Breathe Your Way to Better Connection

By using two simple breathing exercises, Rachel works with Claire and Selena to help build their connection on the ground. These exercises can also be done in the saddle which will work wonders to help your horse tune into you.


Using and Fading the Target

At first, we build connection by teaching our horses to follow a target. But we don’t want them to be dependent on the target; we want them to connect with us. So as soon as you can, it’s a good idea to start to fade the target. As you see in the video, at the beginning Selena is a bit disconnected from Claire. It was only the second time she’d been in the small arena. All her previous targeting had been done in her paddock and just outside the gate. So naturally, she was a bit curious and slightly anxious. This is where the target is perfect. Claire uses it to bring her back, gain her focus and let her know that it’s OK to leave and come back in her own time.

Deepen your Breath

Even when Selena was off exploring, Claire kept up her part of the exercise, by walking round the circle, focusing on her own breath. The first exercise is one you probably know if you’ve ever been to yoga or Pilates. It is about checking where your breath is in your body. Are you breathing high into your chest or are you breathing from your “belly” i.e. really expanding your diaphragm to fill your lungs.

I teach Claire a simple way to get the breath down lower and relax the diaphragm. You take in a breath and then breathe out as far as you can, quite quickly. Blow it out! At the end of the breath, just before you breathe in again, you pull in your belly like you are trying g to put on a tight pair of jeans. You know, straight out of the dryer?

Then you release your belly as quickly as you can and take a breath in. You will find that the breath will go deeper and it will easier to deepen your breath. You now need to keep that belly relaxed! Do everything you’ve always been told not to do (unless you’re a belly dancer?). This way, by keeping your belly relaxed, you will naturally deepen your breath and stay relaxed.

Get into Rhythm

While you’re busy thinking about your breath, what is your horse doing? Don’t forget to reward every small attempt to connect with you. And, like Claire, you can always bring back the target for a short while to help her out a bit. It’s not all or nothing! But if she wants to do her own thing, that’s fine. You carry on doing your own thing. This can be a meditative exercise and just observing the outcome is part of the practice.

The second exercise involves consciously controlling the rhythm of your breath. You time this with your own steps. In the saddle, you time it with your horse’s steps. The trick is to breathe out for one more count than you breathe in. This helps keep you relaxed and connected. A rhythm of 4/5, as Claire does, is a good relaxing rhythm. If you want to add more energy, shorten the rhythm to, say, 3/4. If you or your horse is anxious, lengthen the rhythm to 6/7, say. I was once so anxious about a horse, I made the rhythm 9/10 and it worked wonders! Play with it so you see what works best for you and your horse in different situations.

And Now the Connection

It is often at this point that your horse really tunes into you, as Selena did with Claire. You can see that she stayed close with her and Claire did not need the target. That was lovely and wonderful to feel, as Claire says. But don’t sweat if it doesn’t happen the first time. Or the next time. Or it happens today and not tomorrow. This is a practice for life, for riding as well as for deeper connection. Keep practising, keep rewarding yourself and your horse for small approximations in the right direction, and your connection will deepen.

I am teaching clinics this summer where you can learn this practice, and lots more  tai chi exercises which are great for ground connection and riding. You can learn them as an auditor and a horsey participant.

Check out my Events page now:


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4 thoughts on “Breathe Your Way to Better Connection”

    1. Thank you Mary Anna, I love this work!! Well it’s not work 😉

      Would love to see some videos if you can x

      As Rachel says let us know how you are getting on

      Claire x

  1. Rachel Bedingfield

    Let us know how you get on, MaryAnna. And that’s lots more for us to explore. I’ll try and get the next blog up at the end of April, looking at matching your horse’s steps and engaging your core.

  2. hi managed to do some practising yesterday and it turned out a bit of a disaster as i didn’t put the round pen out so just walked up and down the school and Ralph just kept going off exploring so decided to call it a day then…….as he has some really bad anxiety issues in the stables i decided to do some TTouch on him being really aware of my breathing and noticed that when i breathed slowly he chewed his hay so much more slowly. I really haven’t been aware of the impact are breathing has on our neddies although have always been told to breath deeply when nervous and not quite realising what a useful tool this is. When Shawna says ‘setting your horse up for success -i think breathing awareness is setting us humans up for success as well : )

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