Tag Archives: proprioception

A couple of exercise routines that can transform your riding feel

By Wiola Grabowska

Even though I am a big fan of off-horse training to improve riding feel (via a better i.e. more aware use of the rider’s body) and I have participated in various sports since childhood, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I actually felt it to be a necessary rather than a complimentary part of riding training.

Let me share a couple of routines from my Equestrian Pilates sessions with Natalie Monrowe that are really fun to try and play with 🙂



I found it useful for: 

  • finding “neutral spine” which is a must for upper body control in the saddle. Many grassroots riders ride on horses with a “hollow back”. This often can give a feeling of sitting in a hammock which sends the rider’s lower leg forwards and shifts the overall weight of the rider behind the movement of the horse. This can be very slight and make consistent throughness tricky or be very obvious, like getting left behind in rising trot and ‘double bouncing’. Developing a good feel for own neutral spine can help the rider develop the same in their horses.


  • pelvis stability. Lifting alternate legs shows various weaknesses in the use of core muscles which can be worked on separately.
  • neck and head alignment. Riders often struggle with their neck alignment (head down, too much left or right, straining neck forward etc) and I find this to be a very simple way to gather proprioception for the spinal alignment throughout entire spine (base of the neck to tailbone)
  • awareness of own straightness. Aligning the roller with own spine gives a very distinct feel of how much of each side of ribcage, shoulders, pelvis is on each side of it. Just lying down in this position for some time increases awareness of where your centre is and that is such an important skill to have when schooling horses of any level. Ability to maintain own straightness on a crooked horse in order to help them move better is the key not only to effectiveness but also to injury prevention (in both horse and rider)




I found it useful for: 

  • Balance 😉 As the roller moves a little it creates a situation in which we practice stability via mobility and that replicates the balance skills needed for riding. Standing on the floor is not quite cutting to the chase 😉
  • Awareness of weight distribution forward and back, left and right. One sided weaknesses have a strong voice in this exercise and provide a very good feedback to the rider
  • Independence of hand. Moving your arms in various directions without that movement affecting stability of the rest of the “seat” is important for jumping but also, in a miniature version of it – for all rein aids. Without suppleness in the arms it is very difficult to give supple rein influence. Many riders think they aren’t using reins for balance but it can be a real eye opener when you try to ride some movements without the reins. This allows you to check how much effectiveness there really is in the seat, how much we want to rely on the reins for corrections that ideally should be delegated to the seat aids and how switched on the horse is to the seat vs reins. Rein influence is important for overall connection but the less of it there is the more we can wake up our own seat aids. The more attentive the horse becomes to the seat, the more influence we have on small adjustments.

I do believe that the minute we sit on a horse for a purpose other than travel, we are training. No matter if it’s learning to do rising trot for the first time or polishing details of canter pirouettes. We are training our bodies so they are not a burden to the horse’s movement. A few minutes a day can transform that training 🙂

Many thanks to Boudica Equestrian for my fab “yard to gym” leggings 🙂 

Starting a young horse – an untold story of hoof proprioception?

Proprioception (/ˌproʊpri.ɵˈsɛpʃən/ PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual,” and capio, capere, to take or grasp, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception

Here’s how it might go: 

A horse grows up on a farm, free to roam, eat and play.

At 3 years of age or so he is sat on, bridled, worked with a little and turned away for some months to continue growing and maturing.

At 4 years of age or so, he is entering “the real world” – he is starting his schooling. Only in short sessions at first to condition his bones and muscles and to mentally prepare him for more and more concentration required.

He goes out hacking to see the world and…

Oh – he gets “footy” on the roads, on stones, on rough bridle paths etc so he needs a shiny set of shoes. Yes, now he is “all grown up” and ready to be “a real horse”…

How about…

foot sense

If you have children you may have come across the above – it’s called a Foot Sense workshop and it is aimed at introducing children’s feet to various surfaces…More about it here: www.natureandnurture.co.uk

It would be rather interesting if there were “hoof proprioception” workshops for young horses/horses starting their ridden training, wouldn’t it? 

How about, if every young horse producer allowed for hoof proprioception to develop slowly in the same way as we allow for musculoskeletal system of a young horse to adjust to rider’s weight and the pressures of training?

How about, if every young horse’s diet was considered a big game changer when it comes to hoof health and “footiness” was not assumed to be caused only by surfaces as such?

How about, if every young horse was not considered fit to have their training increased in intensity until their feet can cope with demands of that training?

How about, we think about hooves in a similar way we think about muscles, bones, nervous system? How about, if a horse feels the stoney ground differently to a soft sand and rubber surface and shortens the steps accordingly, doesn’t by default mean that his feet are ill but rather that they are simply healthy (feel well) and still weak? Like the rest of his untrained body?

