Saddle up

Pilates for equestrians? How to increase your stamina, stability and suppleness to create balance in the saddle.

We met Megan Smith Ray at a horse show at Old Salem Farm in North Salem, a natural setting for the creator of Pilates For Equestrians. Recently, we caught up with her again to find out how this discipline benefits riders and others.

Megan, we know Pilates was developed in the early 20th century by Joseph Pilates, for whom it’s named, but what exactly is it?

“Pilates is a form of exercise that uses specialized machines to both lengthen (stretch) and strengthen muscles. The result are muscles that look longer and leaner, which is aesthetically pleasing (one reason Pilates is popular with celebrities), and also alleviates back pain and makes most people feel better. Additionally, long, lean muscles are healthier and more resistant to injury, compared with short, tight muscles, gained from typical gym workouts like weightlifting, running, biking, etc. Elite athletes from Roger Federer to Tom Brady have all used Pilates to improve their performance and prevent injury.”

Why is it important for equestrians to do Pilates?

“Pilates focuses not only on increasing strength and flexibility but also on improving core strength and isolating body movement – the holy grail for excellent riding. Essentially, with Pilates, you can train and retrain muscles to react as you wish they would in the saddle. They say that Pilates is the number one exercise that can make you a better rider. Thus, Pilates for Equestrians was born.”

How did you get into this industry? Did you ride horses?

“I started riding horses just four and a half years ago when I moved to North Salem from New York City. As I learned to ride, I quickly noticed the parallels to Pilates, including an independent seat, and used Pilates to troubleshoot my issues and build strength and flexibility where I needed it. I quickly realized that every rider should be doing Pilates to feel better and perform better. I don’t have many wishes left unrelated to my family except this – to help people feel better, perform better, and shine. Nothing makes me happier than that.”

I have five minutes in the morning. What are simple Pilates exercises that I can do?

“I will soon be launching online at-home Pilates workouts. In the meantime, I recommend five- to 10-minute workouts at home featuring these key Pilates exercises — roll down, toe taps,  bridge, rolling like a ball, plank and side plank. You can find these on my online site when it launches and on YouTube in the meantime.”

For more, follow Megan’s Instagram @pilates4equestrians and look out for her upcoming website,

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