When I travel to teach Pilates for riders, I try to focus on five basics. These five basics are: neutral pelvis, ribcage placement, shoulder girdle mobility and stability, head and neck placement, and, finally, breathing. What if we are keeping it really simple? If we are taking on one basic at a time, most basic of the basics is the pelvis. It seems that for various different reasons, almost all the riders I see need to tuck their pelvises just a bit. Some more than others, but nearly everyone could benefit from a tad more pelvic tuck.
When I first coach riders to tuck their pelvises, they are benefiting from tightened abdominals and a stabilized lower spine and pelvis. The lower back will also be stretched and relaxed. Another reason it helps to tuck the pelvis is how the position allows the torso to come over the hips and the legs to come under the body. However, you must keep your butt and thigh muscles relaxed while you tuck the pelvis. If you don’t, your horse will speed up. If you do keep those muscles relaxed while tucking the pelvis, you will be in better balance with the horse and he will relax and possibly slow down. His rhythm and tempo will improve.
Alongside the basic lesson of tucking the pelvis, you need to learn to do a Kegel exercise. A Kegel is tightening the perineum. Imagine being at the beach and you’ve just finished drinking a six-pack of your favorite beverage. Now the facilities (restroom, outhouse, etc.) are a mile away and there are no bushes, trees, or cabanas anywhere. Now what muscles are you going to tighten so that you can make that 20-minute walk to the facilities? I’m sure you know what I mean! That inner squeeze to keep you dry all the way to the bathroom is a Kegel.
Now I only want you to do a ten-percent Kegel. We will use some imagery a little more nuanced than our beach and bathroom example. Imagine there’s a five-story building between your pubic bone and your belly button and you want the elevator to go up only two floors. Or imagine pulling the facial tissue out of the box between the two pieces of plastic. These ten-percent Kegels will also help to relax your horse and she might even stop! Brakes! Brakes are good to have! But you don’t have to have full brakes all the time. Do you want a half-halt? Do a ten-percent Kegel while keeping the energy up. A ten-percent Kegel is subtle, yet powerful.
Now it sounds easy to do a ten-percent Kegel (it is once you get it) and it’s a good idea to do it all the time. Unfortunately, it’s so subtle, that as soon as you think of something else, you lose it. That’s okay. You get it, you lose, you get it again. It will take a little bit of practice on the ground before trying it in the saddle. Then when you do try it in the saddle, be sure to start out small, at the walk, so you can experiment with it and notice how your horse reacts. As I said, it’s subtle, so don’t miss the little changes that make a huge difference to your horse and you.
When we start with the proper, slightly tucked, pelvic alignment and add the use of ten-percent Kegels, neat things can happen. Since your horse mirrors your body language, he now knows what it means to tuck his own pelvis and engage his own abs. Your horse is now in a physiological position that makes it possible for him to lift his withers and lighten his front end! This, then, allows him to “bridge to the bit”. Isn’t that something we’re all looking for?
Any questions? Please ask me! I’d love to hear from you.