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Equestrian Pilates focus at Littleton’s Forbes Pilates


LITTLETON — Debbie Forbes has dedicated most of her adult life to a variety of fitness disciplines. But in 1999, after attending her first Pilates class, her focus and passion was realized.

“When I left that first class I was able to move more freely, and I was hooked,” she remembers. Since then, she has studied various Pilates methods, from classic to contemporary styles, and today finds herself as one of a select few in this area who are fully trained in the Pilates method. Forbes practices and teaches at her studio, Forbes Pilates in Littleton, and sees about 100 clients a week pass through her door.

One of those clients was Kathy, a horse enthusiast from Harvard, who came to experience the benefits of Pilates such as flexibility, strengthening and balancing of the body. Kathy was pleased with the results and referred friends who were equestrians as well.

It was one of those referrals who informed Forbes about Kathy’s amazing accomplishments. Kathy, it turns out, is Kathy Connelly, an international dressage trainer and a member of the High Performance Committee for the United States Equestrian Federation. She has won national titles including the United States World Cup and was a member of the Grand Prix bronze-medal team at the North American Championships. Connelly, who has trained riders and horses to national titles both in the United States and abroad, currently resides part-time in Wellington, Fla., and spends part of the year in Harvard, Mass.

By working with Connelly and other equestrian clients, Forbes began to look at the link between Pilates and horseback riding. She spent countless hours observing horses and their riders — watching their spinal alignments, rib cage locations, arm placements and overall posture. Drawing upon her research and her own childhood experience as a rider, she saw the many benefits that could be realized through Pilates for equestrians.

As Forbes was breaking ground on this new focus for her Pilates studio, right down the road in Chelmsford, Mass., Suzanne Kendall-Johnson was reading an article in a horse magazine about the benefits of Pilates. A rider and riding instructor, Kendall-Johnson found that most such equestrian Pilates programs were clear across the country.

Then she picked up a local newspaper and was amazed to see an ad for Forbes’ studio and the Equestrian Pilates classes she offered. “I was dumbfounded and excited when I realized that someone was doing this so close to home,” she said.

Once Kendall-Johnson started taking Pilates classes, she noticed benefits right away.

“It has helped my balance and mental focus. I have learned so much about my muscles and how to manipulate them. I have so much more freedom in my joints and my posture is better,” she said. “With better balance and posture, you can communicate more effectively with your horse, which enhances your experience and your horse’s as well.”

With a renewed respect and dedication, Kendall-Johnson began attending Pilates classes regularly. About three years ago she started training to become a Pilates instructor on her own. Currently, she is completing her full Pilates training and has already completed Equestrian Pilates training in Maryland.

Forbes and Kendall-Johnson have both been through a journey that led them to Equestrian Pilates and each other. Kendall-Johnson, in addition to her riding instruction, now teaches Pilates and Equestrian Pilates at Forbes’ studio.

“Her (Kendall-Johnson’s) enthusiasm for Pilates and its application to riding is contagious,” Forbes said. Both agree that the work they are doing is really important in the equestrian field.

“My riders tell me that they have increased endurance, so they aren’t as tired during or after a ride. They also have noticed that their core is strengthened and they have better control of their body and their muscles,” Kendall-Johnson said. Forbes has noticed that her clients’ “bodies have changed, their focus has improved and their horses are responding with ease.”

Business at Forbes Pilates is booming. A recent Equestrian Pilates workshop they held was sold out within four days. “There are so many stables in the surrounding towns and we are so glad that they are realizing the benefits that can come from Pilates,” Forbes said. Both Kendall-Johnson and Forbes teach at the studio and see a variety of clients. “Almost everyone can benefit from Pilates. We have beginning classes, mat classes and apparatus classes for all levels,” Forbes noted.

For more information about Equestrian Pilates or general Pilates classes, contact Debbie Forbes at or call (978) 486-0408. They are located at 298 Great Road (Route 2A) in Littleton, Mass.

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