Stretching the boundaries

Susie Mayworth grew up on a ranch, but in her 60 years she hasn't stopped stretching the boundaries of her life.

The daughter of Tommy Wohl, founder of Rafter T Ranch, Mayworth started riding horseback when she was 2. Fast-forward a couple of decades and she became an LPN and the only dressage instructor in Sebring. Add a couple decades more and she's a personal trainer with her own business, teaching pilates and cutting-edge new techniques like Gyrotonic (sometimes called "Yoga for Dancers") and Gyrokinesis.

Mayworth was born and raised in Hollywood, Fla., and visited the ranch on the weekends. She was a horse lover from the start, and after earning an associate's degree at the University of Florida, she travelled to West Virginia to attend a school that would help her launch a career working with horses. That's where she fell in love with dressage, a competitive equestrian sport where the horse and rider perform a series of predetermined movements at precise spots in the arena.

"To me it's the ultimate equestrian form, similar to classical ballet," said Mayworth.

It's not something typically seen in Highlands County, but Mayworth trained her first cow horse to compete with the European breeds, and she held dressage clinics for others who shared her passion.

"I studied and rode dressage 17 years. I was getting my judge's card," the slim, fit woman recalled. At that point she was travelling with the dressage circuit and was married with two sons. Mayworth decided she had to give up the sport to focus on her family.

But she wasn't finished bringing new ideas to her hometown. Moving from nursing and riding into personal training, Mayworth found there was a demand for the up-and-coming pilates - a body conditioning regime that focuses on pelvic and spinal alignment, breathing, core strengthening and balance. She opened her studio, Exercise With Meaning, 14 years ago to focus on teaching pilates and personal training.

"I think it's just the mind and body connecting," said Mayworth of what she teaches. "You are integrating your mind and your muscles to work in a fluid pattern."

After working a short stint in the medical/surgical hospital setting, Mayworth found her passion in helping people find health through exercise. Her studio, located in the Lakeside Town Centre behind the Southgate Publix, has a yoga-esque feel with smooth wood floors, and contains at least seven large pieces of equipment used for Pilates and Gyrotonic as well as a stationary bike, elliptical and treadmill.

Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis are two forms of exercise that focus on opening up the joints and lengthening and strengthening the muscles. Gyrotonic uses a machine with weights and cables that creates traction as a person moves through the smooth, fluid motions of the exercises. Mayworth works with her clients to make sure they keep the proper form.

Gyrokinesis employs the same concepts, but is done mostly seated on a stool. Mayworth recently began offering classes with friend and certified instructor Jacquie Farbman Tuesday and Friday mornings at 10 a.m. and Wednesday evenings at 5:45 p.m. Groups are kept small at 10 people maximum.

The exercises are excellent for rehabilitation, addressing arthritis and joint issues, and increasing range of motion, although Mayworth said everyone can benefit. Mayworth herself discovered Gyrotonic while seeking treatment for a knee damaged while working cows on the ranch with Bob, her husband and Rafter T's foreman.

"You have to want to do something a little different and to benefit from it," said Mayworth, who demonstrated proper form on the pilates reformers (special tables) and held her weight, suspended in ballet-like poses, from the pilates Cadillac.

"I've lifted weights for awhile, but we are baby boomers," she laughed. What I'm doing now is much more therapeutic, she added.

Also therapeutic to her is riding her horse on the family property on a beautiful Florida winter day and watching her sons, Joshua and Benjamin, compete in calf roping the way she used to compete with dressage.

"It's my passion to bring other people health," Mayworth shared, adding that good health, family, friends, the ranch and her horses all contribute to her well-being along with the yoga, pilates and Gyrotonic. It "nourishes the soul each day," she finished.