I think we’ve all heard about core strength for quite some time now. And, if you’re like me, your brain just sort of glazes over when you hear any pair of words that gets thrown so much.
But it turns out the secret to to solving most of our physical midlife woes (including that belly thing — where the heck did THAT come from?) lies in finding (not easy) and working correctly (deceptively easy at first) those tiny, deep muscles groups that can make all the difference in the world in how you stand, how you sit, how you move, and of course, how you ride.
As we delve into the mental, emotional and maybe even spiritual aspects of taking action on our midlife dreams at the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat, we’ll also take a turn in the barrel with the physical, featuring some Pilates work that will turn this amazing light bulb on for you as it has for so many others. Once you find these little powerhouse muscles, learn what they do and learn how to work them, you’ll be able to add just a few minutes here and a few minutes there (Just dedicate TV commercials for a week to the few simple Pilates exercises you’ll learn and you’ll be AMAZED at the results you you’ll see and feel!)
To lead us in this adventure, I’ve invited Cassandra Thompson of ABSolute Pilates to present a mini workshop in our Saturday line-up of activities. Cassandra is a former dancer and a Stott Certified Pilates Instructor from New York City (I know. But she did buy a horse as soon as she got to Texas. Just recently, she got a pick-up truck. She’s coming around.)
Pulling together the threads of her life experiences: import/export business, entrepreneur, dancer, part-time Pilates instructor, and last but not least, a hip replacement, Cassandra is another woman beckoning to us from the other side of the decision to follow a midlife dream. After loading up her New York life and moving it all to Texas, she opened her own Pilates studio ( inspired by the experience in rehabbing that hip, she now devotes much of her business to helping others learn how to work through physical challenges). After buying her horse, Murphy, Cassandra began to put the pieces together of how the physical challenges of midlife horsemanship can be solved with Pilates.
“I find Pilates fascinating, and the more I teach, the more amazed I get,” Cassandra says. “It is not just a series of exercises — it is a philosophy, it is bio-dynamics, it is restructuring and correcting your body and the way in which you move.”
Click here to read my recent post about these muscles and what they do (and why we should care!)
“In Pilates, we learn how to change from moving from peripherals (arm and leg) to moving from our core. These exercises are very subtle AND very powerful in how they change our internal structure. Pilates corrects issues coming from past injuries and also works to prevent future ones. As the old saying goes, “the more you learn about Pilates, the harder it gets!” Also Pilates is sneaky — the easier the exercise looks, probably the harder it is.
Are you getting the results you are looking for in dealing with people? Do you get frustrated — and more insistent (and sometimes even angry) when you meet with resistance? Do you tend to back off (or lower your expectations) when people ignore or resist your requests or boundaries?
One of the lessons from horses that has impressed me most lately is the concept of pressure. With horses, of course, we’re talking about physical pressure — using body language to make something move that isn’t moving. (This reminds me of the old adage about duct tape and WD-40, but that’s another story for another time)
But with people, the pressure we’re talking about isn’t quite as obvious. We humans tend to deal in emotional pressure: the feelings that get exchanged in a confrontation, for example. When we watch the dynamics of physical pressure demonstrated in the interactions of horses, and then relate it back to the emotional pressure at play in human interactions, it can be quite the lightbulb moment. At least it was for me.
Kathy Taylor, CEO of HerdWise, one of our Horseplay presenters at the upcoming Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat put the whole pressure thing into perspective for me with a little chart — a few simple rules that seem to apply across the board to horses and people alike. And, after playing with this idea in several personal and business scenarios over the past couple of weeks, I think I’m going to have it laminated and keep it in my sock. Seriously. It works.
“Horses are all about relationship,” Kathy explains. “Their pecking order in the herd depends on whether or not they can use their body language (or pressure) to move the feet of the other horses. It’s just as simple as that. Horses demonstrate this concept for us physically; and, because horses mirror us, once you are aware of this dynamic it’s easy to see that people relate to one another in exactly the same way. The difference is that instead of kicking and biting and laying back our ears, we humans use emotion to create the pressure that we hope will influence the behavior of another. (Well, most people anyway. Some also kick and bite. Trust me on this.)
