Your breathing is the most simple but also the most effective way to connect with yourself, and therefore also with your horse. Teaching yourself how to work with your breath is therefore invaluable.
Tension versus relaxation
When you’re tensed, your breathing automatically accelerates and becomes shallow. Your breath goes “up”. Your breath is "high". When you’re relaxed, your breath is "low", you are breathing more with the belly. You can be tense as a result of stress from your daily life like work, family circumstances, emotions, … But you can also become tense because of problems with your horse, performance anxiety during training, … When your breath goes “up”, your heart rate and muscle tension go up to. You lose contact with your body, your inner peace and confidence. Your horse sees and feels this.
Horses notice this
Becoming conscious of your breathing and being able to consciously change your breathing has many advantages. First and foremost you can calm yourself and make yourself more grounded by the way you are breathing. You are coming home to yourself in the here and now. You become more connected with your body, more connected with yourself. Your breathing helps you to become aware and to deal with your emotions and feelings. It calms the mind. The horse notices this and becomes calmer too, because a horse feels at their best with someone who is calm within.
By observing your breath and "working" with the breath, you become more conscious of your body and you will be able to use your body language in a clearer and more effective way during training. Your breathing has therefore a big impact on the connection and communication with your horse!
Also during riding
And this isn’t only on the ground. Your breathing brings you also closer to yourself during riding and this results in a stronger connection and a better communication with your horse through riding. Breathing affects everything you do with your horse.
You can work on the connection with your horse by firstly staying connected with yourself through your breathing during the 4 parts of Horsefulness Training: Liberty Training, Groundwork, Gymnastic Groundwork, and Bitless Riding Art.
One of the easiest exercises to do when you have just started to become aware of the power of breathing and you haven’t got any experience in breathing exercises is “breath observation”. You observe how quick or slow you breathe, if your breathing is low (breathing from your belly), or high (breathing from the chest), is there time between your in- and exhales, do you breathe through your mouth or through your nose, …
It can help to put 1 hand on your chest and the other hand under your bellybutton. This way you can better feel which part of your body mostly moves up and down with every inhale and exhale. When it’s mainly your chest that moves, your breath is "high", when it is mainly your tummy that moves means that your breathing is "low".
It is important that you don’t give any judgment like: “Oh no, this is bad, I breathe much too high”. This will only bring - more - tension. With this exercise it isn’t about right or wrong, it’s just about the observation.
It is all right the way it is now. Really. Accept the moment as it is.
Continue to do this at least several minutes. In the beginning it is best you close your eyes and practice in a quiet spot. You will probably notice that by just observing your breath, you already start to breathe lower and a bit slower.
Just by observing your breath, you will already become calmer and more relaxed.
You can also do this exercise with your horse: on the ground and in the saddle. Your horse will feel your tension ebb away and will start to feel better when you are around. The connection will become stronger!