Monday, 30 August 2010

Let's continue with the theme of breathing.
The following might seem a highly unlikely scenario, since we are talking about a rider and horse who were, at the time, about to make their debut at Grand Prix Dressage. Two years later they were placed in competition in Germany, beating some very big names. But one of my best breathing lessons ever was with Heather Blitz and her horse Otto, who was sold on soon after that German success.
Otto was a tense type, who was pretty unruly when he was first given to Heather to prepare for sale. She really liked him, however, and soon realised his potential, so she set about finding a buyer who would let her train and compete him. Despite her enthusiasm, she has described to me one occasion when his head went up so high that she could see his nostrils! Whilst this was a one-off, he always kept a 'veneer' between himself and his rider, as a way of reducing the rider's influence.
Many horses do this, and it can give them a look that I describe as 'brittle'. A rider can look 'brittle' too - she might or might not sense herself like a china doll that might break, but she can certainly have that look. Seeing this 'brittle' look in either partner immediately makes me question how much breathing is really happening, and I know that changing this can be the turning point that changes everything else.
When the rider does not breathe well, the horse is unlikely to. Even when the rider does breathe well, she may need to use the power of thought to transfer this to the horse. So we like to think of 'breathing down into the pony' . I say 'pony' as we so often teach this to children, but its usefulness spans a spectrum from their first few lessons on our school ponies to top class riders on their Grand Prix horses!
So in breathing down into Otto, Heather thought of her breath infusing both her body and his. It can work well to think of it as a colour. It probably took 20 minutes to begin to really change him - he lost the look of a 'cat on hot bricks', and he also lost his veneer. His muscle quality changed as his movement changed, and it was a turning point in his training. He had finally let Heather in - and perhaps he had finally let go and breathed deeply, in a way he had never done whilst ridden.
I am sure there are sceptics out there thinking 'yeah right', but the power of this kind of thought is incredible. The rider firstly needs good breathing skills herself (which of course Heather had), and then that additional focus. It can work wondours. Try it.