Sunday, June 5, 2011

Breathing at the Canter

Today was a three-horse day.  Pie went on a trail ride this morning - it was already getting warm and humid and he got very hot and winded, so I got off and led him part of the way home.  He seems very sensitive to the heat, so I have to be careful to work him early on hot days when it's still cool, and to be sure to bring him in out of his dry lot paddock - it gets hot due to the bare ground - and put him under a fan on the hottest days.  Dawn and I had a nice ride, too - I think I need to remove one shim from the front of the Mattes pad now that the saddle's been reflocked.  Dawn and I did some nice shortening and lengthening of stride at the trot, and some good stretching down work.

Drift and I have been working on his canter - the reflocked saddle fits him just about perfectly.  After we did a good bit of trot work - he was able to trot steadily with almost no attempts to leap into canter - we did some canter work.  My job at this point is to have him canter on the correct lead, and to help him maintain the canter with light but supportive legs and light contact but without hanging on him - I'm not ready to ask him for softening - and to steer.  I want to do as little as possible and make sure I stay centered and balance and out of his way - and I need to keep breathing myself.  Other than that, I need him to just move and learn how to carry himself - and I want him to start breathing properly.

I first learned about the importance of breathing at the canter at the Mark Rashid clinic in 2009.  Horse #8 at the clinic was very worried and it showed up in his inability to breathe correctly at the canter - here's the post about that - take the time to read it if you can - it's pretty interesting.  At the clinic this year - see my clinic posts on the sidebar - Drift was also holding his breath, particularly at the canter, and we did some work on that.  He was both holding his breath for several strides, and also not breathing deeply - this showed up as irregularity in the canter - leaping and bounding and odd gestures with his head - and he also would become fatigued quickly from not having sufficient oxygen.  We've been continuing the work at home, and he's making a lot of progress.  His left lead canter is easier for him, and when we canter in that direction, his breathing becomes rhythmical and fairly deep pretty quickly - the horse should exhale noticeably and deeply on each canter stride with the effort - the exhale is at the moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground.   For the horse to have sufficient oxygen, the exhale needs to happen every stride, and needs to be deep enough to allow the lungs to empty to take in sufficient air with the inhale.  The right lead is still a work in progress - today I noticed that he wasn't breathing out but on every second or third stride, so we kept working until he was breathing every stride, although we still need a deeper exhale - but he's making very good progress, and the more progress he makes, the calmer and more responsive he gets and the better he's able to carry himself.

These little things make all the difference.


  1. If this questions makes sense, Kate, where do you breathe in relation to Drift's breathing? I'm wondering whether you can support each other through synchronized breathing, so to speak, or whether we even need to think about such things while cantering.

  2. Muddy K - I think the most important thing for me is to breathe deeply and regularly and stay relaxed - the ideal would be to breathe in on a number of canter strides - say 3 - and then breathe out on a number of canter strides - say 3 again although 4 might be even better. Drift's canter strides are still irregular enough that this doesn't always work perfectly, but if I can keep breathing it does help him.

  3. Very interesting. I didn't realize that horses may hold their breath when ridden. I'm usually the one that is being reminded to breath.

  4. I'm impressed that you are so attune to Drift that you recognize that he is holding his breath. It's difficult for most people just to keep track of their own breathing.

    What a busy day for you and your ponies. "Three-Horse-Day" indeed! :)


  5. very interesting - I've been told to breathe numerous times while in lessons, but I've never really noticed my horse's breathing! Interesting stuff!

  6. Hi Kate,
    Question for you if you don't mind, I take it you are riding Drift while he is learning to breath at the canter. Do you think it would be better to do it in a round yard, free? Reason I ask is because I believe Sam has this problem and trying to figure out how to help him.

    CHeers Nina

  7. Three horses is a big day. The breathing you and Drift are doing sounds really interesting, I'm usually the one not breathing, but I'll have to actually check to see how the horses are breathing next time I ride.

  8. Nina - I think it depends on you, your horse and the facilities you have access too. If you look at the horse no. 8 post, that horse was being restarted under saddle and wasn't ready to canter with a rider, and his internal tension/anxiety was the first thing that needed to be addressed, so the round pen work was ideal. The other big advantage of using a round pen is that you can really pay attention to and observe/hear the horse without having to worry about what you're doing with your own body and breathing.

    Drift is fine to canter under saddle, and we're also working on his green horse issue of balance and rhythm under saddle at the canter, so I'm working on that at the same time as the breathing issue - and in fact in his case they're related - because he isn't breathing well, his rhythm isn't regular - it gets interrupted when he takes irregular breaths. I also don't have a round pen at home, so that isn't an option for me.

  9. Good work with Drift and Dawn again.

    I do worry a bit about Pie and the heat. Summer does not promise to be cool this year. Wonder if there is something more to be done?

    Glad you own him, though, as I am sure Pie is getting only the best of care and attention for his needs.

  10. Very interesting about the breathing. I liked your first post on it, too. I like when my horse exhales at the bottom of each canter stride and the sound is like a person rolling their tongue.


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