Yoga and Pilates Improve Horseback Riding

 In Blog, Equine Confessions

Before college consumed my life, I had all the time in the world to ride horses and in solid proof my riding was strong and my seat secure, I could ride through anything! After graduating college in 2012, I suddenly had the time to ride again, but I didn’t have the endurance to ride for long– I had lost so much muscle and strength that cantering 2 times around the arena was enough to leave me winded! It took a year of riding 4 times a week paired with regular pilates and yoga classes before I regained the seat I once took for granted; just the other day, cantering on my 10-year-old paint, Stanley, I looked down to see a motionless leg and seat, it was effortless really—and I truly thank yoga and Pilates. My realization was reaffirmed when I read many of the world’s best Grand Prix riders take Pilates classes, in particular, to build the strength necessary to ride wildly athletic horses over crazy big fences.


Differences Between Yoga & Pilates

A little over a year ago I became addicted to yoga, 6-months thereafter I picked up a habit for Pilates too. Often confused as one in the same, yoga is more stretching-based and you spend the entire time practicing on a mat. While Pilates involves more strength building than stretching, and it also incorporates a machine called a reformer.

In all honesty, I wouldn’t have actively taken on all of these activities on my own, it’s just that my mom practically gave birth to me in a gym—as a little tike I remember hanging out in the 24-hour fitness babysitting room while she got her morning fix on the treadmill. To this day she still likes to make fitness a big part of my life; for example, on Valentine’s Day my sister and I both got a package of Pilates classes! Therefore my love of both Pilates and yoga cannot be attributed to my own drive for self-improvement, but instead thanks to my ever-persistent mother. Either way, an unexpected, and very welcome, benefit has shown itself: my horseback riding has improved!


How Yoga Improved My Riding

Yoga isn’t only about toning up your body but it also largely revolves around learning how to quiet your mind. Using deep breaths, in through your nose and out through the back of your throat, while executing certain poses is supposed to make quitting the mind easier. Although, for anyone who has ridden a horse before, yoga makes quitting the mind possible, but nothing compares to how effortlessly silent the mind goes as you gallop down the long side, the wind blowing against your helmet. Still—I have found some true Zen in yoga, and my instructor, Sara Holliday, has helped me to feel more free and comfortable in my own skin. Not only has my new flexibility helped my tight riders’ thighs, and graced me with the skills to mount any horse bareback, but even better my yoga breath has become an encouraging tool while I ride. Whenever a horse blows air out of his nose, he is signaling that he is relaxed, therefore whenever I take a deep yoga breath, not only does my body naturally relax, but I have also noticed my horses crank their ears to listen and then further relax in response. If the rider is at ease, the horse is at ease, and what clearer way to tell your horse that you are a calm and trustworthy rider than to speak in their language?


How Pilates Improved My Riding

When I picked up riding lessons again towards the end of college, I was disappointed to find that my seat was flimsy, my inner thighs felt like they were on tight springs about to snap, and it only took a few times cantering around the arena before I was winded. Pilates wasn’t going to let me get away with that sort of endurance, especially not in a jump class—a certain type of Pilates class that is harder than heck, omg! I remember thinking I might croak any second, or more realistically, my legs would just stop catching me and I’d crumble off the reformer and onto the floor, a pile of pitiful pain. Somehow though, I made it out of my first class alive, only to wake up the next day to find I could hardly walk; limping around my house with heat pads on my back, I swore I’d done permanent damage. Thankfully I hadn’t, instead I was incredibly weak in my core and as a result my back had taken on a lot of the impact. Although I’m still sore after every class, it’s gotten a lot better—and the pain in my back is completely gone! Plus, with so much strength in my core and legs I can properly control my horse without resorting to using my reigns or falling onto my horse’s neck. After every Pilates class there’s a resilient sense of accomplishment, I know that I am doing things I was never able to do before and at the same time I am improving my skills as a rider.

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