Our brains are always doing three things.

This is obviously a highly simplified description of the brain, but it’s essentially correct in its broad strokes, and useful for understanding training and for putting the exercises in this book into practice in the right way.

1. The Brain Receives Input From the Body and the Environment

This input comes from receptors, that is, small sensors situated in the layers of our skin, and in our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even bones. These receptors supply our brain with information about the movement of our limbs and their position in relation to each other. We also have receptors to monitor chemical changes in the body and temperature changes.

For example, oxygenation from inhaling changes the pH value of our blood, and these changes in pH value in turn control the respiratory system. The retinas of our eyes have light-sensitive photoreceptors that provide input for the visual system. The sensors for sound waves and the hopefully highly sensitive sensors for acceleration and gravity—the metronomes for the vestibular system—are in our inner ears.

2. The Brain Processes and Interprets Input and Makes Decisions

Like the boss of a large company who’s always checking and evaluating the completeness of reports from various sites and departments, the brain makes decisions about what to do next based on the data it receives, and its own data processing. All of this happens “under the radar” of your conscious perception.

3. The Brain Produces Output

“Output” here can come in lots of forms: An intentional or unintentional movement with a certain quality; symmetry or asymmetry—a sloping shoulder or a wobbly head when riding; a fast or slow, powerful or inhibited movement; or an emotional outburst.

However, an output can also be something that hurts. Pain is output from the brain. Our digestion and our blood pressure are also outputs from our brain, as are the excretion of hormones and the functions of the immune system.

How You Ride …

These three things—receiving input, processing and interpreting input, and producing output—happen in the brain all the time. They form a self-perpetuating cycle. New movements generate new input, which is in turn received and interpreted. On this basis, the brain decides what to do and produces a new output, which in turn generates new inputs, and so on. How you ride is output from your brain.

Think for a minute about your riding. We usually practice movements we want to improve again and again, with conscious effort and conscious control.

We try to improve the output by training the output. But does that make sense? If we aren’t seeing any lasting improvement, shouldn’t we change the strategy of “more of the same,” and instead consider whether it might make sense to change the input?

The brain’s most important job is to keep us alive. Isn’t that nice? But this also means survival matters more to the brain than jumping your horse over a log or riding elegantly in the dressage arena.

Ask Yourself

What different, additional, or better input can I give my brain in order to make it happy and help it produce better output? It’s a logical question, if you think about it. But despite its simplicity, it hasn’t occurred to most people to try changing or adapting the input their brains receive. Later, I will show you a variety of input from the most important systems of the body and explain how you can identify useful inputs that will improve your output using the test/retest method.


The brain’s most important job is to keep us alive. There’s nothing more important to the brain than ensuring our survival! Isn’t that nice? But this also means survival matters more to the brain than jumping your horse over a log or riding elegantly in the dressage arena. These neuronal games aren’t systemically relevant.

We have all kinds of survival reflexes, but no reflex to help us ride a piaffe. A piaffe is of absolutely no importance to the brain. It might be important to your ego—the frontal lobes, the area of conscious thought—but as far as the rest of the brain is concerned, it’s just messing around.

Reflexes are reserved for actions that can keep us alive.

Now we’re getting to the point: The brain lets us perform any movement, without any problems and with maximum strength, if it thinks that movement is safe. And for the brain, whether an activity is assessed as “safe” depends on the quality of the input, its interpretation of the input, and the predictions it models based on that input and that interpretation. The brain is constantly making predictions about the immediate future. To guarantee safety and survival, it isn’t enough just to work purely “descriptively”—that is, to work by describing the current situation. Makes sense, doesn’t it? If your brain only warned you about danger when you were already in the middle of receiving an impact to your head after falling off your horse, it would be too late to do anything about it.

Now we come to the next important point: The better the signals your brain gets from all its receptors, the easier it will find processing and prediction.


A horse and rider jumping a small log.

The brain will only allow us to throw ourselves over a jump if it predicts that we’ll be safe.

Safe or Unsafe?

The brain takes this giant dataset and compares it with information saved from previous experiences. Then it decides whether you are SAFE or UNSAFE. If your brain assesses the coming situation to be SAFE, it will relax your muscles, reduce your respiratory rate, keep your heart rate steady, and allow your joints to move through their full range of motion.

However, if it assesses the coming situation to be UNSAFE, it will increase muscular tension, respiratory rate, and pulse rate, and you might also experience pain or shortness of breath. Many people experience back pain. What’s more, your mental state is instantly influenced by your brain, so you feel anxious. And if your brain keeps detecting UNSAFE situations, you might even become depressed, which serves to avoid threats and keep you safe.

