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Layers of Equitation Part 2: Breathing

I’m riding along and my horse spooks at a noise coming from the woods on the outside of the arena. Instantly, I brace to protect myself, my reflexes jumping into action. My vision gets intense and narrows, (the subject of part 1) and moments later, I realize that I’m holding my breath. Now, my horse is nervous every time we go by that spot in the arena. Did I really need to ride defensively and give my horse reason to believe that there really IS something to worry about in the woods? To give my horse confidence, I need to ride with confidence, in every situation. I need to learn to control my emotional state, and one way to do that is to control my breathing.

Our breath is linked to our emotional state; it affects and reflects our level of tension. The three primary emotional obstructions to breathing are anger, sorrow and fear. In order to gain mastery over our emotions, we must learn to control our emotions through control of our body. Emotions cause physical tension to arise within the body. Even if we are not aware of this tension while riding, our horses sure are. It can generate opposition of all sorts from our horses until we become aware of how to confidently guide them through the challenges that arise, great and small. Internally, we may feel afraid, but we don’t have to behave fearfully.

“Yogis, Zen masters, and martial artists have all placed great emphasis on proper breathing. Such awareness and discipline are central to the teachings of the most ancient spiritual traditions. The body mind master breathes naturally from deep in the belly, with slow, full, relaxed, and balanced inhalations and exhalations.” -Dan Millman, Body Mind Mastery

Breathing deep and through your whole body will release tension, keep you toned instead of tense, and allow your center of gravity to stay low. Try breathing in rhythm with your horse. For example, at the canter, you might breathe in two strides and then out two strides. When you take a full breath, your diaphragm should be pulled down; your ribs will expand and your back will spread as a result. As you practice, you will feel that the breath moves the body, freeing you from unnecessary muscular effort. Whenever you feel tense, take a deep, relaxed breath. Feel the pleasure of slow relaxed breathing. Let the shoulders hang. In a few moments, you’ll feel the change.

“Breathe in the good stuff, breathe out the bad stuff, set your troubles free.” - children’s rhyme

One emotional hack that I have learned is to allow whatever arises in the present moment. Don’t resist it, but also don’t act like it’s not happening. Allow the emotion that is forming to be interesting to you rather than good or bad. Don’t spend your energy on resistance to what is happening; instead, save your energy for action! If you become aware that you are responding to your horse with emotions of fear, simply acknowledge those emotions as they come up. It is not good, it is not bad, it is just a passing emotion. Breathe through it and let it go. The emotion will pass and your horse with thank you. You don’t have the power to prevent negative things from happening, but you always have the power to choose how you will respond.

The tools being outlined in the coming weeks are essential for optimal heath, not only where our horsemanship is involved, but in life. There comes a point where some of us realize our discipline is no longer about working on horsemanship. We are really working on improving ourselves to better handle life. And our horses are happy to follow suit as a result. Isn’t that interesting? If this resonates with you, stay tuned for more tips on what it takes to ride (and live) with intention and move in harmony. Deep breath. Let it go. Keep breathing my friends!

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