So here’s the cheat sheet:
If you ask and someone complies, you stop asking (release the pressure)
If you ask and they ignore you, you ask a little louder or in a more direct way (increase the pressure)
If you ask and they resist, you keep the pressure the same.
This last one is much harder than it sounds.
“Sometimes the tough part is recognizing the difference between ignoring and resisting,” Kathy says. “And, while it’s human nature to want to increase the pressure when someone resists, that only escalates the emotions at play between you toward anger and fear, which are both ultimately destructive to the relationship. If you can manage to step back from your own emotions when you meet with resistance and just keep the pressure (and the boundary) exactly the same, it will change the nature of your interaction.”
“Does it make people any more likely to do what you want them to?” I couldn’t help but ask.
This is where Kathy laughs at my desire for the golden lasso. I hate confrontation more than spiders.
“Sometimes yes, and sometimes no,” she says. “But it does keep the confrontation from escalating into conflict that does more harm than good to the relationship.”
Want to know more about what horses can teach us about improving relationships as we move more in the direction of our goals and dreams? Want to hear Kathy’s story of how she combined what she loves with what she always wanted to do to create an award-winning business venture?
Join us for the Dust Off Your Dreams Women’s Retreat at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa in Graham, Texas March 13-15. But hurry — registration ends March 15 (Yep, that’s this coming Thursday, but the retreat’s still more than a month away.) and there are 10 spots left. Call us at 1-888-773-8187, email email@example.com, or register online today to claim one of the remaining spots for the weekend that could change Part Two of your life!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
For some of us, clarity on our midlife dream can be gradual. For others, like Wildcatter Ranch Owner and General Manager Anne Street Skipper, clarity comes in a single moment.
“I remember it very well,” she told me one day as we talked through the idea and concepts behind the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats. “It was just before my 20th high school reunion. I was going through some old photos and scrapbooks, and suddenly I realized “that girl” I used to be was gone and I had no idea where she went. ‘What happened to that girl?’ I wondered ‘And what happened to all those things she wanted to do . . . someday?” That was the beginning, I think, of a serious change in direction for me.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Ten years later, the doors of the Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa opened for business, bringing together Anne’s love for the theatre (Anne’s a career actress); her love and desire to do something good for the Graham, Texas community where she was born and raised (Anne’s a direct descendant of one of Graham’s founding families); and her love for the hospitality industry (in addition to a bachelor’s degree in humanities and religion, Anne holds special certifications in hospitality management and tourism from Penn State, Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, and Texas Travel Industry Association).
So how did Anne get from that single moment of clarity to the dazzling expression of her Wildcatter dream?
We’ll start Friday evening with a panel discussion in which each presenter will share the moment of clarity that changed the course of her life. Then on Saturday, we’ll enter a series of carefully designed mini workshops to help you rediscover the dreams of “that girl” you used to be. Calling upon the wisdom of horses, the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat will help you re-examine all those things you’ve always loved and wanted to do . . .”someday,” clarify your dream through the lens of where you are now, identify and remove obstacles, and craft your first concrete action steps toward its most joyful (and realistic) expression of all you meant to be.
The retreat is all-inclusive (except alcohol, but it is available if you’re so inclined), including legendary Wildcatter accommodations and amenities, award winning cuisine, and a Saturday night dinner, campfire (with s’mores!) and music by Elizabeth Wills to create an experience you’ll never forget.
What are you waiting for? Those dreams don’t dust themselves, you know — and like Anne, when you go back and re-examine all the things you used to love in the light of where you are now, you may be amazed at the unexpected joy you could call into Part Two of your life. Register today and make one of those last remaining spots in the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats your first step toward your moment of clarity!
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
After decades of paying for piano lessons, dance recitals, sports camps, summer camps, tuition, cars (and insurance!), prom dresses, and homecoming mums, isn’t it your turn?
Isn’t it about time to invest some of that hard earned money in your own future? And if not now, when?
At Dust Off Your Dreams Retreats, we think midlife is the perfect time to say, “YES!” to those “someday” dreams for one reason and one reason only. You’re worth it — and so are your dreams.
So what is the price of getting your life unstuck, launching your “someday” dreams and setting your course for a bold new ride into Part Two of your life? The Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat is, on purpose, a high-end experience that packs months (and for some of us, years!) of insights and revelations and action-producing experiences into a single weekend. We’ve designed it carefully — and placed it the venue we believe will make the critical difference in how you absorb and put to use the information presented and every insight gained — to become that sweet spot in your life you will look back on as the “moment of clarity” that made the difference you’ve been longing for all your life.
