You may not believe this but your breathing has a huge impact on your riding, and not just by stopping you from passing out due to lack of oxygen. Your breathing actually has an impact on your biomechanics.
This is mainly because of our diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates our thoracic cavity (your ribs essentially) from the abdominal cavity-stomach. The Diaphragm contracts as we breathe in and relaxes as we breathe out.
But in fact many of us don’t use our Diaphragm to breathe.
We spend so much of our day hunched over a desk, breathing from what is then a narrowed chest area. You can test this by putting your hand on your stomach as you breathe normally, does it rise and fall as you breathe? Or does the movement come from your chest?
The diaphragm as well as being involved in the breath, is part of your core structure. The Diaphragm connects to our lumbar spine and our Psoas (a hip flexor that passes from the lower back to the front of your thigh bone through the pelvis). When riding your Psoas muscle enables you to be long down the front of your thigh and have a relaxed swing through your hips. If this area is tight it is a bit like riding with the front brakes on!
The Psoas muscle is a major player in our fight or flight response due to the nerve links from the spine and therefore the brain; and the diaphragm is constricted though concentration, pain, fear and stress.
Think about all of the emotions you may go through whilst riding. Particularly if like me you are a nervous rider. Your emotions not only cause you breathe more shallow which means you do not use your diaphragm, but also the emotion itself will cause tension in your diaphragm and Psoas area.
Perhaps you are a confident rider but practicing a dressage test or some advanced movements. Again your concentration may affect your breathing pattern and your Psoas area.
Even stress from our daily lives could be causing us to hold tension in this area which will cause problems when riding.
Luckily, there is an easy and un strenuous fix. Breathing exercises!
Try this both sitting/standing and lying down. Relax and breathe normally first to see where you are breathing from. If most of the rise and fall is coming from your chest, really concentrate on breathing in through your nose and filling you abdomen with air, imagine breathing right down into your hips and then breathe out through your mouth to release.
Then try it whilst on your horse. Maybe when you first get on and are just walking around spend a couple of laps just concentrating on your breathing. Breathe right across your ribs, into your belly and down to your hips. Long slow deep breaths.
Try to make this a more natural way to breathe for you. I’ve been trying this for a couple of days now and it is definitely starting to become more of an unconscious habit.
Diaphragmatic breathing is also done as relaxation technique as the focus on the breath helps to clear the mind, so if you are stressed or a nervous rider this will be a great way to release tension