Remember to Breathe

Susanne von Dietze critiques Jacque Werner at Training Level

Credit: Courtesy, Jacque Werner Jacque Werner and her 7-year-old Friesian, Caspian, compete at Training Level.

This photo shows Jacque Werner on her 7-year-old Friesian, Caspian, in a Training Level test. As this was only his second show, Jacque admitted that she had been extremely nervous even though Caspian behaved very well. Caspian does look like a fun horse to ride. Typical for the Friesian breed, he has the deep black, shiny coat with the long mane, tail and flowing hair on the legs. A Friesian horse has a natural elevation in his movement, which can be helpful for the movements that require collection, but also challenges true stretching and suppleness of the back. 

I really like how Caspian is stepping with his hind leg under his rider’s weight and his trot movement appears forward and uphill. He not only moves his hind leg well forward and under, but you can see that he already lowers his croup on the same side, a sign that he is supple and mobile in his back and truly active from behind. This shows he is ready to bend in his haunches and take more weight onto his hind legs. His frame does not look so much like a Training Level frame, as he could easily work in Second Level in this frame, too. Caspian looks eager and forward with nice contact. If I were being very critical, I would say that Jacque could allow his nose a bit more forward, but it is also not entirely possible to judge that from this angle. He is keeping his mouth closed and has nice foam around it.

Zooming in, I notice that the bit is showing out too much to the left side. This can either be caused by more contact on the left (inside) rein or it is a sign that the bit is a little too broad for his mouth. Even though Friesian horses can have rather large heads, they can sometimes be very narrow in the jaw.

Studying Jacque, I can see that she was very nervous. This shows in her upper body with her shoulders and arms revealing some tension. The first impression here is that the horse appears to enjoy his work, whereas Jacque is just trying to hold it all together, not daring to enjoy it yet. Her basic seat looks fine, just over-concentrated and a bit tight. 

To help overcome this nervous anxiety and tension, counting steps and breathing can be a very good method. Counting helps a rider to think and ride forward in rhythm. When counting out loud, the rider needs to breathe out in a regular rhythm, and the longer the count and the breathing out, the better the rider’s coordination and suppleness can become. In athletics, runners train to breathe in a certain rhythm while they run. The rule is to keep breathing out longer than breathing in. For example, breathe in for three steps and breathe out for five steps.

In riding, this can be done just the same. Simply remembering to breathe out longer can get rid of some unwanted tension and improve the coordination of the core muscles substantially. Riders are often told to breathe in before a corner or before a half halt. But if they then forget to breathe out during the corner or the half halt, negative tension might develop. To remain relaxed, try this: Grow in your body and spine while breathing in and then keep your spine elongated while breathing out. Feel how your shoulders and arms can relax while you maintain your core stability without any unwanted outside tension. Concentrating on your own breathing helps you to focus on proper suppleness and following the horse’s movement in a more fluid, forward way. 

Jacque’s left hand is turned inward a little, and this is the rein where I can see the bit coming out of the horse’s mouth. She should make a mental note to keep her hand more upright so she can be quicker and more refined in releasing the rein into an elastic, light contact, starting from her fingers—not from her arm. Lastly, now and then remember to smile. Sitting on such a flashy and beautiful horse, the rider should also allow herself to shine and smile. I am sure that Jacque and Caspian will both enjoy showing more and more. Training Level is certainly not the limit for them. 

Susanne von Dietze is a leader in equestrian biomechanics. A physiotherapist, licensed Trainer A instructor and judge for dressage and show jumping, she gives lectures and seminars throughout the world, including at the prestigious German Riding Academy in Warendorf. She is a native of Germany and now lives with her husband and three children in Israel, where she competes at the international level. She is the author of two books on the biomechanics of riding: Balance in Movement and Horse and Rider, Back to Back. Find her books at






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