Admitting You’re Wrong.

WMNubeTackSkyDo you remember the first time you wanted to be right? It might predate memory or even language. Being good is immediately quantified after birth; we’re tested before we even leave the hospital. It’s our first “percentile.”

Learning a foundation of right and wrong is job-one for babies of any species. It keeps us healthy and safe. Some of us had parents who used positive reinforcement to teach us and some of us were motivated by fear, but by the time we were in school vying for gold stars, we were well on our way. Some choices were spiritual and some were cultural. It got confusing; some bad things felt very good! Sometimes doing the right thing turned wrong quickly. In erratic and unpredictable ways, black could seem like white.

In other words, life is the act of sliding around somewhere on the gray spectrum. We’re able to imagine the final destination of success or failure, but we spend most of our time ankle-deep in muck, negotiating the trail to get there and trying to make peace with compromise. Seeing things as black or white becomes almost nostalgic.

Meanwhile, some of us are on horses. We might be thoughtless and rude in our feeling of entitlement. Or maybe we’re holding our breath, trying too hard, and scrutinizing every step looking for fault. Humans are tedious.

Let’s say things start just fine. You and your horse are tacked up and ready to go. You have a plan for the ride that might involve learning something new or completing a task. Or you could have a nearly impossible goal–to just enjoy the ride. Then your horse takes his first steps. It’s right about here that your plan gets challenged and you might over-react. After all, your fundamental beliefs are being poked.

It doesn’t actually matter what you asked your horse. Maybe the cue was unclear, or maybe your horse volunteered something else. What you know for sure is that there is wrongness. It isn’t what you asked for and now it’s life or death–heaven or hell–and every future moment of leadership and training hangs in the balance. We’re taught that this instant will define your ultimate success with your horse…good or bad.

Did I mention humans are tedious? We come by it honestly. There was that problem you had with reading comprehension in second grade that threatened your entire adult career. That bad hairdo on prom night that destroyed your chances of ever marrying well. Not to mention the deal you made with your math teacher, trading a passing grade for a promise to never return. We acquire an inflated definition of cause and effect early on.

If you notice yourself looking for someone to punish, human or equine, just stop. The real challenge is breaking the habit of seeing everything in our Technicolor world on some fuzzy, old, black-and-white television.

When it comes to horses, I’m not sure which is worse: the arrogance of believing you’re divinely right and someone who must be blindly obeyed, or the insecurity of feeling wrong and fearing that no matter what you do, it won’t ever work out. Either way, this is the place where horses do their very best work with us.

In other words, get over it. Be the first to be flexible, to forgive and move on. In the end, the one who has the most creative perception, the one who can see the spark of good and rewards that instant, wins their freedom.

Meanwhile, back in the saddle, you take a breath. He didn’t give what you thought you asked for, but it was a response. Say thank you and ask again. The real conversation between horse and rider begins after the first steps, after you’ve avoided that first obstacle of needing to be perfect. Because riding well has little to do with the horse and more to do with our need to be right. Instead of being ruled by extremes, remember the games we played as kids and reward him when he’s getting warmer. Most of all, give yourself permission to do it wrong, on the way to doing it right. 

The problem with being right is that it needs reflection against something wrong, so almost by definition, it polarizes your horse. Judge less, negotiate more. Become lost in the conversation,

“Just a bit more forward, that’s good. Would you trot, please? Thank you. Try this slower rhythm. I know, but try to balance back. There, that’s perfect. Feel that cool breeze, being together is good. Now, let’s walk…”

We take training so seriously, and of course, positive progress matters. But in the process, if we judge ourselves in the extreme of good or bad, we get stingy and small. There isn’t much room for joy and passion and fun–the fuel that sparks partnership.

So much about good horsemanship is perception gained from hindsight–the other side of the experience. Needing right-ness narrows that view and chokes down the opportunity for learning. And for those of us with insecurities, needing right-ness about our own shortcomings might be the most limiting thing of all.

When I’m giving a lesson or a clinic, and I make a decision with a horse that doesn’t work, I like to point it out. I call it a mistake right there in broad daylight. Then I ask another way. I know that in the end, I’ll find understanding with the horse but in the meantime, I invite everyone to watch as I demonstrate what it looks like to be human. It isn’t the worst thing.

Mistakes happen. If we believe horses are sentient beings, and we do, then know they are capable of understanding our full selves; our strengths as well as our shortcomings. They prove it by forgiving us. Breathe, apologize and start again, this time in the lightness of living color.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

26 thoughts on “Admitting You’re Wrong.

  1. Lynell Abbott

    Mentally and emotionally, your words so resonate with me. Now if I could just get to that place where those words become one with me, my horses would be forever grateful to you. Thanks, Anna!

    1. NO! The real beauty of this whole deal is that your horses are grateful to YOU!! Yay. Thanks, Lynell, and your horses want you to give yourself a break. 🙂

  2. Dee Morris

    Wonderful words, Anna. And like all great writing you feel it’s being written only for you😁The only downside is that you give me brain envy lol

    1. I have the blessing/curse of thinking too much… not sure brain envy is really what you want… you probably sleep more than I do! But thanks for the compliment, Dee!

