As barrel racers we hear it often said “keep your eyes up”, “look for the next barrel”, “never look down the horse’s neck”. Now in terms of physics and geometry, when you find yourself piloting an animal this big at that rate of speed, looking up seems imperative. Why? You look down for the wrong split second, or anywhere other than where you are attempting to jockey your horse and suddenly you find yourself playing catch up. If you’ve ever made runs in your life then you can attest to what happens when your eyes are not on where you’re going.
However, understanding what your body is communicating to your horse with your eyes is going one step farther. So why break it down that much? I think as barrel racers we are doing a disservice to ourselves and our horses by not learning all we can about how our anatomy affects theirs. Understanding the eyes comes with understanding the power of your seat. Again, I will derive what I’m about to say from Beth Baumert’s book Dressage Dynamics. After reading and re-reading to piece this together in a way that makes sense to our discipline, this is the short version of what I came up with.
The “floor of your seat” is the triangular space within the two seat bones and the pubic bone. The flexibility of the pelvis enables the floor of the seat to follow the horse’s back. By anchoring your pubic bone and keeping your posture correct, you stabilize your core: the 29 pairs of muscles that surround your centre of gravity which enable you to move in a coordinated and controlled way. The seat should never move more than the horse’s back unless we are giving them an aid.
“A correct seat of itself acts as a positive influence on the horse’s movement and posture, because the relaxed elasticity of the rider’s spine, together with a deep seat and soft embracing leg contact, are stimulating the horse’s back movement and impulsion.”
-The Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation – The Principles of Riding
I could keep going on the seat but this would get long winded in a hurry. To decipher how your seat is affected by your eyes, the next time you are on your horse, ask for a walk and look where you’re going. Feel the floor of your seat and follow the saddle as your horse moves, be certain the floor isn’t moving more than your horse’s back moves. Now, to understand where I’m going with this, look down. You’ll see that it isn’t physically possible to follow with the floor of your seat when your head is down. Look up. When your head is correctly balanced on the top of the spine, the pelvis is able to follow the horse’s back. Correct head carriage puts the trajectory of your eyes on the horizontal line of travel.
This also leads us into the importance of a stabilized core, but I will tackle that in another post. In summary, if your eyes are out of position, so is your body, and theirs will be as well!! Until next time, eyes up cowgirl!