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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Horseback riding and Ballet


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I am a professional horse trainer and spend a considerable amount of time every day in the saddle. (0ver 20 hours a week minimum). I have been doing this for years now. I am 35. I am in my third year of ballet. Despite regular stretching, I remain fairly tight in my hips and struggle to get decent turnout. I have had a few people tell me that riding develops the wrong muscles for ballet. I'm wondering if anybody knows this to be true, or is it just a myth. Has anybody here successfully done both?

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It's true to a considerable extent, and since you've probably been a trainer much longer than you've been studying ballet, there's a lot of stretch to make up. Equitation builds the adductor muscles in the legs and reinforces turn-IN. Gelsey Kirkland always enjoyed riding, but from the start, she knew that she had to limit her activity there.

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All physical training is specific, an iron rule when it comes to any type of physical activity. In part, what that means is that you develop motor pathways and muscles you use in doing that specific activity. Consequently any activity that is not the “major” activity will not have optimally developed muscles and motor pathways for the secondary activity. In that sense you can say that horseback riding develops the “wrong” muscles for ballet.


But in that same sense you can argue that simple walking develops the wrong muscles for ballet. Should serious ballet dancers be confined to wheelchairs when not dancing? The more relevant question is so what?


Having a secondary activity has many advantages. It gives the mind something new to think about. If you do it with others, there is a social benefit. It can be a method of cross-training (which is in essence developing the wrong muscles for the primary activity), for which the conventional wisdom says reduces the chance of injury.


The disadvantage of a secondary activity is simply the time it takes away from the primary activity. To be really good at any physical activity, you must devote a lot of time to that activity. Ballet is the perfect example. To be really good at it, you have to do it almost every day. The same thing applies to every sport I’ve been associated with.


With respect to turnout, you can think of turnout both as something you do or something you have. Using your turnout is an absolute basic skill in ballet, something you should always be conscious about. The amount of turnout you have is just that, a measurement. Not all professional ballet dancers have 180 degree turnout. And what is the best way to increase the amount of turnout you have? Remember training is specific. The best way is to learn to use what you have in class and when working on your own. With patience, persistence and practice you will find the amount of turnout you have increases slowly but surely.

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Moderators, please delete if necessary, but I have personal experience doing ballet (childhood, young adult) and horseback riding (pretty serious) at the same time.


I found that riding really decreased my flexibility, more than anything else. When I was taking ballet as a young adult (teens and 20's) and riding horses ( I rode 5-6 hours per week, would have ridden more if I had the opportunity) I lost my ability to do splits, and my turnout (at least what little I had) suffered from the riding. I finally made a choice between riding and my recreational dance activities and bought a horse (first of 3) and gave up dance. I loved dance, but the struggle to remain flexible was frustrating, and I didn't have the time to really work on flexibility, which was very necessary after each riding session. That being said, riding is so much fun and I really envy someone who has the time and talent to ride and dance.

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Thank you all for your thoughtful responses. I am the kind of person who has a hard time doing anything "recreationally". I am a very goal oriented person who thrives on a challenge. I have always been drawn to dance, but had no ability financially to do it as a young girl/woman and no time to do it as a young adult. I am loving the focus and discipline that is requires. It is very similar in many ways to the type of riding (dressage) that I do. For anybody remotely interested, here is a video of the current world champion dressage horse.

I will continue to work on my turn out with the knowledge that it will probably not ever get to 180. Like my instructor says, it is more important that I use what I have. Thanks again. I am loving this board. It has so much information.
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In the Dancer's Body Book by Allegra Kent it is mentioned that horseback riding is one form of exercise that can interfere with ballet.


I want to tell you though that I think it so cool that you do dressage! As a kid I was utterly fascinated with horses and took lessons for years. When I was starting ballet back up, I was actually choosing between ballet and taking riding back up again. Dressage is so beautiful and I have always wanted to learn. Ultimately ballet won out because it is more accessible for me and less expensive, but I hope to get back in the saddle again one day in the future! :clapping:

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