Reformer Pilates studio

Reformer Pilates for Equestrians?

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Looking for something new to do for those New Years Resolutions? 

Well I was! I was always curious to know about pilates. My only introduction to pilates had been the free ab class online.

As we discuss the importance of core stability in our equine athletes and the effectiveness of using the Equiband for this exact reason, it is important to understand that core stability is equally important for horse riders.

I signed up for a series of 4 introductory classes on the Pilates Reformer at my local reformer studio (Infinite Wellness Pilates). 

reformer pilates studio for equestrians
Pilates Reformer machines at Infinite Wellness Kingston.
(c) Fit to Compete Wellness, 2023

The reformer itself initially looks a bit like a torture device. By the end of class it may well feel like it is living up to its stereotype (just kidding! Mostly...). There are straps, pulleys, springs and moving bits. Blocks, weighted balls, wooden poles, trampoline boards, and hoops all sit at an arm's reach away for easy access to certain exercises.

Pilates itself is quite different from every other form of group class I have ever done. Whether I am weight lifting, or in a group spin class, more often than not, in exercise classes the music is blasting so much one can feel it reverberate in their lungs. Pilates, at least at this studio, is done in a silent room. A little awkward in a silent room at first, as soon as the instructor begins leading the class and you start working on the reformer, it almost becomes meditative.

Reformer class sizes seem to always be small, regardless of which studio you attend. For my pilates classes, there has been a total of 5 students [myself included] each time, with a limit of 6. As a therapist, I especially appreciate this fact because it allows the instructor to keep a watchful eye on each student, offering guidance on posture during exercises, and modifications wherever one needs it. 

Getting into the reformer itself is not entirely graceful. But that is OK, your ego stays at the door for pilates. There was one instance where I was working to get my feet out of each strap loop where I was certain my left foot was going to end up at my ear! But thankfully, your body does somehow know how to save itself.

How does Pilates help Riding? 

Pilates is such a unique combination of strength and stretching, with an intense focus on stability. The movements seem small, because they are. Instead of necessarily working on the big muscle groups (don't worry, pilates hits those too), what you'll REALLY feel working are your deep stabilizer muscles. All those little muscles you didn't know you had, around your shoulder, around your hip, and even into your feet.

horse jumping
Pilates for improved riding?
(c) Fit to Compete Wellness Inc. 2023

When a muscle is being lengthened under load, we call it eccentric movement. If you think of a bicep curl, the eccentric movement is when you lower the weight. This is when bicep is lengthening under load.  Eccentric = Elongating. Eccentric movement is where the most strengthening of a muscle occurs [1]. Next time you are lifting a weight, try to slow down your eccentric (elongating) phase! Feel that burn!

Focus on eccentric loading is a huge part of reformer pilates. There is an emphasis on proper posture in the movements, but also tying movements to breathwork [similar to yoga in that way]. The reformer itself adds such a unique resistance, one where you don't feel like you're fighting gravity per se, but you are moving something!

This is due to the tension rods/springs. Your instructor will tell you when to add a spring or remove a spring, and each individual can always add or subtract as needed.

Core Strength for Riders

Riders need a very strong core in order to be able to properly balance in the saddle. When we do not have a strong core, we will [unknowingly] compensate by shifting our weight into our stirrups and onto our hands for support. You may also get back pain or hip pain.

By strengthening your core, you take stress off of your distal joints (hips, knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrists) as well as take stress off of your horse!

What do you think?
Is increasing strength and soundness for you and your horse a resolution for 2023? If so, consider attending a reformer class at your local pilates studio and starting your horse in the Equiband Pro system

While there is no way to overstate the value of practicing under the watchful eye of a certified pilates instructor, there are also a few great print resources available on Amazon for those who prefer to practice at home.

equicore equiband
A stronger core leads to a stronger you!
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