Written by Sue Weakley for MatchNRide.com
Betsy Steiner knows a thing or two about long-term success as a dressage trainer. After 40 years in the business, her name is synonymous with high-performance dressage and her ability to stay the course is undeniable. She’s known to ride six to eight horses a day, then give lessons—and she’s in her 60s! What’s her secret? One of them is adding cross training exercise to her fitness routine.
“No matter how busy you are and what age you are, your health and well-being are your tools to success in your career,” she says. “If you don’t keep your body healthy, you’re not going to have a career. For longevity, I’ve always done cross training and it’s really paid off for me. My body is my tool. I have to have it working, I have to have it feeling good and I want to be able to use it kindly and properly to get the results I want.”
Ideally she suggests carving out an hour a day for cross training but knows trainers are very busy and says setting aside even 20 minutes two or three times a week will pay off in the long run.
Although everyone should choose a form of exercise they like, Steiner believes Pilates is ideal for trainers. Pilates develops not only entire core strength, but also stretches and relaxes the muscles worked during riding while building the supportive muscles riders need.
“All the international riders and trainers are doing cross training and many of them are doing Pilates because it really targets core strength,” she says. “Some people naturally love running. Some people love to do yoga. I love Pilates. If you just do riding, then you are addressing only the muscles used for riding and many of the other important, supportive muscles don’t get worked the way they should to promote well being.”
To help all equestrians, she created Equilates, which uses the basic premises of Pilates: promoting elongation of the spine, muscular flexibility and balance, as well as emphasis on strengthening the core to ensure the relaxed concentration and flow needed to promote the partnership between horse and rider. With Equilates training, the rider finds a mind body connection and a common ground between Pilates lingo and riding lingo. This helps the two blend together to make horse and rider equal partners and athletes, and to put into practice the classical principles of riding.
She also recommends scheduling a few one-on-one sessions with a good Pilates instructor. “Ideally, go to a few private sessions to have an instructor evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and come up with the best program for your body.” she suggests. “Going to a good Pilates instructor is like going to a good Grand Prix dressage trainer for your horse.”
She believes that trainers should not only build their own strength to increase longevity in their jobs, they should also consider helping their clients’ discover how to best supplement their fitness regime.
“As trainers we are always assessing the needs of our horses and coming up with the very best plan for their training according to how they feel and are working. As an instructor, you have to look at your students and understand what they need and if they have restrictions,” she says. “You can tell someone to put their heels down 100 times and if they don’t have flexibility in the ankle or they have some restriction that doesn’t allow them to do it, it makes no sense to keep saying the same thing and getting the same result simply because it’s not possible for that person to do it. It is not because they don’t want to do it. So, then I think you have to find exercises to help them try to become more flexible or at least, as the trainer, realize to what extent they are able to do what it is you are asking.”
She said you should study a rider’s movement to discover if he or she would benefit from stretching exercises or strengthening exercises to become more physically balanced.
“The development in a rider should come to a place where they sit with equal strength and relaxation. With education and training riders learn how to engage the muscles that need to be engaged and relax the muscles that need to be relaxed to guide and allow the horse to move to his maximum ability. It’s very, complicated to come to a place of being simple.”
She knows that trainer's days are already jam-packed and suggested doing stretching exercises at the barn or during down time at home to loosen up the muscles that have been working hard all day. Here are three exercises to get you started:
Standing parallel to the door frame, place your arm shoulder height on the door frame, and gently turn your body a little bit at a time to get a stretch through the shoulder and across the chest. This helps to open the shoulder as well as stretch the pectoral muscles. “Rider’s shoulders seem to suffer because of the repetitive motion toward the reins” she said. “Be sure and stretch both sides of the body. You may take note that one side is easier than the other. Hmm – could this relate to a horse that may be stronger on one side?” “You can fit this stretch in after you get off one horse and before you get on another, do a couple minutes in each direction,” she suggested.
Lay down on the floor, knees bent hip distance apart and feet flat on the floor. Put your hands behind your head. Activate and engage your abdominal muscles then curl your chin down toward your chest and lift your shoulders off the floor creating a C shape throughout your abs. You should feel your abdominal muscles engage. Come all the way to sitting or only as high as is comfortable for you. Engage the lower abs as you roll to go back down starting at the tail bone pressing the ab muscles to lower back down one vertebrae at a time so that the abs work the entire roll down. This exercise focuses on strength.
Hamstring Stretch – Forward Spine Stretch
Sit on the floor with a straight back, arms extended perpendicular to straight legs and toes flexed. In this forward stretch, the head curves down between the extended arms as you bend and the arms reach forward, but not down to touch the toes and return to sitting position articulating your spine as you did in the Roll Up exercise. You want to have a C shape as you sit back. When you slowly come back up, begin with the tailbone and feel each vertebrae articulate as you sit up. Don’t swing to sit up. You want to really engage the abs. This stretch works the hamstrings as it articulates the spine.