Tag Archives: equestrian pilates

Advanced Old People Training

Sometimes when I'm training clients I do exercises that one of them refers to as “advanced old people training “. Usually this will be an exercise that involves maybe getting up off the floor or standing up from a box or bench. There is another reason for doing these exercises that will be relevant to that clients goals but he has got a point about the old age thing. I tell him he’ll thank me when he can still tie his own shoes at 90!

Maintaining fitness, muscle mass and movement patterns as we get older gives us a much better chance of staying fit and mobile well into old age. I call it “use it or lose it” 

For us that also means more chance of riding and all that entails for as long as possible too.

We start to lose muscle mass in our 30’s unless we actually strive to maintain and build it. A loss of muscle makes us firstly weaker and therefore less able to withstand our activities but also more prone to injury. This doesn’t mean you need to become a body builder but you do need to do some form of resistance training that challenges your muscles. 

Bone density also peaks in our 20’s and if your female declines when you hit menopause due to the loss of Estrogen. A loss of bone density can cause Osteoporosis. As a rider this puts us at a way greater risk of breaking bones. A way of maintaining as much bone density as possible is by doing weight bearing exercise- I.e being on your feet.

Regardless of your overall training goals I’m sure we can agree the plan is to stay riding fit for as long as possible. In order to give us the best chance of this off horse training is vital. 

That’s why I’m so passionate about strength training. It’s not about maxing out lifting as heavy as possible-unless you want it to be. It’s about encouraging your bones and muscles to regenerate, repair and stay strong. It’s about maintaining movement patterns we use all the time but can get a bit lazy with the actual muscles involved -picking things up off the floor, going from sitting to standing unaided, carrying heavy objects etc. 

It’s basically about enabling you to live your life feeling fit and well for as long as possible. Which to Equestrian’s means still being able to put a saddle on, hop on board and go for a ride well into our 80’s…….and beyond. 


Relaxed Activation

One of the problems I see in riders is trying to activate muscles to help them stabilise but actually squeezing so hard they just create tension. 

Like with your horse, you want him to be working, activating his muscles but still relaxed in his way of going.

In essence you need to be strong enough to not need to do a full effort contraction to stabilise. Also you need to learn to dial up and dial down your muscular effort. Then for the piece’ de resistance you need to be able to activate these muscles at adequate tension to perform but still relaxed without having to think about it.

How do you achieve this?

Step 1 is actually getting stronger. 

Step 2 learning to activate muscles all at the same time-which generally prevents you from being able to maximally contract everything.

Step 3. Learn to breathe at the same time.

Do this often so that it becomes second nature.

Ok, great but actually How?

Well I’m a firm believer in there being no one way to achieve anything.

Personally I choose strength and conditioning training. It’s made a huge difference to the stability of my hyper mobile body. Having to lift a heavy weight off the floor or over head requires huge muscular input and you need to breathe! 

However I also like Pilates as this has a huge stability and breathing element. Trying to stabilise, keep everything in line, move and breathe in sync is great training for using your body on a horse. 

Basically anything that makes you stronger whilst using multiple muscles and breathing. 

I use both of these methods across my classes and with 1 2 1 clients depending on their preference. 

I’ve got space in my  daytime Pilates based class -Wednesday 10am.

Thursday Strength & Conditioning class at 6.15pm.

Space for 1 2 1 clients both daytime and limited evening slots.

Building a Foundation

It is incredibly common in riders to have some sort of pain issue-we’re a broken population! Yet of course we are tough cookies and we don’t let that stop us from enjoying our sport.

Often when I speak to riders about their own exercise programme (or lack of..) I will hear things like “I can’t do that because it hurts my back, knee, ankle…. insert extensive list of body parts”. 

I get it. Exercise particularly when new to your body can be uncomfortable. However if approached correctly can improve those pain issues over time.

Weakness, instability, over use etc. Can all cause pain. So when we exercise the aim should be to build a solid, balanced foundation. 

This then transfers into every day life including your riding. If you are able to support your own body weight, have good muscular control and good endurance this makes the demands of your day much easier for your body.

What should we be prioritising in our training to create a good foundation?

Firstly as I call it “build a bum like Beyoncé “. The glutes are the biggest muscle in the body. They are fundamental to supporting the pelvis and spine which then impacts on how the rest of your body can move and perform. This is even more important if you do suffer with back or hip pain. Build a bum you can bounce a ball off and see how it affects your body-I promise it’s worth the effort 🍑.

Secondly your back. This is often so overlooked in training programmes, particularly with women as we aren’t usually after the big shoulders and lats. However as with the glutes, how can we expect our spine to work well and pain free if we don’t give it a proper support network? The back muscles are also part of our core. The ability to use the abdominals together with the back is what creates a solid core, neglecting one in favour of the other creates imbalance.

The abdominals. Not just the superficial layers that burn when you do lots of crunches. You also need the deep layers, the side of your waist and the lower abdominal and pelvic floor all to be able to work together in order to create true stability and core strength. 

I should also mention the legs, as a good set of thighs will further support the hips, and also the knees. Most glute work will include the legs though so they wouldn’t have to be considered in isolation.

