Sunday 28 February 2016

Pilates in the Saddle

Jimmy the Shetland!
I love horses and grew up riding (this is me aged 3 riding Jimmy the Shetland Pony).   Since then, things have moved on!   Sadly, I no longer have a horse in my life but happily I do have clients with horses in their lives.   Holly is 1:1 Pilates client and Marcus is her the horse.

In Holly's Pilates sessions we work on various releases to increase flexibility as well as working on shoulder, pelvic and core stability. 

Holly and Marcus (riding in circles plus
 speed equals force!)
Last week I went to watch Holly having a lesson on Marcus at Baulking Grange with Sally.    Memories of twenty-odd years of riding flooded back to me as I watched Holly riding 20 metre circles.   And although Holly and I discuss her dressage in our Pilates sessions, as I watched her it was much more obvious to me how exercising helps Holly ride well.

Fit to ride
To start with riding relies on a hefty amount of fitness - more than you'd expect as an idle onlooker.   Sitting tall and keeping shoulders above hips and hips above heels is a fairly big ask for many of us, but add to that the motion of the horse, the centrifugal forces and the resulting challenge to balance and you're looking at some hard work!

Pelvic balance

For balance you need good stability in the body.   For the pelvis, this means maintaining an even weight distribution through the pelvis; so the triangle of pubic bone and sitting bones take even loading.    Core strength is going to be key here.  For the shoulders and the arm position, shoulder stabilisers will be important too.

The rider needs enough flexibility to be able to find the correct body alignment in the saddle.  For example, the hip joints need to be mobile enough for the rider to find the correct leg position.  This then allows the horse to move and breathe properly.  The right leg position in riding also lets rider communicate aids through to the horse with her legs.

Holly demonstraing a good leg position
Body awareness
This is important for maintaining the correct alignment as you ride.  For example, are you aware of whether your hands drop?  If they do drop, the tendency is for arms to straighten which then locks wrists and elbows.

Okay so none of us are perfectly symmetrical and nor are horses!   But asymmetries can be amplified when you ride as the horse is affected by the rider's lack of symmetry.   For example, if your left arm is more dominant than your right, the horses's canter will be affected.  On the left rein (moving anti-clockwise in a circle) it will be harder for the horse to begin cantering.  This is because  it leads its stride with its back inside leg and this will be more restricted by the tight grip on the left rein. 

So riding is complicated!  There's a lot involved for both rider and horse!   Holly is a very good rider.  She's also very good at Pilates.  And having watched Holly ride, I can see how we can tailor exercises more to help work on alignment and body awareness as well as working towards even greater symmetry.

For a less experienced rider perhaps the first thing to work on with Pilates would be core strength to enable basic stability in the saddle.  Following that, increasing both flexibilty and body awareness will go a long way on a hack or round the dressage ring!

Happy riding!

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