Of all the tools I use to train horses I think that using breathing is one of the most important.
We always speak about keeping relaxed on the horse and how crucial it is, but often if you find yourself on a young or unpredictable horse or maybe you're trying an exercise you're not sure of. You tense up, immediately this tension holds our entire body differently from our seat to our reins and directly communicates tension to our horse. So if you are riding your youngster for the first time who trusts you and listens to your cues and you're telling him there’s something to be stressed / worried about the chances are he’s going to listen. Breathing deep into our stomachs and out keeps our bodies from reacting this way, and allows us to portray to our horse that we are confident even if inside we really aren’t!
Secondly I teach all my horses how to slow down, transition down and stop when I breath out. This comes very naturally to them and before long you can have a horse canter to halt without touching the reins. There is several reasons for teaching them this way. When we breath out we instantly sit deeper into the saddle, becoming ‘heavier’. This in turn is an aid for the horse to slow down or stop depending on what our other aids you are communicating. At first I will audibly breath out as an extra verbal cue for the horse. But unlike most other verbal cues every time I breath out my body also changes in the seat. Before long I can breath out quietly whilst focusing on my seat and have a horse who responds accordingly.
And here we get to my most crucial point why do I want my horse to slow down using just my seat and breath when I have reins? My reins are not there to pull my horse and demand he goes somewhere, they are a communication channel that I can give extra cues through, when we mess around with our reins too much we not only off balance a young or green horse, but we also immediately put the horse onto the forehand.
Demonstrated above I’m riding a lovely 4 year old Thoroughbred Dakar. He’s very green at this point but is already carrying his head fairly nice and quietly as he trusts my contact. By breathing out to stop him I do not disrupt his head or contact. Using the right amount of breath and seat I can bring him from a trot to a halt all the while he stays soft and supple instead of throwing his head up or fighting the contact as so many youngsters do.