Horse riders spend so much time taking care of their horse that they often forget to take care of themselves. What many people forget is that the efficiency of your own movements will directly impact the performance of your horse.
The constant shifting from one gait to another and the more forward position of the rider during speed work requires excellent postural control, and a good level of core and upper body strength to keep the rider in balance.
Spending time on the horse is essential to improving your riding but there is lots of stuff you can work on your own to improve performance in the saddle.
The benefits of Pilates are well understood in terms of health or fitness. Many of the benefits of Pilates are some of the most important skills for horse riding. Whether you do reformer, mat, group, or single Pilates, there is no doubt that Pilates will be beneficial to your riding. The following is a list of some of the main benefits:
1. Improved Mobility: Improving your mobility will give you greater control of your horse. Hip and shoulder mobility will give you better control of the horse. By increasing hip and pelvis mobility you will have a greater ability to move with the horse in a three dimensional manner.
2. Improved posture: A major part of Pilates is learning how to maintain good posture. It can be difficult to maintain good posture when you get tired or when the horse is moving at great speed. Pilates uses a combination of slow controlled movements and breathing to teach you how to maintain posture when the body is under duress.
3. Symmetry: An asymmetry in your hips or body (e.g one very dominant or tight side), can really put off your horse. This asymmetry could impact your riding in a number of ways depending on the severity. If jumping it could cause you to knock a fence or it could make it harder for your horse to do a half pass. Pilates can help you to identify these asymmetries and your instructor will hopefully be able to provide a program to correct them.
4. Greater Awareness: Pilates educates us about how we use our bodies in daily life. Over the years we can develop many bad habits that pilates can alert us too. For example being made aware of your high shoulders and sticking out stomach helps us to make the small changes necessary to achieve better efficiency of movement.
5. Improve Strength: Any good horse rider that I have met is usually quite physically strong (even if they do not look it at first). They may not be bulky but they have serious strength in their core, legs, and arms that provides them with a better ability to control their horse.
5. Ability to relax: Horses can sense anxiety and if you cannot relax the chances are the horse will not perform for you as desired. A big part of Pilates is teaching us how to relax even when doing physical exercise. There is also a mindfulness aspect to Pilates which can help reducing your level of stress.
6. Increased Lung capacity: Being out of breadth hampers our decision making ability and makes us more likely to make a mistake. If you find yourself out of breath quickly then you probably need to start working on increasing your lung capacity.
7. Prevention of musculoskeletal injuries: One of the main reasons people do Pilates is to treat injuries and prevent the occurrence or recurrence of an injury. By strengthening different parts of our body you can reduce the risk of injury which means more time in the saddle. Niggly injuries like a sore back or neck regularly keep people out of the saddle. Instead of putting up with the pain try to find a Pilates instructor who is also a physical therapist.
8. Improved Fitness: Many people often forget that Pilates can also give you a great workout and can significantly improve your overall fitness. As you improve you can build up the repetitions, weight, and intensity in order to get a great burn. Your improved fitness will leave you feeling in much better physical shape when you sit in the saddle which can only be to the benefit of your riding.