One thing that is certain is that riding a horse in any capacity requires multitasking. I can vividly remember a lesson a few years ago with Charlie Hutton at Talland, where we were working on improving the canter for pirouettes. Charlie is a very technical teacher, which I like, but my brain nearly melted with the multiple instructions with a different aid required from each limb as I tried to keep Baz on a small circle, in collection, in shoulder-in, hind legs active etc etc. It was a fantastic lesson – probably why I can still recall the details – and I got the desired competition result a short while after. The thing was though, that I needed someone else there to keep reminding me of all the things my body should be doing.
Most of us aren’t in a position to have as much tuition as we would like – I certainly don’t now that I have a child. So we need to be ultra disciplined in how we train ourselves at home; ultra aware of how each part of our body moves and how it does that in relation to the rest of us.
It is the same in Pilates; the need to multitask and the ability to be aware of each body part as it moves independently and as part of the whole. It is almost a given that in every class I teach, there is a ‘complaint’ at some point about the complexity of the exercise and how impossible it is to do everything all at once! Usually it is keeping the pelvic floor active whilst on the move.
Which brings me back to the subject of pelvic floor that ended my last post…..
When it comes to practising Pilates, it can be helpful to break the body down into segments. Then, whether on the horse or off, it is easy to run through each segment as you need to. Think head, shoulders, knees and toes, but with a bit in the middle.
- Starting at the top the focus is on head position – light, looking ahead (not down and tipping your weight forward onto the horse’s shoulders) and with an elastic neck.
- Shoulders need to be back and down – think of drawing the shoulder blades down and together – but keeping the arms soft. Being strong at your shoulders should make it much easier to have a soft contact.
- Through the trunk you need to get familiar with your ribs. To keep your low back in a neutral position takes a lot of practise, but by imagining you have ropes holding your ribs down towards your pelvis, you can start to improve stability in this area.
- For pelvic position, imagine you have headlights on the bony bits (called the Anterior Superior Iliac Spine). You can then practise moving them, and transfer this to on your horse; this control is incredibly useful with lateral work, circles, corners etc.
- Off the horse, keeping knees soft is important, to avoid locking and bracing which disrupts the fluidity of movement through the body.
- Your feet are the final segment – most of us favour one side, but when in the saddle we need to be symmetrical in our weight distribution. So practise finding equal weight on the floor, and transfer it to in the saddle.
The one final ‘segment’ that stands alone because it’s function is so vital, are the Pelvic floor muscles. These are seated as the name suggests, at the floor of the pelvis. They are literally the foundation of our core stabilisers, and weakness here is linked with poor core strength and back pain, as well as the more obvious continence problems. Simply put, there is no point perfecting all the other segments if the pelvic floor aren’t working.
Familiarising yourself with these muscles and then working them is however relatively easy; imagine you are stopping the flow when doing a pee – that action comes from the pelvic floor. Then imagine your pelvic floor is a lift with 10 floors, and try to repeatedly take that lift up to floor 3. Always making sure you keep breathing so that you aren’t cheating by using the diaphragm!
If you can keep all those segments in position together then you are good to go with Pilates exercises, and also with improving your posture and efficacy in the saddle. And if you need motivation in the depths of winter, well now is the perfect time to practise all of this in the saddle, ready to build on as training and competing pick up in the next couple of months.
Thank you for reading – next time I’ll look at some of the ways you, your riding and your horse can benefit from you practising Pilates. If you want to follow this Blog and get involved, now is a good time to check with your own GP or therapist that you are Pilates is the right thing for you to do.