A few weeks ago, I began taking a Pilates class in my building. I haven’t take a group exercise class since I decided to learn how to box (I was 22 and living on my own in a strange city…I thought it was a pretty well time-tested form of self-defense), but I’ve long wanted to see what this Pilates thing is all about. Sure, the references to Jennifer Aniston’s streamlined body and the credit Sex and the City’s Samantha gave to her fabulous form provided temptation to sample the trend years ago. But it took us publishing and distributing not one but FOUR books (and a DVD) on how Pilates can help you ride better to finally get me on the mat.
In one class, I was a convert. I couldn’t believe the parallels between what my Pilates instructor was saying and the cues riding coaches and clinicians had given me over the years. One particular moment comes to mind: I remember circling dressage rider Tuny Page for the majority of an hour, without stirrups, as she had me practice initiating transitions from my seat, using a lengthening (or “lightening”) of my body and tightening of my abdominal muscles to move up or down, to lengthen or shorten stride. (I also remember barely being able to stand up when I finally dismounted following that lesson.)
On Monday, my Pilates instructor had me practicing these very same concepts as she moved me through a number of preps. The whole session I kept thinking, “I’m going to be SUCH a better rider next time I get on a horse!”
Of course, I’m not fool enough to think this is the magic ingredient guaranteed to make the very complex concoction that is riding horses both easy and always good…but I am thoroughly convinced that for those who can incorporate the basic concepts of Pilates into their regular fitness regimen, better, more confident, and more subtle riding WILL be attained.
To boil it down for you, here, courtesy of the TSB bestseller PILATES FOR RIDERS, are five ways doing Pilates makes you a better rider:
1 RELAXATION Awareness of tension and knowing how to release it is an important part of Pilates practice, and riding without tension ensures you can be in tune with your horse and communicate clearly with him.
2 ALIGNMENT Pilates aims to align your body correctly so all the systems within it can function properly. You need to be aligned correctly in the saddle in order to communicate clearly with your horse.
3 BREATHING Much of Pilates practice is focused on breath and using a breathing method that strengthens the abdominals and energizes the body. Proper use of your breath on horseback ensures that you move with your horse’s movement.
4 FOCUS & PRECISION Pilates teaches you to focus on individual parts of your body in order to gain maximum benefit from the exercises. Isolating sections of your body in the saddle enables you to apply aids independently and with a good sense of timing while maintaining proper position.
5 CONTROL & STAMINA Pilates teaches you to build an awareness of muscle control in every part of your body, and builds muscle endurance particularly in areas of spinal support. Greater control over your body, and the ability to maintain position even when you aren’t thinking about it, makes you far more able to influence your horse’s balance and movement.
Check out TSB’s selection of books that show you how to use Pilates to become a better rider—all titles are available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE. And don’t forget our BLOG BONUS!!! Enter the coupon code TSBBLOG15 at checkout and receive 15% off your entire order!
–Rebecca Didier, Senior Editor