Photo by Margaret Chant and edited by Jessica Metropulos

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Breathing? SERIOUSLY?!

Let me just open with this statement: Oh what a great student I would be if I TOOK MY OWN ADVICE ONCE IN A WHILE!!! I am, in short, a VERY confident rider, trainer, and instructor. I don't sit around and worry about what COULD happen very often, but rather, I choose to see things in every situation. I consider myself a good reader, both in horses and humans, and can usually change situations without getting worried. That is, until, something happens TO worry me.

Last week, I believe it was the second day Nugget was here, she pulled an RBI whip-and-kick manuver on me. It startled the hell out of me, and though I wasn't hurt (She didnt' actually connect) I've got a healthy respect for that horse's reflexes now. Looking back, it was totally my fault, damn my predatorial direct-line thinking ANYWAY, but it left this slightly cautious side to me. Now, forget that for now. It has very little to do with the story.

I started playing with the Figure-8 Pattern with Nugget today, and starting out she was REALLY pushy. Nugget, has this tendency (because she's gaited) to be able to bend and "snap" really well physically. This makes the driving game a PAIN, because she's so flexible, she can bend nearly in half before yeilding. So anyway, I started out playing with just zone 3 driving the figure 8 so she could get the VERY basic concept down. To make a long story short, she had a coniption about driving away from me, around the barrel. She'd get really pushy and use her shoulder like a linebacker and try to smush me out of the way. Then, when I'd correct her, she'd whip really fast away from me, bringing up my tension level, for fear of being kicked at again.

Now at that point, I was kind of faced with an interesting problem. I get mad at myself for being unreasonably afraid. It's definitely a part of my personality that I'm trying to improve. Anyway, I had to stop and think for a moment because I could feel my frustration coming up. My first thought was "How's your breathing, Fran?", because when people get tense, they have a tendency to hold their breath, which causes horses to hold their breath too, and make everything even more unbearably tense, not to mention VERY physically trying.

Of course, I wasn't breathing. But the problem wasn't that I wasn't breathing, it was that I COULD NOT get myself TO BREATH. Now, I have like 3 students who have this problem to a MUCH deeper level than I will ever hope to understand, BUT, I do know how to help THEM through it.

Frequently, if I've got a student who's holding their breath, and won't take to advice well, I just start talking to them as they play, and insist they answer me. It is physically impossible to talk and hold your breath at the same time. As quoted by my friend Katie in her situation:

"Fran finally got me to turn and talk to her while circling Lady and within a few minutes my mind was open and guess what happened next? Lady started blowing out. She began releasing adrenaline and tension like crazy and Fran turned to me, smiled and said "You're coming off of adrenaline. Know how I know? Because your horse is coming off of adrenaline."

This is a perfect example of what I'll do. OR, if a student is too focused to talk, I'll ask them to sing a little tune to themselves as they play--another thing that's literally impossible to do while holding your breath. And frequently, the results are instantaneous and quite obvious, horses relax and smiles appear. YES, you all who have had me do this during your lessons, NOW YOU KNOW why I did it!

Anyway, back to ME...I started to sing under my breath. I chose the most rediculous song I could, just so I could have a laugh get my mind positive again, too. (Thank you Richard Bandler!) So...picture this: I'm walking a figure-8 pattern from zone 3 of a tall, beautiful dark horse around barrels, singing The ABC's audibly enough that anyone within a 20 foot radius could hear it. Of course. Rediculously silly, and effective. Such is the Parelli program.

The session changed DRAMATICALLY after I started to sing. Nugget immediately relaxed, and turned into just an absolute DOLL. I directed her through the figure 8, and then moved to the weave, and she followed my lead and did the patterns like she'd been doing them her whole life. By the end of the session, we were both so relaxed and focused that I made a big decision, and decided that she was ready for me to back her for the first time. She handled it like a champ (details later, I'll probably do it tomorrow as well) and we ended on a REALLY great note.

So...this breathing thing...important? You BET it's important!! Savvy on, and PLEASE, I'd LOVE to hear feedback on this entry!


wildmagic said...

I got kicked real hard a few months ago by my yearling. It was a freak accident and again, mostly my fault for not reading the situation. Afterwords i was kind of shy about being behind JOjo and she could feel my nervousness and would in turn be nervous. Sometimes she would walk away, move her HQ away or swish her tail. Once i found this out i started trying to fix my friendly near her HQ. Ive found then when im not thinking about getting kicked she does not mind my being back there. Its amazing how perceptive horses are.

We use that same singing/talking method with divers to help calm them down and breath more normally.

Tina said...

I think breathing is a very huge key! In my past (normal) life, I would often sing or hum during dressage lessons, because I knew it was an issue of mine. It also helps me not to concentrate so much and to better feel the horse's rhythm.

If I had tense students, I'd have them do the same. Even better, I'd have them say the movements of their test as they were practicing, that way they release the breath and memorize their test at the same time. If I had one that was really tense, I'd have her get off and run the test on foot leading her horse. You can't hold your breath and run, either!

I've seem many imminent disasters averted by just making a freaked out rider sing, or recite their times tables!