A thought for Tuesday morning...
Lately I've been going to yoga class more often, and last night I was musing about a particular movement that is difficult for me. At first, I was thinking, 'I've got to try harder to get that right.' But as I thought about it more, I realized that if I obsessed about it, I'd get more and more tense as that movement approached in the sequence. What I need to do instead is learn to breathe through it. Let the breath be my guide, and let it help my body figure out how to do what I'm asking it to do.
It's the same with the horses. By fitting your aids into the rhythm of their breath and other natural movements, you can teach them to do anything. It's when they (we) stop breathing deeply that they become stiff, resistant, uncoordinated, and often, scared.
Having a clear picture of what you want your horse's body to do is also crucial. If you aren't sure how a particular movement should be performed, you should watch as many training sessions as you can at all levels with many different horses. Especially when performed with a trainer who knows how to teach the horse to breathe.
Lately I've taken my training sessions with my Thoroughbred, Julian, back to square one for this reason. He does everything I ask him to do, promptly, but he isn't present. He isn't breathing. (As you can imagine, this can devolve pretty quickly for both of us if something stressful happens.) So we're working on the ground (either in hand, on the longe, or at liberty) at walk and a little trot. We halt frequently so that I can ask him to tune in to me, soften, take a deep breath. He holds a lot of tension in his neck while working, so I'm helping him to learn to release it. We had reached a plateau with our work a couple of years ago, and now I realize, this is why. He wasn't breathing. It might sound boring to go back to basics like this, but I'm loving it, and I think he is too. It's not about results anymore; we are both more in the moment. We are becoming closer with every breath.