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May 7, 2010
Core breathing is an extremely potent tool which can help us connect with our horse. Through deep, core-breathing we calm our nervous system and focus our mind. Our calm, focused state of mind will help us communicate to our horse with more awareness and perception. The horse is an extremely sensitive herd animal and we can use this trait to gain more subtle communication. Constant awareness of changes in body language, tension and breathing ensures a horse’s survival in his natural environment. We can use the horse’s innate abilities to read changes in others’ bodies to communicate clearly. When we use the power of less stimulation we very quickly create a more sensitive response.
Both human and horse communicate release of tension with a deep outward sigh. You can use this to strengthen your communication with your horse. You may have a horse who feels tense in his work, he could be an over achiever always trying to please, or he may just be excitable and spooky, lacking in confidence. To restore a calmer attitude, just ride on a loose rein in walk or come to a halt. Then give a deep outward sigh to encourage the horse to release his tension. Repeat this at regular intervals, throughout the riding session and always at the end of a session of work. Soon you will hear your horse sigh deeply and release tension which will help to create a more harmonious relationship and enable your horse to follow direction from your aids. Strong leg aids and spurs can often be replaced by using core breathing; thus evoking a sense of calm focus in horse and rider. Breathing builds power and mobility within our core, creating a more capable rider. Stress related illness will also be alleviated as the horse feels more confident and calm.
BREATHING AND ENERGY FLOW
Correct core breathing is similar to filling a glass of water - from the bottom to the top. Once the glass is full you empty it from the top to the bottom. This is similar to our pattern of breathing as we breathe air in from our core which fills our upper body. The outward breath releases through our upper torso and flows down into our core.
In this way balance and energy flow can be controlled by breathing which will assist the horse in his own self-carriage. Try this exercise, which demonstrates how core breathing can create more energy. Pick up a large ball and throw it to a partner. Before you throw the ball again, take a deep inward breath as you prepare to throw the ball. Then exhale strongly and direct the energy towards your hand as you release to throw the ball. As you direct the energy from your breath into your arms, the ball will be thrown with much more intense power and speed.
If we can influence energy when throwing a ball, merely through focus on our breathing, think how positively we can influence a sensitive horse by staying connected to our core-breathing.
Lunging or loose work will help the horse to release excess energy and also gives us the opportunity to connect with the horse before we ride. In this way we can communicate with the horse before we sit in the saddle. He will already be listening to our commands from the ground which means we can gain his concentration before ridden work is commenced. The horse can have this time of preparation, to loosen and warm up his muscles and also focus his mind. This is an important time for the horse, who naturally enjoys energetic movement. The work from the ground encourages the horse to connect with us. This approach will enhance harmony as both human and horse can become aware of deeper breathing, body language and just being,’ in the moment’. A horse cannot learn to work correctly if his breathing is shallow and tense. His movement will become stilted as his spine cannot release, to allow fluidity of paces. Every athlete will take time warming up in the gym with slow, stretching exercises. The horse needs a similar approach within his routine, if he is to become a confident athlete.
FROM HALT TO WALK TO HALT
When we initially sit on the horse it is worth taking a few moments to check our posture from top to toe. Then take a very deep outward sigh, down into your core to release any tension and allow the next inward breath, just to happen, in a natural way.
When you feel calm and focused, take up an allowing contact with the reins. Inhale and exhale more deeply. The exhalation will ripple down your spine releasing your core which encourages the horse to move forwards. This movement for the rider is similar to sitting on a swing and pushing it forwards and upwards, but it is much more subtle. If your horse does not respond, use your legs once and if needed back up with a tap of the whip on your own leg. Very quickly the horse will tune into this sequence of aids and respond from your breath alone. When the horse is walking forwards breathe naturally and rhythmically with every few strides. Imagine you are jogging and supporting your running with steady inhalation and exhalation.
When asking the horse to halt, your deeper inhalation will lengthen and strengthen your spine, creating stability and acting as a half halt. As the horse responds, increase the inward breath, close your fingers on the reins and ask him to halt. Once the horse is standing still, release the pressure of your fingers on the reins, so he can stand immobile in a good self- carriage. Gain his focus with your steady core-breathing. He should be calm and still, yet ready to move on your next deeper, energizing exhalation. If the horse is allowed to stand, with only a light contact with the reins, his forward movement can be in lightness and not bearing down.