Breathing is something we obviously do every day, but how you breath has a huge impact on how you feel each day. Too often when we are stressed and anxious we breath very high into our chest activating our sympathetic nervous system which is your fight or flight response. It is this system that activates adrenaline and cortisol. When we are in this state we tend to tense our shoulder and breathe very shallow. This state is a natural response to stress, but spending to long here has an effect on our health and being stressed out on our horse creates a spiral effect of tension beneath us.
The opposite of this stressed out state is our parasympathetic state, this is breathing that is deep into our belly, its a state where we rest and digest. We recover and where we ideally spent the majority of our day at, however this is not always the case and to often I see people spending the majority of their day shallow chest breathing only to find they get sore necks and shoulders along with fatigue.
How does this relate to riding?
When we are on our horses either in a new environment or in a stressful situation your survival mode will kick in. Our sympathetic state goes into overdrive and along with our short breath comes muscle tension and heart rate increases. The effect of shallow breathing results in less oxygen reaching our blood cells, fatiguing muscles and diminishing endurance while increasing anxiety and poor concentration. All of this of course negatively affects our technique and ability to ride effectively.
Horses are such sensitive animals and they know only too well when there is a change in our body. So the key is to gain awareness and become present. Take a moment to breathe deeply and slowly when you find yourself in a stressful situation. Focus on your breathe and aim to breathe in and out through your nose if you can.
Now taking big belly breathes is going to be quite hard when trotting up a centre line, so the key is focusing on big full breathes that really dilate your lungs and feel your ribs expand and ensure you aren’t holding your breathe in times of stress. Then when you are riding if there are times you feel really short of breath aim to take big deep breathes each time you half halt. Not only will this help you stay more focused, in these moments you will also help your body to relax much more.
Practice each time you ride and become aware of how you breath when riding each day. Are you breathing shallow or are you able to breathe deeper. Something as simple as your breathing has a huge impact on your riding. Try it and notice the difference. I bet your horse does.
Learn more about your breathe, including meditations and mindset advice to enhance your riding performance. All part of the Dressage Rider Training Program.