The Importance of Breathing

By Patty Wilber

(I promise this is related to horses, at least tangentially.)

On the recommendation of Jim’s cousin, Pam, I read a book over the summer called “Breath” by James Nestor.  It was a fascinating discussion of the benefits of breathing through the nose, breath holding, humming and a lot of other fascinating breathing studies.

It was a lot to take in, but I decided to really try to breathe primarily through my nose and practice a little bit of breath holding.  Lo and behold, my chronically plugged up left nostril is no longer chronically clogged and my breath holding capacity has doubled (it was very bad to start with…)

I am going to start on another breathing program this week, the Wim Hof Method, primarily because it can help increase cold tolerance (I hate to be cold), but also because it causes documented increases in immune system function, and that seems like a win win right now!  Wim The Iceman Hof has completed amazing feats of cold tolerance.

And just because I am talking about breath stuff, every one should check out this video of free diver Guillaume Néry.  He can not only hold his breath for 15+ minutes, he can do it while swimming at unbelievable depths in the ocean.

Ok, Ok, so what has this got to do with horses?  Though not directly related to the breathing techniques and benefits mentioned above, horses can be very very in tune with our breath.

I did a clinic a few years ago that included a very inexperienced rider on a horse that was not really into it.  Things were getting a little scary for the rider and the horse.  I told the rider that we could help her horse (and her) with a little breathing exercise.  I had her sit quietly, inhale deeply and sigh it completely out, relaxing her body.  Fortunately, the horse had read the users manual, and as I had hoped, he too let out a giant sigh to mimic hers. They both had a moment of release and resetting that allowed them to have more success.

That technique can feel like a magical connection with my horse in that moment when my breath has such a great influence on my equine partner. If anyone tries it and finds that, too, I would love to hear about it!  I use it regularly when colt starting.

 In addition to using big releasing breaths to help calm and reset, rhythmic breathing is important for rhythmic movement of the horse.  I don’t know about you, but sometimes if I am concentrating hard on something, I tense up and forget to breathe normally.  Neither tensing up nor holding one’s breath is helpful to the horse. Inhale, exhale, stay supple.  Horses notice!

Lately, I have been doing a lot of downward transitions with a particular horse that happens to be fairly forward.  He was hard to slow down without over tucking his head and sometimes putting a lot of pressure on his mouth.  We have been working on his ability to feel breath and, in the spaces where he is all in with me, he can now go from an extended lope to a walk on a breath. I just have to sit deep and exhale. It is kinda cool!

My friend send me a meme yesterday (timely!  I don’t think I had told her the blog topic…) This is what is said:

My friend said she was like that because of me! 🙂 Of course, I’d have added “and exhale…”

 In competition, one has to be careful.  I recently caused LT to break from a lope on my last maneuver in a ranch riding pattern because I thought “home stretch!” in my head, and relaxed, which must have corresponded to a small exhale!  We surely know that break was not the horse’s mistake! The horse did exactly as I suggested!

For a more structured approach as compared to my musings, there are programs, like Sally Swift’s Centered Riding, that emphasize proper breathing as a corner stone of communication with the horse.  I might have to re-read that book!

Happy Breathing! (Through your nose.)

Update: Chemo session two.

Haha! Hair be gone! I look a lot more like my Dad now!

It was Thursday morning, and has not yet (as of Thursday night) produced the killer headache. I was able to ride three horses after the treatment without wearing out. I also changed my symptom management and have been drinking many fluids (I feel quite bloated, actually, which is not super), have been proactive with the cannabis tinctures, and have eschewed the standard anti-nausea meds since I do not feel nauseous at this time!  Fingers crossed!

Also, the tumor shrinking as it is supposed to!

Thanks Mary Ann E. for being my chemo buddy this round!

About BlogPatty

Here's the skinny: I have a thing for horses. They make sense to me. I have a small horse training business (it's a "boutique" training business, not because it's super fancy, but because the horses get a lot of personal attention). I also go by Dr. Wilber, and teach biology full-time at a Central New Mexico Community college.
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5 Responses to The Importance of Breathing

  1. Fascinating. I’ve had good luck (with some horses!! Not all) with “relaxing, release breathing.” Including some very hot ones. With other hot or not-so horses, not as much response. Was I still tense somewhere? Sure could be. Was the horse uncomfortable in some way I hadn’t recognized? Possible. Horses react to so many things, as prey animals…their senses are keen and always “on full.” As a fairly flat-chested young woman, I didn’t realize that after “growing a pair” to breast-feed our adopted child that it would affect my riding (via the horses and the need for more support) but it did. The % of fat flopping up and down does too (and it affects breathing and balance, which, again, I was slow to recognize.) Now when I watch a very overweight rider’s belly fat bouncing up and down, and the horse’s ears and neck and back reacting to it, I cringe at certain things in my own past.

    But the breathing…when it works, when I breathed in the rhythm that worked for the horse, it was as if it linked the horse’s intent to mine. That and just subtle movements, not enough to unbalance the horse at all, just indicate. It was as if the horse turned into a mind-reader, responding to the slightest head turn, head tilt (and those do propagate through the body to the seat bones, via the spine.) If the horse looked at something to the left, tensed a little, and I also looked to the left but breathed relaxed, the horse relaxed. I had “read” the horse’s signal, checked out what concerned the horse and declared it a non-problem. If the horse looked to the left and I didn’t respond to its look (looked straight ahead or to the right), the horse would stay tense. “But you didn’t see what I saw!” If I looked behind (for whatever reason), the horse took off. Not only was there a threat on the left, but I’d just told it there might be something behind, too. Not what I meant–I meant “How far have we come from that [whatever] but to the horse a definite look behind was a warning. (Now I look behind only at a full stop. Because as humans are built, we cannot look behind without really making it obvious…head, shoulders, and pelvis all turn.

    • Patty says:

      I am continually amazed at how sensitive horses can be and also how much they are willing to ignore!

  2. dorannadurgin says:

    I just got that book! I (stoopitly) hold my breath when anxious, which is, you know, most of the time. I know better and I know a zillion exercises, but this sounds like an interesting take on it.

    I used breath all the time with horses. For Duncan the breath-out was a halt; for Takota, the deep, calm breathing steadied him. The first thing I do with a tense horse is…breathe! 🙂

    Congrats on getting through chemo #2!

  3. dorannadurgin says:

    Oh, PS–Wim is far behind the curve when it comes to the Haenyeo of Jeju Island. Credit to women where credit is due!

    • Patty says:

      That book about the sea women was outstanding. The yogi masters are also amazing. But hey Wim has marketed an accessible product so there is that! And I have no chemo head ache this go round. Was it wim or yoga or no conventional anti vomit drugs or the ice hat or the cannabis or Pepsi for lunch for caffeine or drinking like a fish to avoid dehydration…or some combo. Don’t care! No head ache!

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