Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fun Things

I have been absent from the Internet of late, thanks to a dodgy connection.  Ahh, the joys of country life!  I do enjoy my rural setting, I just wish the utilities were a little more reliable.  Every time a tree goes down around here we lose our electricity, cable, phone lines, and pretty much every other convenience of modern life.  And we're pretty much last on the list for getting utilities back up.  Oh well, I suppose there's a price for everything.  I'll pay this one.

The view alone makes it worthwhile.

I have had one victory against modern technology, though :  I figured out a good use for my new smart phone.  It plays music!  I know, many of you are now groaning, thinking to yourselves, "She didn't know it could play music?!"  Yes, it took me several weeks to figure out that you could download music to the iPhone and use it as a stereo type thingy (technical term).  Yes, I am iStupid.

But, now that I've figured it out, I'm pretty pleased.  I consider myself a music lover.  I have no talent for music, myself, but I do have a great deal of appreciation for it.  In my house, the radio is blaring almost constantly.  And I appreciate all kinds of music, from Classical to That Stuff That The Kids Are Listening To These Days.  I think music is less about genres, and more about feeling.  If a song makes you feel good,  then it's right.  Hmmm, that idea sounds familiar....  it sounds a lot like how to ride a horse.

So, I have my playlist, and I can put my phone in my pocket and listen to music while I ride.  The benefits of this arrangement are numerous.    Music has a way of energizing me, and my energy infects my horse.  But, my music also gives me something to sing to.

In various fairy tales, the heroine uses her beautiful singing voice to tame wild beasts to her bidding.  I can assure you, my singing voice is not beautiful, nor will it tame any wild beasts.  Singing does, however, regulate my breathing.  Regular breathing helps regulate my posture.  That's something that other sports have already figured out, but something riders seem to ignore.  I know people who run marathons, they talk about their breathing.  I know people who practice martial arts, they talk about their breathing.  I know people who practice Yoga and Pilates, they talk about their breathing.  I know very few riders who talk about their breathing!  Even riders who run marathons, or practice martial arts, or Yoga, or Pilates, do not talk about their breathing when it comes to sitting on a horse!  This is something that is very much overlooked in our sport...

I figured out many years ago, when I was riding sale horses and pretty much anything else that no one else would ride, that when I sang to the horse it relaxed and I had a better ride.  I did not understand why it helped back then, but it increased my profit margin, so I went with it. 

Many years, and a great deal of education in behavior and physiology later, I understand that my singing helped me relax, which in turn helped my horse relax.  When we get anxious, our body activates our autonomic nervous system.  The autonomic nervous system is an animal's "flight or fight" response.   When it is activated, our bodies take over our rational minds and send the message to just survive at all costs.  Our respiratory rate increases, our heart rate increases, our muscles tense, they tense to the point that we draw ourselves into a crouched position.  We are ready to spring into action at a moments notice, either to fight our foe, or to run from our predator.  This not really advantageous to riding a horse.  Actually, riding a horse goes against all of our self-preservation instincts.  Come to think of it, it goes against all the horse's self-preservation instincts, too.

But singing combats that instinct.  In order to sing, we must fill up our lungs to capacity.  To fill our lungs to capacity, we must breathe deeply.  The simple act of breathing deeply resets our conscious and calms our autonomic system.  To breathe deeply, we must lift our sternum and drop our diaphragm.  These movements require us to engage our abdominal muscles, which then creates a cascade of muscle movements throughout our bodies that improves our posture and balance.

Try it:  Fill up your lungs as though you were about to belt out your favorite opera aria, gospel hymn, Aretha Franklin tune, the latest Beyonce hit, or even your children's favorite nursery rhyme.  The song itself doesn't matter, the passion and soul behind the singing is what matters.  Don't half-ass it, you've really got to get into this song! 

As your lungs fill to belt out your song,  as your sternum lifts and your diaphragm drops and your abs engage, you can feel your chin lift to allow the song to escape your mouth.  That lifting of your chin balances your head over your shoulders.  Your shoulders have been brought back and down by the action of lifting your sternum.  Your spine has lengthened and is balanced perfectly over your hips by the action of your abdominal muscles.  Just by the simple action of preparing to sing a song, you have nearly achieved the perfect dressage position: ears, shoulders and hips balanced perfectly over each other.   All you have to worry about now is your arms and legs, but your exemplary core position and breathing has made them nice and relaxed.  They are ready to do just what you tell them to.

So, load up your favorite music device, saddle up and go forth to make a joyful noise!  Just like music inspires our passion and soul, so should riding.  Sure, you may look crazy singing show tunes while riding, but you'll be crazy like a fox.  A fox with good posture!


  1. I shoulda been singing on my fateful trail ride. *S*

    Singing is great and all the correct breathing it teaches serve us well in many pursuits.

    Years ago, my jumper trainer would have us take a deep breath in on the turn to a fence and then count out loud to breathe out as we approached the fence. This not only helped establish a rhythm but also kept us from tensing up in anticipation of the jump.

    Excellent post with great insight into this often neglected part of good riding.

  2. Interesting. I used to sing to nervous horses, but I haven't done it in years. I'll have to give it a whirl since I'm the one with relaxation problems to begin with.

  3. I feel your pain re rural utilities - ugh...

    Val loves it when I sing - not a connoisseur apparently. I really belt it out when no one else is around. Kacy from All Horse Stuff calls it trail opera! Puts me in the right frame of mind + body immediately. :)

  4. Great post! I used to sing to my horses too. :) When we rode at the dressage stable I worked at we always had music playing but I didn't sing because other people were around lol. Fantastic post. Yours are always so informative.

    On most smart phones you can also download the Pandora app. Totally awesome!! Check it out sometime.


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