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.

EQUUS - - Eq Tack& Gear -

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

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