The title of this blog may be a bit misleading: clearly, I do not have a Reformer large enough for a horse or a Wunda Chair fit for a pony.
To be honest, I am reluctant to title anything "Pilates for..." as Pilates works for every occupation and activity, and it should not need an extra label. However, by using the vocabulary of a specific activity, classes can be made more meaningful and relevant and the benefits made clearer for the participants.
Pilates assists the rider in finding the control necessary in their own body to communicate clearly and calmly with the horse. As horse and rider, there are two living and breathing creatures that have their own individual asymmetries and biomechanics - two spines coming together in a dynamic relationship, linked by a saddle. The effect of riding can impact both partners, not just the rider after they dismount. I believe that as a rider our responsibility to the horse begins before we even enter the yard.
The aim is to build a better partnership through good movement patterns, helping the rider to develop stamina and stability along with the mobility to develop a deep, sound seat. Without a sound seat, there may be extraneous movement “wiggling around" and weight shifting.
This constant and unnecessary re-balancing can mask the aids the rider is trying to give to their horse, and the rider may feel the horse is not “listening” to them.
Developing a sound seat is the beginning of developing a deeper relationship and prevents a lot of misunderstanding!
Ask yourself these questions, and start thinking about the impact on your horse:
1. What happens to the horse when a human sits on its back with all their asymmetries and instabilities?
2. What did your hour of misalignment do to the animal you were riding?
Imagine the impact we have bouncing around, heaving ourselves out of the stirrups for a rising trot and then our body weight not always landing back in the same place, using the reins to balance and flapping wildly at the elbows and ankles...
Clearly, I am describing the worst possible scenario here to illustrate the point. Misalignments and lack of balance do not need to be anywhere near as pronounced to have an impact on the horse or to create a lasting influence on their posture and balance over time.
A good horse and rider relationship should be invisible.
The next time you attend a Pilates class, don't just think about why a particular exercise works for you. Think of how you can improve yourself for your horse.
Listen to Julie's full interview with Debbie Loucks, daughter of "The Horse Whisperer," Monty Roberts, on "Horsemanship Radio."