Pilates For Horse Riders Published Article Part 1


Part 1  Pilates For Horse Riders By Annette Willson

Functional, strong core stability is a crucial element for good posture. Good posture on the ground is essential for a good riding posture. To be a skilled, effective rider requires a stable and functional core. This is a technique every rider can learn.

Physiotherapist, Pilates Educator Rider Coach and Author of the program “Applied Posture Riding” Annette Willson, explains how specifically-designed exercises and movement patterns based on Pilates can improve every rider’s strength, posture, feel, and all-around riding ability.

before and after APR During a riding lesson, it is common to hear and witness or experience an instructor telling the rider to keep their shoulders square, soften their hands, use more leg, keep their seat in the saddle, stop bouncing at the sitting trot, stop moving their leg, use more seat…more impulsion…more bend, etc etc. The rider, frustrated and trying as hard as they know how often compounds the problem and will stiffen up through the whole body and block the horse’s movement as well as their own. Many lessons are repeated ditto. Riders pay lots of money for the same lesson.

Does this sound familiar?

Many instructors see the problem but lack the knowledge on HOW to fix it. Riders are beginning to realise the average riding instructor does not have the education to train them in posture.  The ability to sit well in the trot and have a deep independent seat will not be taught by an instructor. To achieve a strong but flexible upright seat in the saddle and keep the legs still through all paces and aids are elements of riding which riders need to address themselves. All of these problems are based on the strength and use of the deep core muscles.

Training to develop core stability will greatly improve every rider’s seat. Riding lessons will become progressive both with the horse improving in obedience, less resistance to poor riders aids and the rider more skilled and confident. Core stability and strength can be trained in the gym or Pilates classes. However, these sessions will not train functional riding movement patterns; a rider needs to learn specific horse rider movement patterns to ride with skill. Riders must learn how to use their strength, not just be strong. Applied Posture Riding is the perfect way to apply Pilates to riding.

Pilates For Horse Riders

Pilates has become a very popular exercise routine for both the general public and for sports people. While most people may have heard of Pilates, many don’t actually know what it is or understand its principles.

Why is it called Pilates?

Over the years, professional people have discovered special features about individual muscles.

These discoveries are generally named after the person who actually made a difference by studying that muscle.  Joseph Pilates was the man who discovered the special features and function of the deep Transverse Abdominal Muscle. This muscle is a postural muscle which runs transversely around the belly. It does not move any joints or body parts; its main function is to stabilise the spinal joints and flatten the tummy. This is known as core stability. The single most important muscle for posture and pain control As a Physiotherapist; I see a gap in the knowledge of many gym and Pilates teachers. Unfortunately, the true function of this muscle and its biomechanics is not well understood.

The teaching of core stability is generally not complete as it must be taught by an expert. In reality, a Pilate’s class should be no different to any other class because every person exercising, working, or just walking around should be engaging their core muscles. Pilates classes should be called posture classes.

Movement pattern 1 compressed Pilates is the function of the deep core abdominal muscles and simply drawing in one’s ‘tummy’ in preparation for doing an exercise is NOT Pilates. This is a good start but more education on HOW is not taught. It is important to know if the transverse abdominal muscle is working properly, and even more important to know if it isn’t.

Core stability must be learned from an expert, to be performed properly.

Why is Core Stability important for the Horse Rider?

Horse riding looks so easy, but those who ride know better. Sitting on a horse requires energy on its own, and asking a horse to perform requires much more effort. Riding requires control, strength, and symmetry from both sides of the body. It is essential to have strength, coordination, feel and precision from all body parts. Control, independent movements, and strength will all improve with good core stability. There are many factors that inhibit core strength.

post back surgery websizeLower back pain is a huge inhibitor in training the transverse muscle. Many horse riders suffer back and or neck pain. Severe stiffness will create pain and hence, weaken the core. These problems are self-feeding. That is, cause and effect run the circle. Pain causes inhibition, this causes a weakness and weakness results in poor control and stability and then again, causing pain. The cycle must be broken. Managing pain is another topic on its own but the first step is to start training core stability and understand HOW. Women have the greatest challenge post childbirth. The separation of the front muscles and the regaining of strength is such a battle.

Training the transverse abdominal muscle is the very first step for women returning to riding, post birth. I have so much information on this subject but not in this article. Many women have drastically weakened core stability (and therefore strength/balance) following childbirth, due to the stretching of this muscle? These women, in particular, benefit from core strength training. Horse riding is very different to the ball or athletic sports. The riding posture is very static (but mobile) and should appear to be still. Ball and all athletic sports are dynamic, which means fast-moving in many directions. Most sports are one sided, using the dominate side repetitively, e.g., tennis, and eye-hand coordination is very important.

Horse riders, on the other hand, need to feel movement through their seat, and this does not come naturally to many. Riders need to be equally talented with both the left and right sides of the body; people generally find it difficult to coordinate their left and right hands at the same time (rub your belly while patting your head), let alone coordinating feet, hands, and seat altogether. When what is required to ride well is analysed, it’s easy to understand why riding isn’t that easy. Good riders make it appear easy, but why?

Go to Part 2 for the next part of the article. If you have questions or want advice then contact me I am happy to help, I love this topic and I love seeing horse riders become the best they can.

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