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Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

A thermometer simply reflects the temperature. A thermostat determines the temperature; it can be adjusted and suited to the needs of the environment and the room.

Let’s imagine one of the following scenarios:

  • You are at a clinic, the instructor is new to you and there is a full gallery of auditors

  • You have arrived at a competition, it’s the last qualifier of the season, you are yet to qualify

  • You are leading your horse out for a walk in-hand and you notice a pheasant that might jump out the bush ahead


A 'thermometer rider' might begin to feel their heart race, their breathing get shallower. The tension starts to creep into their shoulders and their knees grip just a little more, they aren’t releasing the rein pressure. In their head they start to negatively forecast potential outcomes. Their horse copies them and they spiral together, making their negative forecasts reality. After they are finished they mentally rehearse the scenario, practicing over and over in great detail the tension, the shallow breathing, the racing heart, and forecasting again onto future events.


A 'thermostat rider' might begin with a positive affirmation and a smile. Taking a deep inhale through their nose before a long, slow exhale out through their mouth. They repeat this until they feel their horse mirror them and breathe underneath their seat. They scan their body for tension, then actively release it. With a clear head they ask their horse to do something simple that they can succeed at. The thermostat rider also knows when to change the environment and set up for success another way, or even day.

In their study investigating horse-human interaction, Keeling et al., 2009, found that humans who were anticipating the occurrence of a frightening incident while leading or riding a horse caused an increase in both their own and the horse’s heart rate.

One useful tool to help to help lower your heart rate is diaphragmatic breathing. It offers several benefits including helping you relax, improved muscle function during exercise, increasing blood oxygen and reducing blood pressure. Here's how to practise it:

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support, if that's more comfortable.

  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.

  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.

  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position. 

Begin practising for 5 mins daily lying down. As your diaphragm gets stronger, progress to practising sitting and then riding.

What tools do you have in your toolkit to make you an effective thermostat rider, remembering that the ‘temperature’ may need to go up as well as down?


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