Horsemanship / Neu Perspectives

Breathe Easy

Become a better horseman by slowing down.

Ironically, a smart watch has helped me learn to slow down, take a moment to breathe and become a better horseman.

I misplace my phone a lot. Blame a lack of care, a desire to disconnect, or the small pockets on women’s pants. Either way, I often leave it places and then forget it until much later. 

So, to remedy this supposed problem, I got a “smart” watch as a gift. Handy, yes. But smart? Seems like a stretch. My feelings are mixed on being that closely dialed into the world, but I must admit, there are aspects to it that I find entertaining. One feature I’ve grown to somewhat appreciate is a pleasant alarm that goes off several times a day, solely to remind me to take time and breathe. 

At first I laughed. “Breathe?” I thought. “How would I not be breathing?” But in the spirit of open-mindedness, I took the suggested two minutes and followed the exercise that helps me dial into my lungs, my mindset and my breath. And afterward, I actually felt better. 

The little watch alarm has been good for me, but in the spirit of full disclosure, it brings me right back to thinking about different horses I’ve struggled with. I do believe pressure and release is extremely effective at training horses for any discipline or avenue of enjoyment. But sometimes pressure can be too much and creates tight feelings and stress in our equine friends (guilty!). And some horses learn how to hold their breath during periods of riding because of these situations. 

Help horses relax by slowing down, which helps you become a better horseman.

It’s hard to believe I wouldn’t notice a horse holding its breath. But for a long time, I was unaware that some do this. I had one mare I was struggling with in particular. I couldn’t get her to relax when driving her forward. A friend and horseman noticed and said to me, “She’s got to learn how to breathe. She’s holding her breath in.” I looked at him in disbelief. She hadn’t passed out. She wasn’t choking. Her nostrils were moving. But what he meant was that she wasn’t relaxed. She didn’t breathe in deeply and exhale out while I was riding her because she was worried about what might happen.

This was a game changer for me. Since then, I’ve sought out help, awareness and have tried harder to use a horse’s breathing as clues and an advantage. And what a wonderful gift and journey it has been to be more in tune with how my riding partners breathe. 

Sure, we’re all out there, converting oxygen to carbon dioxide subconsciously around the clock. But if you’ve ever ridden a horse that’s tight, worried, bothered, anxious or anticipating its rider, it can be very noticeable that they aren’t really breathing properly. Starting colts, we see this often. Their abdomens hold tight as they work around us, from being touched and haltered to saddled and warmed up for the first time. Sure, their sides are moving in and out and air is being circulated in their lungs, but it’s not until the pressure comes off that they take a deep belly breath and exhale. You all know the one, the big deep breath followed by a blow of the nose. 

Have you ever been around horses while they graze, relaxed among friends? I just love when they take a deep breath in and exhale through their nose, creating a roller effect similar to a sneeze when they let their air out. I’ve found it so helpful for them to learn to do that as we ride, too. And beyond just helping us be more in tune with what our horse’s bodies and minds are doing, knowing just how they’re breathing can clue us into potential health issues as well. A horse that usually breathes deep and true might become winded faster or have a shallower cadence to his breath when he’s getting sick. 

I run, I exercise, I worry and I stress myself out. Breathing is a big part of all of that. I guess I’ve now got my watch to help me become more in-tune with it when I’m having a tough day, and it’s certainly helpful to remember to inhale and exhale deeply. 

But what about focusing on being more aware horseback, and helping my horse relax and improve by being more in-tune with his breathing too? 

Now that is smart. 

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