And, when you break it down, we’ve packed an incredible amount of value into this half-price pilot weekend — and yet, even when we go to full price next fall, we’ll still be offering added value with prices closely aligned to other equine assisted retreats out there. So I guess the bottom line here is, yes, it is expensive — AND worth every penny and more in terms of what you’ll get out of it. To do this thing right is costly, and everyone involved is taking a risk to provide both the content and the venue we know will create the priceless experience that will infuse new life into the cherished old dreams of every participant.
Do I need to say it again? You are worth it. And so are your dreams. Register today for the weekend that will empower you to turn those “someday” dreams to exhilarating reality for Part Two of your life.
Get all the details and sign up at www.dustoffyourdreamsretreats.com. The registration deadline is coming fast and space is limited (only 12 spots left!), so grab a friend (it’s an even better rate if you bring a friend) and sign up today. For more information or to sign up by phone with your credit card (we use PayPal on the site, but you do not need a PayPal account to use this secure payment service; just click on the credit card icons and follow the prompts), please feel free to give us a call at 1-888-773-8187.
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
I realize that calling the creation of the Dust Off Your Dreams Retreat concept a “perfect storm” may sound like a huge contradiction in terms, but in reality, that’s exactly what it was. A congruent, if unsuspecting, collection of sincere people, perfect elements, and collective intent, all falling into place at exactly the same time to create something so fresh, new, and potentially transformative for midlife women . . . well, what would you call it?
First, calling upon The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses as text, we’ll sprinkle a variety of focused journaling exercises in and around the retreat sessions and activities to help you pinpoint the specifics of your dream and develop awareness of the path that will take you in that direction.
Anne Street Skipper, owner and general manager of The Wildcatter Ranch Resort and Spa provides not only a spectacular venue for this event, but a living, breathing role model for “finding that girl I used to be and bringing her back to life” (more about Anne’s story in a coming post!);
Kathy Taylor, CEO of HerdWise will show us how horse play can reveal key aspects of our interactions with other people — and any obstacles that may be holding us back (Tips from Kathy and her horses, Roxy and Flo, about the effective use of pressure in business and personal confrontations coming soon — watch this space!)
Denise Barrows, CEO of Practical Equine Solutions will show retreat participants through a series of exercises what things like setting boundaries, cultivating calm courage and overcoming fear one small step at a time looks like in dealing with horses — and how we can translate these concepts to our human interactions; (look for some of Denise’s special insights gained from working with women and their Midlife Horses in coming posts)
Cassandra Thompson, CEO of ABSolute Pilates, a former dancer and New York City Stott certified Pilates Instructor will provide us with tools for increasing our body awareness along with simple core strengthening exercises to help us overcome (or manage) physical limitations and correct any imbalances we may have developed somewhere along the way. (You’ve already met Cassandra in this blog — just wait until you hear what she’s been up to lately!)
Then, through a series of guided meditations and journaling led by my good friend (and my horse’s new love interest — we’ll circle back to this later, too), The Rev. Linda McDermott, Senior Associate Minister of First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas will, help us find the inner stillness that leads to clarity and context for those dreams we’d still like to pursue.
Finally, we’ll translate all these insights into real tools and strategies you can use to set realistic goals, remove (or work around) any obstacles in your way, and take your first concrete steps toward living your dreams to the highest extent possible in Part Two of your life.
And wait, as they say in the infomercials, there’s more!
To amp up the fun, lightness and soaring of spirits for this pivotal weekend, singer/songwriter Elizabeth Wills and all million angels will be on hand to sing us through it all with the goosebump inducing melodies and thought-provoking lyrical reflections known to follow her her wherever she goes. (If you haven’t seen my book trailer videos — or even if you have—check them out again. That’s Elizabeth singing “It’s a Beautiful Life” in the Background. Learn more about Elizabeth and her inspiring music in coming posts. My guess is there will be more new music from Elizabeth that comes from this weekend. I’ll keep you posted on that, too!