  3. I so love this! Years of catch riding for owners or trainers taught me to wait on making an immediate judgement on anything during a ride, unless I need to take charge to keep us safe…which has happened maybe twice in 30 years, lol. I know I’m not the best rider. Not putting myself down. It’s reality. I stick well, and I’m pretty good at negotiating and finding common ground. Here is my favorite thank god I suspended judgement on a “bad” behavior: riding absolutely stellar horse. Kind, thoughtful, trusting, happy, fun. Every single time I got on, he’d try to walk quickly off in a rank and bad tempered way, while I was still in the air. Safety issue here. This is SO WRONG I have to fix it, if he does it with me, he does it with his owner.
    Bing Bing Bing. There’s the pause in judging him as wrong. I figured out a safer way to get on until I could hook up with his owner, and did not punish him. Funny. He got better and better. Relaxed a little. I happened to be there when his owner got on…a very tall guy, and saw his offside boot accidentally jab the horse in the back of the foreleg as he landed. Cue walking off in a grumpy manner, because a) he heard a rude walk on, and b) it was startling and it hurt. Thank goodness I didn’t punish him for walking off with me. It was truly accidental. Guy loves this horse, horse loves him, didn’t happen every time. Found a kind way to communicate what “might be going on” when we discussed this bad behavior and what we could do. Win win. Why is this so hard to do with people…? Lol.

    1. You describe what I always think is my job as a trainer… assume that the horse’s response is fair and then look at the big picture. Too often we “fix” things that are messages about other things. What’s more fun than having an open, creative mind, Jane? Great comment!

  4. JKS

    Anna, I’m curious about your perspective on something- most of the time, my horse is sweet and willing and tries hard, and I reward him well for it. But some days, he turns into a toddler who wants to see what kind of shenanigans he can get away with. On those days, I ask for very little- often only forward at a calm walk, and again, rewarding well for doing as I ask. I try very hard to let it still be a conversation, but at times I feel like I have to be the mean mommy and say NO- what you’re doing right now is dangerous and I can’t let you continue.

    Where do you draw the line at allowing the horse to speak his mind, and “laying down the law” for safety’s sake? There’s never an element of punishment, but a firm “this is not acceptable” and refusing to take no for an answer (while rewarding handsomely for even a tiny yes).

  5. This is the hard question; the one about perception. It depends on the horse. Safety must rule, and situations vary… but I will say this. If I do need his attention, in the way you mention, I can only do it once and then have to go back to quiet asking. In other words, those times come but I can not escalate more than once. I would rather go back to something we can succeed at, and begin again, rather than fight through something he’s resistant about. If he is truly frightened, that changes things. If I’m rushing him, (in his opinion) then I slow down and give him a chance to settle. Out of context, I don’t know that I can describe it any better… If you find a similar video of some sort, I’d be happy to talk about it… Hope that helps, Thanks.

    1. JKS

      The particular issue at hand was “I would rather stand here at a halt than walk some more. What’s that? you want to go forward? nah, I’m gonna back up instead.” After halting, checking to make sure I wasn’t accidentally signalling a rein-back, I asked again. Same result. Sorry buddy, I’m pretty darn sure I can’t allow you to back up into that angry mare that’s pinning her ears harder the closer you get. So yeah- he got both heels asking for forward, instead of a light brush with one. He grudgingly did it, and got a “good boy”, and we went back to the light signals afterwards.

      I’m torn on this. I believe that I acted correctly, and I suspect he felt it was fair as well because of how he acted….but at the same time I also doubt myself, like…was I missing a signal he was giving or was he grouchy for some other reason? I’m usually quite aware of when there’s a real issue but when he does these things he REALLY reminds me of a small child testing his boundaries.

      1. So now I could ask more questions, like his age, but I like that you are still thinking. Maybe a pattern will show up eventually. Maybe not. He could have seen something; heard something that was below your radar…If he acted like it was fair, I’d trust him this time. (Backing up is not okay, I agree.) Now let’s see how it goes in the future.

  6. Anna, I love this! Trust based leadership is what I focus on. I am about to start coaching teens and young adults with the help of my equine friends. Their essential gifts are what I partner with. Trust goes both ways with horses and humans especially teens. If you can’t admit your own mistakes why should they?? I have struggled with this most of my life because I was not raised to make mistakes. I made plenty but could not ask for help. A long road! I will keep this message close. Thank you and Namaste!

  7. it’s a beautiful thing when you and your horse connect heart to heart, not head to head. Ask not demand, we need to practice this in all our everyday situations. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Anna, your writing is a godsend and a major source of relief…………only in the last few months I have learned from your writing and my pony that thanking and praising, no matter how big or (often) unrecognisable the gaps are between what I thought I asked her for and what actually occurs………and then after the thanking and praising regardless, somehow at the next time of asking all is suddenly easy and “right”. I have no idea how this works but for us it IS working……Also I have really learned from you how to confidently keep going back to the baby steps or to any exercise where we just feel happy together, and most importantly of all how
    to IGNORE other peoples opinions, it all helps so much. Thank you. Your profound words “Go slow and you will soon catch up” reverberate forever in my head when I am with my pony.

  9. “In the end, the one who has the most creative perception… wins their freedom.”
    well that sums it up quite powerfully…

    Here’s to freedom for all beings!

    much love and gratitude,Anna.
    kindly,
    Sabina

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