WHAT IF YOU RODE BLINDFOLDED…- The Role of Senses in Riding

Sheila on Rex during their blindfolded lesson experiment. October 2007
Sheila on her own horse, Rex during their blindfolded lesson experiment. October 2007

A couple of days ago I read a blog post written by a woman suffering from Dystonia (a neurological movement disorder) who is trying to return to riding. She is describing her progress and in this recent post she mentions how closing her eyes influenced her actions in the saddle:  Horse Riding For Dystonians. A Progress Report.

Many riders are hindered in their progress through muscle tension and various semi-involuntary muscular reactions so I follow Dystonia Girl’s blog with interest and her thoughts took me back several years when one of my then riders and I did a series of quite experimental training sessions…

Here is what I wrote about it in October 2007 on my other blog:

“[…] The blindfold idea has hunted me ever since, as a 16 years old helper at a riding school in Poland, I had a group of blind children to teach. They were in between 10-12 years old and none of them ever sat on a horse. Teaching them was an incredible experience as most of them were blind from birth or their vision was so impaired that the only thing they saw was light differences.

We had those kids on a 2 week camp and while they were absolutely bewildered in the beginning and their balance was far from good, they had an incredibly high perception of the movements of the horse’s body.
Many years later, while teaching at Richmond Park in London, I met a blind lady who regularly hacked out on a lead rein. She had a very good position, her balance was good and even in varied terrain she seemed to follow the movements of the horse very naturally. She really ‘felt’ the horse with all her senses but the vision. What was also interesting the pony she always rode was significantly quieter and less spooky with that lady on board…

I started wondering…if you were a very vision reliant rider (you stare at the neck to maintain outline, you can only sit straight if you see yourself in a mirror, your hands are not level if you don’t look at them etc), would you benefit from ‘blind riding’ experience? Would switching off your most used sense switch on your proprioception or ‘muscle sense’ and would this in turn help you with identifying minute movements within the horse’s body? Would this help with timing of your aids? Their application?
[…] During this first session Sheila was quite tense and worried that she will catch her legs on the fence. She noticed she felt fairly well balanced on the left rein but got dizzy and lost a lot of alignment on the right rein.
Her overall balance was good, she was able to go through transitions in all gaits and her position in canter was very good. She tended to lean forward at times more than she would normally which was caused by tension. She had no idea where she was at any given time but was able to ride simple figures when I directed her by letters around the arena.

Some additional reading:
Therapeutic HorseBack Riding For The Blind “[…]

I don’t recommend actually blindfolding yourself but I am sure many of you tried riding with your eyes closed at some point 🙂 Did you feel more? Better? What do you think about the role of vision in riding – do you think you could learn to “feel” for let’s say your horse’s crookedness and your own body awareness faster if you had “blind” training sessions incorporated into your lessons?

I would love to hear your views.

All the best,


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