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10Mar 15

Breathing during training

It is something we all do without thinking about it: breathing in... and out. So does our horse. Breathing is a regular thing and it is the breathing out which makes breathing in an automatic movement. As long as life is not upsetting we breathe regularly. When we are emotional or when we are sporting and pushing ourselves outside our comfort-zone for too long, we start breathing irregular or too quickly which makes us feel bad.

It is exactly the same for our horse, so for both rider and horse it is enormously important to be able to keep a normal and regular breathing-pattern.

First us. When we are comfortable with our horse and sufficiently fit there is not a problem. When we feel tired, insecure or even scared it will affect our breathing and that gives an immediate message to the horse. Tiredness is a matter of the regular little brake discussed in last weeks blog. It is probably not just our horse that needs a brake at times. However, when the rider needs too many brakes it needs to be sorted by fitness-training such as biking, running or swimming, just to give a few examples. Otherwise the horse is never given the chance to really get going which results into not much improvement and a stagnant training-pattern.

Being insecure needs some reflection and/or research about what we are doing and how to do it differently.

Being scared can be overcome with a helpful trainer, depending on how badly affected the horse is. Some horses cope with a scared rider better than others. If it is the horse which has caused it, then often it has shaken both the rider's and the horse's confidence and an experienced trainer is needed in order to assess the situation as far as how to solve this.

Now the horse. A younger horse often starts a little irregular in its breathing when doing its first trot and canter as it is still having to get used to the new environment. As it is not very fit yet, you will find that it can only get regular for a shortish amount of time until it starts to get tired which causes for its breathing to speed up too much, which results into loss of rhythm. When this is not recognised the chances are that the young horse will never find its natural rhythm or worse, starts to dislike being in the school from its early training days.

As the horse gets fitter we can begin to feel, by listening to our horse, where its regular rhythm in walk, trot and canter lies. When a horse is comfortable it will breathe regularly in the rhythm of its movement. This generally is a little slower than we think and our horse lets us believe. As the horse develops into a more experienced horse we will get used to the regularity and know we're on the right track as exercises become easier. 

This brings us back to the previous blog. In order to help our horse to do its work to the best of its ability we will have to come to terms that training is: helping the horse to understand and helping to improve, not making...... This includes, other than working on balance, regular little brakes.

The upset horse, no matter how experienced it is, will always breathe irregular and therefore will always move outside its natural rhythm. It is ugly to watch and can't be much fun to sit on.

Certainly the time for some self-reflection!


03Mar 15

Horses and their personalities

Having had a great time in Holland with plenty of equine entertainment and at the same time increasing my knowledge as far as the Dutch Warmblood breeding industry, it is now time to get back to normal working life.

In my first week back to work it occurred to me what a huge variety of horses I work with, not only as far as their personalities but also their body-structure and the kind of sport they are involved in.

The more experienced working hunter and the oncoming event horse; the cheeky youngster and the dressage horse in development with a panic button, just to name a few.

They all have one thing in common. Every single lesson the rider has to be reminded that all horses are crooked to some extend and their horse is not the exception to the rule. No matter what level, there will always be the moment when the level gets upped that the horse tells us: one side is easier than the other.

The question is how to deal with this as far as their different personalities, into which I include their pain-threshold. Many years ago, Ferdi Eilberg visited Cornwall for a demonstration. He said: "If only we could explain to our horses, just like the physiotherapist, this is going to hurt a bit but you'll feel better afterwards, our horses would be so much more cooperative." I never forgot that and it has been of phenomenal importance to my training.

I have learnt to look at an evasion differently, since then, more open-minded and ready to change tactics in an inventive way, not only in order to avoid the point of no return, but more so to get more out of my horse. It pays of to be clever and alert. Listen to the breathing and watch how the sweat-patches appear. They will give you all kinds of indications in order to respond in time and before the agitation has built up too much.

Some horses are insecure, others easily bored. Some are hot, others slow to get going. Some are intelligent, others have their brains somewhat detached from their body. There are endless options. This also dictates a certain work pattern. The insecure horse, for example, needs to be given the time to settle into an exercise and have a lot of personal time with the rider outside the training time as bonding is important. The easily bored horse needs to be given new exercises regularly and in time so as not to think of shying or becoming lethargic. The hot horse may need a hack or lunging or even turn-out if stabled before riding. A different hot horse may have to walk long and low for much longer than normal. The slow one probably needs lots of trot-walk-trot and canter-trot-canter transitions in its warm-up. The intelligent ones are tricky as they have evasions galore and need a very quick-thinking and experienced rider in order to thrive but in return have a lot to give. The lesser intelligent ones with a good body sometimes are easier as they are more forgiving. They just need a little more time for something new to sink in.

There is one thing they all need. Which is regular and well-planned brakes during their training session. Their brain and their muscles need time to recuperate within the session often. This is something I underestimated for a long time. For two reasons I now take this to heart: first of all, a well-planned brake at a moment when the horse has made a little brake-through or just learnt something new is a huge thank-you to it and it will show when you try the same exercise in the next session as the horse will always respond positive to a positive experience. Secondly, a regular little brake keeps the horse from becoming unbearably stiff for the next day.

Actually, there is a third advantage. Not every competition runs on schedule and also the horse may occasionally peak a little earlier than is usual. At that moment, if the horse is not trained with regular brakes it will find it difficult to stop and start again. Also from that point of view it is important.


Next time I will discuss the breathing during training.


Brill Liz. Hopefully owners will realise that most of the time their horses are not always just being naughty!
liz Read, 7th March 2015

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.