Pilates Clinic - June 2011

Oh are my ribs sore! I don't think I have ever done anything that tweaked the muscles that attach to the tips of my ribs before. When I have recovered, I'll have to try to figure out which exercise was responsible. But what's a little pain for so much gain!

This clinic was the first of what I hope will be a series of clinics at Hansen Dam sponsored by Erin Vallerino Blazick of Blazick Dressage. Susie Peacock, always looking for innovative ways to improve her riding and teaching, has teamed up with a Pilates instructor, Kendall Pink, who herself is a passionate rider. Together they are creating an exercise program to teach body awareness and develop muscle control targeted specifically for what one needs to ride effectively. They had the morning session video taped so I am hoping we'll soon have videos to refer to between clinics. I am hoping for pairs of videos - one with the lecture/explanation part, perhaps with illustrative riding demos - and one that is purely a workout video for that level.

Possibly the most interesting concept for the day was muscles maintaining tone and working even in extension. Mostly I think of muscles being in extension while stretching and trying to relax them as much as possible to allow the stretch. That might be the point when doing things like stretching your hamstrings but was not what Kendall was trying to get us to do with our trunk in the breathing exercises. If I understood it correctly, it is a bit different than the type of breathing James Shaw teaches in his Tai Chi for Equestrians. When I focus on expanding my rib cage evenly when inhaling, my breath is higher in my body than when I try filling my lungs from the bottom up, a la James. But interestingly enough, both seem effective in quieting my horse when he gets a little stressed by the novel surroundings at a clinic.

For the breathing exercises, Kendall had had us sitting on bales of shavings - as if we were astride our horses. For a break, she had us get up and look at the bales to see if we sit evenly. My bale showed a sharper dip under my right seat bone - which I found particularly interesting because my impression is that I sit more to the left in my saddle and that the sweat patterns I was seeing backed up that feeling. I'll have to try this again and see if this is consistent.

After the break, we did some work with a small exercise ball under our pelvis - working on rocking back and forth along each of 4 axes. Up and down and side to side were pretty easy for me, but I could NOT find the two diagonal axes; I just couldn't feel them. Finally the next exercise where we rotated the stretch around the face of an imaginary clock let me feel what the diagonals felt like. I really liked that exercise (important for lateral influence according to Susie) and the "Sideline Superman" one we did next.

After lunch were individual riding sessions with Susie and Kendall. I'll have to go have a look at the video to see if there are any specifics to be gleaned. The main thing I got out of the ride was that Red really can move pretty nicely if I can find the right balance of structure without force. Red is a quarter horse and not naturally as big a mover as my warmblood. But the "working in extension" breath work that Kendall and Susie were teaching really made a difference. That - and possibly the massage he got from Kalya Partridge the day before.

I was really glad Erin rode at the end of the day so I had a chance to get back to watch her after running Red home. She was working on maintaining contact while adjusting Prinz's trot from warm up to working trot to medium. (Some videos of her lesson: Part 1 and Part 2) I didn't fully understand some of the things Susie was asking her to do to prepare for and then come out of the corners - but then again I am not riding second level yet.

But I am thrilled to report that now I do understand! For our lesson this morning, Erin had Red and I do the same exercise she had been doing at the working trot - but at the walk so we could get the hang of it. At first I couldn't figure out what she meant by releasing one side of my ribs through the corner and then reestablishing both to go straight afterwards. But once we changed to Red's "fall on his inside shoulder" direction, I needed to be just a hair more emphatic to keep him out on our square and then I could feel it. I am so fortunate, not only to go to great clinics, but even better, to then be able to work on those pieces in my weekly lessons. Can't wait for next week - and for the next clinic. Thanks Erin!

P.S. I got a chance to watch Red on the lunge line after another visit from Kayla. I was riding better, but the improved stride length is definitely the massage talking. Thanks Kayla!

Published June 14, 2011