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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!


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.