I rest my hands lightly on Peanut's right flank. The touch is light, so light as to tickle for many horses, but not for Peanut. I watch and feel his breath, being with him in the expansion and contraction of his breath. Together, we lengthen our exhales, just a little. Together we deepen the exhale through deeper abdominal contraction, just a little.
I notice that I am holding a bit in the back of my upper thighs, so I exhale that out. Peanut releases his flank a little more. I notice I have some tightness in the space between my upper scapulae and spinal column. Today, this isn't mine.
I'm reminded of the work we've been doing in our yoga classes these last few weeks, as we practice our asana and pranayama (postures and breath work). In pranayama as taught by the Desikachars, which you can read about in the Heart of Yoga, we inhale to fill the upper, middle, and lower chest and then the abdomen. We exhale from the abdomen, through lower, middle, upper chest. This is full diaphragmatic chest breathing, engaging abdominal contraction. It's helpful to exhale first for many, and then experience the in-flow of the inhale.
In a horse, the withers are well defined, and a good place to observe, feel, and practice filling the torso with breath. (That's a picture of Gary, showing the location of the withers. ) This is also an area in horses, like humans, that can get constrained and breathwork is one of the best ways to address this constraint.
Peanut is not expanding very much in this area today. (Peanut is a horse known to be a bit of a breath-holder.) So, once again, I use that tickle touch. I place the fingers of my right hand in the hollow below is left wither, and the fingers of my left hand stay in his flank area, and then we commence to breathe together in that long, slow deliberate way. Peanut begins to release through his mouth, (long tongue in a slow lick and chew), draws in a deep breath, and relaxes completely. (One thing about a male horse, you know when he's totally relaxed, because he'll drop his penis.)
Peanut has been a great yoga teacher for me these last few days. For one thing, he's the kind of horse you would never guess would appreciate a tickle touch. He's big and energetic, and is, well, quirky at times. He's also a horse that likes you to be either up close and personal, or, well, way far away. We've had to work through some of these spatial issues, and now I'm happy to be invited into his space. Namaste, Peanut!