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Jenny Rolfe. Breathe Life into Training---

‘The horse is a sensitive herd animal always seeking a place of calmness   (photo by Rafael Lemos)

‘The horse is a sensitive herd animal always seeking a place of calmness'   (photo by Rafael Lemos)


Core breathing is an extremely potent tool which can help us connect with our horse. The power of less stimulation will very quickly create a more sensitive response. Our calm, focused state of mind will help us to communicate with more awareness and perception. The horse is an extremely sensitive herd animal so we can use this trait to gain more subtle communication. His language is to be constantly aware of changes in body language, tension and breathing which would ensure his survival in his natural environment. One significant connection between man and horse, is the deep outward sigh. You may have a horse, feeling tense in his work. He could be an over achiever always trying to please, or he may just be excitable and spooky, lacking in confidence. To restore a calmer attitude, just ride on a loose rein in walk or come to a halt. Then give a deep outward sigh to encourage the horse to release his tension. This can be repeated at regular intervals, throughout training and always at the end of a session of work. Soon the horse will take a sigh as he needs to release tension which will help to create a more harmonious relationship. Stress related illness will also be alleviated as the horse feels more confident and calm. Strong leg aids and spurs can often be replaced by using power and mobility within our core.


‘The horse is a sensitive herd animal always seeking a place of calmness   (photo by Rafael Lemos)

'Take a deep outward sigh and walk forward on a loose rein to relax the horse'.


Correct core breathing is similar to filling a glass of water - from the bottom to the top. Once the glass is full you empty it from the top to the bottom. This is similar to our pattern of breathing as we breathe air in from our core which fills our upper body. The outward breath releases through our upper torso and flows down into our core. In this way balance and energy flow can be controlled by breathing which will assist the horse in his own self-carriage. Try this exercise, which demonstrates how core breathing can create more energy. Pick up a ball and throw it to a partner with no focus at all, on your breathing. Before you throw the ball again, take a deep inward breath as you prepare to throw the ball. Then exhale strongly and direct the energy towards your hand as you release to throw the ball. As you direct the energy from your breath into your arm, the ball will be thrown with much more intense power and speed. If we can influence energy when throwing a ball, through focus on our breathing, how much more can we influence a sensitive horse.


‘Lungeing will help to relieve excess energy’

‘Lungeing will help to relieve excess energy’

Lunging or loose work will help the horse to release excess energy and will also gives us the opportunity to connect with the horse before we ride. When we initially sit on the horse it is worth taking a few moments to check our posture from top to toe (more details in previous articles or on my web site) Then take a very deep outward sigh, down into your core to release any tension and allow the next inward breath, just to happen, in a natural way. When you feel calm and focused, take up an allowing contact with the reins. Inhale and exhale more deeply. The exhalation will ripple down your spine releasing your core which encourages the horse to move forwards. This movement for the rider is similar to sitting on a swing and pushing it forwards and upwards, but it is much more subtle. If your horse does not respond, use your legs once and if needed back up with a tap of the whip on your own leg. Very quickly the horse will tune into this sequence of aids and respond from your breath alone. When the horse is walking forwards breathe naturally and rhythmically with every few strides. Imagine you are jogging and supporting your running with steady inhalation and exhalation.


Walk forwards in a good energetic rhythm and prepare with a deeper inhalation. Then take a deep breath outwards and feel the energy ripple down through your spine, releasing the core and mobilising the seat. If the horse does not respond then use your legs once and back up with a tap of the whip, if needed. Focus on regular natural breathing using deeper exhalation for more impulsion. If your horse is too strong , re-balance with more focus on deeper inhalation and if necessary close your fingers on the reins. Once he has responded, relax the fingers into a more allowing contact. Encourage the horse to listen to core breathing as your first aid when asking for any change, whether in pace or direction. Techniques of breathing can energise a lazy horse or equally will calm anxiety and enhance the harmony between horse and rider.


