“Breathing sustains life and so much more. The martial arts use breathing as a way of focusing attention and enhancing strength.” - from Horses Whispering by Mary-Charlotte B. Shealy, R.N., Ph.D.
A few years ago, I assisted teaching a beginners' riding class, comprised mostly of eight-year-olds. The majority of them were timid introverts so I encouraged them to relax and concentrate.
“Don’t forget to breathe!” I called to them from the center of the arena. One of the not-so-introverted ones laughed and said, “Of course we’re breathing! Or else we’d be dead!”
Not long after that, I participated in an adult group class where a twenty-something cowboy-wannabe rolled his eyes when told, “Make sure you breathe!” Of course, we all know we need to breathe. But the problem is that, since breathing is handled by our autonomic physical nervous system, we sometimes forget that it’s also an automatic response to hold our breath when we’re startled or scared. That’s why riding instructors often repeat the suggestion to keep breathing.
“Bringing yourself back into your body and its senses resets your nervous system,” says YouTube riding instructor Callie King.
Conscientious breathing gives us the ability to silence our often loud and volatile emotional feelings by concentrating instead on physical feelings. When I catch myself heading for a mental train-wreck in the middle of a ride, I force myself to focus on my breath and the fresh spring scents of the ranch as I inhale deeply. Then I’m reminded to check in with my other senses, touching Tara’s neck and focusing on its feel of luxurious satin to my fingertips. Then I tune my ears to the sweet singing of nearby robins, which is literally music to my ears. I also not only look at but actually see the beautiful pink wild roses on the bushes and Tara’s gorgeous silky mane blowing in the breeze. Then I breathe out nothing but gratitude and stillness.
Breathing is essential to everything about living, which to me includes riding. Without it, we’d be dead.