One of the most common questions I get is
“I do Pilates but don’t know how to use this when riding. How do I use my core in the saddle?
This is a problem for many, especially if the Pilates classes only focus on every exercise being performed in a “neutral spine”. This is a good thing! A neutral spine with a strong core hold provides excellent stability through the spine and is a safe working posture.
Riding a horse and especially caring for your horse demands you have a strong core that stabilizes your spine, in every position. We move into and out of many postures when riding and more so when caring for our horses. When riding, your core must contribute to the movement pattern as well as stabilize the spine. Pilates classes do not teach you how to ride, this is why riders are having trouble improving their riding.
Applying aids through your seat requires your pelvis to move into different tilted positions, this is not a “neutral spine”. So if you start working away from a neutral spine then you must know how to engage your core in every posture, not just a “neutral spine”. I think this is the movement that riders are finding difficult and hence are not transferring their core strength to applying aids in the saddle. Prior to applying aids, a rider must be able to ride the different paces applying effective stability for maintaining good posture.
Good balance and good posture demand a functional core as well as symmetry, synchronization, and coordination of all of your riding muscles. This is not taught in a Pilates class. I am not having a go at Pilates classes, I am pointing out why riders are not transferring their strength to their riding.
This is a common problem!
The diagram on the left is “Neutral Spine”.
The walk is a movement that requires a lot of movement and stability from your spine and pelvis. The four-beat stepping motion of the horse requires a symmetrical rotational, tilt, and lateral movement of your pelvis. This is not a “neutral spine”. This movement also requires your upper body to have a counter-movement to keep you upright and straight and appear still.
The sitting trot requires your spine to have a lesser range of movement, but a faster-synchronized pattern as well a symmetrical movement, so your seat can be flexible and in rhythm with the two-beat movement, this is not a “neutral spine”.
The canter has your pelvis not only tilting forwards and backward but also in a rotation movement in time with the three-beat, asymmetrical movement of your horse, this is not a “neutral spine”.
If a rider cannot tilt their pelvis in all directions then that rider will not be able to ride well at all.
The movement of your pelvis requires your deep core muscle to hold your spine stable, while your lower abdominals and lower back muscles, and the oblique muscles move your pelvis as you and all riders choose. This is not a “neutral spine”.
If you cannot move and control your pelvis most likely you are not riding very well and in many cases, you will be causing your horse to develop back pain. The jarring effect of your inability to control your pelvis will transfer to your horse.
Riders spend so much time money and emotion on saddles, massage units, therapy, and other treatments and still don’t learn “how to ride”. The core muscle is not a mystery to train for horse riding, but it does require more than just having strength.
The concept of Pilates is great but when it comes to horse riding, many are not transferring this strength to the saddle.
So To Answer The Question WHY?
I think the functional use of the core is not taught in the classes. Unless the trainer is a horse rider then relating the movements to horse riding is not emphasized. To be able to ride well you must be able to use your strong core in movement patterns that are specific to the riding patterns. Training your core to stabilize your posture while you train specific rider movement patterns will teach you how to transfer your core strength to your riding.
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