This may all sound quite complicated but for the most part it just involves basic compound exercises and movement patterns. However if you do want some help in building your foundation a good coach can help you, and I happen to know one of those…..


Training for Symmetry

Do you train to improve your asymmetry?

Everyone has some asymmetry but obviously as riders we want that to be minimal. If we are noticeably stronger on one side this can affect how we are sat and how we give aids to our horse. 

As our horses will also have a weaker side, if we happen to have the same weak side we will be unable to help him out and correct him to improve his weakness.

So, how do you train to help balance out these asymmetries in yourself.

Training unilaterally I.e. single arm or single leg will help to identify your weaker side and then training it without having the other side to help out will improve its strength. 

So here’s some Lower & Upper Body Unilateral Exercises to add to your workouts.


Can you Co-ordinate?

This week riding I’ve noticed something. It doesn’t matter which rein I’m on I can’t make my hands do different things. So if I need to flex my inside rein I struggle to check in to what my outside rein is doing-usually it’s gone rogue….. hence the problem. 


Of course that causes problems as I’m sure you are aware the outside rein is vital for maintaining your horses position whether straight or flexed. 


Now if you have a similar problem , maybe hands like me or maybe it’s your lower leg that seemingly has a mind of its own; you will know how unhelpful it is when an instructor tells you to just stop doing it. Your brain is thinking “sure, yeh it’s that easy, I’ll just stop……”  It’s not that easy, if it was we’d have fixed it as soon as we noticed it!


Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you can’t make it better.


You essentially need to wire yourself a new pathway from your brain to that particular body part and movement pattern.


I like to keep the exercises simple. 


Try this exercise to help train your limbs to work together or separately. 


Switch up the movements,moving a single hand forward or our or moving a leg back or out. The whole focus should be on what the other limbs are doing and then whether the moving limbs track the same path left as they do right in the same movement. 

These are the sort of exercises we do in my classes -Space in Wednesday 10 and Thursday 6.15pm.

Are you strong when things go wrong?

When you’re thinking about your own rider fitness do you focus on your performance when everything is going right? Like how you manage transitions, a dressage test, a round of jumps etc?


What about how you perform when it’s not going right? 


How does your body respond if your horse wobbles, maybe trips, sneezes or spooks? How do you cope with a buck or a rear? 


What happens if you’re out on the Cross Country course and it goes awry?


If you ever watch the pro’s out on cross country when things don’t go to plan you will notice they react lightning fast and they stay balanced still riding the horse forward.


If you watch a really good rider as their horse bucks, rears, trips etc again they stay balanced and are able to ride forward. 


Have you got the strength and balance to do that?


It can be an absolute game changer. Not least because you fall off less! 


Of course most importantly it makes you less likely to injure yourself, as even if you stay on you can still give yourself whiplash from an impact you weren’t expecting.


Are you stable and balanced enough to stay with your horse if he zooms off sharply? Are you stable enough to keep riding and not be dragged forward if he pulls his head down or trips? 


When you can do this is you become more in charge of the outcome. 


But how do you get that?


This is where I believe Strength training comes in.  Being able to control more than your own bodyweight  is a great way of training your body to kick in with extra stability when needed on top of a horse.


When I train clients one to one or in my strength and conditioning class we work predominantly on big compound movements that require the body to work as a whole unit. 


For example whilst a Deadlift is used predominantly to improve posterior chain strength, it still requires good core activation, the chest to remain open and the shoulders to actively participate. You may have spotted some absolute bad ass ladies lifting some serious weight over on my social media. They didn’t start at those weights but they’ve put the time and dedication in to improve them and it’ s paying off in their riding with better stability and control. 


We work up to some Olympic Lifting movements that require full body coordination and fast reactions whilst moving a weight. Are you seeing how this might transfer to better riding?


Maybe it’s time to up the ante on your gym work, or if you want a coach to help you get there you know where I am…...


A positive WHY?

This week I listened to a great Podcast with Olivia Towers and Abi Lyle.


Abi was talking about exercising and eating well as an act of kindness to yourself. She discussed how often at the end of long days etc we often “reward” ourselves with junk food when in fact what our body needs is nutritious food to nourish and re energise it. Also how we can view exercise as a punishment to our bodies for the food we’ve eaten when it fact it should be a way of looking after our bodies and keeping it fit and strong.


I really like these concepts and definitely identify with them for my own training and nutrition and those that I try and instill in my clients. 


Often I ask my clients to identify their WHY for training and changing their eating habits.


This is super important as this is what makes people stick with their habits. This why needs to be a positive reason such as improving performance, improving how you feel in clothing etc. 


For me I feel like I have it easy in terms of motivation as if I train to be strong I am in less pain, I perform better for work, I ride better and generally life feels a bit easier. If I eat well I have less brain fog, less stomach issues and have more energy. These are some really strong WHY’s that definitely align with being kind to myself. As I don’t know why I would want to not train and eat rubbish when this would make feel crazy tired, brain foggy and leave me in a lot of pain? That would definitely not be being kind to myself. 


