Pilates for riders

shutterstock_161327867Riders, like any other sportspersons, can benefit from integrating an exercise programme into their daily routine. Most sensible activities are useful, but some are uniquely suited to horse riding.

Pilates can help you create a deeper, stable seat and absorb the shock of your horse’s movement better. It prevents a rigid posture, increases spinal flexibility, encourages the hips to move more independently and evenly, eliminates ‘gripping’ with your muscles, and improves how your horse responds to your aids.

What’s the secret?

Pilates exercises require concentration and attention to detail with multiple movements that have the focus of not just strengthening one muscle or one set of muscles at a time, but rather those that benefit the whole body.

Pilates also exercises the lungs by teaching you correct breathing techniques. The pilates system focuses on balancing the actions of the body’s whole structure: the skeleton, the joints and muscles and the major organs. The exercises promote flexibility, strength and stamina as well as integrate the different actions of the joints and muscles into co-ordinated, efficient movements. This is structural fitness.

Core strength

Strengthening the core will assist a rider to support themselves with their core and therefore open the hips and use the legs as aids instead of using the legs to ‘grip’ onto the saddle.
Your body posture takes its cue from the balance of your upper body, so keeping your head aligned and shoulders down realigns your spine, in turn allowing your upper body to transmit the weight of your body to your hips and equally down both legs to your feet.

Back to basics

The founder of the pilates method, Joseph Pilates, believed his clients could acquire control of their bodies and regain the natural rhythm and co-ordination of movement that modern living erodes. Sitting all day at a desk can cause back pain and put strain on your discs. The use of mobile phones, driving cars, picking up kids, carrying groceries and incorrect weight training, for example, all have an impact on your posture which is then carried through to your riding.

Apart from the benefits mentioned at the beginning of this article, Lindsay Wilcox-Reid (founder of Equipilates) says that with a strong core and increased flexibility, you can:

  • improve mental focus and co-ordination.
  • freely and gently move your arms and legs around a stable base.
  • improve posture and alignment to help deepen your seat.
  • maintain a neutral pelvis so you can easily follow your horse’s movements.
  • develop a trusting riding relationship, one in which your horse responds to your commands and is confident in your ability.

If you are serious about your riding, your health and your horse’s health, pilates might be just what you need to add that extra dimension to your performance.

Text: Carmen Cornish, Bodyline Pilates Studio