Get all the details and sign up at www.dustoffyourdreamsretreats.com. The registration deadline is coming fast and space is limited, so grab a friend (it’s an even better rate if you bring a friend) and sign up today. For more information or to sign up by phone with your credit card (we use PayPal on the site, but you do not need a PayPal account to use this secure payment service; just click on the credit card icons and follow the prompts), please feel free to give us a call at 1-888-773-8187.
Want to know more about The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses? Click here to view book trailer!
“This [Dressage Today] article relates directly to what we have been talking about. There is even a part about how the body forgets to use some muscles and overcompensates with others, leading to tightness and strain. I feel like they are talking about me!”
And me! How about you? What unmounted exercises have you discovered to help build core muscles memory? I don’t know about you, but when we hear how “long periods seated such as at a computer or in a car create imbalanced patterns across the hip joints from muscle and ligament tightness, and lack of use (weakness),” I have to raise my hand in a plea of guilty. I’ve considered replacing my desk chair with a balance ball, but I fear of getting bucked off. (Bad previous experience with one of these unpredictable creatures).
So what do these “imbalanced patterns” mean to our riding — and our life?
Bottom Line: Practice doesn’t always make perfect — perfect practice makes perfect!
According to Heather Sansom, the fitness writer for Dressage Today who wrote this great article, when we have these imbalances it makes us engage our core muscles incorrectly. (And all this time, I thought we just needed to engage our core when we ride. But noooooo . . .turns out we have to find and engage the right muscles in the right way. The plot thickens.)
Apparently there’s a lot more to strengthening our core than just “zipping it up” (although that’s certainly part of it!) Unless we learn to pinpoint and engage these sneaky little deep muscles in the correct way (Denise says she thinks they hide. I agree.), we’re just perpetuating the problems created by the imbalance: “The rider’s body has less chance of responding correctly when it comes to the ride with imbalances or pre-disposed tendency to incorrect muscle engagement,” Heather writes. She goes on to say that, “lack of correct engagement of stabilizers in the rider’s pelvis can result in issues such as difficulty with leg aids, a collapsing lower back, weakness in lateral movement and even an overactive low back resulting in back strain and pain.”
Ruh Roh. Denise is right about that, too. Now it’s getting personal.
And even worse, Heather’s article goes on to say, these imbalances and weaknesses also create gaps in your neuromuscular communication. She compares this to a cell phone that only gets an intermittent signal and you only hear every other word of the conversation. (Who remembers that Can you hear me now?” commercial for Verizon? Some days, it’s my life.) Depending on the conversation you’re having with your horse, such as “Please don’t kill me now,” you’re probably going to want every single word to come through loud and clear.
So what do you do?
The answer, surprisingly, is one you’ve seen before (especially if you’re a fan of Clinton Anderson and Downunder Horsemanship as I am): Groundwork. But this time, it’s groundwork for you, not your horse. (Here comes the equine snickering I told you about. After working my horses on the ground for so many miles, they are obviously enjoying this cosmic turn of the tables.) But, just as is is with training our horses, this groundwork pays off big in the long run:
“A rider interested in bringing maximum self-carriage to their ride, avoiding injury and prolonging their riding career should do some ground training,” Heather writes. “Riding is a sport that can be engaged in right in to senior years, and riders can improve their entire life. This means that a rider can be improving technically, at an age when their physical preparedness for sport is actually reducing due to the normal aging process which reduces suppleness in ligaments and causes muscle fibre atrophy. Riders over 40 should definitely be engaging in supplementary exercises to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and spine, so that the riding itself does not actually wear your body down. Most riders want to be able to ride as long in life as they possibly can.”
Go check out Heather’s groundwork exercises for humans and let us know what you think — or if you have any others we ought to add to our mix. Let’s all go back to Rebecca’s Garanimal workout schedule and add these in–you be the judge of which workout energy level category they go in (walk, trot, canter, gallop), but wherever you put them in your own personal regimen, be sure to plug and play!
We’ll be revisiting this in the near future with some fun posts and activities inspired by my riding group’s work with Cassandra . . . stay tuned. And, as always, please chime in with the exercises and routines that help you most! Comment here, email me, or post your thoughts on this topic to our Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube channel. Misery — and obsession — loves company!
