By Nicole Ponte

“The person who has stopped breathing will be in the panic zone. Once you are in the panic zone, you’re not processing mentally anymore….you’re frozen basically.” —Mary Wanless

Ever exit the show ring gasping for air? The average hunter course is two and a half minutes long, and a training level dressage test is four and a half minutes. Imagine trying to hold your breath that long. It is common for many to struggle with holding their breath or not taking proper breaths while on horseback due to a variety of reasons. While it may not seem a big deal, it is truly detrimental to your riding with the tension it produces.

Some riders hold their breath due to not wanting to appear larger in the stomach than they really are. When properly breathing, your stomach should expand, and in a sport aesthetic as well as athletic in nature, some deem the expansion of their midsection undesirable—especially in the equitation ring. However, when taking shallow breaths, moving your shoulders and not your stomach, it brews tension in you, which is transferred to your horse. When not taking in sufficient oxygen, you are also often left feeling dizzy, which could lead to a fall or worse. Here are some tips to assure you are breathing properly!


Do not think of “growing tall,” it only hollows your back and contributes to breathing shallowly from your chest. Instead, think “sink down”.

Practice proper “belly breathing” by laying on your back and placing a book on your stomach and your hands on your shoulders. When you inhale, if the book moves, you are breathing properly, if your shoulders move, you are not.

If you have a habit of holding your breath, practice breathing in time with your horse’s gait.

Practice breathing with your nose because you have more airway than with your mouth.
The feeling you get after yawning is what you want to strive for—practice yawning to encourage proper breathing technique.

If you truly struggle, consider taking a handful of voice lessons. It is optional to sing, and you will practice proper breathing with feedback from a professional.

Want to know more? Check out:

“Yawning” by Andrew Newburg on page 26 of Network News

Mary Wanless ‘Ride With Your Mind’ blog

“Take a Deep Breath” from Harvard Health Publications

-“6 Breathing Exercises to Help You Relax in 10 Minutes or Less” from Time