ski to rideIt snowed today.

With winter fast approaching in these parts, my thoughts have naturally fallen to winter sports and activities.

I'm fairly new to downhill skiing. But that didn't hold me back when I first started learning all about conquering the hill. I'll tell you why: because thanks to a fellow rider and skier who took me under her wings, I discovered that there are so many commonalities between skiing down a hill and riding a horse that it was all a breeze once I knew what to do!

The funny part was that after I developed my downhill skiing skills, I got better at riding! (Isn't that always the case - in life?)

If you've ever skied downhill, you too might recognize the parallels between skiing and horseback riding. So, in preparation for the ski season, here are the top 5 ways that you can keep up your riding seat while sliding down a snow-covered hill.

5. Half-Halt Into and Out of the Turns

You might be surprised to realize that you can half-halt the turns as you slalom down a ski hill. Yes, it's true!

We know that half-halts are important to the horse's way of going. We often work to shift the horse's weight back to their haunches before heading into a bend so that we can then allow the energy to come through from the hind end. In this manner, the horse can counter the pulls of gravity because he is straight on the turn.

Imagine my surprise when I learned to "shift my weight back" while carving out a controlled slalom going down the hill! Approach the turn, sit back (half-halt) before the turn, negotiate the turn, then half-halt again coming out of the turn. This way, you can keep your weight on your derriere, balancing against the pull of gravity while keeping your skis fairly light and maneuverable around each turn.

Once I learned to half-halt while skiing, I could be a lot bolder in allowing the energy (pull of gravity) to come through and pick up speed. Through skiing, I was able to witness first hand how a "half" halt is not a full stop - in other words, you have to let the energy through without stopping. It was interesting to actually feel how a half-halt can adjust your center of gravity so that you can prevent a fall "to the forehand."

4. Sit Deep Into the Seat

Yes - you do have a seat in skiing!

"Sitting deep" is a given when you are sliding down an incline at ever-increasing speeds - you would think! As my friend gently explained the reason behind why I was teetering left and right, I had flashbacks to my early riding days when I was still finding my seat in the saddle.

We called it "perching in the saddle". I distinctly remember the disconcerting feeling of always being on top of the horse's movement. The problem with perching is that you aren't a part of the movement. Sometimes, you might be so out of sync with the horse that you might fall, not having a chance to follow the horse's sudden movements precisely because you are not riding "in" the saddle, but on it.

As I sat deeper into my seat, the hill seemed to become significantly more accommodating! 

3. Point Your Core to the Direction You Want to Go

We learn this fairly early in our riding careers. If you don't send your "intention" in the direction you want to go, the horse gets mixed messages - one from your hands, one from your seat and legs, and another from your core. The key to being in alignment as a rider is to keep all your appendages together with your trunk.

One message - one direction.

On the ski hill, the direction is fairly simple and uncompromising. You are heading down the hill, from the top to the bottom. Since you are aiming to make it to the bottom (!), you need to keep your core pointed in that direction at all times, regardless of the direction your skis are pointing! I quickly learned that any deviation from the "center" resulted in uncomfortable swaying and loss of balance.

2. Keep Your Knees Loose

In riding, tight knees are the root of much evil! If you grip at the knees, you drive tension into your thighs and seat. You might end up perching out of the saddle. You might lose control of your lower leg. Or you might prevent the horse from fully expressing his movement.

If you can loosen your knees while riding, you can adjust your balance quickly and efficiently. You can wrap your lower legs on your horse's side more effectively, holding on with the whole length of your seat and legs rather than just at the knee joint.

The beauty of maintaining loose knees is that you can have better control over them. Sometimes, you might want to use stronger knees but then alternately, you can release them to follow the horse's movement when needed.

I quickly learned to keep loose knees while skiing. If you don't, your whole body has to absorb the shocks and bounces, and ultimately, you will find yourself kissing the white stuff because of the harsh bounces that threw you off your feet! Trust me on this one!

1. Commit to the Movement

This one is Number One.

Before I skied, I had a hard time explaining "commitment" to my riding students. When the horse travels along the ground, you have to commit your entire body to the movement. Hold back, and you imbalance yourself and the horse. To commit, you just have to flow with the movement: follow, move and simply GO! 

However, in riding, you can get away with only minimal commitment. Your horse can often make up for your lack of "go" by literally carrying you along. Although his balance and impulsion might be affected, it is possible for the rider to be completely oblivious of how the horse is compensating for her lack of commitment to the movement.

In skiing - not so much! For if you hold back, you instantly smack your behind to the ground!

And you thus learn to commit.

I am regularly amazed by the commonalities that hold true throughout our many and varied activities in life. It seems that there are some constant "truths" that are always out there - whether riding, skiing, or participating in any other activity. 

I'm looking forward to the upcoming ski season, and the lessons the hill will teach me - for horseback riding! 

