In polocrosse it is important to be good with a stick and ball but it is even more important to be a good rider. Otherwise you can have the best horse but not be able to work with it to get the results you want.
Polocrosse players often have good overall balance, as they are used to leaning off the side of horses to pick up balls. However, that does not always mean they are a well balanced, evenly muscled rider. The nature of the sport, with one hand on the reins and one hand on the racquet can lead to riders being uneven in their saddles, developing a lop sided positions and being weaker on one side than the other.
So it is very important to carry on working on your riding as well as your polocrosse skills. Spend time riding with both hands and not carrying a stick and ball. This will help you with giving the correct aids to your pony and help you develop your muscles evenly on both sides of your body. This is especially important if you are also trying to teach your pony and show it what you want it to do but even once your pony is experienced it is important to spend time riding with two hands.
Position is about far more about than just your hand position. Your body and leg position is absolutely vital if you want your pony to go well. You want to be in tune with your pony and its movement. This means that you want to be sitting in the right spot and not too far back or forward, as this can unbalance your pony and make it harder for them to move where you want them too.
In order to stay in balance with your pony you should be aiming for a position where you can draw a fairly straight line down from your shoulder, throughout your hip to your heel. If you find that your heels are perhaps behind or in front of your hips or that you are tipping your shoulders forwards or backwards then you can work on this, including working with a good coach to help you improve your position. Having a coach is really useful to help you with your position, as they can see how you are sitting and make you aware of things that you might not be able to see yourself.
You also have to be able to change your position at different points depending on what you want your horse to do. If you want your pony to accelerate and run faster then standing up in your stirrups and going into more of a “cross country” or “forward” seat helps. This allows your horse to lift its back more and move faster underneath you. Likewise, sitting down in your saddle and stopping your body moving with the horse will encourage your horse to slow down and stop because it blocks the horses back movement under the saddle. This ability to change your position is also important in polocrosse for a different reason; it allows you to move round in the saddle to catch and throw the ball in different directions.
Sometimes riders will find their saddle stops them getting into the best possible position, some saddles are designed for more of a “chair seat” with the rider’s lower legs positioned quite a way in front on their hips and stopping them standing up in their stirrups. So it is important to have a saddle that helps you get into the right positions.
Being a good rider takes a lot of work and takes many hours of practice. It is probably the hardest part of being a polocrosse player – far harder than mastering some stick and ball skills. Ultimately you need to learn to control your hands and legs very well and at points move them independently of each other to ask your pony; for example you might need to move your hands left or right but keep your legs still or apply your left leg and use your right hand to catch the ball, while keeping your left hand and right leg still; it is a bit like being a drummer in a band who can play different rhythms with their legs and their hands simultaneously because they have learnt to use each limb independently.
So it is very important to work equally hard at your riding as it is on your polocrosse stick and ball skills. Spend as much time riding with two hands as you do practising polocrosse and try and make sure you are thinking about your position and the aids you are applying. Riders, like horses, need to start with new skills slowly and then build up to do things faster. You will not be able to get the right position in canter if you can’t get into it in walk so you do need to start slowly and build up, letting your muscles learn and develop until they unconsciously do what you need them to do when you need them to do it.
There are lots of exercises to help you develop as a rider and you don’t even have to be on a horse to work on them. Exercises involving things like balance balls are really useful as well, plus general strength and fitness conditioning exercises.