pilates in the barn

I have come to believe that behind every young, fit, and successful equestrian athlete is a slightly bloated, middle-aged, underemployed suburban housewife with a short brown haircut and 125,000 miles on her odometer. Yes, there are Horse Show Moms who look fresh, happy and fit, but that’s not what she was seeing in the mirror.

After years of taking our youngest daughter to the barn every day (and still trying to keep the rest of the family fed and supplied with clean socks and underwear), I was exhausted and it seemed. Something had to change.

For me, the change came when my husband sat me down at the kitchen table and said, “I want my wife back.” She wasn’t sure if he was referring to the fact that she was never home or that she was no longer the slender, fun, energetic girl he had married.

Either way. . . Oh!

He then said, “If we’re going to continue to encourage our daughter’s addiction to horse riding, we need to include your needs, mine and the rest of the family. And we’ll do it on a pre-tax basis, which means we’ll do it like a real business.”

“Since that day, I’ve learned that our conversation isn’t unique. It happens at kitchen tables and in horse stable parking lots across the country. It usually starts with something like, ‘That horse cost how much? Who do you think I am, Michael Bloomberg?

“The strategy we chose to live up to the ‘before the tax dollar’ adage was to buy a small horse boarding near our home. Our trainer, Mariano Bedoya, helped guide us through the process and helped us recruit our stable manager, Jorge Viton, of Wellington, Florida.

Owning a barn is a lot of work, but it has also become a place that the whole family can enjoy. Our youngest daughter is enjoying her rides more than ever, the older girls are promoting our facility by taking lots of pictures and posting them on Facebook, the boys are willing to do chores as long as they involve a tractor, ATV, or power tool, and my husband even has an “office” filled with a new jump drill and assorted fishing rods.

But the best part of our barn, for me, is the new Pilates Reformer Studio. When we purchased our barn, I insisted that we include space for a small Pilates Reformer Studio. I was initially seduced by Pilates while recovering from knee surgery years before. It looked elegant, safe and easy. Easy? Ha! As the trainer guided my every move, I learned the beautiful and challenging nuances of proper and effective Pilates work out. There were plenty of days where I told her, “There’s absolutely no way I’m going to get that move right,” but I ended up blushing like a little girl in my first pony class when “I did it!” With proper instruction and supervision, it is possible to experience strengthening, lengthening, and balance without pain.

Pilates teaches you to slow down and listen to your body and respect the movement of the equipment. Can you imagine a more perfect training for riders? Our Pilates trainer has no specific experience training equestrian athletes, so we rely on dressage trainer and rider Betsy Steiner to run regular clinics, year-round, in our stable. Betsy helped coin the term “Equilates” and is the author of the book A Gymnastic Riding System – Using Mind, Body, & Spirit.

I will always love sitting in the observation room, watching our daughter train. She gives me real joy. But with a pilates studio on site, I also look forward to a more balanced and fit life for this horse show mom.

Six principles of Pilates

Pilates is a thought-filled series of controlled movements usually performed on specially designed spring-resistant exercise equipment. It focuses on improving flexibility, core strength, and body awareness. In the book The Pilates Method of Physical and Mental Conditioning, six “Principles of Pilates” are described. The following list applies those principles to the unique challenges of the equestrian athlete.

1. Focus!

Pilates trains the body and mind. Like horseback riding, one must habitually be “always present” in mind and body, in order to be successful and safe.

2. Control!

The original name of the Pilates exercise method was “Contrology.” The exercises have to do with staying calm. In Pilates, and horse riding, one perfectly executed exercise is better than 100 poorly executed ones.

3. Focus!

All physical movements spring from our core. When the core is engaged, posture is better, the rider’s seat is deepened, and the chance of injury is reduced.

4. Flow!

Pilates and horseback riding are all about flow, grace, and ease. Pilates equipment and a horse are very good mirrors of fluidity and concentration. If the flow is lost, the Pilates team begins pounding. The rider must match his movements with his horse to avoid collapsing, twisting or bouncing in the saddle.

5. Precision!

Proper Pilates training requires an intense attention to detail that quickly becomes second nature. Adult Pilates students find their new mindfulness changes their daily posture and some have a measurable increase in height. A better stance results in a more elegant ride.

6. Breathe!

Deep, controlled, purifying breaths are part of maximizing Pilates movements. Deeper stretches, longer muscles, and oxygenated blood mean fewer cramps and tight muscles getting in and out of the saddle.

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