Thursday, November 5, 2015
Jennifer Malott Kotylo, Movement & Body Awareness Specialist for Equestrians
Jennifer Malott Kotylo began riding at an early age and continues to share her horse-wisdom and expertise. An international level dressage rider, Jennifer knows the power of horsemanship. She incorporates Pilates, Equilates, and Balimo to support horse and rider health and wellness.
Jennifer writes, “My goal now is to use my knowledge to help others fulfill their physical dreams, whether they are running a marathon, easing the debilitating effects of neurological disease or returning to bio-correctness after an injury or repetitive misuse.”
Subscribe to Jennifer’s Riding Reflections Newsletter, view her clinic and workshop offerings, peruse her beautifully illustrated children’s book My Best Friend Betsy, as well as her new DVD Improve Your Riding Through Movement With Jennifer Kotylo: The Pelvis.
When was your first encounter with a horse?
I really can't remember my first encounter with a horse. My Mom would tell you that I said "horsey" before I said Mama or Dada, which is sort of strange because there is no one horsey in my family. I've been horse crazy my whole life, it’s just a part of my DNA.
Do you have a favorite horse anecdote to share?
Rafferty was the first horse that I owned as an adult. I leased him at first, thus falling in love with him, so despite being over-at-the-knee (a fairly severe conformation fault) I bought him. What started to happen was that his knees would buckle - first just in the cross ties and then when I started riding him. It was becoming dangerous. I had many vets look at him and took him to a couple of vet schools, but the answer was always the same, "It's a conformational thing. You can't do anything about it. You will probably have to put him down." Desperate times call for desperate measures. I come from a family that is very Western in its thinking. Everything needs to be backed by science. Chiropractic, acupuncture and all other alternative treatments were akin to voodoo. But I was desperate and there was a young vet in the area who had just started doing acupuncture. I asked her if she thought that this "voodoo" might be able to save my horse. She said in theory it should help but she wasn't sure. And we wouldn't know if it would work for 8 or so treatments. Well I threw caution to the wind, and my Western tendencies out the door and went for it. It was the best decision I have ever made on two counts. The first was that Rafferty's legs straightened and he became my first Grand Prix horse (as well as the muse for my first children's book.) The second was that it opened up a whole new way of looking at the world to me - one that led me down the path to what I do now.
Tell us about your riding career…
The good news about my early riding career was that my family just happened to live near Lake Erie College outside of Cleveland, Ohio. During the summer, the faculty gave lessons on the school horses. I'll never forget my first school horse, Q'es que C'est, a black and white pinto mare. After that I started riding at a Welsh Pony Breeding farm, where the owner was heavily involved with Pony Club. Not only did I learn to ride, but I learned about horsemanship, something that many people never do. The bad news about my riding was that I was a clumsy, uncoordinated, unbalanced kid with absolutely no natural ability. My Mom actually had a couple of instructors tell her not to waste her money on me.
When I went to college I stopped riding and didn't pick it up until my early thirties. By that time, my poor body was a crooked, stiff mess and I would have told you that I didn't have a left seat bone (my pelvis was that out of whack). It was about this time that Rafferty came into my life and I started to get help with my own body - acupuncture, chiropractic and Pilates. All of that stuff literally changed my life.
At about the same time, I was asked to ride with a Swedish clinician named, Mette Rosencranz, who too, changed my life. I had developed a lot of really bad habits and she took me aside and very tactfully told me that if I wanted to ride well, that I basically had to learn to ride all over again. It was a tough pill to swallow, but that's exactly what I did; completely re-learned everything. There is nothing natural about my riding. I have had to learn everything - figure it out mentally and then apply it to my body.
We would love to hear about your horses. Describe your stables and your horses…
Well you have heard about my Buddha horse, Rafferty. My current horse is now 17 years old. I'm not sure exactly how that happened! I got him when he was 5 years old. He's a German Hanovarian and bright chestnut with a personality to match. He is a kind, loving horse, but quite the fire-cracker. When he was young, I wondered if I would ever be able to ride him. He has taught me to let go of my fears, to be playful, to have self-confidence.
