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!
To read the other Blogs in this series:
Pilates for Riders – Ride Advanced Physio – The Beginning
Pilates for Riders – Ride Advanced Physio – The Born Non-Athlete
Pilates for Riders – Ride Advanced Physio – Changing Posture
Pilates for Riders – Ride Advanced Physio – Injury, Emergencies and Keeping Your Seat
Also, apologies for the poor quality photos. Had to get screen grabs from a video. An indoor show during a super cloudy/foggy/misty day doesn’t make for the best photos or videos. Despite the low resolution, I think you can still see my position well enough and what Jax happens to be doing under me in any given photo (spoiler alert…it’s not all pretty).
Pilates is such a subtle thing. It’s not like weight lifting where you see your muscles change in definition and size in a number of weeks. It’s not like cardio, where you notice a huge improvement in stamina. It’s not like dieting where you’re dropping pounds. It’s a subtle improvement…until something happens and you backslide…and you realize maybe the improvements weren’t so subtle after all.
So maybe two months ago now, I broke my toe. It was stupid. It was not horse related. There’s no good story. Thankfully a horsey friend of mine (Healthy Horse Massage) that happens to do body work (on some pretty famous clientele…I’m certainly chump change for her) has a fancy laser she uses on the horses and used it on my toe the day after…which sped my healing up for sure (and helped with the pain). However I still had pain. I couldn’t do my Pilates for a couple of weeks as much of it requires you to either use your toes for various ground exercises…or plant your feet firmly for standing…which I could do neither. I was walking around sorta limping with my toes pulled up in this awkward gait reminiscent of a little kid trying to walk around with dad’s shoes on.
A couple of weeks of this and I was JACKED UP. My hip hurt. My back hurt. My opposite calf and quad and hamstring were pissed. My riding was going…okay…but it wasn’t great when Jax threw in some acrobatics in the changes. He actually popped me up in front of the saddle once…which I haven’t had that happen to me in YEARS! I wasn’t feeling great. I went and got a massage…and he told me that this was the worst I’d felt in years (after getting an excellent report card the time before) and that I was very bound up and crooked. He gave me extra homework to do. I left that massage still hurting.
I started the Pilates up again right away. It had only been two weeks or so off…but add in the limping and it was clear I needed to get things in balance ASAP. Luckily the program for the month was really focusing on lower body and glute med work. By doing this work for a couple of weeks and doing my homework from my bodyworker…I had my balance back. My hips were okay again and my back wasn’t sore when I woke up every morning. That all is super important because of what Jax and I are working on…and what we had coming up.
Our last show together was in January of this year. Why? Well if you missed our other articles talking about it…the flying changes weren’t going well. We also had some tension and basic straightness and obedience things to work out in the canter. Well…things were going well enough at the end of May that I signed up for a show in early July to give 3rd level a go again.
If you’ve never taught a horse flying lead changes, I’m not sure I can fully explain how uncomfortable it can be for the rider. If you have taught a horse (especially one that is struggling) the changes…then you’ll know what I mean. Wild leaps, bolting through the aids, bucking, legs flying everywhere but the correct direction…all of that is a test on your balance, the endurance of your seat, and your mental fortitude. Without having been doing the Pilates for Riders program this last 10 months, I’m not sure I would have made it as a slightly fluffy Adult Ammy that only rides three days a week. A couple weeks off didn’t mess me up too bad thankfully…because I had some stuff coming my way!
The Horse Show
The horse show was…interesting to say the least. The first test was a full 7.5% less than the second…which I think says a lot in itself…but let me tell you what happened. Jax was chill tied to the trailer. I was tacking him up. He eyed a large stallion walk into the warmup across the way from us…and lost his shit. Completely. He straight up did two full Capriole while tied there to the trailer (it’s one of his natural moves…he does it on the lunge line too). People next to our trailer were like… “WTF?” He was screaming bloody murder. During the warmup he was a hot mess. So tense. So stressed. Anytime the stallion came by he would try to blow through my aids and go toward him. Yes…this is a gelding (I think…unless something was missed lol…).
