Breathing techniques for equestrians – beat stressful days at the barn or in the saddle!


  • Some days are just more stressful than others. So what can you do to alleviate that stress, so that your horse gets to enjoy you in full, stress-free glory? One thing you can do is pick your favorite breathing technique. I suggest doing a few minutes before you even get out of your car at the barn. Maybe you need to repeat as you are grooming and tacking up. Maybe there’s a technique that works for you in the saddle to help alleviate any riding anxiety.


  • There’s no magic formula here, except to remember that your breath is the key to calming your mind and bringing you into the present moment. Experiment with these breathing techniques and really make them your own!


For most of these exercises, finding a quiet spot to rest on your back or in a comfortable seating position is best. Eyes closed typically helps you relax, also.


Soothing exhales:


  • Take some long, deep, satisfying inhales through the nose and long sighs as you exhale through the mouth.


  • This one is great to do in the saddle, although I might keep my eyes opened! Most horses immediately respond to your sigh and begin to relax, also.


Belly Breathing:


  • Close your eyes and rest one hand on your belly and one hand over your heart.


  • Start to follow your inhales and exhales as they travel through your body. Send your focus to your breath and notice what it does to your body.


  • Notice that your hands rise and fall with your breath. Breathe even deeper and slower for a different sensation.


  • Practice for a few minutes, repeat as necessary.


Counted breath:


  • There are lots of ways to do this one, it will depend on how you like to count it out. A common one is the 4-7-8, but sometimes you need to start it at 4-3-4 and work up. Here’s what that means:


  • The first number of 4-7-8 is how high to count on the inhale. 1-2-3-4


  • The second number is how long to HOLD your breath at the top of an inhale. You might start from 1-2-3-4 and expand up to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 or higher. Stop holding your breath before you start to be uncomfortable.


  • The last number of 4-7-8 is how high to count on the exhale. 1-2-3-4 up to 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 or higher. Stop when you start to be uncomfortable.


  • So….4-7-8 means inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8. Again – you can do any combo of numbers here.


up close photo of a relaxed horse face with one ear cocked back

When your mind is quiet and calm, his mind is quiet and calm. Be the leader!


Counted breath variation:


  • For this breathing technique, there’s an inhale, hold, exhale, hold. And just like the previous counted breath, you may mix up the times to suit your needs that day.


  • Inhale for a count of 4. Really fill up and let your ribs expand.


  • Hold at the top for a count of 2.


  • Exhale for a count of 4. Empty your lungs and notice your belly coming towards your spine.


  • Hold at the bottom for a count of 2.


  • You can also try this one without the counting, and simply move onto the next step when it feels right.

One more counted breath variation!


  • Take a few moments to find some stillness and quiet. Then start to count backward from 30.


  • Inhale and say 30 in your mind.


  • Exhale and say 29 in your mind.


  • Inhale and say 28 in your mind.


  • Exhale and say 27 in your mind.

You see where this is going…. if you get distracted or lose count, you can start from the top. You don’t have to make it to zero. You only have to feel more relaxed and zen than when you started.


alternate nostril breathing


Alternate nostril breath. This one’s great if you can be seated.


  • Position your pointer and middle finger over one of your nostrils. Your thumb covers the other one.


  • Close the left nostril.


  • Inhale through the right.


  • Close the right nostril and hold the inhale.


  • Release the left nostril and exhale on the left.


  • Inhale through the left nostril.


  • Close the left and hold the inhale.


  • Release the right nostril and exhale.


  • Inhale through the right and keep the cycle going.


There are really no “secrets” to these breathing techniques. They are designed to help you clear your mind and focus your attention on how the breath travels through your body. As you practice these, you will likely become more aware of when you need them! Your horse will also start to notice a difference, and you will be able to influence his state of mind with yours.