Pilates for Riders – Ride Advanced Physio – The Born Non-Athlete

Featured photo is my lovely slouchy equitation at a sitting trot at a show last year.  Photos in this blog are going to showcase my body position over the years and being all over the place.  More athletic friends of mine just…look better and sit better on a horse no matter what level they’re riding at.  That’s just been my lot in life as a naturally non-athletic person.

I’m documenting my progress using the Ride Advanced Physio Pilates for Riders Program over the next year.  I believe this program is going to make a huge difference in my riding and my seat.  I’m excited to document the changes I see while doing the program!

So my husband regularly mocks me for not paying ANY attention to my body.  I can have knots the size of grapefruits in my shoulders and only do something about it when it’s physically impossible to move any longer (in fact as I type, I recall I said I needed to book a massage before the show this weekend for myself because my back was bad enough I was having trouble concentrating on my ride today…go do it slacker).  Ditto food…I can go AGES without eating…or drinking anything if I’m distracted…to the point of not being able to function out of low blood sugar and dehydration.  I have to remind myself to do these things.  These are the sure sign of a non athlete.  I was born a non athlete.  I live in my brain, not my body.  I am enthusiastic though.  I always throw myself head first into whatever it is I’m working on and if it’s a physical thing…I’m probably going to hurt myself.  I’m also probably going to suck at it…ask my poor mom about the stint of her coaching a basketball team because she wanted me to play like she did (and no coach in their right mind would ever select my untalented butt for the team).  She played in a state championship game as a teenager.  I couldn’t walk and dribble at the same time, but I was very capable of fowling people with my sharp elbows…so that was my job.   Ha!

Portrait of a non-athlete trying to dressage many years ago now. How the horse is even managing to stay cantering, I’ll never know.

I was pretty good at tap dancing…but that’s because it’s just controlled flailing of your feet and making as much noise as enthusiastically as possible.  I wasn’t very graceful in ballet.  That decade or so spent dancing was an attempt by my mom to save her non athletic child from being a complete spaz.  Only sorta worked.  Now if she’d  put me on a horse (which I would have loved), got me into dressage, and then found a Pilates instructor for me…maybe it would have made a difference…because these things have made such a difference.

This journey doing the Ride Advanced Physio Pilates for Riders Program has been interesting so far.  It started out strong.   Then I got sick for like a month (literally…over a month)…then holiday travels (which I did manage to get in a few work outs there).  Then I got back and was overwhelmed and busy with work and preschool closing because of Covid positives.  However…I know I need to get these done, so I’m doing it still twice a week.  And I’m so motivated that I have added in some traditional strength training after my Pilates session.  This is a big deal because the last two times I incorporated strength training into my life…I’ve hurt myself (a knee…a shoulder).  As I mentioned, I’m enthusiastic…and as I mentioned…I’m not particularly athletic.  It’s a huge testament to the program that I haven’t hurt myself yet, even adding in the strength training…because I’m learning to use my body properly and safely.  Imagine that!

Mildly more body aware several years later…but still some major issues. I was showing 4th level here…so it can be done…but not exactly the prettiest picture or most effective position.

You know what it’s like when your trainer tells you, “You have too much weight on your right side.”  Or “Stop looking down.” Or “Keep your elbows at your side” and you fix it…you think…and she immediately says it again?  That’s my whole life in my body.  I’ve been so freaking UNAWARE of the body I live in my whole 37 years that this Pilates thing has been a major moment for me.  I straight up didn’t know how to engage or fire certain muscles…my whole life.  WHOLE life.  Sure they’d do it on their own, but if you actively asked me to engage it, use it, flex it…whatever…I had no idea how to do that.  That’s a big problem when you’re trying not to be crooked…trying to give subtle aids…trying to make the changes your trainer tells you.

The way that these Pilates courses are done include some imagery and constant reminders of adjustments on position during the exercises.  Listening to these and working to do the things she asks in the videos “like pull your leg into your hip socket,” “turn your elbow creases in,” “pull your muscle into the bone” have given so much more information on how my body can move and engage and adjust…and has made me so much more aware of what various muscle groups are doing…specifically my core, my pelvic floor, and my glutes (and being able to fire different muscles separately from each other).  It wasn’t something that was like “AHA!” One day but became more and more noticeable to me as I continue to do these.  I’m excited to see what happens in another few months.

Trying to keep a more athletic engagement in a medium trot. One of the better moments of posture for me in my entire riding career.

It was a struggle for a couple of months…being more aware…and trying to make changes…but also falling into old habits.  And trying to teach a horse new tricks at the same time.  It’s not been easy, but dressage never is.  There are always those lessons where your trainer tells you something…and you spend the next 30 minutes trying to do it and failing.  But the last couple of times my trainer has mentioned something to do with my body position…I’ve been able to fix it the next attempt…or significantly improve it at any rate.  I even figured out based on a comment from her, and feedback listening to my own body when asking for a lead change that I was doing something VERY different one direction from the other…and only realized it when she brought my attention to it…and I observed it from the Pilates standpoint of listing to my body rather than only worrying about the body under me not doing what I wanted.

Doing a little better maybe now recently…but notice my body doesn’t follow the bend left…my head does, but my body stays straight. A problem that the pilates has been helping a LOT. My trainer has been trying to fix this for AGES…and only recently am I less fail about it knowing how to engage the muscles required equally on both sides due to help from Stephanie.

I’m going to a show this weekend (jumping up to 3rd level) and I’m feeling more comfortable in my own body than I have in a long time.  I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do and hoping I can stay aware enough in my own body to make the changes I need to make in the moment.  That’s a whole other level of the problem when under stress, but I have great enthusiasm I will get there with just more Pilates work!  I’ll hopefully have some new (and improved) position photos to show you after the show this weekend.  We shall see!

If you’re interested in making some big changes in your riding for a small financial and time investment (and by small I mean…15-20 minutes a workout…and $50 a month…quick and painless), I highly suggest you give Ride Advanced Physio Pilates for Riders Program a chance for a few months and see what it can do for your riding and your general health and body awareness.