Proprioception and the old horse


The definition of proprioception is

Proprioception, is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. It is sometimes described as the “sixth sense”. In humans, it is provided by proprioceptors in skeletal striated muscles and tendons and the fibrous membrane in joint capsules

As we age we succumb to injury and restriction in our bodies, this is caused basically by life-add onto this the odd accident, and over indulgence, and the odd mishap; and our bodies begin to show the strain. The fact is that this can happen at any age but it is unusual for restrictions not to show after middle age.

Even fitness regimes can take their toll, and this is very common in horses.

Our horses can sometimes be a little “over ambitious” when they are young, and can sustain many types of damage. This damage may even be genetic, which will cause far more difficulty than damage caused by wear and tear.

This damage means a lot of things. Damage can and does heal but it does not mean that it hasn’t left any permanent memories both physical and/ or mental.

If impairment is left by old injury, it can affect the horse in many ways

  • Loss of confidence in the ability to stretch through the shoulders and flex joints
  • A horse may not feel as strong or able as he once did
  • horses begin to lose muscle and develop muscle in other areas which may actually compromise movement

As far as riding an older horse, he/she may feel less responsive to the leg. This will not be because he is lazy or not listening, but more likely to be a culmination of the above points with the result of the horse feeling less able to do what the rider is asking.

Horses benefit from being kept in work, but they need special help and consideration.

Their proprioception can diminish as they age which means that exercise and work needs to be carefully thought out.

Any regime should include

Gentle stretches-but make sure the body is warm, stretches should never be done when the body is cold

Polework –but distances need to be carefully thought out so the horse has to reach a little to be able to clear the poles but initially he should not have to stretch more than is comfortable for him. Every horse moves in a way that is comfortable for him (as we do) so any exercises need to initially work within his comfort zone and then gradually changed to encourage slightly more flexion and movement. Challenging exercises need to be put to one side, but this does not mean they cannot be structured.

The aim is to increase suppleness, rhythm and balance but build confidence and to help the horse to feel better than when he went into the school-this does not always happen. The horse is important in this equation, not the rider. An older horse does not need pushing he needs nurturing.

I will be starting some special clinics in the new year which will help give riders with older horses some help in maintaining confidence and helping them resume their old patterns of movement in a way that will not cause loss of confidence.


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