This month Trafalgar Square Books had a chance to catch up with Janice Dulak, creator of the all new DVD NINE PILATES ESSENTIALS FOR THE BALANCED RIDER and author of the bestselling PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER. We asked her how she came to be a Pilates instructor for dressage riders and what it’s like co-teaching with top trainers—and we found out a few other things about her along the way.
Janice’s bestselling book and DVD PILATES FOR THE DRESSAGE RIDER and new DVD NINE PILATES ESSENTIALS FOR THE BALANCED RIDER are available now from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is always FREE.
TSB: Can you tell us about how you discovered Pilates and how you determined that its practice could benefit riding?
JD: I discovered Pilates in 1988 as a professional dancer. I hurt my knee and had Pilates as therapy. While rehabbing with Pilates, I found my back pain that had plagued me for years, mysteriously disappeared. That intrigued me so I found my teacher and became certified in 1993.
I got my first horse in 1993 and by 1996, I still could not sit the trot, even though I had very good riding instructors (and not to mention I had all the fitness and body control from being a professional dancer and Pilates instructor!) That is when I realized that there was something missing….even though I was a dancer and Pilates instructor, no one could tell me how to sit the trot! So I went out and began experimenting with my body while I rode. I would use certain muscles and my horse would answer if what I was doing was right. Within a year we were doing flying changes!
TSB: You regularly co-teach with Linda Parelli and Sarah Martin. What is your role when you appear at clinics together and how do you feel co-teaching benefits the students?
JD: Linda and Sarah are the best teachers of their particular subjects. However, they both have found they have been missing an effective vocabulary in which to communicate with their students to help them ride better. By co-teaching, we are able to improve upon that.
When asked to teach with them, I begin with a PowerPoint lecture that maps out what they will be learning. Then I teach Pilates for Dressage® mat exercises to help the riders find how to use their muscles to organize their skeleton. By finding core and intrinsic stabilizing muscles, the riders experience how to use these muscles to create an independent seat, legs, and hands. This is followed by individual sessions on their horses to put those learned concepts from the ground into practice.
After that, the co-teaching begins! Linda and I teach in a group situation that allows me to single out riders and their needs, while she can work with other students at the same time. Sarah and I team-teach private lessons, in which Sarah teaches the dressage lesson, focusing on the needs of the horse, and I help the rider by coaching her or him on what adjustments are needed in the body. It never fails…when the rider gets her or his body right, the horse performs the movement better!
By teaching the riders how to feel their body and use it in very specific ways with certain cues, I have helped both Linda and Sarah develop a vocabulary that they can use after I leave. Sarah uses a mantra for her riders now from what I have taught them. She will say “Ribs, belly, booty, wrap!” When she says that, the riders know they need to organize their core (ribs, belly), fix their seat (booty), and hang their legs (wrap). Linda now is using “Da Vinci arms!” to help her riders know when they need to open their chest.
TSB: You have a brand new DVD out called NINE PILATES ESSENTIALS FOR THE BALANCED RIDER. Can you walk us through one of your favorite exercises on the DVD?
JD: Oh, there are so many that I think are wonderful! But I guess the one that I really love was the one I created that led me to develop this DVD. It is the one in which you find your middle abdominals.
Your middle abdominal fibers are the most important muscles for your core stability. You use the Magic Circle exercise ring for this in the DVD, and it is really cool! But if you don’t have a Magic Circle, you can just try this:
1 Stand comfortably and put one hand on your belly and one on your lower back.
2 “Pull” your bellybutton to your backbone and exhale. When you do this, you will feel your back widen and lengthen. This is the posture your back should be in when you ride! It actually stretches out the lower back while stabilizing the spine and feels really good!
TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?
JD: I am partial to Warmbloods, but in fact would be happy with any horse! I would have a copy of Dandelion Wine, which is a lovely book by Ray Bradbury that keeps reminding me how large concepts can be found in simple things.
TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?
TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
JD: That moment of harmony that I had as a professional dancer; dancing with one other, or a group, when all the energy was flowing into one movement of unison. It is the same feeling we dressage folk are addicted to! Only with the horse, it is much harder to come by…but it is still what keeps you going. I believe it might be called being “in the zone,” where you see or think nothing in particular but are so focused that you feel everything.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember sitting on a horse.
JD: I was about eight years old, and a friend of my aunt had a horse and he let me get on. I remember the horse was jet black and it was heaven.
TSB: Tell us about the first time you remember falling off a horse.
JD: I was about ten and riding a rented horse bareback in a field. The horse decided he wanted to go back to the barn and began galloping home, going right under a tree branch as he did so. I was too scared to know what was happening and I was knocked off and landed on my tush…ouch!
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?
JD: That they are there when you don’t even know you need them to be.
TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?
JD: One that runs to me from the pasture and looks to me for leadership.
TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback or with a horse that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?
JD: Ride bridleless and bareback.
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect meal?
JD: Something very healthy that I didn’t have to cook!
TSB: What is your idea of the perfect vacation?
JD: Sitting on a beach with my husband and a good book.
TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?
JD: Ray Bradbury
TSB: What is your motto?
JD: Know what to hold onto and what to let go……