Would that possibly mean that the statement that “most horses need shoes when they start their training” didn’t have to be true? 

Just some questions to stir your Sunday afternoon 😉

Kinesio Taping for Horses: Use of tapes for rehabilitation after Sacroiliac Strain

Kingsley Tape 18th Jan 10
18th January 2010: Kingsley (6 year old ISH gelding) with tapes on. The shaved patch is from his sacroiliac injections done on 16th November 2009. His physio programme was devised by Anna Johnson & Anna Risius of http://www.annajohnson.co.uk/

From September 2009 to 18th April 2012 I had a great pleasure to be around a very special horse. One of the many medical and rehabilitative subjects (!) he acquainted me with was the use of kinesio taping when working with proprioceptively challenged horse.

You have probably noticed kinesio taping in one form or another since it’s been somewhat of a hype in human athletics in recent years. I would like to share with you my experience with it when it was used on Kingsley in January & February 2010.

Diagnosis as of November 2009: Sacroiliac strain & high level of pain in the poll area

This is what I wrote in his rehabilitation diary on 16th Nov 2009: “The soreness of the area is not a secret (he almost goes down as you prod around the pelvis). He also displays following clinical signs: unlevel pelvis (ever so slightly but still – apparently can be normal but not if pain is present), intermittent hind leg lameness, the stance with one hind leg always propped forwards, avoiding square stance, strong reaction to palpation, unbalanced movement, rushing in all gaits or refusing to move properly forwards, dropping into four beat canter, back soreness, and the list goes on.”

vet shaving kingsley
16th Nov 2009: Vet shaving the hair in preparation for injections.

Treatment: “the Vet suggested cortisone injections which are basically steroids injected into sacroiliac area in between tendons, soft tissue and joint. Their role is to kill the inflammation and pain and help the healing process. It seems that even if he was taken to the clinic for bone scan to fully confirm the severity of the problem, the first thing that is being done now in cases like his is to inject anyway.

Injections are basically both the treatment and diagnostic tool in one. If the horse improves, it definitely has sacroiliac strain/disease/problem whatever you want to call it. If it doesn’t then the bone scan is the only way to take diagnosis further.
So we went with injections.
However, they are steroids…and some horses might develop laminitis due to injections. That and various allergic reactions too.”


Post-Injections rehabilitation: 

After box rest and slow process of bringing Kingsley to the point when I was able to work him for 17 minutes in walk under saddle, he began movement therapy which involved the tapes. At that time, he had about 80% less of reaction to palpation in SI (sacroiliac) region, stopped moving very wide in front and started transferring weight more evenly through both hindlegs.
When I first saw the physiotherapist applying the tapes I admit to thinking no way this would work.
This is what I wrote in his diary on 18th January 2010: “The moment I got on and started walking I could tell something was different. He was even in my both reins and actually taking the contact which he avoided so far. At first I thought it was because he was getting stronger in general and as he had been ridden in rounder frame for the last 7 sessions and he was getting the idea.
However, the moment we took the tape off he immediately felt more wobbly and less coordinated, light (behind the bit) in the hand and harder to keep straight.
The difference was so pronounced I am converted to using it.
The idea behind it is that it stimulates the neuro perception and it makes the horse more aware of his muscles. In effect he is using them properly which in turn helps him move straighter.”
Below is an old footage (I wasn’t using You Tube regularly yet! ) of low quality but good enough to show some steps. I was taking short clips of him regularly because with rehabilitating complex cases you can’t always count on your memory or feel. 

VIDEO 2 below shows his tendency to very wiggly, crooked steps upon losing balance. He always felt like a water bed to ride, never quite solid underneath you as if some structure just didn’t support his spine well. I could liken it to walking across a rope bridge with some ropes cut off – it was there, it was “working” but you could never predict how the next step would feel like.

Wiggly moment

Amazingly, that change I noticed with those tapes was as if someone connected some cut ropes back together giving a much more regular, stronger, less wobbly feel of his back.

I can honestly say I found the tapes surprisingly beneficial but had one (huge) problem with them -as we extended our working time they just would not stay on.

All articles I was able to find online at the time where about human use on hairless skin 😉 I guess one solution could have been to clip him with very close contact clippers and I can’t remember why we didn’t. I do remember, however, that the tape was expensive and it didn’t take long to go through a roll. There was no way to re-use the strips as they would not stick the second time. Although at first the results were really encouraging, the effects plateaued after about a month.

The tapes I see used on horses now seem to stay on very well, I don’t know whether the material is slightly different or whether it’s an altogether different product to the one we had at the time.

kinesiotape 1
This site is pretty informative with video introduction to kinesio taping – just click on the image to go to the website.

If I had an access to the tape that actually stays on during movement for longer than 15 minutes I would definitely be trying it as part of rehabilitation programme.

Have you ever tried it yourself or on your horse?