One of the most profound revelations I’ve had about riding and training has to do with breathing. What’s the big deal you say? Everyone breathes, right? Actually, wrong. How and the frequency with which we breath had a HUGE impact on everything we do as humans and as dressage riders. Human physiology is such that when we are anxious or scared we tend to take shallow, rapid chest breaths that increase our heart rate, stress hormones, and fight or flight response. Sound familiar? Like when you’re on a spooking horse, riding in an unfamiliar place, or doing the horse show thing? And what do you think your horse’s response looks like? Check out this study that shows how horses’ heart rates correlate with the human handler’s heart rate HERE.
So first, use the above exercise to ensure that you are breathing deeply into your belly instead of taking shallow chest breaths. I prefer to do an in breath of 1-2-3-4-5 and then an out breath of 1-2-3-4-5, all through the nose, but with a little internet sleuthing you will realize there are all sorts of breathing patterns to help with anxiety and to make sure you are breathing into your belly. Pick a pattern and practice it on the ground. Alternate between your new breathing and shallow quicker chest breaths and feel how the shallow breathing affects your posture, relaxation and heart rate. Then practice each breathing pattern while you visualize stressful horse situations. You’ll quickly realize the benefits of deep breathing! Next try your new deep breathing in different horsey situations. Realize how your breathing pattern contributes to you and your horse’s stress level. Consciously use breathing as a training tool. You will be amazed! I have found this very useful during ground training, riding a spooky horse, driving in the truck to the show, and during actual test riding. I find that if my breathing is deep and regular everything else is easier, my seat is deeper, and my horse is calmer and much more open to suggestion. Try it, seriously, for such a small change this has a huge impact.