California Riding Magazine • October, 2013

Horsey Humor:
Breathe: It's the Right
Thing to Do

by Bob Goddard

I'm rounding the end of the lesson arena on my favorite horse and we're looking good. As we pass the mirror, I can see that my shoulders, hips and feet are in perfect alignment. My heels are down like they're supposed to be. My reins are not twisted and my hands are down where they belong. Suddenly, as we turn into the straight away, three female voices belt out in unison: BREATHE!

About knocked me off my horse.

You've got to be kidding. They can tell? And why would they ruin a perfectly pleasant moment like that? Adult riders. Hmmpf. They're always insisting you do a thing properly. Not like the kids at the barn who let you go on doing something wrong just for the entertainment value. I once spent 15 minutes riding around the arena with my right hand in the air like General Jackson because I was told it's an alternative dressage cue for circling.

The remarkable thing is that all three said it at the same time: BREATHE! Normally, when three people who know what they're talking about simultaneously and assertively tell you to do something, you probably should do it. But breathe? You actually have to tell someone to do this?

I know that when Faith Hill sang it, she put it in the form of a request. "Just breathe," she asked the guy. This was a huge compliment toward the object of her affection, because she clearly indicated that was all he had to do to make her happy. I wish everyone was that easy to please.
I have nothing against breathing, per se. However, when you're on a horse, there are so many other things to attend to if you want to do it right. There's posture and balance, physical cues and verbal cues, thinking and pretend smiling. And on top of all this, they want you to breathe, too? It seems like too much.

"Yes," says my instructor and her lackeys. "You have a tendency to hold your breath when you concentrate."

I know she's right, of course. I catch myself holding my breath quite often. It's how I stay grimly determined.

"I don't know," I respond. "It seems like the right thing to do."

"Well, it's not. When you hold your breath your body tenses up. The horse can feel that. When you breathe properly, you release the stress and you stay more focused."

"Shouldn't I be grimly determined?"

"No. But it will be okay. Breathing is something we can definitely work on and improve."

I have to admit, she's building a good case for breathing.

"You want to breathe using your diaphragm. That helps keep your center of gravity low and improves your balance."

"I'll put it on my Things to Do List While in the Saddle."

"Yes, add it. It all works together."

So riding is like a puzzle and breathing is one of the key pieces.

"And there some simple techniques you can use to help. Some people sing."

"I have a Faith Hill song in mind." I couldn't resist the irony.

"No, you need something more like Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

"I've always enjoyed that song. The AC/DC version is my favorite."

"You can also try counting. But just to six: one… two… three...."

"Yes, I'm familiar with that sequence. You know, I can actually handle higher than six if you like."

"No, if you go past six you get into multi-syllable words and it messes up the simple rhythm."

I'm not exactly clear how you fit the breathing piece into the riding puzzle, but you can bet that my next lesson is going to feature "Bob: the Singing Equestrian."

I see a musical in my future.