Friday, April 13, 2018

The Problem with Horse Stance

It occurred to me that of all the Asian martial arts practitioners that demonstrate and teach horse stance, none to my knowledge actually begin by first sitting on a horse and then proceed to explain how to replicate the feeling of sitting on a horse while not sitting on a horse, that is, while standing. In fact, many of those who demonstrate horse stance give me the impression that the person never rode a horse much less even sat on a horse!

My point is that there is a chasm of difference between the horse stance of someone replicating the feeling of riding a horse and the horse stance of someone who has never ridden a horse. When the latter presumes to mimic the experience of the former, the result is a gross mischaracterization.

So then, what is the primary experience of sitting on a horse? First and foremost is dynamic sitting! So if horse stance is intended to mimic sitting on a horse, then the primary intention of horse stance must be to practice the experience of sitting on a horse. While this seems obvious, many other purposes are frequently attributed to horse stance, the most common being developing leg strength. Ironically, this kind of leg strength is not needed when riding a horse - where this idea came from is anybody's guess.

The central question is, "How can I mimic the feeling of riding a horse while standing?"

And the answer is, get on a horse! Really! If you really want to sense the horse stance feeling, then you simply must get on a horse. There is no substitute! And I don't mean the ten minute horse ride around the corral or the basic riding lessons or the touristy trail ride. I've done all these and what I'm about to suggest is completely different.

You need to find a therapeutic riding center that teaches Centered Riding where someone else controls the horse, where you are coached on your posture and how your body is interacting with the horse, where you are coached to let go and relax with structure, where you are coached to focus on the feeling, where you learn how subtle changes in your body are reflected in the horse's behavior, where you learn to notice and play with these subtle changes in a kind of self-instructive, horse-human bio-feedback loop. The lessons learned from this manner of horse riding then become the basis of how to practice horse stance.

Centered Riding book cover 

I am speaking here from my own limited experiences following the Centered Riding approach to horseback riding. You see, my mother owned and worked with horses for years on her small family farm. She practiced Centered Riding and shared this method and her insights with me. (Yes, I finally listened to my mother.)

For all you horse stance people, if you haven't done so yet, go get on a horse. Get some lessons in Centered Riding. Discover how this experience transforms your understanding of horse stance! And depending on where you are in your training, the Centered Riding experience may even become part of your internal gongfu practice.


February 2022 Addendum

I consider this image to be a better representation of standing with relax, balance, structure than the often taught standing with a low and wide stance in which most practitioners more resemble a dead post than dynamically engaging relax, balance, structure.

(Image from 

Happy practicing, everyone!