Pilates, with its emphasis on the core and proper body alignment, is a must for horseback riders who often favor one side of their body. Such favoring means you'll have a dominant side and a subsequent weaker one, which is more susceptible to injury and postural irregularities.
The muscles on your stronger side are likely tighter and shorter, so you may unknowingly lean that direction as your ride. Pilates helps create muscular balance so your ride with good posture. You'll increase flexibility of the spine, strengthen your abs, eliminate excessive head bobbing and learn how to relax in your strength while in the saddle. Instead of riding rigidly, Pilates will help you look natural, fluid and in control.
Read More: 10 Surprising Benefits of Pilates
Mat and reformer Pilates moves offer benefits. Seek out a studio and certified instructor for guidance in these and other moves for horseback riders.
Bridging creates suppleness in your hips. This helps you stay put on the horse without clenching your muscles, which can be fatiguing.
How To: Lie on your back on your mat. Bend your knees and plant your feet about hip-distance apart. Press your spine toward the floor. Inhale and roll your back out of the mat, starting with your tailbone and working vertebra by vertebra. When you reach the top of your ribs, hold for a count or two. Then, exhale and roll back down, replacing your spine's vertebrae in a methodical manner. Repeat five to eight times.
The single-leg stretch promotes spine flexibility and ab and back strength, so you're less likely to slouch in the saddle. With regular practice, you'll sit up tall without looking rigid and unnatural.
How To: Lie on your back on the mat. Draw your knees over your hips with your shins parallel to the floor. Inhale, lift your head, neck and shoulders. Place your right hand on your right ankle and your left hand inside your right knee as you pull the right leg close to your nose. Simultaneously extend your left leg out parallel to the floor. Exhale and switch legs. Work up to 10 repetitions. Keep your spine pressed toward the floor and your hips from wobbling throughout your repetitions.
Leg Circles and Lowers
Leg circles and lowers can be done on a mat, but are most effective when done with the assistance of a Pilates Reformer. Place your feet in the straps to benefit from the spring-loaded resistance. Plus, the straps help you bring awareness to pelvic stability and increases the challenge to your abs.
How To Leg Circles: If you have a Reformer, place the right foot in the straps as you lie on your back on the padded carriage. Keep your left leg long on the surface of the mat or carriage and extend your right foot straight up to the ceiling. Draw small circles with a pointed toe just above your torso. Inhale on the upswing of the circle and exhale on the downswing. Keep your pelvis and hips from rocking by pressing your spine into the mat; this helps you train your hips to move independently. Do six to eight one way, then change directions. Repeat on the other leg.
Increase the size of the circle as you become more proficient. You never want to make the circle so big that you lose control of your pelvis, however.
How To Leg Lowers: Get into the same position you did for leg circles. Raise your strapped right leg up over your hip. Exhale and stretch it out long as you lower it toward the mat or carriage surface. Inhale it back up over your hips. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs.
Adjust the resistance to make the lowers challenging, but not sloppy.
Hamstring and Psoas Stretches
The hamstrings at the backs of your thighs and the psoas, a deep hip flexor muscle, become tight with the muscular seated position of horseback riding. Use a Pilates Reformer or a resistance band to assist the stretch of these muscles.
How To: Lie on your back on a reformer or mat. If using the Reformer, place a foot strap around the right leg; if on a mat, loop a resistance band around the base of your foot and hold the handles at your chest. Inhale and gently pull your foot toward your chest, lengthening through the back of your thigh. Pull just to the point of feeling a mild stretch, not pain.
To get at the psoas, keep the strap or band around your foot and allow it to fall toward the right side. Pause for a count, and then bring the leg across your body toward the left side of the room. Hold for a count or two. Repeat the side stretches five times, then switch legs.
During this stretch, keep the backs of your hips firmly pressed into the floor. Don't rock along with your leg, or you'll lose the stretch.
Read More: List of Pilates Reformer Exercises