Pilates on Horseback!

I have attended ‘Equilates’ for a couple of years now, and can’t recommend it enough – our small classes follow traditional Pilates principles, but with a helpful focus on the muscles and range of movement required for riding, as well as an emphasis on balance and symmetry.

My Pilates instructor, Beth, is also an established competitive rider herself, and is starting to dabble in providing sessions ‘on horse’ as well as in the gym! So I jumped at the chance to give it a shot, in the hope that we might be able to iron out some of those individual postural issues I have in the saddle, which have so far prevented a fully comfortable connection between myself and Jules.

So, what strange postural habits have I managed to ingrain after so many years of riding multiple horses of many different shapes, sizes and type, whilst never being quite as supple or fit as I could be? Here are a few:

– Leaning forward

– Tense shoulders, with a slouch over my right side

– Lower leg tension leading to significant swing back behind the girth

– Toes sticking out

– Weight not in my heels

– Left hand turned inwards and lower than right, ‘handlebar hands’

– Straight, inelastic elbows

– Bottom sticking out, pelvis not tucked under

– Core not engaged

– Generally tense all over, locking my seat aids entirely

– Slight collapse over my right hip

– Looking down instead of where I’m going!

These are often emphasised by the fact that my horse is very tall and I am very small, with relatively short arms and legs! Being a Gelderlander, she also has very bouncy ‘upwards’ paces, and has plenty of her own postural issues to overcome while she comes back to full fitness. I also lack the ability to focus on more than one or two of these at once, and once one gets fixed, another seems goes awry, so we never quite achieve the full ‘package’! I would like to mention at this point that I have regular chiropractic intervention to ensure that I have the skeletal health to promote symmetrical and efficient muscle build – so there is no excuse, these muscles just need working correctly!

Beth asked me to warm up in my usual way, demonstrating all 3 paces, while she analysed my various postural issues and where these might be working against Jules’ movement. Spotting some target areas, we then had a go at some stretching exercises and joint mobilisation to improve my body awareness and range of movement required to hold a balanced and correct position. Once established, we had a reminder of the importance of breathing, exhaling fully and relaxing into the motion of the horse’s gait to increase feel through the seat.

Finally, we put it all together with some much improved trot-work, in which we had a few moments where my position, posture, balance and ‘feel’ all seemed to come together to create a lovely forward harmony with Jules, and gave me a helpful taster of what I’m aiming for!

This session highlighted just how inhibitory a stiff, unbalanced rider can be on the correct way of going of our horses. When everything came together for me today, Jules was able to carry herself, move forward freely and engage the appropriate muscles for her own progression and fitness. The importance of this has enormous relevance to what I do as a massage therapist, and much of the soreness and muscle asymmetry I see in my clients may well be the result of compensating for their own unbalanced riders. I’m definitely going to do my best to make sure I avoid impacting Jules in this way going forward – it’s going to take lots of practice and hard work but we’ll get there ☺️.

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