As a horse was built by God to run when they become fearful for their life, the Human being was made to freeze up into what we call the Cradle Position. Now in the last 25 years we have change the fear in horses using the new techniques we have already mentioned. To refresh your memory I will use the most common term, Natural Horsemenship, courtesy of Mr. Pat Parelli. So if a flight animal can be altered to the degree that they will turn and face what they fear, can the the human being also make this type of dramatic change? YES, but it takes constant effort!
Why do we need to change you might ask. Because as the horse is an unsafe vehicle with their natural flight fear at work when we ride them, we are an unsafe rider when our natural cradle position takes hold of us. The main reason this happens assuming you are riding a SAFE horse, is our problem with balance. Whenever you are out of balance, your instincts panic and go into overdrive and freeze your body. That means all of your muscles have stiffened up and your body is very rigid. You can't be a very pretty rider when you are solid as a bag of concrete that has gotten rained on.
If you've ridden very little then fixing your feet will take effort but is easily done. If you have been riding a lot and had lots of lessons then your path will be much more difficult.
Because the horse industry itself has already taken your feet, and taught you to use them as anchors, so you can hopefully keep your seat! Notice how they didn't worry about your instincts, just your seat. This goes back to the Law of Physics problem. The Horse World basically says that the Law of Physics isn't involved in your riding experience by telling you to remain upright or Centered in the saddle no matter what the horse is doing. So with that said, your seat is going to be flying all over the place in the first few months so they use your feet to try and help.
This practice is so well ingrained I call it Gospel! What is Gospel? It's when something is so well known that even people that have never ridden have heard the term, KEEP YOUR HEELS DOWN!!!!!!
Gee wiz is that really going to work? NO, not really but it is taught over and over and over so that it makes the calculation of Pi look like a cakewalk!
Keeping your heels down actually reinforces your natural instincts and helps you to fail!
Most people without realizing it, use their feet when they ride a horse. You do it even without being taught anything. Your instincts are at work here and this is what happens. Everyone is at balance when they WALK on a horse. In roughly 20 to 30 minutes though, many riders get out of balance so badly that they walk their saddle and themselves right off the horse. Now how did this happen? Your brain hardly ever lets you get into this type of trouble. It happens in this instance because your brain trusts your feet. Ever since you started to walk when you were about 3 years old, your brain has learned to trust your feet to do the right thing. After all, we humans are the only creature that walks on 2 legs the majority of the time. So when you ride a horse, your feet engage in the stirrups and you actually walk with the horse as you ride. This is not a conscious act, it just happens because your feet and instincts feel the need to walk, especially if you have any fear of riding which most people do it at first. The biggest problem though is your brain stops trying to balance you like it should!
That is also the reason your knees hurt when you get done riding. You just walked the same amount of time the horse did, and because your legs are bent to some degree your knees take the brunt of the pain. In about 20 to 30 minutes, you basically moved your saddle to your strong leg side incrementally until your balance point goes away. Now your brain, which ordinarily wont let you get into danger like this, fell asleep because it trusted your feet. It wakes up at the very last second and says out load, I think I'm falling. By then though it's already too late and you hit the ground. The famous statement is then pronounced. MY SADDLE SLIPPED! Well I beg to differ, you made your saddle move to the strong leg side and out of balance because of your feet.
That means we NEED TO FIX OUR FEET!!!!!
The natural position of the human foot when fear strikes you while you ride a horse, is for your toes to point straight down. This is also an instinctual position you can't control. Your instincts are saying YOU'RE FIXING TO DIE SOON DUMMY so they are reaching for the ground for safety. Even riders who believe they have mastered the riding skill of greatness, when overwhelmed by fear their toes will go down. This is why we need to fix our feet, which in turn FIXES OUR INSTINCTS!
