Why Every Equestrian Should Try Pilates

Are you looking to improve your riding? Consider trying pilates. It can make a big difference in the quality of your riding by improving your posture, which prevents pain and soreness and develops a healthy relationship with your horse.

Photo courtesy of Club Pilates

By Heather Bush, Equestrian, NPCT and Club Pilates Instructor

Whether you’re a novice rider or passionate and experienced equestrian, horse-back riding is physically demanding and requires a considerable degree of core strength and endurance in order to ride safely and productively. As a lifelong equestrian and certified instructor at Club Pilates, embracing Pilates as part of your fitness program can make a big difference in the quality of your riding by achieving better posture, which prevents pain and soreness and develops a healthy relationship with your horse. Here are three classic Pilates mat that can be done at home that really focus on those key muscle groups that can elevate your performance on the saddle:

1.     Leg pull front

This plank variation is a whole-body exercise targeting the abdominals, back muscles, hamstrings, glutes, shoulder girdle and bonus – it gets the heart rate up!

Leg Pull. Photo courtesy of Club Pilates. 

  • Start in a plank position from the hands and balls of the feet. Check your plank position to ensure your navel is continuously pulling in towards your spine, shoulders are out of the ears, hands in line with the shoulders and pelvis is a neutral (think of tucking the tailbone slightly to help maintain that neutral pelvis).
  • Lift one leg off the mat to hip height keeping the leg straight and pelvis stable, pointing the toe then rock forward a few inches flex the foot then rock back to the start position placing the foot back on the mat keeping that perfect plank position!
  • Repeat on the other side. 8 reps of each set. Feel your whole body working here!

2.     Kneeling side kick series

This series really targets glutes, core and hip flexors.

Kneeling Side Kick. Photo courtesy of Club Pilates. 

  • Start kneeling on the center of your mat hands at the forehead. Extend your right hand to the side now tip you torso to the right side reaching your hand to the mat in line with the shoulder.
  • Lift your left leg to hip height and fully extend the leg and point the toe. Keeping your core engaged by drawing your navel in, kick your leg forward, flexing your foot then kick the leg back behind the pelvis pointing your toe. Try to keep the torso level and naval pulled in. No arching of the back here!
  • Now keep the leg lifted point the toe and lower the straight leg to the mat and back to hip height.
  • Keep the leg lifted now circle the leg 5 times, repeat in the other direction.
  • 8 reps of each variation. Repeat on the other side. Glutes on fire!

3.     Teaser

Another classic that really develops core strength and has an added balance challenge.

Teaser. Photo courtesy of Club Pilates. 

  • Start lying on your back on the mat arms legs fully extended.
  • Initiate by reaching the arms forward lifting head then simultaneously lifting the torso and legs simultaneously off the mat into a “V” position on the sit bones.
  • Roll down by flexing the spine as you articulate each vertebra back to the mat while lowering the legs in unison.
  • Modify this exercise by starting with the legs in table top, then extending the legs out to 45° as the torso lifts off the mat.
  • Variations to up the challenge include maintaining the torso in teaser while the legs lower and lift. Now try maintaining the legs in teaser while the torso lowers the lifts. These variations not only require tremendous core strength but also target balance and coordination. 8 reps. Now you’ve really discovered your deep abdominals!

I strongly recommend all horse-back riders incorporate Pilates into their daily workout routines, as it strengthens and conditions the entire body, developing core strength, balance and stability which will go a long way in how your body feels before, during and after a long ride. Along with these mat exercises, you could try a Reformer Pilates class to reap even more benefits. See and feel the difference in your body and your riding!