* Thank you J.V. for teaching me to ski through riding!

Do you participate in a sport that helps you become a better horseback rider? Let us know in the comments below!

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If you enjoyed the above article, you might also like:

In Praise of the (Horse Riding) Hand: How to develop hands that sing poetry in your horse’s mind!

20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself: You could say that horses are our teachers. Not only do we grow in terms of physical ability, but perhaps even more so, we grow in character.

Move to Stay Still on Horseback: How do we begin to look like we’re sitting still, doing nothing on the horse’s back?

The Dynamic Dependency of Horseback Riding: Why is it that riding can become so difficult at times? In riding, nothing can be done in isolation.

When Do You Start Riding Your Horse? This question was being posed to me by a very respected and horse-wise mentor one day long ago, early in my riding development.

15 Comments

  1. I play drums and I learned to play double bass drum. Alternating the left and right foot consistently and with the same pressure and strength. You will hear a difference if you are off in timing and pressure. It helps you keep your knees soft and legs relaxed or else you get tired prematurely.

  2. I enjoyed this post, but I am NOT going to show it to my husband! He grew up in a ski town and ski raced in college. Skiiing is his passion. I’ve gone with him to Tahoe and Mammoth and Utah. I grew up in Illinois where the only skiing is on water (or a video game). Long story short, I kind of like it–on the beginner hills. I am scared of the ski lifts (fear of heights) and would be content to traverse down the mildest of slopes all day long. He thinks I should challenge myself.and go faster and steeper and I’ve tried, but have decided it’s just not my thing. My line has been, “I already have one expensive hobby and I am going to stick to that.” A hobby we do enjoy together is swing dancing. And I’ve often thought, “This is so much like riding!”–the body positions, the goal of responsiveness to your partner with only the slightest of cues. Thanks for the great blog idea “5 Ways Lindyhopping is like Dressage.” Gotta go, I have a blog to write. 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. There are a ton of things they have in common! One leg at a time, hands forward and lightly holding the reins/poles, eyes where you are going, centered, balanced…it goes on and on. I come from a ski resort, and we all rode horse spring, summer and fall, sometimes both on the same day! This was a topic of conversation many times. Remember, visualize your run and your ride!

  4. I’ve been teaching skiing for 30 years. I never never never tell my students to sit back because then the weight goes back, you lose balance, and edge connection with the snow. Weight has to be absolutely centered over your feet so that you can bend and carve the skiis accurately around the turn.

    1. I imagine I was told to bring my weight back precisely to center my weight over my feet. I was probably leaning too far forward, which is something that new horse riders do often, and probably what I was doing as a newbie skier.

      1. Being centred in the four planes of balance while skiing it very important; lateral balance, rotational balance, verticals balance, fore and aft balance. When one plane is extreme we are out of balance …. Centred over the feet in a dynamic sense is correct.
        5 skills of skiing are very similar for riding:
        1. Stance and balance, centred and mobile
        2. Pivoting…. Independent lower body, independent hands
        3. Edging… The ability to bend to stay in balance according to speed and terrain
        4. Time ping and coordination, the ability to secquncw what to do when
        5. Pressure control, how much., regulation of

        The better a horse goes sideways and backwards, the better it goes towards, same for skiers …. Why, because the five skills are working well if sideway and back ways are effortless.

        36 years with the Canadian ski instructors alliance CSIA

  5. I’ve been a skier for 58 years. Love your articles, kinda winced at this one. I am not trying to be picky, but I got really confused by a riding instructor who insisted riding is like skiing… so I was putting my weight into my outside hip and stirrup, among other things. . Found an instructor who skis and rides and thankfully insisted they are very different. Points 1-3 seem good.

    1. The first instructor clearly didn’t understand the differences between skiing and riding! I’m not saying that EVERYTHING is the same about skiing and riding – just the commonalities that I found that follow the same “gravitational” rules.

  6. I taught skiing for thirty years. A good skier never, never, never should be sitting back on their skis around a turn. When a skier makes a turn on a blue or black trail, he (she) is dealing with physics: Gravity and centrifical forces. For a ski to bend, control the speed and arc of the turn, weight must be balanced in the middle of the ski especially the outside ski all the way through the turn.the amount of weight, ski bend, body position, and terrain determines the type of arc. If we were to shift our weight to the back of the skis, we would then lose contact with the snow in the front of our ski and the skis would also lose the ability to carve (turn) through the turn. If too much weight is in the front, then we lose control of the back of the skis and we end up window wiping through the turn.

  7. Thankyou Redcanoes for your well written reply !,, I skied from the age of 3 ,, riding since the age of 12 ,,immersed in Dressage & eventing !, also played ladies hockey& Ringette !, & again the body mechanics of the centered body are applied !! Even when I studied Taekwondo !, I was amazed how the body needs to be centered !, I continue to use the comparisons as an instructional aid !,

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