“This is a really good newsletter- right along the same lines as what we are doing/promoting. While it is probably focused toward riders who are already knee deep in a fitness and riding program, it is also good for the not-so-serious riders to hear (I can relay it as, “See? there ARE times when you can take a break from regular riding and planning and stretching! Just not 51 weeks out of the year 🙂
I also appreciate the emphasis here on maintaining hip mobility. This seems to be an issue many of us struggle with. It’s nice to see that so many others are on the same page as we are!”
The fabulous resource Denise connects us with here is equifitt.com. Go there and click on the blue box on the upper right portion of the home page (scroll down to the bottom for the free stuff, but there are some cool things to purchase on the way to the sign up box!) to sign up for their free monthly tips and articles — and then click around this great site to explore the many fitness ideas and opportunities there to fit a variety of needs and interests!
Meanwhile, Denise shares their November newsletter (couldn’t find the link for you, so here it is in all its glory!) that got our attention after our recent Pilates enlightenment. Enjoy!
EquiFiTTip November 2011: Make the Most of Your Time
Forward to a friend, subscription to monthly FiTTips is free.
It’s that busy festive time of year again when many riders find themselves torn: you really want to be at the barn, but there is that office party/social event/crammed holiday schedule and they just have not perfected cloning.
It can be a time of year when fitting in ‘extra’s like your own fitness plan really fall by the wayside.
Relax. The beauty of a yearly training plan is that it’s understood there are times of the year when optimal training cannot occur. In fact, there are times when it shouldn’t- your body needs to recover. I usually view the month of December as a maintenance only/alternative period of time. There is no point in fighting it- you need to have the balance of being able to connect with friends and family, and enjoy the general hum and extravagant well-wishing of the major holiday season.
Before you get ready to put on the fuzzy slippers and pour yourself something that warms you, you really do need to know that recovery period does not mean it’s time to slack off completely. The purpose of a recovery period in your usual training regimen is to help you loosen up a little; to let muscles recover from long periods of use in order to avoid strain, and to let your brain unwind so that you can bring creativity and freshness back to the ways you are thinking about your sport. Letting yourself sink into a comfortable chair for the season, or run around with elevated blood pressure from shopping and socializing with no time for yourself, do not count as legitimate recovery.
Keep the end goal in mind: going into the New Year, picking up where you left off, having thought about your goals for the new year and ready to give it your best shot.
Total slacking or stressing for a month will not set you up to walk into this picture.
Recovery periods in an athlete training schedule are often referred to as ‘active recovery’. When you think about the concept applied to your horse, it makes sense. For example, in the off season (if you compete) you may take him out hacking, or play with gymnastics (if you are a dressage rider) or work on your dressage (if you are a hunter/jumper). You will generally give your horse some work that is light to him, and a little different from his usual routine. You’ll bring the fun back in. If he is injured, you don’t leave him standing in a stall. You keep him moving. In some areas, riders just turn their horse out for the winter where he can stay exercised going through snow and up and down hills, but otherwise get a mental break and just be a horse to get re-energized.
You both need a period where your horse’s training is lighter. This is a good season to do it, and there is a hybrid solution that can help normally busy riders, go through the busy holiday season and still be physically and mentally recovered and ready to pick up where you left off when your normal training seasons begins again.
You do not need to feel torn about not maintaining your training schedule, if you have planned to ride less, or make your rides shorter. You do need to plan in short segments of activity for yourself to replace the lost riding time. Luckily, it does not take nearly as long to go for a 20-minute walk as it does to head to the barn and back in an evening: you can fit in the walk AND the holiday party in on the same day.
Short bursts of intentional and fun physical activity will help keep you riding fit when you can’t ride as much or as long. They will also help reduce stress, build proprioception and neuro-muscular vocabulary (increase your ability to move and follow your horse), and even help you avoid potential strain issues that could be caused by your riding and are typically prevalent in middle-aged and older riders.
It doesn’t really matter what activities you choose in your recovery period as a rider. However, they should be selected to meet specific goals that help your riding, such as:
Maintain bone density and improve ligament strength(impact activities).
Examples: walking, jogging, kickboxing, aerobics, skiing, snowshoeing, training with weights or bodyweight/resistance tubing
Maintain hip mobility (for following the horse’s motion).
Examples: walking (probably the best one), cross country skiing, snowshoeing, skating, yoga
Build core strength.
