March 2010 Newsletter
Spring has finally sprung in most parts of the US! I hope this means that more and more of you are on your horses.
My year is off to a fast start. Many of you know that I had a baby in January and thus I did not write a February newsletter. Sorry to have missed all of you in February during my maternity leave. I look forward to keeping in contact with all of you this year.
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Exercise of the Month
Learn to move your seat while engaging your abdominal muscles and pelvic floor, stretch and release tension in your lower back, and strengthen the muscles needed to maintain proper postural alignment.
This exercise has benefits for the rider both on and off the horse. Working from your core to control your hips and pelvis allows for a more effective seat and helps the rider sit up tall in the saddle. For many riders, the rigors of this sport often contributes to low back pain which can be alleviated by this exercise as it stretches and releases tension in the lower back and pelvis.
Position Description – Lie on your back with your knees bent and your arms by your side.
Movement – For this exercise take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth as needed throughout all of the movements.
1. Start by flattening your back to the mat. Notice that as you are doing this, your tailbone lifts off the mat towards the ceiling. Keep your legs and pelvis still.
2. Lift your left hip then lower it.
3. Press the tailbone down into the mat, allowing your back to arch.
4. Lift your right hip and then lower it.
5. Repeat eight times in this order and then reverse eight times.
Notice – Focus your attention on the movement of the pelvis and notice what muscles you are using to move it. Pay careful attention to using your pelvic floor and stomach to move your pelvis. Relax your buttocks and the front and back of your legs. Don’t allow yourself to grip or “muscle” your way through this exercise and stay focused on relaxing your body as you move.
Note – Keep your arms down by your side.The arms are above the head in these photos to more clearly demonstrate the positions of the pelvis.
EQUESTRIAN PILATES® Question Corner
I am excited to hear from you. If you would like to submit a question for the next newsletter please email me.
Everyone keeps talking about how important my “core” is while riding. I pull my stomach in as hard as I can, but I don’t really think it is helping. Any ideas?
Thank you for this question. This is a great question because EVERYONE is talking about the core and how it helps the rider, but there are few good explanations on what it is and how it helps you.
First of all what is the core?
In EQUESTRIAN PILATES® lingo the core is comprised of the muscles that support the spine, connect the front of the body to the back of the body and provide the strength to maintain body balance, alignment and posture.
In particular, the main muscles that are involved are the rectus abdominus, external and internal obliques and the transversus abdominus. These muscles work with the deep muscles of the spine to make up the powerhouse.
To engage the deep centering muscles pull the navel in towards the spine at about 30% of your tightest squeeze and slightly upward. The muscles that you feel are part of the core.
Sounds simple enough, right?
The problem is that most of the time people who try this stiffen their entire body. This is counter productive as a stiff body creates a stiff horse and unbalances both the horse and rider even more.
The trick is to learn how to engage these muscles without stiffening the rest of the body. You can practice this by sitting up tall in a chair. Don’t stiffen, just sit up. While seated pull your belly button in and up and then let it go. Repeat over and over. Notice what is happening in the rest of your body. Are you becoming rigid elsewhere? If so try to relax the rest of the body and try it again. With practice you will learn how to engage the core without inadvertently engaging another part.
So what are the next steps? Practice engaging your abdominal muscles on the horse without stiffening the rest of your body and then learn how to use them effectively. This brings us to one of the most important skills that we need to develop as a rider.
Your abdominal muscles can be thought of as any other aid. For example, you wouldn’t kick your horse as hard as you could every time you asked for the canter. If you did this your horse would start to be “immune” to your leg aid.
Less is more. How much you need to engage your abdominal muscles while riding depends on you and your horse. A sensitive horse will feel even a slight engagement of your abdominal muscles. On a horse like this engaging them too much might actually cause the horse to slow down or stop as most of the time when we bare down too much we also sit more which is a signal to the horse to slow or stop. This is great if that is what we want to accomplish, but it’s counter productive if our goal is to get the horse to move forward.
So the key is to notice how much is enough, not to just hold them in as tight as you can at all times. After paying attention to your body’s reaction and your horse’s response, you will begin to notice how much core engagement is necessary. The proof of your success will be a horse that response to you.
I hope this helps!