Do you want to be the rider your horse would choose?
That’s what Lindsay Wilcox-Reid, founder of Equipilates uses as a goal for her clients. Rider fitness is important from both a performance and safety perspective. Lindsay said, “If we are fitter, it means we can not only achieve more physically whilst riding our horses, but also feel better while mucking out, shifting bales, lifting lorry ramps.” It makes sense, a rider who is fit, is capable of riding to a higher standard for longer before fatigue starts to affect balance, precise application of aids, coordination and the ability to make good decisions.
Pilates is good for riders because it works the whole body from the inside out. In addition to paying close attention to the alignment of the body and where it is in space (proprioception). It involves the application of six main principles to each exercise: breath, centre, flow, focus, precision and control. These principles mirror the skills needed for riding. Lindsay said, “The beauty of Pilates is that it can be adapted to suit every rider’s needs; this could be returning to riding after a long break, rehab, improving flexibility, the capacity to absorb the horse’s movement efficiently, or working on specific motion patterns to help with particular movements on the horse.”
We expect our horses to be balanced, symmetrical, keen to work and capable of doing the task we set them. It is crucial that we develop those same qualities in our own bodies.
Lindsay suggests all riders would benefit from working on hip mobility exercises. She said, “Exercises which explore range of motion plus strength work around the hips, abdominal and lower back. Plus, upper back mobility and rotation, are a useful combination.”
Exercises to strengthen the muscles between the shoulder blades and open the chest are also common areas of focus on. Lindsay stressed it’s important to make sure strength work is started from a base point of focus, awareness and an appropriate level of relaxation.
Committing time to include fitness into your routine can make huge differences to your horse’s performance; if it’s fun you’re more likely to stick to it.
Lindsay said, “Taking time to start each session with a minute, yes a whole minute, of breathing and simply becoming aware of how your body feels today, is a valuable baseline. Breath awareness in itself is one the most useful things riders can incorporate, you can do it anywhere, at any time!”
Lindsay’s tip: Next time you ride, try breathing in time with your horse’s footfalls and imagine your breath is flowing down through your body, into your pelvis and hips. How may walk hoofbeats can you comfortably breathe in for? Try breathing out for the same number, and then keep this breath flow going. How about the trot and canter? Steady and consistent breath flow actually allows better force absorption in your body, which helps your horse to move more comfortably underneath you.
Try it and see how your horse responds!