Breathe in, Breathe out
Breathe in, breathe out - sounds so easy and yes, you know how to do it. If you did not, you wouldn't be alive. However there is a twist to this - and this twist is a very powerful one.
When you look at the size and the power of the horse it is clear that we cannot overpower them. They simply are bigger, stronger and faster. Plenty of riders and tack manufactures have of course tried to come up with tools that give you that extra power. Some of those gadgets are even effective. But they are normally effective in a way that is detrimental to the fundamental movement of the horse. Therefore, if used extensively they will cause injury and lameness. Many gadgets will teach the horse to move in an unnatural way and once learned, it will keep moving like this even without the gadget. The end result? A horse who's health and natural movement have been severely disturbed often to the point of crippling it.
So how can the simple act of breathing give you power?
According to James, "You borrow the power of the horse and re-direct it."
How can we do that?
By breathing out an extra step. Very simple, and yet incredibly effective.
James tells you to "Breathe in like you smell a flower, then breathe out as if blowing into a flute." Now you count steps at the walk - and find a breathing rhythm that is easy for you. For most of my clients it is 4 steps in, 5 steps out, or 5 steps in, 6 steps out. If you wish to change to a longer sequence it works best to increase on breathing out.
So if you want to go from 4 in - 5 out to 5 in - 6 out you would breathe 4 in, 6 out and then 5 in on the next cycle. Voila you are at 5 in - 6 out.
Breathing this way connects you to your body and makes you much more interesting to your horse. If you are sitting on a nervous horse (aka powder keg) - increase the cycle and you will find that the horse will start to relax, listen to your body and your breath. I experienced that first hand at my clinic with James and it worked extremely well.
It is also important to let your breath sink deep into your body. As you are riding, focus on how deep your breath reaches: Just to the middle of your rib cage, the bottom of your rib cage, your belly button, into your pelvis?
Most of us don't breathe very deep and if asked to breathe deeper we try to push the breath down with our diaphragm. Guess what - that does not work well and your breath will become shallow quickly again.
Instead on your last step of breathing out, pull in your belly button and then let it go as you begin to inhale. You just created a mini vacuum in your belly and it let's your breath sink deeper into your body. You can also increase the cycle length. I sometime can go to 7 in and 8 out on Matcho.
After playing for a while with this kind of breathing it became clear that there is a connection in your body between breathing and overall tension. James solved the puzzle for me: Biomechanically, when your body gets tense because you are nervous or scared when riding, your fascia tightens. Your fascia is connective tissue that covers your whole body. There are different kinds of fascia. Imagine the superficial one like a sheet that is directly under your skin. Below is a picture that illustrates the superficial fascia. This one shows a running man. The fascia can feel and react, it is one of our largest sensory organs. But the fascia does not talk to your brain. So in other words you can't tell it to relax. But your fascia will talk to your diaphragm and guess what - deep breathing with your extra breath out will relax your fascia. So next time your horse is overly excited focus on your breath, focus on your body and invite the horse to become relaxed with you.
The breathing that I described above works also at the trot and the canter. I tend to just count in the trot and canter at the same speed that I used in the walk, rather than trying to count my horse's steps. I also found that as we go faster I often have a shorter cycle, in other words I will go to 4 in - 5 out, whereas I am often at 6 in and 7 out at the walk.
I hope you will get a chance to try this the next time you ride your horse. Prepare to be amazed.
A new way of posting the trot
I had the pleasure to meet James Shaw for the first time at the Horse Expo in Denver this spring. Watching him work with riders and horses it struck me how quickly the horses would change once a change happened in the rider.
I decided that I really wanted to learn more and invited James to conduct a three day clinic at my home barn in Black Forest. We had a great group of six riders and four auditors and came away with many new insights.
My plan is to share some of those in the next few weeks as they are still fresh in my mind.
How about a different and better way to post?
Most of us have learned to rise by rolling our thighs and femur inward and get a rather solid connection knee through upper thigh in that phase. As we come back in the saddle we reverse that rotation. "Piece of cake", you say and "Yes, once I have learned that, I always did it like that." Well guess what, the opposite works better.
So that means you try to rotate your femur and upper thigh outward on the rise, and inward on the sit. Why?
With the outward rotation you begin to lift your pelvis - makes a lot of sense since you are trying to rise out of the saddle. But more importantly with the inward rotation in the downward phase you can control your seat as you get back into the saddle. Since the horse has some lift during the trot the saddle moves towards you as you are sitting down but still most people (me included) really cannot control the last 5 to 10% of that phase if the femur rolls out. Now try to opposite - roll out for up and roll in for down - and yes, you can control the very last phase of getting back into the saddle.
Why is that important? If you cannot control it, you literally fall into your horses back every time you sit down - and that is just not comfortable for your horse. Through this lack of control you also rock the saddle forward and backward - even a well fitting saddle.
Another advantage of the new way of posting: You will rise and sit much straighter. Many riders (especially women) tend to stick their behind out in the sit phase. My students know what I call it - the "duck butt". This tends to shift your center of gravity quite a bit forward and backward which makes it difficult for your horse to give you a regular and balanced trot.
So give the new way a try. It will feel awkward at first but once you get used to it, you and your horse will enjoy the posting trot much more.
Finding new and better ways to ride and teach.