Proprioception. It’s a good word isn’t it?
I read it in an article about the importance of hacking to improve the schooling of a horse.
Proprioception comes from a Latin word and means “to sense the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed to move them”.
From a horse’s point of view this means that they are sure footed. Able to adjust their stride to step over logs or tree roots, and agile enough to balance themselves over undulating terrain.
This is where hacking is important. Walking, trotting or cantering along tracks in the wood teaches horses awareness for their surroundings and hopefully will develop their balance and sure footedness. Even if you just do dressage there may be a time that you need to compete on grass, which may be on a slight incline, and not be perfectly even underfoot so your horse will need to be able to adapt. In the arena they could mis-step, and having good proprioception they will recover rapidly. Also, different surfaces feel different to ride on, and a horse who is ridden on different terrain will find it easier to adapt to new surfaces underfoot.
In terms of physical health, a horse who has good proprioception will have stronger muscles, tendons and ligaments, which are also flexible so they should be at less risk of injury because they are used to making small adjustments to their striding and foot placing on hacks.
We all know horses and ponies who are sure footed; some are naturally so, but others who tend to trip over tree roots, or find it difficult to negotiate hills, need training to improve their proprioception. Lots of hacking, riding the horse positively and together to discourage them from being on the forehand, will help them learn to be aware and to adapt to their surroundings and before you know it they will be less reliant on you directing them, and feel more sure footed.
It’s definitely something to bear in mind when planning your horse’s exercise regime as it’s of such benefit to him and you.