Have you ever noticed that when you are stressed, tense or even nervous, your breath becomes very shallow and it can even seem like you ‘stop breathing’ and when you are happy, relaxed and full of confi dence, your breath is much deeper and you seem to have plenty of air? Now the most important part, have you ever noticed that your horse is matching your breathing? This is the case when you are riding and when you are on the ground.
What does this mean? Well, it means that you are transferring your feelings to your horse, and they are responding to it.
Now I can hear some of you saying, that is nothing new I have always known that, but now I want you to really think about what it actually means.
I have always said that most of the time horses do exactly what we ask them to do, that’s what makes them such good schoolmasters. It’s just that most of the time what we ask and what we think we ask, are two different things.
Ok, I can hear some of you saying again, I knew that, that happens to me just about on every ride, so what I want to explain to you is why you don’t get the response that you are looking for, and what is it that in fact you are telling your horse to do.
Most of the time what we ask and what we think we ask, are two different things.
So let’s come back to the breathing for a moment. When we are stressed, tense and a little (or very) nervous, our breath becomes shallow, which means we are breathing with our chest. That breathing becomes more rapid, and gradually we feel tension through the shoulders and many riders start to collapse through the diaphragm, which causes them to drop their shoulders and slouch. This causes the diaphragm to close and the breath stays shallow.
Not only do you feel tense and nervous, you also release an energy that is picked up by your horse and it translates to something like BEWARE, WE ARE IN DANGER.
Remember, that horses are predominantly fl ight animals, and when they sense danger, they tense up and run. Even a little bit of nervousness causes horses to respond with tension.
I sometimes hear riders say, my horse doesn’t like a free walk, I can never get him to relax and to lower his head. My answer to that is, it’s not your horse who doesn’t like the free walk, it’s you who doesn’t like it. If you expect your horse to ‘not like the free walk’ you are likely to tense up in the preparation, which brings your breath up into your chest, tenses your shoulders, and your horse is just responding to what you are telling him/her which is DANGER IS CLOSE SO BE AWARE!
Naturally your horse then gets tense too, lifts its head to heighten his/her awareness and to make sure you both stay safe. Does this sound familiar? The same goes for transitions, movements, different environments and what ever else might make us nervous, tense and stressed.
Now what happens when we are happy, relaxed and feeling confi dent? We tend to breathe more deeply, which relaxes our shoulders and calms the energy around us. By focusing on breathing in through your nose and slowly out through your lips, you will not only feel better, but you also will be able to sit up taller.
TRY THE FOLLOWING BREATHING EXERCISE:
• Place your palm on your belly just below your ribcage. Now take some deep breaths in and some deep breaths out. Feel when your tummy expands and when your tummy contracts. No, I am not going to give you the answer, go and do the exercise.
• How how did you go? I dare say most of you will fi nd that your tummy goes in when you breathe in and goes out when you breathe out, right?
• Wrong. It’s actually not the best way to breathe, why? Do the same breathing (tummy in when breathing in and tummy out when breathing out) again, and feel what your shoulders are doing when you are breathing out.
• Could you feel that your shoulders are starting to drop forward when you are breathing out? Interesting isn’t it!
NOW TRY THIS EXERCISE:
• Place your palm on your tummy again just below the ribcage.
• Breathe in through your nose, but this time make sure your tummy goes out and expands.
• Then breath slowly out through your lips and make sure your tummy goes in and contracts using your tummy muscles.
• Repeat the exercise a few times and notice how yourshoulders stay straight and your upper body becomes taller.
I would encourage you to practice this on your horse and see what your horse has to say to that.
Whenever you need your horse to be relaxed and responsive make sure that you focus on your breathing fi rst. Leading by example and becoming relaxed yourself, fi rst, will help your horse to relax too.
Remember, by asking the correct way you are going to get the correct response.