A horse riding lesson with Tanja Mitton

learning to breathe

In the spotlight


To tell you the truth, I’ve never really had formal riding lessons. I was taught to ride by my father on the dusty plains in rural Queensland. Thinking back the true teachers were the horses I rode. They certainly weren’t push button ponies by any standard. Dad put me and my two siblings on a range of horses from a 17hh home-bred race horse called Oakley, I still remember his lovely loping canter across the cultivation. To a pony called Princess who was too fat for a saddle so we rode her bareback. Princess used to snort when pushed into a canter, which she only did after being cajoled with a stick.

It’s only been later in life since acquiring my young horses and having to educate them myself that I’ve been seeking as much information as possible on horse education. I’m so thirsty to learn everything and I don’t think horses ever stop teaching you. I’m very excited about my current teacher, Tanja Mitton, who is a nationally acclaimed equestrian coach who conveniently lives twenty minutes away from my home.


So far, I’ve had two lessons with Tanja (pictured above) on my thoroughbred mare, Tilly, who currently plays polo, with the aim of dipping my toe into the world of eventing. What appeals to me about eventing is the cross-country jumping, I’m not too fussed on the dressage or the show jumping, but the cross country jumping combines my love of break-neck speed and leaping over impossible heights.

Tanja is my link to the world of eventing, and if its okay with you, I’ll be sharing what I’m learning on my blog. I’ve had two x one hour lessons and they’ve been quite remarkable. Have you ever considered your breath when riding your horse and centring yourself so you are completely and utterly in the moment? I find it extraordinarily hard to be in the moment and my mind is always stumbling over itself with thoughts and ideas.

Breathing was the crux of my first lesson with Tanja. As soon as I entered the sand arena Tilly’s head was held high and completely distracted with her external surroundings with no awareness of me her rider.

Tanja explained that Tilly was picking up on my energy and I needed to relax and concentrate on my breathe, especially the breathe out. She said imagine jumping into a 50 metre pool and exhaling your breathe slowly until you reached the end. Do this when riding and actively relax your body and tap into the feeling of the horses movement beneath you.

It took Tilly nearly the entire one hour lesson to slow her quick paced walk and short-stride trot and start listening to my breathe and it took me the entire one hour lesson to get my breathing correct. Tilly’s acknowledgement was to breathe out, lick her lips, drop her head, slow down, her ears would twitch back to me, these are all good signs that she was beginning to listen to me and my relaxed energy.

In the trot, Tilly would want to speed up rather than slow down, and as Tanja instructed, concentrate on breathing out by counting to eight, don’t pull on the reins, just breathe out and relax.

The second lesson was even better, building on from the first and after practising quite a lot at home, we got stuck into it. Tilly was responding to my breath so nicely Tanja instructed me to get a feel for Tilly’s hind leg when it moved underneath her and to co-ordinate this with my pelvis. She mentioned that my hips should be moving in a semi-circle in unison with Tilly’s hind legs so that we moved as one rather than my body blocking her natural movement.

This was extremely helpful to feel at one with Tilly’s stride when we took it into the sitting trot. Her head was beautifully tucked, with no pressure on the reins, and she was working from the hind and on the circle at a perfect bend. I was flabbergasted to believe that I could get her moving textbook perfect with my breathe, legs and movement of my pelvis.

Tanja picked up that I was quite stiff on my left hand shoulder which was having a knock-on effect with Tilly’s movement. As soon as I released my shoulder Tilly responded by giving.

Again at the canter, Tanja asked me to position my outer leg behind the girth and concentrate on my pelvis moving in unison with her hips with my inside leg open as to not restrict her. The next lesson we’re going to build on this premise and work on transitions and flying changes.

I can hardly wait. Stay tuned.

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