Anyways…thank the lord for the double bridle…and also Pilates. His back was SO tight through the test I was literally bouncing like a trampoline (catching some major air) across the diagonals in our medium and extended. I managed to maintain position and keep applying my aids due to sheer will and those little supporting muscles I’ve been developing doing the Pilates! I kept my balance through “major resistance” in the changes and “trouble” in the come back from the extended canter (he was not on the aids or obedient. HA!). He literally screamed and whinnied the entire test. I kept my head and kept my cool and kept steering him (thanks to that Pilates breathing) and had some good laughs.
Thankfully the second warm up and test was better with him still tense and screaming at everyone the whole time, but feeling more ridable. The only major moments were that he trotted through one change and a leap into his left to right change that was a little silly…but nothing more dramatic than he throws at home. Note, that move comes right before an uberstreichen on a circle…so you have to get balance back fast…and we managed it for a 7)!
Thanks to the Pilates I was able to not only make it through the two rides at 3rd level on a very tense and tight horse…I was able to ride the second test better (7.5% better!). I usually am always so fatigued after my first ride, my second one scores much worse. Not today. I think that the Pilates work has everything to do with that. I think that having a solid position is what helped me make it through this show. The strong insistence of position I think gave Jax more confidence and something to fall into and feel more supported by. My show in January I’d only been doing the Pilates for about 4 months (and the second test was certainly much worse). Now 10 months into my Pilates journey, I’m stronger, more balanced and more aware of my positioning than ever before. I’m at a point where I feel like I can help Jax more in sticky situations than hinder.
The day after the show that strength, balance and agility I have developed took action yet again. We were supposed to take a chill hack day to loosen the muscles but Jax wanted to go on the trail (yup…he dragged me over there and started going up). All was going great until…DEER! One leapt out from the bushes in front of us (panicked and obviously being chased by something). As Jax spooked and started to spin (my seat was solid, I wasn’t worried) a second deer leapt out and managed to brush Jax’s hind end. Jax is a solid trail horse guys…but this was just too much. He lost it. Needless to say it was emergency dismount or die time. I haven’t done an emergency dismount since long before I was pregnant. I’ve never really had a moment on Jax I thought I was coming off. Honestly I think I probably could have sat it out, but I wasn’t sure it’d be safe to try with a steep embankment on one side of us… Better off safe than dead (or with a hurt horse). As mentioned…I’m a middle aged woman a few years out from having a baby…with lots of extra fluff going on. I’m also not naturally athletic. Even before I had my daughter I wasn’t particularly skilled or athletic when doing emergency dismounts. One of my worst injuries is from a failed emergency dismount (long story short – horse was falling – left a foot in the stirrup as I tried to jump free – permanent damage in my foot…and I was…20 or so lbs lighter then).
Anyways…do or die…emergency dismount. I landed on my feet y’all! Not only did I land on my feet, I stayed on them (I have a very bad ankle/foot…so this is amazing as well). Not only did I stay on my feet, I had the balance and orientation enough to keep hold of Jax and not let him bolt dragging me (there was a moment I thought he was gone…but salvaged it!). Part of this is cool nerves certainly I’ve developed in my years of being around horses and emergencies…and some is all that breathing I’ve been practicing doing Pilates and Yoga.
I think managing this situation and coming out okay is almost entirely due to the Pilates work. My ability to move quickly while engaging the muscles I needed to…to not only get off clear and safe…but to land solid and immediately take action. It was like I was a real athlete. It’s freaking amazing how much my body has learned about how to use itself. It’s not like I consciously made these decisions on how to stay upright…my body just did them because of all the training. I’m still amazed and proud of myself. If I…a clumsy, overweight, non-athletic woman can make it through this situation uninjured and on my feet…you my friend can too. You just need to get yourself on a Pilates program (be it the online program I’m using, or an in person class).
It’s deceiving how easy Pilates work can be…and how much of a major difference it can make. I’m 100% sold. I’m never going to stop doing Pilates work now. Looking forward to seeing where else this journey takes me.
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 even during these expensive times…it’s a bargain), 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.