Images courtesy of Agi Falenta
You know that feeling when you’re excited to talk with someone you’ve been a fan of for a while, and it actually happens?
I had “it” the other day when I was lucky enough to chat with Pilates instructor and equestrian, Agi Falenta, of Equitness.
If you’re on Instagram and could use a regular dose of fitness inspiration, following Agi @equitness is a must. She puts out new videos of inventive ways to strengthen every part of your body with easy to find props almost daily.
As soon as I saw her videos, I was hooked.
If you read my past interview with Megan Smith Ray, you’ll know how much I love Pilates as a way to keep myself strong, so I can continue to ride my horses. I decided it was about time to revisit Pilates and talk about something many of us need help with, maintaining healthy hips.
I reached out to Agi to answer some questions about hip health and exercises we can all do to help us be more stable in the saddle. She was kind enough to chat with me this week from her home in Scotland.
Here’s our conversation.
Q: I’m excited to talk with you about Pilates and healthy hips. Now is a great time to have this conversation as you recently had hip surgery. How has the recovery been?
Agi: It’s really good. I’m very surprised that it wasn’t painful, almost at all. From day one, I started walking and doing some exercises. So I think what I did before, I was quite strong. I did a lot of preparation that definitely helped. So yeah, I started my classes already. Of course, very gentle. I need to listen to my body. But yeah, I’m very happy so far with everything.
Q: From what I have heard, if you’re in good shape and really strong, the recovery process is so much easier. Have you found that to be true?
Agi: Yeah. I was like, “Come on, I’m 42, and I don’t want to live with this discomfort.” While I wasn’t super in pain, my hip was incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t ride for the last five years because I felt so restricted, my hips didn’t open. I was so stressed, and I didn’t feel good, so the horse didn’t feel good as well. So it was pointless for me to ride.
I know I was not in balance on the horse, and the horse could feel every single thing. So hopefully, next year, I can jump on a saddle again.
Q: Do you have your own horse at this point?
Agi: No. I used to have horses in Poland. I was a show-jumper. I rode many. The clients would give me young horses to ride and show. I’d jump them for a year or two, and then they would sell. I had a few of my own horses, but when we moved to Scotland, it was just too much.
Q: Is that when you started teaching Pilates?
Agi: Yes. I started to have back pain, and they discovered I had scoliosis. So the doctors said, “Oh, you can’t ride horses.”
I was determined to ride and be pain-free. So I started to do lots of exercises to strengthen my core and my back. Now, when people see my back, it’s straight. There’s not any sign of scoliosis. I managed to stay back pain-free until my second child. I had two C-sections, which gave me back problems again. Pilates definitely helped.
I knew plenty of riders who suffered from back pain. My problems and theirs gave me the idea that I could help riders with exercise.
You know yourself, we look after our horses super well, but we never have time for ourselves.
That’s the problem with the riders. They love their horses, and they do everything for them. But very often they forget about themselves and their problems.
When we’re riding, we sometimes complain, “Oh, my horse was bad on the right rein, on the left rein.” Always something, but it’s not your horse. I usually say to my clients, “It’s not your horse. It’s you.”
But that’s normal. If we’re right-handed, we work more on the right. We’re stronger on the right. And when we ride, we do the same on the horse. We lean more to one side. Our aids are much stronger on one side. Then we start affecting the horse.
So I always say, ‘You need to always look at yourself first. Where is your problem? How are you sitting on the horse? Where’s your center of gravity?’
And then we can look at the horse as a whole picture.
Q: And it doesn’t help that our horses can have body imbalances. Don’t you find it works the other way around too?
Agi: That’s true. Our horses can transfer issues to us. So, it’s very important we work on ourselves outside of riding.
Many times when I’ve started working with a client, I’ll ask, “Okay, you warm up your horse, you cool down your horse, and you really focus on that, making sure your horse will be as healthy as possible. But do you warm up yourself before riding? Do you cool down yourself? Do you stretch after riding?” How many people say, “Yes, I do.”
Without warming up, we’re not as aware of our bodies. We start to do things like putting too much weight on one side of the horse. We’re unbalanced and can’t help our horses.
Q: Are there particular exercises or stretches that you think are important to be doing before getting on the horse?
Agi: We need to think a little more about our pelvis and center of gravity while sitting in the saddle. I’ve been a show-jumper, not a dressage rider. But for both types of riding, the little movement of our pelvis is so important.
If we’re stuck, if our muscles inside the pelvis are super tight and stuck, we cannot move the way we need on the horse. So any movements for the pelvis, like hip circles, leg circles, pelvic tilts, and any spine flexion, are very important for riders.
Whenever I’m on the horse, I’m applying Pilates principles.
Q: One thing I love about your videos is that you come up with inventive ways to target different muscle groups, using simple props. How do you think of new exercises and ways to use props like TheraBands to keep things fresh?
Agi: Pilates equipment is amazing. But who can afford all of it? If you can afford it, that’s great. But many of us don’t have space or want to spend that much money.
So I always try to use small equipment or things from around the house that gives similar feedback to a reformer. That’s my main goal, showing you can exercise anywhere.
You don’t need to be in a studio, you don’t need to have fancy equipment.
Very often, my best ideas come to me on the mat when I’m working on my issues. It always seems to be the way.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about your approach. On your website, you say that you take the best from Pilates, riding, and fitness. What makes what you do different than classical Pilates?
Agi: Something was always missing when I did fitness classes. When I found Pilates, I realized I could work hard while still having an amazing mind and body awareness. But even with classical Pilates classes, I felt like something was missing.
I missed the fun. So, I created my own twist on it.
When I do my classes, my clients never know what’s happening because I’m always adding something new. I add lots of props to my work. We may go at a faster or slower pace.
What never changes are the core Pilates principles.
Q: The last question is: what inspires you?
Agi: The last few years I’ve been very inspired by the Pilates community on Instagram. I’ve gotten lots of positive energy and encouragement from people online about my videos. And the feedback from my clients continually inspires me. I feel like I’m doing something important and meaningful for them.
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