Examples: core exercises, martial arts, swimming, dance (jazz, hip hop etc..) pilates, integrated training with exercise tubing
Improve rhythm and connection.
Examples: dance- especially social dancing with a partner, aerobics or other music-driven group classes, ‘mirror’ motion games with a partner
Maintain or build cardio-vascular stamina.
Examples: many of the activities above, as long as your heart rate is elevated for 15-20 minutes. If you are an Eventer, your cardio training should be twice as long. Using intervals of more intense activity are the most efficient way to train. For example, walking on hills or walking the dog with intervals of faster or slower walking; or swimming lengths with fast/slow combinations that you can keep up.
To get the most out of your exercise time as a mental break and for proprioception, it is best NOT to multi-task. Proprioception, or the finetuned control you need as an athlete and a rider, needs to be constantly honed. Stay focused on what you are doing so that you can give it 100% even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes.
If you have a busy family holiday season in addition to your riding and other commitments, 5 minutes may be all you have at a time.
Equifitt training draws on multiple sport and fitness disciplines to help riders of all ages and types balance their bodies and reach their riding and fitness goals. Heather is a certified personal trainer and Level 1 Centered Riding® Instructor. Equifitt offers online eCoaching, clinics, personal rider programs, and Centered Riding® instruction.
This came in last week via email (posted with permission—thanks Cassandra!) in response to my post about my morning-after-Pilates misery. Now, before we even get started, as you’ll see below, Cassandra did ask me to stop whining and describing the consequence of this “deep work” by the less than flattering term, “pain.”
So. . . As I search my brain (and the Internet) for a better word to describe what stopped me from being able to sit or stand without whimpering for two full days, I’ll just footnote here that once this unmentionable feeling passed, I did feel stronger and more in control of those tiny, deep, elusive muscles. (Once you locate them you tend become obsessed with the “zip up” exercise – or at least I have.) In the immortal words of Max on CBS TV’s “Two Broke Girls” sitcom, “I want both more and less of it — and I am obsessed with it!”
And, I’ll also have to tell you that, playing with these muscles while riding last week, I discovered the AMAZING difference they can make in communicating with my horse (even when he has his hoofs stuffed in his ears in “La la la I can’t hear you” fashion.)
After a great conversation with Cassandra about all this — and I’ve invited her to be a guest on our blog to tell us more about this amazing (if a little bit gut wrenching, in the most literal sense) exercise form — I share now her insights on the connection between Pilates and riding and midlife horses. (She’s actually one of us!) Cassandra firmly believes that Pilates is key to putting Midlife Horses success within reach for all of us — with benefits that reach far beyond the saddle.
“I must speak to you as I can not believe that you are the woman I wanted to contact for half a year! First of all, I have ordered your book…second of all I am definitely a Midlife horsewoman…having left New York 2 ½ years ago to finally have my dream of owning a horse come true. And Pilates has been immeasurably helpful in this journey to overcome all the adult “stuff” such as fear, lack of confidence and just not having grown up on a horse. And may I add a hip replacement…
“Two corrections however. We do like to keep pain to a minimum in Pilates. Deep work in muscles yes, but we try to avoid crippling you! The other is that Pilates is not just for “high level” riders. The others in the class you mention have been doing Pilates for awhile, and it has helped several of them be successful in overcoming obstacles to their riding and increase their enjoyment even more.”
Stay tuned for more vital info from Cassandra about incorporating Piliates into your Midlife Horses fitness regimen. Meanwhile, pony up! I invite you to share your own Midlife Horses fitness insights, ideas, strategies, and any secrets you’ve discovered on your Midlife Horses journey. Post your comments here, email me (especially if you’d like to remain anonymous but nevertheless have something important to add to this conversation!), post on Facebook, show us your favorite moves on YouTube, or Tweet your best midlife horses fitness tip when this header pops up on my Twitter feed! And, if you haven’t seen it yet, click here to check out our new video about how our Midlife Horses keep us fit.
My insides hurt. A few weeks ago I started going to a Pilates class (Cassandra’s Absolute Pilates) devoted to moves that will help us ride better. I also have a nagging hip and lower back issue I’ve been trying to resolve, and these Pilates exercises seem to be helping.
