Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pony Pilates!

New Yorkers are religious about their workout habits. It's a very fitness conscious atmosphere up here, and many of our urban residents are committed to some type of regimen to ensure they stay svelte and healthy. Yoga and Pilates are favorites of the workout minded in the area, with private studios available in every neighborhood, and classes offered at every major gym. I myself am a fan of modified Pilates workouts, as I tender a strong core section to be a major requirement for maintaining strength, good posture, and endurance both on the ground and in the saddle. Building one's ab and back muscles provides support for your spine and lends strength to the other muscle systems of the body.

It was not, however, without skepticism that I read a recent Horse.com article touting the benefits of Pilates for horses. I mean, just how does one get a horse to strengthen its core independent of the rest of its body? The good news is, the article makes a compelling argument for a Pilates inspired practice with horses, providing a series of exercises, done from the ground, that require a horse to stretch and flex the muscles surrounding his midsection. The concept was developed by equine physiologist Hilary Clayton, DVM, from Michigan State University (and her colleague Narelle Stubbs) who competes with her Pilates strengthened Arabians in dressage.

Pilates based exercises for horses are organized into three categories, that increase with difficulty as you cycle through them. The first set is the "mobilization exercises flex," which is targeted to improve flexibility through the spine and midsection. The next group of exercises are "core strengthening," and both improve the horse's posture and help stabilize the major muscle groups that hold his rib carriage and hips in proper alignment. As Dr. Clayton points out, these exercises "'are particularly good for horses with a sagging top line or hollow belly.'" The final set of exercises are "balancing exercises" that "improve balance and stability for athletic performance by teaching the horse to control manually induced shifts of his weight." Because some of these movements require the horse to be positioned on only three legs, they are contraindicated for horses with nervous system or other similar disorders.

To learn about the unique exercises involved with the process, read more here.

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