Pilates for riders - blog by Agi Falenta, Equitness

Everybody is talking about Pilates these days and why it is good for you, but many people don’t know where it came from.

The Pilates method is not a new age phenomenon. In fact, it has been around for over 80 years. Its founder, Joe Pilates, was born in Germany. He grew up plagued by rickets, asthma and rheumatic fever. He developed an
exercise programme that assisted in restoring him to optimal health. Thanks to his programme, he gained enough strength to become an accomplished body builder, diver, skier and gymnast.

At the age of 32, Joe moved to England where he used his skills as a professional boxer to teach self-defence to members of the Police. After the first World War, he started to help British soldiers who were injured in the war.

In the early 1920’s Joe moved to the USA. He opened up a studio in New York in 1926, which he shared with the New York City Ballet. It was here that he taught his method of exercise, which he called Contrology.
This method was very popular with dancers, gymnasts and athletes as it gave them strength, flexibility and an important link between mind and body. After his death in 1967 the name was changed from Contrology to Pilates.

Today, Pilates has become very popular with people of all ages and level of fitness. The slow, controlled, flowing movements primarily strengthen the core muscles that stabilise and support the spine and help correct postural problems. Pilates brings mind and body together, focussing strongly on total concentration, balance, precision and breathing. Horse Riders already use these principles to achieve better performance, but may not be aware that they are the principles of Pilates.

Most of our movements on the horse come from a strong centre, well balanced seat and precision with our aids. Did you every try to ride a horse when you are very stressed, sore, tense etc…? I guess many times, and then you have found that your horse is not performing as well as you expected. This is why you should always take time to focus on yourself before riding. Even a short session of Pilates will give you and your partner benefits. Before every riding session, try to warm up / mobilise your body - not just your horse. Below is a short list of great mobilising exercises to use before riding:

1. Upper body and spinal mobility: These exercises mobilise the cervical spine, thoracic and lumbar spine, shoulder girdle and shoulder joints.
a) Head turns
b) Hugging the tree
c) Side Stretch
d) Waist Twist
e) Roll Down

2. Lower body, pelvis, hips, knees and ankles.
a) Pelvic Tilts
b) Squats with arms
c) Hamstring stretch
d) Knee rise and ankle circles

3. On the horse, remember to sit central on both of your seat bones. Sit tall, lengthening your spine. Lengthen your legs, let your shoulder blades slide gently down. Engage your abdominal and pelvic floor and find a neutral pelvis
and spine. Concentrate on your breathing for wee while - try to open your chest and breathe from your ribcage.

4. Some stretches can be done on a horse as well, for example the side stretches, waist twists, hugging the tree, knee rise and ankle circles.

I hope this short routine will help you with your riding performance and balance. Your horse will thank you for it.

If you need further information or if you want to watch videos to see how these exercises are done, please visit my Facebook page - Equitness.

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