There are many reasons why a horse might lose balance while under saddle:
- change of footing (dips and bumps)
- something interfering with his front feet (hits a rail during a jump)
- rushing (not paying attention where the front feet are going)
- gait problem (front feet brushing each other for some reason)
- balance issue (too heavy on the forehand)
- tension or braces against your aid and loses footing in the process
* This article is not about a health issue that may cause stumbling; rather, it is about a riding-related loss of balance. If any health problem is suspected, please consult with a veterinarian.
In any case, loss of balance can be a problem for many riders. If you can identify why your horse is stumbling, you can begin to address the cause with one or more of the five tips below. They will give you a good idea of how you can influence the horse's balance.
1 a). Don't fall with him
It's not fun getting bounced around in the saddle. You have two choices when the horse loses balance: stay balanced yourself (and help him get his feet back underneath him) or fall with him, thereby putting him even more off balance and risking a trip or real fall.
You can let your reins out if needed to let him regain his own balance. However, you should not add to the problem. Stay tall and strong.
1 b). Stabilize through your core and try to change as little as possible.
Again, if your horse tilts forward to the forehand, the last thing you should do is let your upper body flop forward over his neck (unless you can't help it). Instead, tighten through your core muscles and keep your upper body as quiet as possible. The horse will need time to regain his balance, and it is best if you can maintain your own balance as much as possible until he can regain balance. Do #2 if needed.
2. Lean back!
It might help to lean back, even further back than normal. Counter the pull of gravity by putting your weight onto the horse's hind end. This will free up the horse's front end and prevent excess weight on the forehand.
3. Slow down.
Stumbles often happen when the horse is moving too quickly, too heavily on the forehand, or bracing against an aid. In all those cases, it is helpful to ask the horse to slow down his leg speed (tempo).
Half-halts are essential to help maintain and re-establish balance. Use a well-timed half-halt to slow down leg speed, if the horse is moving too quickly, and to re-balance toward the hind end. This will allow his legs that extra split second needed to "come back under the body" - meaning that he will be able to have the four legs (but especially the hind legs) supporting the body weight.
4. Be ready to move with him immediately after.
It won't be helpful to keep slowing him down, as it may cause the horse to disengage in the hind end. So as soon as you can, allow him, or even encourage him, to take a few larger steps. This will enable him to step deeper underneath the body with the hind legs, which will help take his weight off the forehand.
You might feel a surge of energy and that is just fine. Just be sure to ride right along with the movement and let the horse freely do what he needs to do to regain tempo.
You might be thinking that riding through a stumble is all about letting the horse handle it himself. In fact, it really is. The horse knows how to regain and maintain his balance. It's best if you become as invisible as you can and let him fix the problem.
Once he has his balance, just go on with your ride as if nothing happened. Don't make a big deal about a stumble, or try to correct the horse with stronger aids or "chasing" the horse along. Instead, keep riding and pay close attention to see what is causing the balance loss. Trouble-shoot the situation and see what you need to do to prevent future stumbles.
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