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Proprio Training: Easier said than done – How to get started

proprioceptive training
Through proprioceptive training, standing on a mat can be part of the training, as demonstrated here by horse trainer Ellen Sauer with the pony Fazion. Photo: Ellen Sauer

As a rider, you probably think a lot about how you sit in the saddle. Are you sitting up straight? Are you relaxed in the right places? Are you able to get your horse to perform exercises with very subtle signals? It's a good starting point for us as riders to think about how we use our bodies to influence the horse, but we might also consider training this body awareness with our horses.

Here, proprio training can be the way forward – and fortunately, it’s easier to do than it is to say! Fundamentally, proprio training is about strengthening your horse’s body so that, hopefully, you can avoid injuries.

READ ALSO: Don’t forget your own body! - Physical Therapy



In proprio training, the aim is to improve the horse's coordination and balance by enhancing its body awareness through sensorimotor exercises – both from the ground and while riding. The increased focus on body awareness can also stimulate significant mental exercise for many horses, as they suddenly have to perceive and use their bodies in a different way than they might be accustomed to.

"Proprio" is simply a short form of proprioception. Proprioception is a sense that informs the brain about how our limbs should respond in a given situation based on the sensory input received. The brain processes these inputs to instruct the body on, for instance, where to place our legs according to the sensory information from the ground. Certain areas of the body have more receptors, making them particularly beneficial to consider in proprioception training. For the horse, one such area is the back of the hooves, which contains many sensitive receptors.

Developed by veterinarian and equine physiotherapist

Proprio training was developed by veterinarian and equine chiropractor Heidi Nielsen, along with equine physiotherapist Lene Jacobsen. The entire training concept is based on the horse's proprioception. The training focuses on connecting movement and the brain, so the horse can sense its body. Proprioception training is suitable for all horses, regardless of their level and age, and it can always be adapted and adjusted to the horse's level.

Here you can watch a video of Proprio training, made by veterinarian Heidi Nielsen.

Balance, coordination, and body awareness

Proprioception is a significant aspect of our body awareness and general posture, playing a crucial role in balance, coordination, and movement. The same applies to horses. During proprioceptive training, the horse's small stabilizing muscles are activated, strengthening joints and tendons, thereby achieving a good, healthy, and natural posture.

In many ways, proprioceptive training is akin to physiotherapy for your horse, and it is a form of exercise that all horses can benefit from, regardless of breed or discipline. With well-developed and strengthened proprioception, your horse will likely be well-prepared for changes in terrain, for example, during a ride, because its strengthened joints and tendons enable it to compensate for falls and similar challenges.

Use it as a supplement

Proprioceptive training doesn't need to take a long time, and it can be incorporated as supplementary training before or after your regular sessions. In many ways, it can also be seen as a time for both horse and rider to focus on calmness and increased body awareness for both parties.

Proprioception training is beneficial for

  • The horse's back muscles
  • Balance ability
  • All the stabilizing muscles in the entire body
  • Joints and tendons
  • Body awareness

Several things can challenge your horse's proprioception

You can, of course, train your horse's proprioception, but there are also several factors that you cannot control. Often, a horse's proprioception deteriorates with age, or if the horse has been injured and subsequently inactive – and naturally if it is tired, something we humans can likely relate to as well.

After considering all these factors, there are still many things you can do to strengthen your horse's proprioception:

  • Incorporate neuromuscular training such as balance exercises, coordination drills, and stretching routines.
  • Allow your horse to walk on various types of surfaces, including uneven terrains such as forest trails and similar paths.
  • Consider warming up your horse with a blanket or using a solarium.

What equipment should you use for proprioception training?

You can buy specialized equipment for proprioception training, where soft beams, for example, form the framework for small squares or triangles. However, if you're not quite ready to invest in proprioception equipment, you can start with something as simple as a mattress.


Fundamentally, proprioception training is about creating variation in the ground surface, and this can be achieved with the following equipment:

  • A foam mattress — here, you should be aware that your horse might be afraid to stand on the mattress, so initially, your goal could be for your horse to stand on the mattress for a very short moment, where it is calm and relaxed.
  • Soft beams — which the horse should step on, not over, contrary to the usual purpose of beams.
  • Proprioception equipment is often black and white, as horses can see these contrasts, which strengthens their ability to coordinate movements.

Once your horse can stand relaxed on the soft mattress, for example, you can begin to work on how your horse stands on the mattress. You can try to move its balance point, stretch it to the side, or whatever else you can imagine. The most important thing is that when the horse shifts its weight, it will send tiny signals from the hoof to the brain because suddenly it feels different in the body.

Suggestions on proprioception training

  • Let your horse perform lateral movements over poles, mattresses, and tarps.
  • Place the soft poles randomly and let your horse walk over them.
  • Encourage your horse to stand on a mattress when you are on the stable aisle anyway.

READ ALSO: Strength Training with Resistance Bands


Veterinarian Heidi Nielsen: Propriotræning

All I Need Is Love And My Horses: Propriotræning – Jamen, skal hesten så bare stå på en madras?

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