Equestrian balance and exercise balls

The results of this study were not what I was expecting!
Gave me a little lift– my exercise class ball-balancing experience was a bit humbling.
Yikes – I should be able to balance better – I’m a rider!

Turns out, researchers found, despite what many equestrians think, good “exercise-ball balance” isn’t what makes a good rider. That isn’t because balance isn’t important -it just has to be the RIGHT balance.

Researchers asked 20 competitive dressage riders to roll a yoga ball left, right and in circles using their pelvis only, without lifting their feet or moving their upper body. The scientists also asked them to balance themselves on the ball, with their legs lifted and their arms extended outward, for 30 seconds.
They compared the participants’ riding performance and their horses’ reactions to their riding by observing the horse/rider duos during a 5 min. dressage test in an indoor arena. They measured horses’ cortisol and heart rate data and recorded behavior—in particular, conflict behavior—based on a behavioral checklist (ethogram). Additionally, a trained dressage judge scored the pairs, giving notes for “quality and harmony.”

Somewhat surprisingly—the riders with a greater ability to balance themselves on an exercise ball (without using their feet) earned lower quality and harmony scores during the ridden test, she said. And these horses showed more conflict behaviors.

Scientist found riders able to roll their pelvic areas from side to side while sitting on the ball get the best scores in the saddle, while apparently having the least frustrated horses showing conflict behaviours.

“You have to train balance exactly as when you sit on a horse. So balance is a different thing depending on the activity. You have to train balance in the situation. Otherwise, the human body and its neurology are not adapted for the particular situation they need to balance in.” Dr. Mette Uldahl