You’ve heard it before. Someone shouts, “Stop leaning!” Immediately it feels like someone put your finger in a light socket. Your eyes bug out and your back goes stiff in an effort to get upright in the saddle! Ugh! That’s not exactly what you wanted instead!
Without realizing it, it’s so easy to develop the habit of leaning in lots of directions. Maybe you lean and kind of pump your upper body forward to try to get your horse to go (instead of using leg/feet cues only.)
Maybe you anticipate a cutting or reining turn and you lean into the turn before your horse turns.
These are just two examples. It’s easy to lean … and it usually reflects some kind of inner excitement of the rider.
The problem is, it usually becomes a poor riding habit.
No matter the cause of random upper body motion, the cure is the same. It takes mental focus and slowing down.
If leaning is a habit you’d like to break, you will need to coach yourself through it repeatedly until you have a new habit that replaces the old one. For example, if you lean forward when it’s time to trot or lope your horse, try this sequence from a walk.
- Look up and focus your eyes on where you want to go.
- Coach yourself to keep your upper body ‘still and quiet’.
- Imagine exhaling all the way through your saddle and into your horse’s rib cage.
- Engage your core by pushing your belt buckle towards your spine.
- Point your hand forward precisely toward where you’re going.
- Engage your legs.
- Repeat the sequence multiple times a day for many days until the new quiet/still upper body feels anchored and centered in the saddle.
If you are working on replacing sideways leaning in a discipline in which you are moving fast (like cutting,) visualize riding your horse from your core with your eyes focused softly on your target.
Imagine being at ease and deep in the saddle. Breathe into any stiffness in your body to loosen tension. Ride your horse in your mind in slow motion. Keep your elbows heavy. Watch your target in your mind. Feel the sweet deep anchored sensation in the saddle as you wait on your horse to turn instead of turning your upper body before your horse. Love the sensation of a horse turning you as you sit so quiet and heavy in the saddle. Let your horse do the work of the turn. Your job is to allow him to do his job.
Work slowly and methodically by breaking things down to see where the leaning begins. Repeat the new behavior until it becomes a new habit. Visualize what you want as often as possible.
This is the most tried and true method of changing those little things in your riding that make a big difference.