Katie Scott answers:
The core is made up of a series of deep abdominal and spine-stabilising muscles – pelvic floor, transversus and the multifidus – found in the trunk of our body. They help keep us upright, strong and stable, and are one of the main muscle groups that help achieve good posture and help relieve back pain.
As riders, the core helps with our seat, position and connection to the horse. And without the correct use of it, it’s impossible to perform disciplines such as dressage. This is because we need a strong core to sit tall, and perform half-halts, circles and changes of direction – remember, it isn’t just our hand and leg aids that are important to how the horse moves.
For example, on a 20m circle, we should turn from our waist and upper body to alert the horse where we want to go. Horses become quite sensitive to our aids and positions, so we must perform each movement from the correct point, so that we do not become sore and stiff.
Pilates will teach you how to use and engage these muscles correctly. What’s more, your Pilates trainer will be able to pick up on your weaknesses and natural posture, and help you develop these muscles and make them stronger in order to help you with your riding. Pilates is an overall strengthening programme, so it will help to work on your whole body, such as your legs, arms and shoulders, which we use in riding all the time.
So why not have a go at this simple exercise next time you’re schooling your horse?
Sit deep into the saddle with your feet out of the stirrups, so that your legs hang long. Then sit up tall, so that you feel your pelvis and hips are even on both sides, and not collapsed more on one side than the other – if you have a mirror in the school, this is a great tool to check yourself. You want to feel as though both the front and back of your pelvis are completely level, so that you’re not tilting it one way or the other – this is called ‘neutral’.
Now very gently pull your tummy button in, but don’t allow your pelvis to move back or forth as you do this – try to keep a neutral position. Then roll your shoulders back as you hold onto your reins with equal pressure. Now don’t change anything, but put your feet back into the stirrups and try to continue riding like this – first in walk to start off with. And watch out on your circles that your body does not start to collapse on one side as you turn.
This is riding with your core-stabilising muscles switched on in a correct neutral spine. It gets easier the more you practise, but if you can keep this up, it will help with your position and overall balance on your horse.