Franklin Balls are a branch of the Franklin Method, originally invented to improve the proprioception & suppleness of dancers, but now scientifically supported for use in equestrians.
The use of Franklin balls to improve balance, position, feel, and body awareness is becoming much more wide-spread, not just around the UK but across the globe.
I was a real sceptic when I first heard about Franklin balls. Truly, I thought it was complete nonsense; a mumbo jumbo pseudoscience.
How wrong I was!
If you're interested in trying Franklin Method balls to help your riding, keep reading to see my 3 top tips for getting the most out of your session.
When I first tried Franklin balls for myself, I was blown away....and I had no idea what I was doing! I had watched a few YouTube videos, worked out that I could wedge an orange one under each thigh whilst riding, and decided to do just that. It worked, without question, but I was missing out on half the benefits.
There are a lot of coaches that offer lessons in the use of Franklin balls, but many of them have only watched a handful of YouTube videos. Like me, intially at least, they only know a small fraction of all of the information available to certified coaches. The Franklin ball certified trainers course is lengthy. The in-person course is 2 days, and the online (Covid friendly) version involved 3x 3 hour webinars, plus a whole heap of videos not available to the general public.. We are talking hours and hours of intense, specialised training.
Working out where to put Franklin balls whilst riding is relatively straight-forward, you're options are somewhat limited to say the least. The underpinning knowledge and the use of imagery & psychological skills is something that most of the non-certified 'trainers' are severely lacking. It's the troubleshooting, knowing which balls will help you and how to modify them so your session is successful, getting straight to the source of your biomechanical or movement-pattern problem (which might not be what you think), the ability to help riders really help themselves, It's these kinds of skills, amongst many others, that get the long-lasting results riders crave.
The Franklin Method Equestrian website allows you to search for Franklin Method Equestrian Trainers (intense 10 day diploma incorporating all of the Franklin Method principles, including the Franklin Method Spine Trainer diploma, and FM Pelvis Trainer diploma), and Franklin Ball certified (incorporating the use of just Franklin Method fundamental principles, and the use of FM Balls) in your locality.
Get to know your body
Your Franklin Ball Certified or Franklin Method Equestrian Trainer will likely start your session by getting you to assess your own body; feeling for tension, eveness of your weight, equal pressure along each leg, whether the weight is dropped down into your leg or kept in your thigh, whether your pelvis is really following the horse's movement. The use of Franklin Balls has a lot to do with your own body awareness and proprioception; this is a skill that you have to practice. If a coach asks a rider "How does that feel?", and they answer "Good" or "It feels okay", it usually means they don't fully understand what they've felt. They might recognise that something has changed, and it was probably a good change, but they cannot say, specifically, what has changed or why it has made a difference.
Your Franklin Ball Certified or Franklin Method Equestrian Trainer will be able to see improvements and changes in your position, but you need to be able to recognise the changes on your own, In the long-term, your body awareness and balance changes will need to come through subconcious feeling and adjustment of your movement pattern, on-the-go, whilst you have 20 other things to think about! Your trainer will be able to help you a lot more if you can tell them what you are feeling, because what you are feeling, more often than not, is the route cause of why you sit and move in the way that you do. They can't help you as effectively if you cannot recognise feelings and change within your body. That's not to say that they cannot help you, because they can, but if you want to maximise the progress you get per session, this is how you do it.
Get into the habit of improving your focus, and concentrating on what's happening within your own body. It is hard at first, but it get's easier if you do it regularly. Remember, some people have better body awareness than others, for all sorts of reasons. Don't get disheartened if your friends or others that you ride or practice with have better feeling than you. The other thing to remember, is that riders with really good feel (myself included) usually do struggle whilst learning, because they can feel so much at once and have an information overload (and it all feels awful!)
Stick with it
Whilst you can experience incredible results in a very short space of time, even when 'experimenting' with Franklin balls, the long-term change will still take a little time. It is a highly effective training method, not a miracle cure. Using Franklin balls once will not give you Carl Hester's or Charlotte Dujardin's position until the end of your days (sorry!). It is a process, it is an individual journey for everyone, and it may take weeks or months to make the changes really stick long-term. Positional and biomechanical work is an on-going process, it is something you will have to keep coming back to the whole way through your riding career. Even Spanish Riding School riders, who have spent years in the lunge developing a superb position, have the occaisonal session to fix any niggling habits that have crept in overtime.
Practice the cues and imagery you've used in sessions whilst training away from sessions (if you have the opportunity to ride between sessions), and show a little bit of grit! Have confidence, know your worth, and understand that your future self will thank you for that decision. Remember, if you only improve 1% everyday, in a year you will have improved by more than 300%. Small improvements each day will lead to big goals being ticked off your bucket list!
I am a dressage trainer and general equestrian coach in Surrey, Sussex, and Berkshire. I teach dressage lessons, and hold a range of riding and equestrian clinics around the UK, and use my blog to share horse training tips, advice, and resources.