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Pilates in the Saddle

By Susan Viers, Certified Teacher at Pilates Fit Studio in Pewee Valley, KY

Pilates is a natural choice of workout for the equestrian. The spring-driven equipment, corrective exercise, and working the body symmetrically will improve the rider’s ability to hold the correct posture in the dynamic nature of riding.

Pilates Fit Studio counts among its clients two sister duos, Maggie and Stella Keith and Madeline and Elizabeth Vinci, and the Vincis’ mother Susan Vinci, that ride saddle seat on Saddlebreds and compete in Saddle Seat Equitation, a form of English horse riding. The first of the five ladies to come to Pilates was Maggie Keith, age 17, and found the studio with the help of her mother, Sarah Kate Keith. Maggie was entering the Senior Equitation Division, which is quite competitive, and Sarah Kate felt Maggie needed to increase her strength. Sarah Kate practiced Pilates previously, was familiar with the benefits, and knew it could help Maggie gain strength, flexibility, and be tailored to her goals and weaknesses. Sarah Kate found Pilates Fit Studio online and after a phone call with studio owner Erica Walters about what was needed, she felt like she had found the right studio fit for her daughter.

Maggie quickly found that Pilates could help her “build and maintain core muscles and strength” to allow her to keep her toes up, which was something she had been “working on prior to starting Pilates and couldn’t seem to master.” In addition, Pilates has helped her “develop evenness in her shoulders and has pointed out weak areas” that were able to be corrected. Overall, Maggie feels like Pilates is very beneficial to riding and would recommend it to any equestrian. 

After Maggie discovered the tangible benefits that Pilates could provide to her saddle seat riding, her sister and barn mates quickly followed suit. In their private and duet sessions, Pilates Fit Studio instructors create customized workouts that strengthen abdominals, work arms and shoulders integral to hold the reins to control the horse, and mountain climbers to strengthen the glute muscles used to hold their legs in the position in the stirrups. Their instructors in the studio have noticed substantial improvements in the riders not only in their overall strength and fitness, but also in focus, control, and posture.

Since starting Pilates sessions, the sisters have noticed an improvement in their strength. Madeline Vinci, age 9, said her “abs are so sore” and others have noticed the difference the method has made to the strength and success of the competitors. “Equestrian sports take tremendous strength, endurance, balance, and symmetry,” states Cindy Zubrod, owner and trainer at the Prospect, Kentucky Zubrod Stables. She goes on to state that she feels “Pilates helps athletes in all these areas. It promotes body awareness, which has been a tremendous help in teaching my students.” The benefits Maggie received from Pilates were integral in winning the world championship title in the Kentucky riders class 17 and under, which was unanimous among the panel of judges!

Pilates Fit Studio has thoroughly enjoyed helping the Keiths and the Vincis reach their riding goals and looks forward to a continued partnership. In addition, a new semi-private group of young teens has recently formed. The group consists of three middle school-aged riders who compete in eventing. If you would like to learn more about how Pilates can help you in life and sports outside the studio, please reach out!

Susan Viers, Certified Pilates Teacher

Susan Viers was first introduced to Pilates over 20 years ago and has practiced consistently since. Movement has always been an important part of her life, whether it was taking ballet and watching her mom do aerobics while growing up, running four mini-marathons, or doing numerous group exercise classes as an adult. Her mom taught her just to keep moving; it didn’t necessarily matter what she did, as long as you did something! The “something” that has inspired her most has always been Pilates, and she is excited to share this passion with others.

Susan is a graduate of Alycea Ungaro’s Real Pilates Teacher Training out of New York City. Additionally, she holds a bachelor’s degree from Center College and a Master’s of Business Administration from the University of Louisville, where she was awarded the Landrum Prize for Leadership. During her professional career, Susan received the Young Careerist Award, was a graduate of Leadership Louisville and Leadership Kentucky, and was named a “Top 40 Under 40” by Business First.

Having served as president of the Junior League of Louisville and a member of the Lobster Feast Committee for Actors Theater, Susan continues to remain active in the community.

With a strong belief that classical Pilates can benefit all bodies, Susan looks forward to working with all types of clients to help them increase strength, flexibility, and balance.

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