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Joined: Sun Apr 1st, 2007
Posts: 127
Status:  Offline
Posted: Sun May 25th, 2008 03:38 pm
During a recent conversation at the Harry Whitney horsemanship camp in TN we discussed the sounds a horse makes when breathing.  OR NOT.  One of those sounds was what I describe as rollers in the nose when the horse lets out a breath with each stride.  This is especially noticeable at the canter.  We were discussing with Harry if this was a sign of tension or not.  Does the movement of the ribcage effect the expelling of air?  Harry said a horse's breathing is often in time with his foot fall.  When is breathing just breathing?  When is the type of breathing noticeable as tension or a holding back in the horse.  I have certainly felt the breath being held in the horse, that holding back and not letting go.  When they finally do there is a lot of nose clearing and blowing at least in my horse's case.  Why does the breath match the rhythm of the stride?

I tried to use the search engine on this subject but didn't find anything that would answer my question.  Would this be discussed in any of the articles on the home page? 

Thank you,


Super Moderator

Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3335
Status:  Offline
Posted: Mon May 26th, 2008 12:28 am
No, Kathy, there's nothing in particular on this question in "Knowledge Base", and it's a good question.

Yes, Harry's right when he observes that a horse's breathing is often in time with his footfalls. This tends especially to be the case at the canter, in other words, an actual one-to-one correspondence. But it also often happens at the walk and trot, on a two or three steps-to-one breath ratio. Obviously the horse will usually breathe slower at a walk because the vigor of the gait is so much less.

As to holding their breath: actually, I think horses do this only when they're pretty uptight, i.e. you would also notice their head going up and other larger signs of worry and concern. If you're very observant, at times like this you'll also hear the initial INtake of breath -- like you would intake your breath as you slam on the brakes when a dog runs in front of the car. After the intake, you'll hear nothing for a number of seconds, and then there will be a big exhalation.

Horses that blow and snort as they are ridden can be doing that for quite a number of reasons. If it just occurs at the start of the ride, it may merely mean that the horse has been in a dusty pen or stall and is needing to clear his nose and sinuses out. I remember riding one horse years ago that just would not quit blowing and snorting. Finally I got off and walked around the front of him, and he had a spider crawling up his nose!

If it goes on all the time, though, or intermittently but continues periodically for the whole ride, it may indicate that the horse has an upper respiratory infection, a tooth abscess, clogged lachrimal ducts, asthma, allergies, or some other physical problem that needs to be addressed by your veterinarian.

Some horses blow and snort as a kind of accompaniment to rhythmic grunting -- they grunt and snort, and may start this anytime you up the athletic demand. In this case, it indicates he's "warming his abs up" or "warming his belly up", and again, it's no big deal and can even be a positive thing. Of course, SOME horses give a big snort-grunt-fart right before their head disappears between their front legs and they buck you off. That's less positive, indeed, but it at least still indicates athletic effort!

The roller-in-the-nose noise, that sounds sort of like snoring and is produced with the slow and prolonged INtake of breath, is a classic sign that tells you that the horse is seriously worried about something. The other roller-in-the-nose noise, that if you close your eyes sounds exactly like an old Ford F-100 tractor idling, is produced at the canter with each EXhale of breath.

Years ago, when I produced the first "audio horsemanship dialogues" on cassette tape, I said on that tape that this idling-tractor noise was no big deal. Our elderly teacher listened to that tape and took me aside on this point, saying that although it might not be the worst thing, it was still not a good thing and that I should have said so. He was right, of course, because when a horse is 100% OK on the inside, no matter how much effort he is called upon to make, and no matter what activity or environment he finds himself in, his breathing will be completely silent. Again: only a 100% OK horse has totally silent breathing.

Often, the horse fails to be 100% OK simply because, at some level, he wishes he were somewhere else. Our elderly teacher used to say to every group of people that met to hear him, that we should work all the time to get our horse " where he would rather be with you than anywhere else."

I embody this thought by the concept of the Birdie. No horse can be 100% OK when his Birdie is not completely with him. Harry would say "his brain" instead of "his Birdie", but it means the same thing. "His brain" includes his desires and all his thoughts. Your horse's thoughts and his will need to be on the job you've asked him to do.

This is why it is so VERY necessary that you not waffle, that you not have guilt. You know perfectly well that at no time in Harry's class are you ever going to be asking your horse to do something that the horse cannot succeed at, or couldn't handle. So you set it up and then you live out the consequences of your setup.

If you hear the breathing get loud, and you think it's not just warming up, nor either from a medical cause, then you need to STOP and set up again. Ray Hunt says: "you cannot go through something bad and come out good on the other side." That means even what seem to be the smaller types of "bad" things, like noisy breathing. Because, Kath, it turns out that there is in fact no such thing as a "small" thing in horsemanship; all the small things turn out to be big things.

Please greet Harry for me while you're at the camp, and tell him that as always, I wish him the best. -- Dr. Deb

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