Apart from Pilates, my passion has always been horse riding. I have been riding since I was 6 years old and currently compete in Advanced level in dressage. For me dressage is like Pilates for horses, we have the same goals, to stretch the back, to make the spine flexible, to engage the hindquarters and make the horse carry himself better using his stomach and buttocks.
Before I started Pilates, I never really thought about it like that. Your teacher would keep saying that the horse is not “through” and you really didn’t understand what that meant. You were always looking for a feeling but sometimes I was so hard to grasp. Well, now I truly understand what my trainer was talking about as I have felt it in my own body in Pilates. When I do for example spine stretch forward, an exercise where we deeply round the back, it is so clearly felt, but only if you know how to engage your seat, and your thighs and lift the stomach in and up. The action of scooping your stomach against the back to lift and lengthen it while your buttocks pull the lower back down under you, is truly a magical feeling. It’s being “through the back”. I think every horse rider should feel that! It will also make you understand the concept of “long and low” when we stretch the horse in the beginning and end of the session. Again, it is not about letting the horse stretch down and drag himself around with heavy front legs, but to create a true stretch through the whole length of the horses back. This can only be achieved if the horse will lift up his stomach muscles and propel himself with his hindquarters. The same applies to collecting. I see so many riders happily thinking that their horse in on an outline with his neck jammed in and back hollow. Boy do they have it all wrong!
Collection starts where long and low ended, starting to be able to pick up that supply spine and asking the horse to increase the weight on his hind legs and lightening his front. For this, he needs first of all a supple spine, and secondly strong stomach. Very few riders think about the horses abs!! But this is their powerhouse just like for us when we do Pilates. You see its all the same! Pilates is dressage for humans and dressage is Pilates for horses when done correctly. If you want to improve your riding, first make sure you have a powerhouse. How otherwise is the horse expected to find his?