I want you to think about that when creating your own healthy habits. What are your positive reasons for doing them?


Will eating better give you more energy, so you aren’t as tired during the day?


Will going for that run clear your head?


Would some yoga relax you?


Whatever your reasons try and make them positive and come from a place of looking after your physical and mental health. You’re more likely to stick with them and actually feel good about them too.


“Look after your body it’s the only place you have to live.”


Over come your own barriers

Do you ever tell yourself you don’t have time to work on yourself?


You know you should train yourself off horse, work on your imbalances and weaknesses etc because you know it will make you a better rider for your horse but………..insert appropriate excuses. 


If your horse needed extra feeds, maybe extra training or rehab sessions you’d find the time wouldn’t you? 


I find with most things exercise/performance related the time, money etc is not the issue it’s the mindset of the person that makes the most difference.


If you ask any athlete how/why they made it they will tell you two things 1) They made sacrifices elsewhere -not watching box sets every evening, no lie ins etc 2) Anything is possible if you want it enough.


I don’t buy the “I get home late argument” as I don’t consider 7-8pm late, I also don’t consider 6am the earliest time you could possibly get up if you needed to. 


I also don’t think the majority of horses need working every day at the expense of you spending a session focused on you.


Again it comes down to over coming your own barriers. 


No one said you needed to spend 2 hours in the gym every night, you don’t need to smash yourself up and then ride with severe DOMS for a full week afterwards.


However you do need to take some responsibility for your part to play in your partnership with your horse. You should want to be the best rider you can be in order to help your get you where you want to be.


Are you stable enough to support your own body weight and control it on top of your horse?


Are you aware of what your body is up to when you can’t actually see it? What do your shoulders do when you turn left? What is your lower leg doing in Canter?


And if it’s not doing what it should be…..how do you stop it?


These are things you can be working on off horse that will have a huge benefit to you and your horse.


You may choose to take up Pilates, Yoga, join a gym class or maybe work with someone equestrian specific like myself. They all have the potential to be of benefit.

If you want to improve your own performance enough you will make the time.


If you’re really pushed I’ve got an online twice weekly programme that is just 20-30 minutes per session, zero equipment and you can do it at home any time that suits you!




Are you in Control?



Do you have total control when you ride? I don’t mean control of your horse, although it helps! But are you in control of you?


Can you make your body move how you want it to, absorb the movement of your horse and remain still and quiet on top. 


Can you give aids clearly and concisely in all paces? Or once it gets to sitting trot are you a wobbly mess on top? 


If your horse sneezes or trips a little are you thrown and have to go back to walk or halt to regroup or can you remain balanced, stay in control and pick up where you left off?


The ability to do the above is about having control of your body. 


This control shouldn’t come from tension or stiffness but suppleness and stability.


Having a strong body helps but that body also needs to have flexibility to move and the awareness to know it’s movements and their reactions. 


Whilst I am a massive advocate for strength training for riders I think it is important whilst doing that training to really focus on the muscles you are using and how they move. 


This is why I am also a fan of Pilates and Yoga as they also encourage strength, flexibility and control.


The more control you can build on the ground the more you can transfer that to your riding.


There’s only so many times your instructor can bellow “keep your hands still” or “keep your lower leg still” before you need to take outside action. 


Want some help with how to take that action? I’ve got limited spaces in classes and some slots for 121 training so hit me up and start taking control today.

Are You Improving?

When I train riders I may ask them whether they rode the next day and could feel what we may have been discussing or working on in the previous session. Often this will be a particular set of muscles I want them to tune into e.g obliques/waist muscles when riding a circle.  My favourite answer is “yes and as I could still feel them from the session with you I was able to recognise them and therefore use them properly for the first time.” My least favourite answer……..”no because I was sore from the session “ 


Now it is never my intention to make anyway really sore after a session and honestly I think it’s rare that I’ve ever had anyone really struggle to walk the next day. However a little bit of muscle soreness or stiffness is inevitable and indeed necessary for improvement. You see muscle soreness happens due to tiny micro tears in the muscle which then knit back together and make the muscle stronger. That’s why it happens when you’re new to exercise or when you do a particularly heavy session or something different. The extra stimulus means your muscles want to get stronger to adapt, which is exactly what we want to happen.


Now I get it that you don’t want to be riding stiff and sore, and that’s why generally I don’t make a whole session heavy just maybe one or two exercises and the rest will be less intense. Having said that if you can feel some new muscles you’ve just learnt how to activate to improve your riding the best time to try feeling them in use whilst riding is when you can already feel them. As let’s be honest if it was easy to tap into them without a little off horse overload help you’d have been able to find them earlier wouldn’t you?


What I want you to remember is that a little bit of discomfort is all part of your body’s healing and strengthening process and you shouldn’t try and avoid it. Also if you feel a little stiff before you get on then do a few dynamic stretches to loosen up then get on and really feel those muscles working. 


Like I said last week we hate it when people say the horse does all the work so stop just focusing on whether your horse is getting stronger and improving every session and ask yourself are you?


Couple of spaces in Wednesday 10am Class and just one space in Thursday 6.15pm Strength & Conditioning Class.