Two simple proprioception exercises for young and/or balance challenged horses using poles

pro·pri·o·cep·tion  n.

The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.
[Latin proprius, one’s own; see per1 in Indo-European roots + (re)ception.]

STEP 1. Warm up: about 10min (5min if your horse is very settled and happy to get going)

Picture taken by Pure Essence Photography during my clinic in Yorkshire; 4-5 October 2014

Start from walking with your horse around the arena or area where you will later set up the exercises. Your aim is for the horse to walk quietly next to you without rushing forward or lagging behind. You want him to be relaxed but attentive in a ground covering walk. The picture above shows a 3 year old ex-racehorse recently taken off track walking next to me in a nice, relaxed frame. Avoid moving on to any exercises until the horse is calm and pays attention to you – working tense muscles (and mind) only leads to further tension, possible disobedience and resentment.

STEP 2: Exercise 1

Pictures from my clinic in Yorkshire; 4-5 October 2014

This is a very nice exercise that teaches the horse to move away on cue as well as coordinate each limb as they navigate the vertical line of poles. Place the poles on centre line of the arena near C (or A). Walk your horse down 3/4 line from opposite end and gently start moving him across shallowly leg-yielding towards centre line. Keep the movements slow enough that the balance of the horse is challenged and you don’t encourage forehand heavy way of going. Keep leg-yielding over the poles giving the horse time to get his feet out of the way. Repeat a few times on each rein.

This exercise not only helps with proprioception, balance and offers gentle shoulder and back end stretch but also teaches the horse to place the weight on one or the other front leg/shoulder on the cue of the handler which is later very useful when riding balanced turns and circles.

STEP 3: Exercise 2

Pictures from my clinic in Yorkshire; 4-5 October 2014

You will need 4 poles and something to raise them on – we used mini blocks similar to these. Start with all poles flat on the ground and walk the horse back and forth letting him find his own distances and have a good look at the poles. If all good, start raising the ends one by one until all are up and start changing the pattern of crossing the poles – walk over the corners, slalom in and out etc Many horses really enjoy this exercise and the young boy above was no exception 🙂

Keep those exercises short and sweet, the above session lasted 20min including warm up.

Have fun and all the best,


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