Proprioceptive training has two effects on brain tissue: It forces sluggish neurons back to work controlling a given body part, and it recruits new neurons to help with the task.
each foot, try it with your arms at your sides, then with your eyes closed. Advance to increasingly pliable surfaces like a thick mat or a balance disc. (It looks like a puffy dinner plate with rubber nubs.) When you’ve mastered those, stand one-footed on the round side of a BOSU half-ball. Eventually, proceed to the flat side of the half-ball, then to a balance board (a small platform mounted on a hard ball). Be careful as you try new surfaces; we want to build proprioceptors, not bruises.
Leaning also tunes proprioception. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, about two feet from a wall. Keep your hands near your waist just in case you need them for support. Lean forward (toward the wall) with your eyes closed until you are just about to lose your balance, then lean back into standing position. Lean to the left and right side, to all four 45-degree angles, and straight back, moving your stance each time so the wall is available to catch you. Lean farther as your brain calls in extra neurons for backup.
For equilibrium in a riding position, sit on a large fitness ball that lifts your feet off the floor when you straddle it. Lean slightly to varied directions with your upper body, trying not to touch the floor with your feet. Instead, use your brain to readjust the balance point from moment to moment. Take it easy: Big balls look solid, but they can squirt out from under you like a racehorse from the starting gate.
TO IMPROVE BALANCE ON HORSEBACK
Balance at a standstill is one thing--balance on a moving horse is quite another. Start by riding in a two-point position. Raise your seat slightly above the saddle with your shoulders in line with your knees. This works in both Western and English saddles---you and your horse are seeking mutual balance regardless of the tack between you.
Form matters here, because bodies cheat to compensate for proprioceptive deficiencies. You can experience this phenomenon for yourself. Stand at a halt in two-point position. Move your feet slightly forward, and your seat will immediately fall, swinging your weight back into the saddle. Move your feet backward, and your upper body will tilt toward your horse’s neck. Notice that only a fraction of an inch of foot movement makes a big difference in your upper-body balance, even at a halt. Tall riders have even more trouble because there’s so much length above and below the fulcrum of their hip joints.
There’s no sense training your proprioceptors to hold an unbalanced position, so invest in a lesson to learn two-point or have your buddy snap a side-view photo while you maintain it. Use the photo to compare your position to the ideal. When you feel solid in a two-point at the walk, practice it at the trot and canter. Over time, learn to hold the position during curves, gait transitions and lateral work, too.
For intermediate riders on calm steeds, bareback riding helps the brain match your center of gravity to your horse’s. It also teaches the proprioceptive signals our horses send to us---they’re easier to feel without a saddle in the way. Sensing the details of your horse’s body movements is the first step on the road to effective twoway communication between human and equine proprioceptive systems. Practice in a confined area like a round pen before moving to wide-open spaces that invite misbehavior.
Use a lightweight bareback pad for friction if your horse has a slippery coat, and add a saddle pad underneath if he has high withers. Start at a walk, but aim in the long run to do everything bareback that you can do in a saddle: walk, trot, canter, transition, jump, halt, spin. Focus on the mental aspects of this work---think yourself into balance and alignment, making your brain choose accurate positions while noticing the movement of your horse’s body.
Finally, for advanced riders, have a trainer longe a quiet school horse while you learn to walk, trot and canter without reins or a saddle. Eventually, you will be able to close your eyes and make those proprioceptive neurons sweat. Top equestrians develop independent seats by riding on a longe line or in a chute bareback, blindfolded and