Becoming a “Natural” Rider

Helen LangehanenbergWe’ve all seen them: those beautiful riders that just seem to naturally “flow” with the horse. It seems to require no effort for them to stay perfectly balanced on top of big moving horses and over crazy jumps that everyone else struggles with, making it look easy. Their horses never seem to fall on their forehands because the riders just instinctively keep them steady. These are the so-called “natural” riders… riders that have never known a moment of imbalance on their horses’ backs. Riders that, either through natural talent or years of training, seem to have been born to sit on a horse. Definitely not anything an average amateur rider could ever begin to achieve… Certainly those of us not born with this innate talent could never actually develop it, could we? It’s “God-given” talent, not skill… or is it?

Before we can answer that question, we must first explore what it is that makes these “natural” riders different from you and me. What is it about these people that makes the movement with the horse seem so easy, and why are so many of these types of riders good at nearly every sport they try? The simple answer is, neuromuscular coordination. That basically means these folks are more coordinated, and with a better brain-body connection than others of us. It’s not a special talent, it’s how the brain and body were intended to function. Little is known about why some people are seemingly “born” with greater athletic facility than others, but there is one thing for certain: all babies are born uncoordinated, and must learn to crawl before they can walk. Which means, that seemingly natural “talent” was DEVELOPED, not inherent. These riders’ brains simply developed better, faster, and more effective connections with their muscles than some others’ did as they were learning to crawl and walk.

Jumping horseIt’s not that these riders are somehow “gifted”, although it may seem so. It is simply that their neurons are functioning optimally, while the rest of us have minor disconnections or miscommunications. If you’ve ever felt like you can trip over your own feet, walk into doorways, or fall up stairs, you know what it feels like to have sub-optimal neuromuscular motor control… You understand the feeling of being left behind in the saddle one moment, and falling forward the next, as the horse’s balance changes. What hope could we possibly have of riding in a relaxed, balanced way, when our bodies are in this state? Turns out, while there is certainly a genetic predisposition at work in our neuromuscular development, there is also a lot of hope for those of us who didn’t develop into super-athletes on our own!

The brain is an unfathomably powerful machine. It is constantly processing through billions of signals and communication pathways every second. It runs your entire body, and yet it still has the capability of growing and learning. Research has shown that even the brains of stroke patients with significant permanent damage can create new neural pathways and re-learn motor function that should have been permanently lost because the parts of the brain that normally control motor function have been completely destroyed! This should give the uncoordinated, unbalanced, and less than perfect riders everywhere hope.

The truth is, “natural” balance can be LEARNED by the brain! Coordination can be significantly IMPROVED! Exercise is a powerful brain booster, and special exercises that target the brain’s function can take neuromuscular coordination to a heightened level that we previously thought was limited to people “born” with it. No matter how old you are, or how uncoordinated, your brain can be induced to create new neural pathways and regenerate pathways that have become damaged through injury or disuse.

This is the difference between being generally fit, and being riding fit. Being riding fit means that your brain and body work together to balance and stabilize themselves automatically, without special conscious effort — a sense known as proprioception — while also having the physical capacity (strength and flexibility) to maintain that state. Ridefit was created to address not just cardiovascular capacity, muscle strength, and flexibility, but to actually address these brain/body connections that allow for a smooth integration between the horse’s movement and the rider’s balance. The effects are powerful, and sometimes surprising to riders who aren’t used to feeling that sense of natural balance.

Our bodies and brains are inextricably connected, and Ridefit has put the pieces together in a whole body/brain workout for riders. What are you really capable of? Are you ready to find out? Contact us and find out.

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