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Overcoming Stress and Anxiety

April 2017 by Tanja Mitton,

Stress is something that most of us live with every single day and often we are not even aware that we are stressed; that’s until you get on your horse.

We have all heard the saying “your horse is your mirror”, and that is absolutely true, particularly when it comes to stress and reflecting our tension. 

One very important aspect of our riding - and one that is often overlooked - is our breathing and relaxation.

When we are stressed, our breathing automatically is compromised as it becomes shallow and more rapid. 

This then causes tension in our body that blocks our pelvis and stiffens our hips, as well as negatively affects our shoulders and arms. 

As soon as the rider is tense, the horse has to compensate for the rider’s tension, and this will often lead to the horse bracing their back and resisting throughout their body. Becoming more aware of your own breathing is, therefore, vital as it directly influences the way your horse is moving. 

How do we make sure our breath is deep? It starts with what we are thinking and where our focus is.

A lot of riders focus on all the things they don’t want, like their horse taking a massive shy, the horse being tense and resisting, falling off or forgetting their dressage test. 

When we focus on the negative, our body automatically tenses and that changes the way we breathe. Our breath becomes shallow and more rapid, creating more tension as a result. So, be careful what you wish for!

Start to focus on the positive outcomes, the good rides you’ve had and the great rides you want to achieve. 

Feel how your breath becomes deeper and more centered when you focus on all the great things, rather than the disasters. 

Then, start to pay more attention to your thoughts and the conversations you have with other people before you get on your horse for a ride. 

The more vividly you can remember, focus and talk about all your good experiences, the more your body remembers what that feels like and it will respond to that experience, which is reflected by your breathing. 

Exercise 1

Place your palm on your belly, just below your ribcage. Now, take some deep breaths in and some deep breaths out. Feel when your tummy expands and when your tummy contracts. No, I am not going to give you the answer, go and do the exercise!

How did you go? I dare say most of you will find that your tummy goes in when you breathe in and goes out when you breathe out, right?

Wrong. It’s actually not the best way to breathe, why? Do the same breathing (tummy in when breathing in and tummy out when breathing out) again and feel what your shoulders are doing when you are breathing out.

Could you feel that your shoulders are starting to drop forward when you are breathing out? Interesting isn’t it!

Exercise 2

Place your palm on your tummy again, just below the ribcage.

Breathe in through your nose but, this time, make sure your tummy goes out and expands.

Then breath slowly out through your lips, and make sure your tummy goes in and contracts using your tummy muscles.

Repeat the exercise a few times, and notice how your shoulders stay straight and your upper body ecomes taller.

I would encourage you to practice this on your horse and see what your horse has to say to that.

Whenever you need your horse to be relaxed and responsive make sure that you focus on your breathing first. Leading by example and becoming relaxed yourself will help your horse to relax too.

Happy riding everyone!