Box Breathing for Nervous Riders

In a recent post I discussed box breathing and how I was going to commit to practicing it twice a day. The purpose of this was to help calm my nerves. As I mentioned in that post, I have a tendency to get a bit anxious in certain situations on my horse. My hope is that practicing box breathing will give me a bit more control over my nerves.


I fully expect that many of you do not know what box breathing is. However, if you are an anxious rider, I encourage you to read on. Box breathing can be a great way of not only reducing anxiety but also increasing performance and concentration.

What is Box Breathing?

Box breathing is a method of controlling your breath, bringing it back to a normal pace during times of stress or anxiety. It is an extremely powerful yet simple form of anxiety management that is utilized by everyone from athletes to soldiers. This technique can be used anywhere and can take just minutes to start having an impact on the person doing the breathing.

Why Does Box Breathing Work?

When anxious or stressed, a person’s breathing will tend to accelerate – even without them noticing it. It is a natural reaction and is part of the fight or flight response. An increased heart rate and increased blood pressure also often accompany this increased breathing rate.

Box Breathing

If you force your body to slow down and breathe slow and deep, you send a message to your brain that it is okay to calm down and relax. Deep breathing increases the oxygen in your body. This, in turn, cues the parasympathetic nervous system to chill out.


In addition, deep breathing, like that done during box breathing, connects a person to their body. If you are like me, when you get anxious, your mind goes a million miles a minute. For example, when getting ready to run my horse I might start thinking about a whole bunch of potential what if’s.


What if he slips?
What if he spooks?
What if I fall off?


My mind swirls around and around in a sea of made up scenarios. The longer they sit there, the worse it gets until my hands are shaking and my stomach hurts.


But when you do box breathing, your mind doesn’t have room for that. Your mind is specifically focused on the breathing. It cannot simultaneously think about the scary banner behind the second barrel or the fact that my horse once fell down on me. It’s amazing how calm you can get when you don’t have a circus going on in your head.

How to do Box Breathing

Ideally, when you do box breathing, you want to be sitting in a comfortable chair, sitting up straight. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your hands relaxed in your lap. At least that’s what most people say.

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To me, this seems a bit silly. The purpose of box breathing is to calm you down in stressful situations. How often are you sitting like that when you are stressed out? Maybe once in a while. For me, if I get anxious on a horse, then that’s where I need to practice. I need to sit on my horse and breathe. If you want to start in a comfortable chair, that’s great. However, once you get the hang of it, I think it’s important to move it to more realistic scenarios.


Step One
I usually begin my box breathing by breathing in. Breathe in for a count of four. One…two…three…four… Feel the air entering and filling your lungs.


Step Two
Hold the air in your lungs for another count of four.  One…two…three…four…


Step Three
Gently exhale all of the air out of your lungs.  One…two…three…four…


Step Four
Hold this position with your lungs empty for another four seconds.  One…two…three…four…


It will usually take more than a few breaths to get you feeling calm. For most people, it will take around five minutes. This gives the oxygen now in your body the opportunity to act on the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your heart rate and gearing down your fight or flight response.

Success Tips

If you find holding for four seconds, at any time, is difficult, try using three seconds. Over time you will become more comfortable with the process and will easily be able to hold the full four seconds.


In the beginning, you may find yourself getting dizzy. This can be an issue, particularly if you are practicing on a horse! In this case I would recommend practicing in a chair. Eventually your body will adapt to the technique and you will no longer become dizzy.


Having difficulty concentrating on your breathing? Find a quiet, dimly lit spot to practice until you get a hang of the technique. Think of it as studying. When you are learning something new, you need to concentrate in a quiet place. Once you have learned the topic, you are able to put it into practice just about anywhere, regardless of what is going on. The same will be the case with box breathing.

Finish Line Thoughts

If calming down and concentrating for your run were as simple as taking deep breaths, wouldn’t you do it? Of course! Unfortunately, many people don’t know that it can be that easy. Now that you have this information, put it into practice. I challenge you to practice your box breathing two times a day for at least four minutes a session. You will be amazed at where it will come in handy, on and off of your horse.


And remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.


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