The Pilates Power Horse

by BASI Pilates

Michele and Chardonnay

My husband and I live a very active lifestyle and our business also keeps us very active. We own a nursery garden centre and spring is our busiest season.  With its physical demands it seems that every spring I’d get some sort of shoulder, back, or neck issue.  I wanted to improve my strength but at the gym I kept injuring myself and realized my body cheats!  A friend recommended I do Pilates so I gave it a try.

I loved it!  I felt my body getting stronger, more balanced. I discovered that Pilates parallels my passion for riding horses…the same principles apply, Awareness, breath, balance, concentration, connection, centre, flow, precision, harmony….I wanted to learn more!

My BASI Journey began in the fall of 2013.  What a fabulous experience one I am so grateful for.  I had no background in physiology or anatomy, I was nervous and excited all at the same time, but I new if I studied long and hard I could do it!  The modules progressed, and so did the work! And the support I got from the BASI team was so positive and encouraging!

Along my journey I noticed changes to my body as I developed strength, balance and a deeper connection within my body. My right scapula no longer wings, and I can tap into my Rhomboids!   But one of the best discoveries I found was that I was able to ride my horse with better balance, connection and focus.  When riding my horse I found so many parallels to Pilates, it holds the same principles.

Although the horse’s anatomy is different than humans I can still apply the BASI Block system to some extent (in my mind) to working out my horse, Chardonnay.

When Chardonnay was 4 years old, she developed Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM), a metabolical condition, resulting in imbalanced muscle development. She was awkward to ride (notice I said WAS), very uncomfortable in her gaits and she possessed a strange hitch or hiking of her right hind leg…showing was definitely out of the question for us.

Finding connection with-in my own body has helped me, to help her, develop more balanced muscles, resulting in engagement, lightness and as we would say in the equestrian world “on the bit!”  Building her Pilates power house …or as I like to say “The Pilates Power Horse!!”…is energy used to our advantage!

I treat my horse, Chardonnay as though she’s another Pilates apparatus, my student, my partner.  This keeps me focused in my ride.  Through this education I’ve developed a better understanding about how the horse needs to contract their abdominals and lengthen the muscles over their topline (back) and using the muscles in their hind end. The lifting or rounding of their back allows for their hind legs to step well underneath. To the rider it feels as though the horse is lifting you up and carrying you with balance and power! This is the horse using their Power House or “Pilates Power Horse” moving with connection!  Allowing us to advance in our training.

Just before I get on my horse I always begin with a few standing roll downs. This is something I always do.  I first began to do this to loosen my spine but realized it really helps me to focus, brings awareness to my body, my centre, a feeling of connection (If I don’t do this, it reflects in the quality of my riding!).

I usually have my dressage whip in my hand, so I use it as a prop, simulating the pole (with both hands placed a little wider than shoulder width apart, on the whip, as I roll down and up I’m aware of keeping light contact of the whip brushing against my legs (I find for me, brings awareness to my shoulders, reminding them to stay down).

My own body awareness and my horses body awareness all happens at the same time, simultaneously as we are moving around the arena, multitasking to say the least.

I turn the focus to my horse.  Some fundamental exercises I do with Chardonnay to development her “Pilates Power Horse”:

Warming up – Walking forward, walking with energy.  This could be her footwork – I want those hind legs moving, feeling as though she is pushing herself off from her hind legs rather that dragging herself with her front legs – it’s a visual and it works for me!  As a rider I can start to feel my hips move as a result of her hind legs pushing off the ground.

Roll Down – as we are actively walking forward I ask her to take her nose and reach towards the ground…a sort of telescoping of the neck, not a huge stretch, then I pick up the reins bringing her head up slowly with a light feel or contact of her mouth then ask her to reach down again.  We repeat this as we move around the arena changing directions and adding circles.

Alignment and proper set up: if the horses ears are not on the same horizontal plane – the pole will be slightly twisted; if this minor crookedness is not adjusted then the rest of the horses body will reflect it – the spine runs from the pole to the tail.  Minor adjustments are actually major – just as in Pilates work!

My horse is my passion, my friend. We work hard together.  Along with my riding coach, Adiva Murphy, I owe her a huge credit to our success as she has seen us improve and validates how Pilates has helped Chardonnay’s condition.  Char and I, work to improve our personal best and most of all we have fun (I make sure it’s fun for her too).


Michele Harris

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