, because the riders didn’t lose their balance as their ponies corrected themselves (softened or shortened their neck) the pony didn’t react and revert to their hollow way of going immediately. That leads to the pony being rewarded when they relax into their work and stop being hollow so they are more likely to continue in this manner.
Passive resistance isn’t about being heavy handed or tense; more about keeping statue-like so that your horse works around your position and rewards himself when he is correct rather than unbalancing and moving you to subsequently unbalance himself.
Have a go next time you ride, thinking about that feeling of moving without moving.