Core Fitness and Riding

For more than five years I have been doing Pilates after my doctor who specializes in chiropractic, cranial and visceral therapies, Tui Na, Tai Chi and QiGong, suggested I look into Pilates or Yoga to build core strength and maintain flexibility as I age.

I began working with a local Pilates trainer and Pilates-based riding instructor Julie Leiken—I have never stopped. Recently, I had a conversation with my farrier, who also has been doing Pilates for a few years. He mentioned how it has had a significant effect on his core strength, allowing him to keep working and changing his life physically.

What I soon discovered was that my body began to maintain it’s alignment and my posture improved. The core strength I developed prevented injuries, and after those occasional falls I would recover quickly. In my riding, as I became more balanced so did my horse. Pelvic alignments have a direct correlation to your horses back. If one of your pelvic bones or a shoulder is lifted it is difficult to stay balanced in the saddle, and ask your horses for specific movements, he/she will also then develop an imbalance. How stiff are your feet? Are your shoulders concave or convex, do you ride hunched over or with an open and relaxed chest? All these things make a huge difference in how stiff your horses back is. Keeping flexible and building your core strength prevents injury as time ticks on.

Riding is much like two dancers working together…They each have to be a strong beautifully tuned entity so that when they dance together they are able to feel each other working togther… – Ron Fletcher

Here is a recently published article I came across on Equisearch that originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Practical Horseman.

Rider Fitness Can Affect Horse Soundness

Recent studies show that horses are sounder and move better when their rider is fitter. Your horse isn’t moving forward with the freedom you know he’s capable of and his back sometimes seems sore around the withers. Your veterinarian has checked him out and found no underlying soundness issues. Your saddle fits his back perfectly, and you’ve splurged on a plush fleece saddle pad. What more can you do?

Maybe you should start an exercise program—for yourself. Horses move with longer strides and more freedom in their backs after their riders complete core strength training, says researcher Alexandra Hampson. That’s because core fitness helps riders sit more symmetrically in the saddle, reducing uneven pressure on the horse’s back.

For her study, Hampson recruited 10 healthy mid-level dressage horses and their riders. Each horse/rider pair was outfitted with a pressure-sensitive electronic saddle pad and reflective markers and then filmed at the sitting trot with high-speed video. The saddle pad detected peak and uneven pressures on the horse’s back and relayed the information to a computer. The reflective markers allowed precise measurements of stride length and other movements. Not surprisingly, all the riders were asymmetrical, resulting in significant pressure differences on the left and right sides of the horse’s back.

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