Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rider Pilates

Last weekend was a busy one for me. First of all, I attended a Football 101 workshop at Seattle Seahawks headquarters sponsored by The Seahawks Women's Association to benefit breast cancer. I love football and my current book series features football heroes. Attending this workshop qualified as book research and a heck of a lot of fun. I'll post pictures on my Facebook later.

On Friday night, I attended the riderless portion of a pilates seminar and the riding portion on Sunday. Anne, who rides at my barn, arranged it with a local pilates instructor, Beth Glosten. Beth is a USDF bronze, silver, and gold medalist. Her first career was as an anesthesiologist, now her second is as a pilates instructor. She became interested in pilates while rehabbing from back surgery and to combat her constant back problems. She calls her version of pilates, RiderPilates.

I'd never done anything like this before, though I'd read some magazine articles and have a few Pilates exercise DVDs.

Beth started the seminar discussing what makes a good rider and her rider training scale (Mental Focus, Posture and Support, Body Control, Understand).

Mental Focus is important because the rider is a benevolent alpha, a term I really liked, and the horse depends on the rider to function as such. A rider must be the thinking member of the horse/rider team.

Good posture places your body in neutral spine alignment supported by abdominal and back muscles. Many riders use their legs and thighs to support themselves on a horse, which was well-demonstrated when we did exercises on the pilates ball. We bounced on the ball, staying balanced with equal weight on both seatbones while staying in rhythm to a metronome. They we did various exercises with our arms as we were bouncing in rhythm. For a uncoordinated person like me, it really drove home how much I depend on legs and hands to stay on the horse.

Beth went into details on the different gaits of the horse and how to sit each one, including very helpful videos of good and bad examples. The exercise portion included ball and mat work.

On Sunday amidst crazy Northwest fall weather, I hauled Gailey to Anne's barn about 10 minutes away. She hadn't been away from her barn in over a year, so I was a little nervous about the entire experience. She loaded and unloaded just fine despite the hail storm and wind. Once in the arena, she settled down and went right to work. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures so the one above is from Beth's website.

The riding portion was extremely beneficial for me. I knew I sat crookedly on the horse, and Beth really helped me straighten out my position by using certain muscles to push my outside hip down into the saddle. I'm also too loose in my mid-section so I firmed my core to restrict my over movement. I pulled my thighs away from the saddle to stop my gripping legs. She related these corrections back to exercises we did on the pilates ball.

Once I was seated in the correct position it became obvious through the horse's change in movement, even though it felt "wrong" to my body which was used to being crooked. When I was aligned correctly and not gripping with my legs, the horse came up underneath me instead of lugging around on her forehand. Of course, she was easier to ride. In fact, very easy. There was such a marked change I could use the horse as my barometer. If I was crooked she sped up and dumped on the forehand. If I was correct, she collected and listened for signals as subtle as a change in breathing for down transitions.

We're hoping to schedule another riding session with Beth in the future. I'm really looking forward to it. I encourage all of you to take advantage of an opportunity like this if you get the chance. It was actually quite inexpensive and well worth it.


Francesca Prescott said...

Jami: I've been doing Pilates for about twelve years, initially on the advice of my youngest sister who had discovered it in New York while dancing with NYC Ballet. I was recovering from surgery following a bad break in my right leg, and after months of physiotherapy was still limping. My limp virtually disappeared after one Pilates session; I didn't need more convincing! I went to Pilates three times a week religeously after that and saw my body change dramatically. A year later I fell off my horse and exploded my left shoulder so badly the damage was inoperable, and the doctor said it was unlikely I'd ever be able to raise my arm again. As soon as I was relatively pain free I returned to Pilates, my left side strapped up in what I called my "straight jacket" (a very kind friend drove me there) and my instructor worked on the rest of my body, concenetrating on extreme stabilisation of the core in order to avoid jolting my shoulder. As soon as it was physically possible for me, she also got my left arm muscles working, initially with a little soft ball placed in my hand which I had to squeeze repeatedly (when we started those exercises I didn't even have the strength to bend my elbow). Long story short: I can lift my left arm and have almost full rotation in my left shoulder.

As you say in your blog, I'm sure Pilates has been had positive effects on my riding simply because of the stabilisation factor.

Will you be going to Pilates classes? I now only go once a week, but I also take Yoga classes which I love.

Shanster said...

Cool - I've been thinking about getting a rider pilates dvd or something for winter mos when my riding is a little (read a lot) less motivated. I like yoga a lot but sounds like the pilates would really help with some core strength, balance and straightness...

Linda Benson said...

Jami - Thanks so much for this thoughtful post, with all the great links. And Francesca - I'm amazed at your tenacity and your ability to come back to riding after your injuries. Impressive! I have done some Pilates before also, and afterwards, I stand up straight and feel wonderful!