We hear this week from Katrin Kuenstler, a German rider living and teaching in Australia. She weighs in on Rider Fitness and Core Strength. Read more about it here.
I am a dressage rider, riding instructor and Pilates instructor and can only say from my own experience that taking up Pilates as a core strengthening exercise has made a huge difference in the way my body can cope with the physical stress of riding. I used to get really sore, especially in my lower back and hips, but don’t anymore.
Research has shown that the only activity to get riders in shape for riding is riding. However, I wouldn’t want to miss Pilates as a supporting core building activity.
One of our big goals while schooling our horses is to allow the horse to move in balance and straight, so it can become supple. This requires the rider being secure in his own balance, which will help the horse’s balance and not be negatively influenced by it.
Think of a really great rider who you admire and like to watch. They would never shift when the horse tries to get its own way. They are so strong in their position that they can stay balanced even if the horse tries to pull them out of balance.
Ultimately, the horse will become more balanced itself because the rider maintains her balance. It requires immense body control and core strength for a rider to keep her position stay secure and centered. After all, riding means sitting – and balancing – on an unsteady surface.
I am referring to ‘the core’ as the corsage around our spine and pelvis. It is formed by the very little abdominal and spinal muscles that sit very close to our skeleton and stabilize our bones and joints.
The reason children seem to ride so beautifully and effortlessly is because they are much more active than adults and include core-building exercises – like jumping on a trampoline – in their every day play.
I teach a lot of young riders who are also engaged in other sports, such swimming or gymnastics, which will naturally increase their overall fitness and muscle tone.
Men also often seem to sit more stably and more centered on a horse and I’ve found that men naturally have a much stronger core muscles than women.
Core strengthening exercises do not necessarily have to be static. Riding is dynamic and therefore the strengthening of the core needs to be, too.
A key element is the breathing. In Pilates, every exercise is connected with a breathing pattern and I find the lateral Pilates breathing (in which you breath into the sides of your rip cage) most useful in my riding.
The rider’s pelvis is what connects us to our horse. It absorbs the horse’s movements and passes them onto the spine in way that gives the appearance that the rider is sitting still. In order to relax our gluteus muscles, so our hip joints can open, close, and absorb the movements of the horse and able to protect our spine when it is flexing, extending, and rotating with the horse’s movement, a strong core is the key.
For me, planking is one of the most beneficial exercises to strengthen one’s core – IF it is done correctly and NOT statically, but connected to the breathing and mixed up by movements such as lifting one hand or foot off the floor.
It is my strong believe that by strengthening our core through targeted exercise, we make it easier for ourselves to sit in balance and keep our stability. At the end of the day, that will do our horses a great favor!