Relaxation is the base of the building blocks to the progress of riding and eases the process. It is the core to body awareness that builds your ability to communicate to your horse with ease and understanding. I will cover the ways I have used when teaching to help students feel relaxation to later know when they have achieved it or need to work on regaining it.
Here are 5 ways from a teachers point of view to help both teacher and student to find a tool that works best for them. Remember it is just as much an internal challenge as a physical one.
When a rider is nervous, it is a great tool to have them picture a ride that brings the feelings of relaxation with it. A day when everything went well, a day they got an 'ah ha' moment or possibly a day they rode a troublesome horse very well.
Other things to visualize are activities that make you think of relaxation. Sitting on a beach, basking in front of a warm fire or a beautiful view to name a few.
This is an individual thing as to which one brings the feelings of relaxation. Most of the time I find this exercise better to assign as homework between lessons but it also can be used while the rider is riding.
2. Hum or sing a song
This has been tried by many and worked in several occassions. It can be your favorite song or something simple like 'twinkle twinkle little star '. The purpose isn't to see how well you sing or know the song but instead starts your breathing. It also gets the mind focused on the song instead of the might happen or did happen mindset. The more you can get it in the rhythm of your horse the more benefit there will be.
Counting is a form like the song idea, however some riders are not musically gifted and find just counting out loud brings less self doubt in this case. To help the brainwaves to change quicker, I have them count backwards this challenges the brain more and gets more distraction from the fear or self doubt.
They can count straight through numbers i.e. 1,2,3,4,5,6... or 1,2,3,4(repeat) to the horses rhythm of their gait. Both work however if needing the brain to be distracted more refer to the above option.
4. Having a conversation
Get them talking about anything!! If you can find something they show passion about then dig further as this starts the endorphins of happiness to help remember that sensation the next time they ride.
I had a little girl who loves Japan and so we talked about her favorite things to do, eat, and see. This also gave me things to remind her when I would see her nerves come back up.
I had another who loves to draw or is into fashion or travel, takes lessons in ice skating or swimming. It is endless the options and questions to ask to keep the positive vibes flowing. I have used this on walk breaks and also when trotting and a little in canter depending on the rider/horse combo. Keep safety in mind always.
This is the most important reason that fear sinks in or helps it go away. Here are the different breathing exercises I use to help bring awareness to the breath.
1. Count your breaths. One in breath and one out breath equals 1 and the goal is to not loose count. If rider forgets have them start over. Continue to check how many they have counted.
2. Warm up exercise. Breathing to expand amount of time you breath in and out. Start with 1 in and 1 out breath for a count of 10 each. As the instructor you count to keep tempo. Next increase the in breath time by 2 and keep the out breath the same length. Keep going until rider has a hard time taking 1 full breath in for that amount of time. Repeat the number that was hard once more to see if it is easier for them.
Last go back to in breath being 10 and increase out breathe length by 2 repeating same process as you did for in breath.
This will start to expand the lungs to get more oxygen into the body which gains more relaxation. It will also help to teach the rider how to feel heavier as they take in more air to help deepen the seat.
Once you reach the max amount of time for both in and out breath, try to make a note so next time you see if they can go longer. Ask them how they feel different from before the exercise to after to give you feedback.
3. Breathing in rhythm of horse's gaits. This one I love the most! Each rider will count the strides either in walk or trot to start. Once they understand have them do it in canter. You want them to take an in breath and out breath that equals the same number of strides. So if they breathe in for 2 strides they should breathe out for 2 strides. This number changes as speed increases and that is ok.
Note: Remind them to count by moving lips or under breath in the beginning to not get lost inside the head and forget or get out of rhythm with breath.
Note: To keep the rhythm of breath with the horse - in walk count when one of the front legs moves to be able to count strides not footfalls. In trot, count when the rider sits each time to have the down beat keep a regulation to the horses rhythm. It will also help when out breath is on the down beat to help hold rhythm from the burdening the breath creates.
There are many other ways that you can use to help a rider relax these of just my go to examples. Give these a try and let me know if any of them helped you. If you use other exercises that have helped you as a teacher or rider please share as I love expand the options i can give a rider to reach their goals. Happy learning and sharing!!