Do you hear “bring your right shoulder back”, “sit straight in the saddle”, “open up your knees” during your riding lesson? And as a result, you attempt to make the corrections but still hear the same requests. Does something feel out of balance but you’re just not sure where the feeling originates? As riders, we may lean to the left, draw up one leg, or pull on one rein and never even know it. Worse yet, our horses are so used to us traveling out of balance that they travel incorrectly and we don’t know it. Improving your mind/muscle connection resulting in correct muscle memory will put you on the right track to balanced riding.
What exactly is the mind/muscle connection? It is learning to control your movement by understanding and feeling the muscles that are working. To take it one step further, it is learning to connect the contraction of one muscle with the reaction it has to the muscles around it. Improving your mind/muscle connection is another reason why training out of the saddle is critical to becoming a better rider and saddle time is not enough. Ultimately it will help you achieve a real sense of how your body works and how that relates to your position on the horse.
A keen mind/muscle connection results in correct muscle memory (at least we hope it is correct). Muscle memory occurs when your body has repeated a movement so many times that you no longer need to think consciously about how to make it happen. Your muscles simply know what they need to do.
Muscle memory can be trained out of the saddle to improve your riding performance. For instance, let’s say you are a busy rider – constantly moving and adjusting in the saddle to keep your body position and balance. The more you ride the more you stay the same. Your muscles have “remembered” this type of movement and unless you break the pattern it will continue. Prescribing a set of floor exercises that introduces lack of stability across the body forces you to maintain a neutral spine and squared-up shoulders and hips in spite of disturbances. Now, the next time you climb in the saddle, your body is used to staying stable in an unstable environment and you are quieter and able to keep your balance without much movement. You have trained your muscles through repetition on the ground to improve your riding in the saddle.