To prepare for the canter strike off , ensure the horse is balanced, with sufficient energy and working correctly on the circle. To prepare, take a deeper inward breath and feel the horse re-balance, then take a longer and deeper exhalation whilst allowing your inside (right) shoulder and leg to move slightly forwards. As you exhale, breathe into the inside (right) seat bone which will release and energise the canter strike-off. Allow the elevation of the movement, through your upper torso. The following exercise on the ground will help you to visualise this feeling: Walk for a few strides then prepare to take a step upwards, as if climbing a staircase. As you place your foot on the stair, your upper body has to elevate to allow the space for your body to lift. In a much more subtle way, this is similar to the feeling of elevation within the upper torso, when you ride. The power from the hind limbs of the horse will create more lightness and mobility, in his shoulders. This elevation can become blocked if the movement is not absorbed by the upper torso of the rider. Maintain your awareness of posture and breathing as when you concentrate it can be easy to hold onto tightness and tension in different places. Sometimes this is held between the shoulder blades and also within a locked, tight jaw and the horse will mirror this tension. You can reap huge rewards by spending some
time on the ground with a focus on self awareness.


You may find this an interesting technique to help to maintain the correct bend, when you are riding on a circle. Imagine you have a rope hanging heavily through your upper torso, down into the centre of your core, just below the navel area. Now imagine a hand twisting the rope, just a few degrees . If you are on the left rein, then this would be a small turn to the left. This feeling instigates a small movement from the centre of your core, which slightly turns the whole body, within a relaxed balanced frame. The horse will quickly mirror this slight
change in balance. The legs and shoulders will alter slightly in position, but the balance is instigated from your strong centred core, for the horse to follow. Try this exercise whilst walking the horse on a loose rein and feel how effectively the horse will follow the movement from your core. Just walk forwards slowly and feel that deep, centred rope turning left for a few strides then walk forwards for a few strides and repeat to the right. The horse will quickly mirror the changes from your core. Prepare to turn with a deeper inhalation and exhale to
release your lower back when you begin to change direction. This will help to control the exercise.


Ensure the horse is standing straight and with little pressure on the reins just take a deeper inward breath. When you exhale, direct your breathing from the left to right seat bone. Create a flow of backward energy from your core, as if walking backwards. Once the horse tunes into these aids, the pressure on the reins will become minimal as your core and shift in balance will direct him.


If the horse swings his quarters out from the circle, direct your outward breath to flow down into your outside seat bone. This will create a release and a flow of energy. The horse will feel this pressure and instinctively move away from the outside seat bone to become more centred under the rider. This technique of breathing into your seat bones can be used to improve feel and flow within all paces, lateral exercises and more advanced collected movements.


Maintain awareness of posture and core- breathing

'Maintain awareness of posture and core-breathing’


Collection can be enhanced with more emphasis on controlled, steady corebreathing which will support the upper torso as it absorbs the extra elevation. Relax the jaw and breathe into 'allowing' shoulders’ to support the movement of your spine. This enhances fluidity as energy is harnessed and released, as a wave in the sea. The core becomes stronger but maintains mobility and the upper torso lengthens
and strengthens with this pattern of breathing. It encourages a feeling of pride and also lightness in the upper body which can more efficiently absorb the extra uphill movement of the horse within collection. These breathing techniques can be the essence of developing passage and lightness where the rider not only moves with the horse but breathes with the movement.


Each day will bring more challenges, as we become both teacher and pupil, together with our horse. Some days the energetic horse will tune in quickly to the outward breath so more time can be spent riding just a few paces forward then using the deeper inhalation to regain his attention. The horse will quickly understand that this is the way of going without the constant pressure of leg aids from the rider. Excess pressure from our legs against the rib cage creates discomfort, tightness for the horse. This results in stilted paces and disrupts both
stability and balance for the rider. If we make a conscious effort to feel joyous when riding, physically our facial muscles will relax, which releases the spine to mobilise and flow with the movement. Our state of mind will control our physical ability to connect. These techniques are a journey of discovery which reveal the connection which can be built between horse and rider, breathing life into training.
Jenny gives clinics with her Iberian stallions. Her book and new DVD are available from www.TheHorseStudio.com







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