How your Breath Can Make You a Better Rider
We all rely so heavily on breath, every minute of our lives. It is one of the few constants. Without it, life would end almost immediately.
The crazy thing is that so many of us don’t do it well. It almost seems that because breath is so constant, it becomes easy to ignore.
If you can learn to actually notice your breath, you might find that during different times of day, activities, or emotions, your breath changes. If you are stressed you might hold your breath. If you are overwhelmed you might sigh.
Your breath can also impact your emotions. If you intentionally slow and deepen your breath, your heart rate will slow and you will begin to relax. If you intentionally elevate your breath you will increase your heart rate, and create more life in your body.
Guess what? Whether or not you notice your breath, your horse does. She is aware of the changes in your breath.
In this way, breath can be used as a tool in your riding. You can use your breathing to calm yourself, and therefore your horse, or to cause your horse to become more lively and active.
One of the most common examples of the exhale as an aid for the halt.
Exhale. Sit. Whoa.
You may also think of your breath in up transitions, using the inhale to gain some momentum.
So how do you learn to use your breath as a tool for riding?
Learn to notice your normal breath.
Sit quietly with no distractions. Close your eyes. Breathe normally. Notice what your normal breath is like. Once you really know your baseline breath, try to notice how it changes throughout your day. Does it become more shallow when you are driving? Does it deepen when you lie down in your bed at the end of the day? Get to know your normal rhythms.
2. Learn to control your breath.
Just like how you learned to notice your breath first in a distraction free environment before moving to everyday situations, practice controlling your breath in a comfortable seat with your eyes closed. There are so many breathing exercises out there, but my favorite is called “Square Breathing.” It goes like this:
Inhale slowly for 4 seconds, trying to pull air all the way into the very bottom of your lungs, filling them to capacity.
Hold your full lungs for 4 seconds.
Exhale for 4 seconds, completely emptying your lungs.
Hold your empty lungs for 4 seconds.
Repeat this as many times as needed.
3. Learn to return to your breath in real life situations.
Once you learn to control your breathing in distraction free environments, try to influence your breath in real life. When you notice that your breathing becomes shallow and rapid while you are driving, try to make it more slow and deep. Notice if this actually makes you feel more calm.
4. Finally, try using your breath to influence your horse.
Now that you can use your breath to influence feelings in your own body, see what this does for your ride. Try slowing and deepening your breath. Does your horse relax? Try increasing your breath. Does your horse become more lively? Play with this until you understand how it works. Then you can begin using it throughout your rides. If your horse is feeling nervous, you can use your breath to calm him down. If he’s lazy, your breath to pick him up a bit.
This tool is available to every person on this planet, it’s free, and it’s infinitely useful. Try it out and see what doors it can unlock for you!