Pilates for Horses by Julie Driver

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.

Julie with

Why does Pilates work for riders?

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.

A Sound Seat for Clear Communication

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.

Ride well, do less, and clear the lines of communication. - Julie Driver

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."

Julie Driver
About the Author

Julie Driver

Julie Driver is a Pilates educator based in London. She works with clients of all ages and fitness levels, ranging from sports professionals and performing artists to desk-bound professionals and clients looking to improve their general fitness. She was the winner of our 2014 Next Pilates Anytime Instructor competition, and many of her classes can be found on the site. For more information, visit juliedriverpilates.com.


Super article. We live in semi rural horse country. I shared everywhere! Thank you, Julie!
Julie Driver
Thank you Deborah!
1 person likes this.
Thank you Julie. My poor little Morgan gelding has been putting up with all of these instabilities for a very long time. Since beginning regular pilates sessions about 6 years ago we have begun to simmer these down. Not perfect by a long shot, but soo much better. Everyone that gets on the back of a horse should try to understand the fundamentals of Pilates, and then try to incorporate into every ride.
Julie Driver
Thank you Denise for your comments, you are absolutely right, I hope you enjoy my classes and find them helpful for you and your lovely Morgan gelding!

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