Helen Fletcher is level 4 APMA professional Pilates practitioner, movement educator and rider. She is former contributor to USA based magazine Dressage Today, and Australian Equestrian Life magazine. She is a Equitana 2018 presenter an a member of International Equestrian Biomechanics.
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When did your love of horses and equestrian sport begin?
5 years old, I got my own pony at 8 or 9.
What is the relationship between horse riding and Pilates? Is there one?
Historically no. From my first class in 1991/92 I instinctively felt it would be perfect for riders. As a new student to the practice, it was the principals, the mindfulness and focus, and the attention to detail. The more I practiced Pilates, and then when I did my Pilates training, the more it felt to me that it would be a great fit and that it was where I wanted to go with my work. Now as an experienced teacher I am adding more and more to what I do with the riders, some Franklin, AOM, Slings. My 40+ years of experience in both disciplines has given me a really deep understanding of the needs of riders. I teach them both on and off their horses, and the concepts, ideas and movements I teach in a class can then cross connect to the class in the saddle. This works well for the riders, regardless of their level of training or their discipline.
I imagine creating a perfect plumbline for the rider will make them lighter for the horse, is that a consideration when working with people who do equestrian sports competitively?
Posture certainly is important, as we know the core and its activation are facilitated by good postural alignment and efficient breathing. If the body is well organised the Central Nervous System will recruit muscles effectively and efficiently. Aligning the riders COG ( Centre of Gravity) with the horses own COG, makes them a ‘lighter’ load to carry.The rider wants to disturb the horse as little as possible, but then when required, influence the horses movement. It’s a dynamic sport, so riders need dynamic stability, the ability and adaptability to maintain alignment through balancing forces rather than holding a position, they need to counterbalance the ever-changing forces from the horse.
Is the exercise ‘Horseback’ on the Ladder Barrel or the Long Box Reformer a valid exercise for those that participate in equestrian sports?
A great and challenging exercise, to the non-equestrian eye it looks like it would be good but …. Not really …I prefer the Tilt and Twist series on the short-box or on the Ladder Barrel for more functional abdominals.
How can Pilates assist with horse riding technique?
Breathing and developing the ability to connect to the breath is so important, and often an under-utilised skill that can change everything. Awareness is the key to timing of the aids, body control is the key to application of the aids, being present is what our horses need from us, to come into our feeling body and focus is one of the best tools a rider of any level can learn, and I think Pilates, as a mindful movement practice can teach you that.
Can Pilates help to prevent injuries for people who ride horses?
With the motor control training we do with Pilates, the riders reaction times improve, their proprioception improves, they are more adaptable to changing forces, stronger, more mobile, more functional. This can assist them in reducing falls, and if they do have one, they are quicker to recover. Pilates can be instrumental in building confidence after injury or the acute phase of pathology, and can facilitate learning or relearning optimal movement in an environment that is safe and supportive both physically and emotionally. I am currently working successfully on and off the horse with a rider that has had 10 years of chronic pain, I can help her take her new-found skills into the saddle to increase her capacity to ride and to ride pain free. Its deeply satisfying!
How can posture change on and off the horse?
In my experience posture off the horse is the same or exaggerated on the horse. Although, some on horse postures are habit and can be changed through awareness and the right cues, exercises and release techniques both on and off the horse.
Do people develop muscle imbalances with equestrian sports? What are these imbalances? How can Pilates help?
The wonderful thing about equestrian sports is that they are bilateral, both sides are worked evenly, or they should be! Two legs, two arms, constant changes of direction. Imbalances can come in, generally, in all planes, through neglect. Riders not looking after their bodies, not cross-training, not having any type of physical therapy.
What are some of your favourite exercises to give people who participate in equestrian sports and why?
Spine Curls – spinal articulation (mobility and suppleness), opens the hips, works the gluteals and hamstrings. I love Mermaid on both the Reformer and Wunder Chair for its multi-planar movement and beautiful way of mobilising and stretching the thoracic and the spiral lines of the body.The leg and footwork correct alignment and mobilising of the joints of the lower limbs.... focus on stretch through strength with the spring resistance, oppositional energy, lengthening in either direction to create positive tension. The entire Knee Stretch series for disassociation.
What is one piece of advice you would give a new Pilates instructor on how to work with someone who was a passionate participant in equestrian sports?
Talk to them, ask lots of questions, find out what type of riding they do, ask them what their issues are. Most riders know where their weaknesses are even if they are unsure of how to fix them, or what they really are from an anatomical or movement perspective. Horse riders are passionate, focused, hard working and generally very resilient. They want to be better and if they are competitive, want to win. If they are driven and self-motivated, which most are, you have the perfect client!
How can people get in touch with you?
Facebook: Equipoise Pilates
Phone: 0411 552 300
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