Breathe Some Magic Into Your Riding

I have spoken before on the importance of your breathing whilst your ride.

However I want to focus less on the hip relaxing today and more on the energy and connection with your horse.

To be honest it can be quite a difficult thing to explain how and why horses respond to our breathing pattern when we ride them and there can only really be hypothetical answers ranging from it being how our body language/position etc. changes subconsciously, they feel vibrations and electromagnetic fields to plain old magic!

So rather than try and give you any of these arguments I’m just going to give you some things to try out and you can come to your own conclusion.

Just sat still on your horse or at a walk breathe right into your belly and then progress this by imagining you are breathing right into your thighs wrapped around your horse.  Do this for a couple of minutes just focusing on your breath going right down into your thighs, down your legs and imagining that breath being felt by your horse. How does your horse respond?

If your horse is really tuned in and communicating with you, you may just find he starts to match your breath too, breathing in and out with you so you draw energy from each other’s breath. Imagine how connected you must be for that to happen?

You could also try breathing in for 8 beats (that’s hoof beats not full strides!) and out for 8 beats. This is great way to relax either you or your horse-or both! It can be useful to practice this at home and then it is comforting exercise when you really need it out at a show or on a hack.

When you are in a rising trot and want your horse to stretch down and really use his back, I want you to rise and breath out but think –breath down-yep rise up and breath down! Just try it…….does your horse stretch down a little bit more? This is only way I know how to get a horse to stretch down!

A great way to improve your seat in the sitting trot and canter is to try breathing in for 2 strides and out for 2 strides. This may be because it helps to free up your hips which in turn can also help to free up a lazy horse but to be honest don’t think about the why’s and wherefores just accept the magic as it happens!

Rest not Press

There has been much talk in my classes recently about foot position and various stirrups to help with position or pain issues.


The stirrups I think are great, I’ve had a pair of Sprengers for years and I honestly feel like they helped with my Peroneal Tendon issue (that’s side of shin FYI).


However whilst discussing the various new technologies in stirrups I noticed there was some variation in how we are taught to place our foot in the stirrups.


Not necessarily the positioning as ball of foot seemed to be the general consensus and although toes up heels down is considered the bench mark we all agreed that a parallel foot is sufficient-phew! My heels were never going to get lower anyway!


When it came to weight distribution there appeared to be a difference of opinion.


If you’re a regular reader you will know I am an avid follower of Mary Wanless and her Rider Biomechanics work. Mary advises you to “rest not press” the foot in the stirrup.Mary comes from a Physics background and refers to Newton’s Third Law of motion.


“For every action there is an equal and opposite action”


In relation to riding this means that if you press down with your foot, whether that be the ball or the heel this will cause the joints to straighten and you will inadvertently pop the rest of you up. This causes you to brace your muscles rather than actively recruit them.


So, what to do instead?


In order to effectively use your seat, be stable and able to make clear aids you need to utilise the big muscles of the hips and legs. You need to use them to bear your weight, this creates a light seat, and what I call relaxed tension which simply put means the muscles are working but they are not tense.


Your foot should be resting in the stirrup and you want to be bearing a light weight equal through the ball of the foot, but there is also weight being taken down through the thighs which enables you to control your leg aids.


Next time you ride I want you to think about bearing your own weight. Rest your foot on the stirrup, activate your legs and encourage them to hold your weight up without tensing or bracing.

Are You Really Riding?

I’m sure you know that riding is a sport, and that we riders can get quite offended if someone suggests that the horse does all the work.


However, when you are riding are you really behaving like an athlete yourself, or in fact are you on autopilot just rising up and down to your trot and not really thinking about how effective you are being in this partnership?


If riding is a sport, then each time you train you should be tuned into your body and how effective it is being today.


If you ask runners or tennis players for example they rarely go into a training session and just go through the motions. Their whole body is switched on, muscles primed and ready to perform.


How many of us can truly say when we ride our bodies are switched on, muscles firing to perform at their best? But you expect your horse to do this?


If you watch the top riders you will see their muscles are switched on and active when they ride; no ones pootling around Badminton on autopilot! Yet I see many riders even those at competition just getting on board and  expecting their horse to perform whilst they just sit on top maybe with the odd flap of a leg or twiddle of a rein…….


So I want you to think about this when you ride this weekend, no you may not be riding around Badminton but I presume when you ride you want to be improving and therefore it is a training session?


Embrace your inner Equestrian Athlete and get on with the intention of really working hard yourself, using your body and focusing on your part on improving your partnership with your horse.