Our breath is something that we tend to forget about. We take over 20,000 breaths per day and thankfully we do it subconsciously. Can you imagine having to remember to take each one of those 20,000 breaths. 

As breathing is taken care of by our Autonomic Nervous System, it is something we don’t have to think about. It is all taken care of automatically.  When our level of exertion increases so does our breath, to compensate for the increased demands on the body.  

Breathing and Horse Riding
Andy Smyth – Breathing Instructor

However, the automatic nature of breathing can lead to trouble. Our bodies were not made for the modern world.  Our bodies were designed to move, climb, walk, run, lift things, squat and jump.  We were not designed to sit still for 8 hours a day typing at a computer keyboard, then to sit still in a car, then sit still on our comfy sofa. 

Due to the changes of the modern lifestyle to a mostly sedentary way of living our breathing has been impacted massively. Our breathing has a direct relationship to our mood, our mental clarity and stability and our physiology. The modern world sees more people not using their diaphragm to breathe, mouth breathing more often than not, and over breathing.  

That is where I come in, I teach people how to breathe functionally.  Functional breathing is Light, it is deep (drawing air deep into the bottom parts of the lungs), it has a rhythm and it is in and out through the nose.  

In saying all that, how then can breathing functionally help you when riding your horse?  There are a number of reasons how it will help you, here are a few to get you going.

1. Functional Breathing will improve your overall fitness

When you use your nose to breathe, you will notice that there is more resistance to your breathing.  This resistance is vital to allow you to actually take on more oxygen into the blood stream and into the working muscles. It is common knowledge that big breaths are better for taking on more oxygen, therefore you should open your mouth to breathe when exercising. 

This is totally incorrect as mouth breathing, whilst increasing the amount of air moving in and out of the body actually reduces the amount of oxygen that can be absorbed into the blood stream. We actually improve oxygen absorption by as much as 10-20% (depending on the individual) by breathing through our nose. If you breathe using your nose when you exercise you can see that this would give you a massive boost, giving you more stamina, fatiguing slower and recovering better. All through the simple act of breathing through your nose.

Imagine being able to ride longer, whilst taking longer to tire. How much more would you enjoy your rides, and if you are enjoying your ride then it stands to reason that your horse will be enjoying the ride too.

2. Functional breathing ensures that you are using your diaphragm to draw air down deep into the bottom parts of your lungs. The use of the diaphragm also has a number of key health benefits.  We are going to focus on one in this article.  

When you use your diaphragm to breathe to create pressure in your abdominal cavity (the space where all your vital organs are) and this helps to stabilise your spine. Creating this Intra-Abdominal Pressure (IAP) is vital for back health.  When you use your mouth to breathe you don’t create IAP, this means that other muscles have to take up the slack to support your spine and keep you upright. 

These muscles can do this work for short periods of time, however when you consistently breathe using your mouth you recruit these muscles way past their point of fatigue. When they do fatigue you will find yourself picking up injuries and having constant problems in your lower back and middle back.

So imagine now that you are having these issues and are trying to ride your horse. Not having your spine effectively stabilised will lead to you getting injured and not being calm and relaxed when on the horse. If you are stiff and rigid your horse will feel that and you will not be communicating well with one another.

3. Lastly, breathing is a psycho-physiological action. Your breath affects both your psychological state and your physical state. In short your breathing will influence your thoughts and emotions and your emotions and thoughts will influence your breathing. 

If you can make sure that you are breathing through your nose, with light, calm breaths, using your diaphragm, with a nice rhythm you will be keeping yourself calm and relaxed. Now imagine you were able to breathe like this with your horse.  He/She will feel how you are feeling and will become more calm and relaxed around you. This in turn will allow you to build a solid relationship with your horse and will allow them to feel happier around you.

Try this:

Next time you are in the stable with your horse, while brushing them or simply stroking them, start to breathe in and out through your nose. Slow your breath down so that you are breathing in for a count of 4 and breathing out for a count of 6. Allow a sense of calm to come over you. Do this for 2-3 minutes all the while checking in with your horse.

How do you feel?  How does your horse feel?

Try this while on your horse and see if it helps you both ride together better?

So next time you are around your horse check in your breathing.  It will be affecting you and it will be affecting your horse.

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