Perception of Safety

All this means we need to find stimuli that increase our perception of our safety. I’d like to use an example to explain what that means in practical terms: Imagine you tear a ligament in your ankle and rest your ankle for a long time. Your brain hardly receives any signals from the motion sensors in your ankle while you’re resting it. The neurons that transfer information from your ankle to your brain are “asleep” and may be asleep for weeks. When neurons stop firing, their connections to each other become weaker. Prior to your injury, the “map” of your ankle in your brain was precise (top left image) but now, after weeks without any activity, it isn’t precise anymore (lower left image).

That means your brain no longer knows exactly what position your foot is in; as a result, it can’t accurately predict how the foot can bear weight. Is this a good starting point for your brain to ensure your “survival”? Nope! Your brain thinks: “I have no idea what the foot’s doing, so I can’t guarantee anything.” In this context, riding your horse at canter over a log is immediately categorized as UNSAFE, and full power to your body and riding position will not be made available. But that obviously applies to all movements, not just jumping a log.

Blood sugar levels like a rollercoaster aren’t something brains find cool … When the tank is empty, the brain quickly starts to panic.

And if you nevertheless decide to jump the log, despite your brain’s hesitation, your stubborn frontal lobe will go on an ego trip. It can work, but only because people are incredibly good at compensating. You can expect your brain to reach for its ultimate emergency brake: pain. But you shouldn’t resent it, because it’s just trying to protect you. Your brain produces pain because it believes there are too many threatening signals and too few safe signals (G. Lorimer Moseley 2017).

Input and Output

  • The brain’s most important job is to keep us safe. Safety always comes before performance!
  • The brain is always forecasting what will happen next. Adequate and precise input is necessary for accurate forecasts.
  • Better input leads to better forecasts, and better forecasting ability leads to better output.

Releasing the “Brakes”

If we want to improve our performance or our movements, or reduce pain, we need to increase the brain’s perception of safety and reduce its perception of danger. First, we need to find and release the threats or “brakes.” How do we find these blocking obstacles? Which input do we need to change? There’s no standard solution or training plan for this; it’s a question that must be answered on a case-by-case basis. But I’ll be happy to help you figure out how to narrow it down. First, let’s look for obvious potential for “brakes.”

Common Brake Boosters

Fuel Supply Problems—Blood Sugar

Blood sugar levels like a rollercoaster aren’t something brains find cool. Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low make movements uneven, unsteady, and even dangerous (Serra et al. 2009; Khan, Barlow, and Weinstock 2011). When the tank is empty, the brain quickly starts to panic.

Fuel Supply Problems—Oxygen

Along with glucose, oxygen is the most important fuel for our brain. Injuries like bruised or broken ribs, illnesses such as asthma or COPD, or even bad habits caused by stress can severely impair the supply of oxygen to the brain. If this happens, neuroplastic change—long-term learning—becomes very difficult. This affects a good two-thirds of my clients, including Olympic athletes.

Deficiency Problems — Eye Movements and Visual Processing

It’s important for the brain that our two eyes give it a clear picture of the environment we are in. Slow or inaccurate eye movements slow down perception of our environment. Interpreting visual data requires more calories—takes more effort—when there are too many differences between the images from the right and left eye. If our eyes and visual processing aren’t in good shape, the brain steps on the brake.

You’d do that, too, if your windshield wipers stopped working in the rain, wouldn’t you? Have you experienced one or more concussions? Are you sensitive to bright light or noise? Does reading make you tired quickly? Do you have to wear glasses or contact lenses? Are you unable to stand packed concert halls, supermarkets, or anywhere busy with crowds of people? Then the cause of your problems could be here.

Old Injuries and “Blurry Maps”

Firstly, breaks, torn ligaments, and the like leave behind damaged receptors at the site of injury. Secondly, the reduced flow of information during the period of injury can alter the “maps” in our brain and make them “blurry.” Even when the injury has long since healed, it can take a long time for the neuronal representation of the once-injured tissue to be restored in the brain.

If joints don’t move through their entire range of movement over a longer period, the mechanoreceptors typically found in the joints suffer an activation deficit that also has a negative effect on the quality of the associated “maps.” Would you take your chances in an unknown and dangerous area with a blurry or inaccurate map?

Vestibular Dysfunctions

We’ll talk about the balance system in our inner ears in more detail later. But for now, what matters is that the brain clearly doesn’t like not knowing exactly where gravitational force is coming from and how quickly we’re moving. Anybody who’s ever been unseated by a bucking horse will know what I’m talking about.

Social Problems

People are herd animals. Problems at work and with friends, family, partners, or children are a source of emotional and psychological stress. Stress causes changes to hormone excretions, blood sugar levels, and breathing patterns—which brings us back to our first two brake boosters.

Lack of Sleep

Too little sleep is bad—very bad. Not getting enough sleep makes everything worse: mood, libido, vision, balance, sense of movement, reactions, attention, and much more. Important repair and waste disposal measures take place in the brain as we sleep. Sleep is king. So go on, off to bed. Close your eyes. Sleep!


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