- Written by Chuck Duncan
- Published on November 08, 2011
Between 1999 and 2008, over 70,000 people per year were seen in U.S. emergency rooms due to horse related injuries. Because most people aren’t likely to go to the emergency room for each injury, the number of horse related injuries each year is probably significantly greater than those reported.
The majority of those injuries were due to falls from a horse. While falls during mounted shooting can occur for a variety of reasons, loss of balance is a primary culprit.
Balance is dynamic, and like most abilities people have, it can improve or worsen for a number of reasons. Riding skill, fitness level, age and or illness can all affect a person’s balance. Mounted shooters need good balance if they want to ride safely and improve their performances.
Our eyes send key information to the brain that helps us maintain balance or lose it. One of the most important things a rider can do to maintain balance is to look where they are going. Don’t look down to see what lead your horse is on or to put your gun in the holster. Riders also create potential balance problems by looking back for a final attempt to shoot a missed balloon. Looking down or back keeps you from knowing where that barrel, cone, or wall is, but your horse knows where they are and may decide to avoid running into those objects with a sudden turn or jump. If you’re not looking forward, you may find yourself looking up from the arena floor.
Leaning away from your horse also creates potential balance problems for you. When a rider leans to the side of their horse, to make a shot or because the horse is turning, they often push their horse the opposite direction. In matches, you’ve probably seen a horse moving away from the rundown as the rider leans out to shoot the target. Riders that lean with their horses on barrel turns can cause the horse to lose footing and stumble or fall.
Wet saddle pads are the key to a good horse and good horsemanship. In addition, a good Mounted Shooting instructor can help you improve your riding balance and reduce your off balance issues. They can also teach you to stay more centered in the saddle throughout your ride. Unfortunately a lot of new riders think that sitting on a horse is the same thing as riding a horse. Skilled riders know that they are constantly cueing their horse with their body position whether it’s a correct or incorrect cue.
Physical fitness is important for success in all sports. In mounted shooting, it pays for both the rider and horse to be fit. Research has shown that strength training can reduce the number of falls that older people experience in everyday life; so it makes sense that riders can benefit too. Improving the strength of your body’s core muscles, hips and legs will help you to stay more centered when riding as well as provide more emergency strength if you start to lose your balance. If you do lose your balance and fall, stronger muscles can help reduce your injury.
A Core Training Exercize
One way to practice your balance, improve your core strength and reduce looking down for your holster is to use an exercise ball. Clear a space around the ball and then sit on it with your feet flat on the floor – think riding. Get someone to “spot” you in front or back until you are sure you can safely do the exercises. Focus your eyes in front of you and put your arms forward like you should ride. Move your hips forward, backward, and to each side to exercise your core muscles. Next try to lift one foot up and hold it. Repeat with the other foot. Once you are able to do those exercises easily, put on your holsters and empty guns. Practice holstering while doing the balance exercises. Next, add dry firing while balancing. Remember to keep your upper body straight, eyes focused, and one hand forward like you’re reining. Gradually increase the time that you do each of these exercises until you reach 60 seconds for each one.