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Take a deep breath

Have you ever had someone say this to you when you're stressed or worried? It sounds a bit simple but actually it has a lot of meaning to it.

To understand how this is going to help your riding and horse connection, you need to first understand the human nervous system. (Don't worry I'm not going to get too scientific on you!)

As mammals we live in two types of states, the fight and flight state or the rest and digest state. Put simply, stressed or relaxed.

These states are shifted from by our autonomic nervous system, the part of our body that does things automatically without having to think, these are our natural instincts. These states stem from when we lived as hunter gatherers in the wild and still exist in us today, these instincts kept us alive as humans and sustained the human race. Thousands of years of proof they work makes them so ingrained in us that we don't often even realise they are happening, unless they go a bit our of kilter.

When we are stressed our body releases hormones that help us to take flight or fight, this is because when we were hunter gatherers the only stress we really knew was danger from other predators, the stres we experience now as so new in relative terms to human evolution our bodies have yet to adapt to the brain stress we now experience.

So our muscles in our legs and arms get flushed with sugars to enable them to activate, our brain gets flooded with oxygen to allow it to work quicker and be more alert, our eye site and vision expands so we can take more in, our hearing gets more acute so we can here the smallest of sounds, and to do this our breathing shortens, becomes more rapid, our digestive system shuts down, (ever felt nausea when you were nervous?) and our limbs become more desensitised, we don't need to feel pain if were running for our lives that would just slow us down. Our heart rate increases to get blood to all the required muscles and our bodies turn from soft tissues to hard machines ready to take on anything.

When we are in a state of relaxation the exact opposite happens, our heart rate slows, breathing deepens, muscles relax, digestive system switches on as does our immune system and our body softens.

All this can happen very quickly in a second, but also it can either stay like that or switch back, in todays world cronic stress is very common, we bounce from one stressful situation to another that our bodies rarely switch back to relaxation, our stresses come from emails, phone calls, meetings, time pressure, expectations, illness, fitting everything in, I could go on, and yes none of these are things we need to run away from but our bodies still react as they did thousands of years ago, as soon as our brain gets the signal that we are under stress all the hormones are released and the paten starts. The problem with bouncing from one stress to another is this becomes our norm, we get used to living like this and don't realise we are, we go from stressed to mega stressed rather than relaxed to stressed.

Now stress on a basic level isn't all bad, it kicks us out of bed in the morning and gets us ready for the meeting. But when we don't realise we are living in a stressed state and staying there this becomes the problem.

Now add our horses into the equation, our horses are prey animals and so are very very sensitive to stress, in their world stress still means danger, and so they have become very adapt at tuning into stress signals in the herd. So much so that they can tell each others heart rates and also breathing rates, since welcoming humans into their world they have also learnt to sense this in humans, and this is where our problem is. If we enter a horses space in a stressed state we are already giving them signals of danger before we've done anything, in fact horses can sense if we are stressed form the other side of the yard so we don't even have to be that close.

What can we do?

There is one way to bring ourselves out of a stressed state that we have control of and that is our breath, we cannot be stressed and be breathing deeply and slowly. As soon as our breath starts to slow down and deepen it sends a signal to our brain that the danger has gone and the relaxation hormones can be released.

This takes a bit of practice as most people don't breath properly due to being constantly stressed, but its something you can practice at any time off the horse away from the yard as well as when you're around them.

Try this:

Keeping your mouth closed, inhale and exhale deeply through your nose three times.

Now place your right hand on your stomach, just above your belly-button, and your left hand at the top of your chest.

Don't try to manipulate your breathing yet. Just notice where in your body it is coming from.

Now, take a long, slow, deep breath into your chest. Your left hand should rise, but your right hand should stay still.

Pause briefly, keeping your chest full, and then exhale slowly through your nose.

Notice which muscles are involved, the sensation of fullness at the pause, and the feeling of relaxation that comes with the slow, deliberate relapse of air.

Repeat this "chest breathing" three times.

Breathe in ... hold ...release.

In ...hold ...release.

In ... hold ...release.

Now take a longer slower deep breath, this time into your stomach. Your right hand should rise while your left hand stays still. This may feel awkward at first, but be patient..

Repeat this belly breathing three times.

Breathe in ... hold ...release.

In ...hold ...release.

In ...hold ...release. Take another break and let your breathing return to its natural state.

The belly breath is what your looking to be able to achieve with ease and this is why it may take some practice, try and practice this randomly throughout the day, (you don't have to place your hands on your chest and belly once you've got the hang of it), so you can do this whilst driving, washing up, waiting in a que, grooming your horse, anytime throughout the day, the more you practice the easier it becomes and not only do you then do your body a favour by reducing your stress hormones but you can then do your horse a favour and not bring that stress to the yard.

Once you have the hang of it, before getting out of the car at the yard just take a moment to slow and deepen your breathing, leaving the days stresses behind so you can go into your horses space in a calm way.

As you get to know your breathing more, you may even notice when it changes, shortens or quickens, see if you can then switch it back. This can help when you're riding and coming up to something that worries you, or nervous before competitions.

See "take a deep breath" does have good reasons behind it.


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