My first horse I had when I was a teenager; he, too, was a chestnut - of unknown origin - although he came to me with a bit that was stamped US Cavalry! He lived in our backyard and loved to jump out of his paddock to eat the raspberries off my Mother's bushes. His gift to me was teaching me about love and loss. I had to make the decision to have him put down because of cancer. A tough decision at 17.
What is the key to becoming an accomplished rider?
Being open-minded to learning.
You are certified in several modalities. What is the difference between Pilates and Balimo, and how do you incorporate them into your program?
Pilates is a form of body awareness and re-education exercise. Its goal is a balanced body in terms of strength and flexibility front to back, side to side, laterally and in terms of rotation. Joseph Pilates said that, "The health of your spine determines the youth of your body," so there is a lot of emphasis on the spine, which translates to the core! Some of the basis ideas that Pilates explores is flow, precision, torso stability, centering, range of motion, opposition, the use of the powerhouse, all things that we need to be good riders.
Balimo, which is a modality established by Echart Meyners, a German PhD. in movement, helps to re-establish the range of motion and freedom of motion inherent in the body. It helps to overcome blockages, not only physical ones but mental and emotional ones too, all of which are necessary to develop a sensitive seat. Echart believes that the body has an innate ability to return to child-like movements and to heal itself. His easy-to-do exercises help re-establish good brain/body communication.
I use these and a whole host of other methods and modalities to help each rider individually. Sometimes I just need to verbally explain a concept in terms that someone can understand. It can be as simple as that. I can't tell you how many people do not understand the concept of turning.
In what area do you find most riders experience difficulties? What problems do you see most?
When I begin to assess a rider’s seat, I always look at their pelvis first. The pelvis is where the rubber meets the road (or rather the buns meet the saddle) in riding. If your pelvis is not in the right position and able to move in all three dimensions, your riding will suffer – period. If you hold one shoulder higher than the other – the probable culprit is your pelvis. If you have one leg that always creeps up or is turned in a funny way, it’s probably your pelvis. If your lower back hurts – you guessed it – your pelvis. If you can’t sit the trot – pelvis. If you can canter in one direction and not the other – pelvis. And on and on and on. What is happening with a rider’s pelvis cascade’s through their whole body.
Your first DVD in your riding series has just been released. What will we find on this DVD?
My DVD series, Improve Your Riding Through Movement is designed to give the time-crunched equestrian quick and easy tools to help them improve their ability to be one with the horse. Each disk has four segments - a basic introduction to my philosophies - an introduction to a specific topic (the Pelvis, the Upper Body or the Core) and two exercise segments - "No Excuses Exercises" and "With Thought Exercises." You need no special equipment to do these movements and can do them while you are watching the news on TV. They are designed to make a significant impact without too much effort or time. I mean most people barely have time to go and out ride their horse. When someone suggests adding another hour to their day to go to the gym, it’s overwhelming. These DVDs are a segue into more time consuming and strenuous workouts.
My Best Friend Betsy is a story of a girl and her horse. A graceful, noble horse with a Buddha nature who inspired the girl to find her own way in the world, who lit her up from inside and always gave her more than he had. It is really a book about me and my horse Rafferty disguised as a children's book.
Do you have advice for novice riders?
Yes, I do a presentation called, Riding into Middle Age, which is about starting to ride again when you reach a "certain age." But the advice is really good for anyone taking up the sport; the first to get a quick physical. Riding is a sport and you don't want to be doing it if you have some sort of underlying physical issue. While you are there, you should get a tetanus shot - barns are inherently dirty - even the most fastidiously cleans one. The second is to make sure that you are in some sort of shape. You should be able to vigorously walk a mile (or other similar cardio), you should be able to balance on one foot, have some sort of coordination. The third is to find a reputable instructor, that likes to work with people of your age and that can saliently answer your questions. Make sure the barn that they work out of is tidy with happy horses and safe tack. The fourth is to read a good book about basic riding. Have a clue about what you are going to do. And the fifth is to have fun!
Do you have advice for those seeking to purchase their first horse?
Lease one first and make sure that you have the time, the where with all and the money to take care of your horse as he should be taken care of.
What does horsemanship mean to you?
Always thinking of the horse's best interest before your own.
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