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Breathe Life Into Your Riding, by Jenny Rolfe


Book review by Leigh Ballard

In Breathe Life Into Your Riding, Jenny Rolfe took a big step in writing a book all about breathing, core energy and body awareness, and how these help improve training and riding, especially for the dressage horse. Taken from her long experience and relationship with horses, she found that her breathing exercises and techniques are similar to principles of Tai Chi and the subtle energy of breathing. While some of her instruction may seem somewhat unusual, using breathing as an invisible energy force for connecting with and achieving harmony with the horse has been successful for her. She owns several stallions, who are used as examples of her techniques throughout the book.

She recounts the amazing epiphany which led to her theories. She was seriously frustrated in trying to ride her highly energetic bullfighting stallion from Spain, when she heaved a huge sigh of despair and started breathing deeply to relax and relieve her frustration. The horse’s demeanor suddenly changed when her energy level changed so dramatically! She explored this response with that horse, as well as others, and now after many years, uses that horse to teach others about the deep level of communication that can be achieved with breathing and body awareness.

While the book is very philosophical about the concepts of energy and balance and harmony, connections with the universe and with animals, personal empowerment and the like, Rolfe also provides some practical exercises. She works the horse extensively in “loose” exercises (also known as “at liberty”). These exercises are designed to give the horse confidence and connection to the rider. She explains how to use body language, breathing, and core energy to direct the horse.

Rolfe also describes how to use breathing and energy flow in work under saddle. She gives descriptions of how to breathe into walk, breathe into trot, breathe into rein-back, and breathe into other transitions. She describes how to use the energy flow from your core to develop sensitivity and responsiveness from the horse.

Rolfe maintains that horses respond to breathing as they respond to other aids. She says, “The horse will quickly listen to core breathing as the first aid in asking for any change, whether in pace, gait or direction. Techniques of breathing will energise a lazy horse or, equally, calm an anxious horse. Breathing awareness will enhance communication between horse and rider; this will open up a path towards harmony and lightness.”

Don’t be put off by the seemingly esoteric nature of this book. If you think about it, it does make practical sense in horse training and riding, and contains some valid points. I recommend it for riders and trainers who are trying to achieve extremely sensitive connections with their horse. There are some valuable concepts in this book that can make a difference for riders at high levels of performance, as well as being valuable for personal development and emotional health

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