The industry as mentioned uses your feet to fix your seat by asking you to KEEP YOUR HEELS DOWN! In theory they are trying to help you maintain your balance. Why are you out of balance? Because the industry ignores the law of physics and requires all riders to remain in the neutral position or what I was taught, CENTERED RIDING. The problem though when you do not obey the law of physics, is you will have to fight to remain in balance while you ride a horse. That's why this damaging theory of keep your heels down was invented, to help you keep some type of balance while you ignore this law. All this does though is lock the muscles in your lower body because your brain says, I have to push my heels down in order to keep them down. Even though some riders can learn to correct this at a later date, the damage is already occuring in that your fear will not be checked and will be overwhelming to the majority of riders. Our feet are one of our biggest problems even without someone telling us to keep our heels down.
You can't fix your instincts without correcting your feet!
The way we fix our feet is to do what makes sense to our brain and in turn starts to RECALCULATE our instincts when we ride. This is the phrase you should say to your feet everytime you ride and constantly everytime you ride until it becomes second nature or like your original instincts.
Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz you should constantly say this phrase to make it home. Where is home? Your brain takes over from your instincts and does it's number 1 job which is to keep you in balance! That is home!
Isn't that the same as keeping your heels down? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!
Here is what happens when you lift your toes:
1. Your center of gravity starts to think towards the rear. Remember the momentum is coming from the rear of the horse in every gait past a walk. The horse as they go faster than a walk, move you up and forward by their mechanical procedure. Most people do not understand this push!
2. You will get rid of your stirrups. In no way should you ever listen to someone that says, the stirrups are part of the riding experience.
A.They are the TRAINING WHEELS on a saddle. Just like when you were 5 years old, you got a bike and Daddy bolted on the training wheels. Most people think they "train us to balance". They do just the opposite! Your brain is set up from birth to keep you in balance. So when you start riding your bike with the training wheels, and you get out of balance either to the right or left the wheels "save" you. But this also tells your brain that it's not needed while you ride the bike, so it learns to do nothing. That would be ok except at some point when your friends showed up without their helpers, and started to laugh at you, you tell Daddy to take them off. Surely by now after a year you're in balance, right? NOT in a million years! After the training wheels are off, you will fall over and over again for a few days until your brain wakes back up and says, "uh oh, they got rid of those helpers, and it's me again". Now you brain starts to take over balancing again and guess what, you're in balance in just a few days without the training wheels. The stirrups are training wheels!
B. The stirrups when you engage your feet, act just like the training wheels on your bike. Your brain shuts down and lets your feet and legs try to keep you in balance. You wont look very good doing this but some folks convince themselves they are competent in the saddle. Then they fall off and really can't understand why, so they make excuses like the saddle slipped. You don't want your brain's ability to balance you to ever shut down, but it will when your feet take over the job and they are just not qualified in this situation. To correctly balance on a horse, it has to be from your SEAT! So get rid of your stirrups by lifting your toes. If you keep the thought of keeping your heels down, your feet will forever be engaged on and off everytime you ride in the stirrups and it will stop most people from ever balancing 100% of the time without any help from the saddle.
3. Lifting your toes is how your instincts are recalculated. As you lift your toes, your hamstrings become engaged with tension. This tension is vastly different than a rigid muscle. The tension or resistance you have now acquired helps you to reverse your instincts. Why? Because when you try to cradle or lean forward as most riders do, your brain says this: Ouch! that hurts my back so either don't lean forward (this is what we want) or let those toes back down which will free your body to go forward (we don't want that). The more you practice this the better it will become your new GOSPEL and will lead to a better, easier riding experience. In addition to that, your legs and knees will not hurt when you get back from the ride!
4. By doing the 3 things above, you will find what everyone wants you to have, YOUR SEAT! It's been hiding in your feet this whole time and now it's free to do it's job, the base of your balance while you ride!
Accomplishing the feats above are pretty easy if you have little or no experience riding a horse. If on the other hand, your have had multiple lessons and maybe years of training and you're still stuggling with balance, it will be harder for you to FORGET what you have learned. BUT, once you can reverse the knowledge you have and learn to obey the Law of Physics by leaning back when there is momentum and keep your toes up all the time, you will find balancing on a horse is as easy as riding a bike!
"You must unlearn what you have learned"!