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During training, the horse engages what is known as his muscle memory, so that his muscles are able to carry out the effort almost automatically. However, the source of this memory is not in the muscle, but in the brain.

How does muscle memory develop in the horse athlete? What are the benefits during exercise?

What is muscle memory?

Muscle memory is a term well known to sportsmen and women. Like any athlete, the horse can also develop this capacity, which is above all cognitive.

In fact, muscle memory is defined as a form of procedural memory, which involves the consolidation of a specific motor task in the memory through repetition. Muscle memory is therefore linked to the brain. When a horse performs a movement that is repeated over time, certain parts of his brain become activated, such as the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain responsible for coordinating movement and balance

This is why horses with cerebral ataxia suffer from damage to the cerebellum. This results in incoordination of the horse’s movements, caused by damage to the nervous system.The role of muscle memory is therefore to record and use motor skills that have been acquired after several repetitions, to create an automatism.

What are the benefits of muscle memory?

Muscle memory has many benefits for athletes, including horses.

Its first advantage lies in the fact that it allows the horse to return to his initial performance quickly after he has been at rest. Like all sportsmen and women, horses have periods of inactivity when they need to rest, or when they are injured, for example. His muscles will then melt during this period, as the cores contained in the muscles compress, making them thinner. When the horse returns to training, his muscle cells will re-inflate more quickly, enabling him to make less effort to get back to the level he was at before he stopped training.

Source: recalibratedbodies.com

Muscle memory enables the horse to execute movements more precisely, without having to think about it, thanks to the automatism it has created. This faculty is very useful in the horse’s learning process, as it allows him to transform certain movements into reflexes, freeing up his attention to learn new things.

How can muscle memory be developed in horses?

Training is therefore the source of muscle memory development. In fact, during a repeated effort, the horse’s brain memorises the movement made, whose intensity increases with each training session. It is a habit that is created through repetition. Muscle memory therefore takes time, so that the effort demanded of the muscles and the response given by the cerebral nucleus become a virtuous loop.

Muscle memory uses the strength and flexibility of the muscles, as well as the horse’s mental capacity to learn. It is therefore important to gradually increase the effort required during these repetitions, so that the horse does not injure himself through fatigue, but also so that he is able to use all his cerebral capacities.

Muscle memory is also about regularity. It is important to establish a training routine with your horse, so that efforts are made at regular intervals, and not randomly defined in time. The longer the horse performs an effort, the greater his ability to transform it into an automatic response. This is why horses requiring a high level of muscular coordination, such as dressage horses, are subjected to repetitive training and their formation is lengthy.

➡️ To find out more about how the cognitive system works during training, we recommend this article.


Muscle memory is intimately linked to the horse athlete’s training. It is necessary for progress, reducing the horse’s need for attention and increasing the efficiency of his motor systems. It is therefore important to give the horse the rest he needs, so that he can mobilise his muscle memory.

Key words: muscle memory, athletic horse, brain, muscles


Staff, P.R. (2019) Who has better muscle memory, horses or humans? – horse racing news: Paulick Report, Horse Racing News | Paulick Report. Available at: https://paulickreport.com/horse-care-category/who-has-better-muscle-memory-horses-or-humans/ (Accessed: 25 July 2023). 

Robin Foster, P. (2019) Do horses have muscle memory?, The Horse. Available at: https://thehorse.com/163987/do-horses-have-muscle-memory/ (Accessed: 25 July 2023). 

Muscle memory (no date) Muscle Memory – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/muscle-memory (Accessed: 25 July 2023).