But yesterday’s class was more intense than usual. And today (and likely worsening tomorrow) I pay. For one thing, yesterday it was all high level riders. Except me. I was just a glutton for punishment with an exaggerated idea of my own core strength and the erroneous thought that I could actually keep up with these women. And I did, for the most part. But my guess is that they are all able to move today.
Why is Pilates in particular so good for our riding? What makes this kind of pain so necessary? The object of Pilates exercises is to build long, strong, flexible musculature that will help us hold our frame steady (“locked and loaded,” as Cassandra says), and make clear and deliberate cues that will help our horse understand what we are asking him to do as we move fluidly with our horses in a relaxed, but powerful way. (Think Zena, Woman Warrior. On Horseback.) While we all know we need to be strong to ride well, it is the kind of strength we develop that makes all the difference. It is strength without tightness — supple, loose, and powerful.
And between here and there, apparently, lies the undeniable pain of hard work.(Good news, Advil!) OK, maybe not actual pain (although I’m not sure I can stand up right now without whimpering),but just the extreme muscle soreness, way deep in your innards, that tells you that you’ve found some tiny little muscles in there that have never worked an honest day in their now miserable lives.
Finding, isolating, and working these little tiny muscles, many of which comprise the “pelvic floor” and some of the harder-to-reach muscles that live under and around the “big guns” of the quads, glutes and hamstrings that normally get all our attention in more conventional workouts, is apparently the name of this hideous but effective game.
Now, I’ve heard of some of these muscles before. The pelvic floor is loosely defined as the interconnected “hammock” of muscles that supports our internal organs and (ahem) surrounds the openings of our personal parts. I’ve had two babies and a hysterectomy and have endured the Kegel exercise explanation (and how neglecting this crucial exercise leads to unspeakable and annoying problems that only get worse as we age) more times than I’d care to count.
But here’s the real news I learned yesterday about that group of muscles known as the pelvic floor. When this web of muscles and ligaments is strengthened and trained to work in concert with the abs and lower back, we can significantly improve not only our riding, but also whatever structural imbalances we may have. For most of us at this time of life, the muscles of our abs and lower back and hips have learned to compensate for any natural imbalances by staying tight in an effort to protect our hip joints and spine. Not only does this inhibit our ability to relax our hips when we ride, but it is often the source of increasing aches, pains, and tension in the hips and lower back that plague us in every area of our life.
It’s also kind of a chicken and egg thing. We have to be able to get these muscles to relax in order to strengthen them enough to correct our alignment; however, it is the problem with alignment that’s keeping them tight . So to target and work these key muscles, we must learn to find them and then teach them to hold correct alignment. When we strengthen these muscles with Pilates exercises, we teach them to work with the surrounding glutes and abs that will then help create and maintain better overall structural balance. The bonus here is that supple strength that makes us so much more effective in the saddle. I don’t know about you, but I’m in!
So how do we find those muscles? And then what?
The image Cassandra put in our heads yesterday was the best one I’ve ever heard. She described it as “pulling the sit bones together like the foot of a zipper,” then “slowly zipping up the muscles of your core from that base, moving straight up the midline of your body, all the way to your sternum, keeping your shoulders back and down (‘locked and loaded’) and neck relaxed.” Then she had us hold that “zipped-up core” while we did each of the Pilates exercises in that particular series. (Ow, it even hurts to write about it this morning!)
If you’re new to this idea, I’d advise that you practice “zipping up” your core and seeing how long you can hold it, just sitting there, whenever you think about it. Then try doing it as you go about your normal daily activities. Trust me — ease your slacker core muscles into this. Or go buy yourself the BIG bottle of Advil and, while you’re at it, a little Tiger Balm. (and remember, no matter how good it may sound, Tiger Balm is not intended for internal use.)
This, I think, is a great example of how our midlife horses propel us to find levels and types of fitness that we would otherwise never pursue — for beyond-riding benefits that will continue to pay off in every area of our life for years and maybe decades to come. What new fitness levels and motivations has your horse led you to? Chime in and tell us your stories about fitness you’ve found at the hooves of your midlife horses. Post a comment here, move it to our Facebook community, re-tweet your favorite exercise when you see this headline pop up on my Twitter feed, or share a video on our YouTube channel.