It 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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