Seriously Lighthearted

Do you ever get the impression that your show up at the barn and your horse is watching you with an expression of “who are you today?

Most of us have a few different personas. There’s the one for work; you watch your language there. The one for your oldest friend from high school; she’s the arbiter of honesty.  There is a “first” persona, for first dates, job interviews, and meeting strangers formally. We’re usually tense and shiny then, from trying too hard while simultaneously hoping to appear totally natural. Whew.

It isn’t that we’re being dishonest, we’re just choosing a version of ourselves for a particular situation. Some of it is following a set of rules that we imagine is required. It’s being professional or respectful or nervous. It’s being witty and conversational when you’re an introvert and you’d rather be mucking the barn.

And sure. Some of us create personas that are dishonest.

We have barn personas, too. Some of us put our horses in our old friend category; we can be whoever we want around them. Some of us want to do the right thing so badly that we show up like a Teacher’s pet, reciting rules precisely, wondering if there’s a horse making faces behind us.  Some of us pick a persona of a little girl around horses, giggling or swooning.

And some of us were taught that horses need a dominant leader, so we train with bravado, like Furiosa, from Mad Max: Fury Road. (I just loved her make-up. Didn’t you?)

Truth #1: You can be whoever you want at the barn. It’s all good as long as you don’t ever complain about anything your horse does. Ever.

Truth #2: You’re not fooling anyone. Not your trainer or friends. Least of all, your horse. And if you have a mare, she knows the truth about you that day, before you get up in the morning.

Now shift perspective. Pretend it isn’t all about us. See it from your horse’s side.

Say you treat your horse like an old friend. You come late, you’re in a hurry. You dump your day, share joy or anger or frustration. How does he feel about that? A stoic horse shuts down from the emotion. Horses don’t hear pronouns; your stress is now theirs. Stress abides and soon he gives calming signals about his stress. It’s okay. We’ve been using horses this way forever, but you have to wonder, do I want to give my horse (or my oldest friend) my best self or leftovers?

Are you a little Type A? Just to save time, raise your hand if you aren’t. I’m not sure why perfectionists are drawn to horses but we are. We nit-pick, micro-manage, and fall short of our own ridiculous standards. We create a crust of self-loathing. Horses experience it as never being right. Not you, them. They never feel good enough, like everything they do is partly wrong. Sound familiar? Horses lose confidence. It kills their try and eventually their souls, but we might think they look like push-button horses. (Mares, not so much.)

Are you a little girl in the barn? Okay. Your horse can babysit you.

This last one is touchy. Do you arrive at the mounting block in domination mode? It’s the most complex barn persona because it’s how most of us were taught. Be the boss and demand respect through fear. It’s also the one most riders I work with tell me is the one they hate the most.

(If I had a nickel for every rider who’s told me she gets a lump in her stomach, that it just doesn’t feel right, to assert harsh leadership, well, I’d have twenty more retired horses in my barn.)

What does a horse think about the dominant persona? As prey animals, they will submit in fear to a predator. Flight is the first response, but you can fight through that to submission. And since horses don’t have social media, they don’t know the #metoo hashtag. But fair warning; some mares never get the hang of submission.

What do horses think about personas in general? I think we confuse them with the gap between who we are deep down and this surface behavior that can mean so many things. And more so if we change personas frequently. We confuse horses with our incongruency.

Domination seems to work because horses may be hard to fool, but are fairly easy to intimidate. That kind of training won’t make a horse trustworthy, and not surprisingly, that’s how they see us. Untrustworthy. There is no trust in domination, on either side. No wonder some riders get a lump in their stomach.

You don’t need to change a thing. I’m just suggesting you notice the role your particular persona plays for your horse. If you have the perfect partnership, wonderful.

If you think it might be time for a persona upgrade, that you are serious about wanting more and better with your horse, then consider being seriously positive.

Demonstrate the persona change you’d like to see in your horse. Be seriously relaxed in your own body, soft shoulders and soft belly. Most of all, a soft jaw. The easiest way is to breathe, smile, and say “good” every chance you get.

Be seriously patient and your horse will offer his heart. Be seriously grateful and it will change your own heart. Most of all, be seriously lighthearted because horses like us that way.

Horses want honesty. They can tell when we pretend to be someone we’re not. The more I’m around horses, the more they show me it’s our true intention that matters most. Horses blossom when we become the best version of ourselves.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Currently planning summer clinics in Scotland and the UK.
2018 is filling quickly; please contact me here if you would like to host a clinic or attend one. Check out our entire clinic schedule here. 


  1. Oh, yay, and amen to all of that!
    There are a few rewards that come while being in the moment while picking one of my 4 horse’s feet out. Sorry to be so graphic, but the fact that I leak has given me a great excuse for crouching by one foot for many long moments waiting for him to offer me that foot before I proceed to the next foot. Lots of times he will offer me the opposite foot which gives me more crouching time before I have to move on! His front feet are his favorites since he has many opportunities to accept treats delivered back-handed…and I’m still crouching! I have no idea how long it takes to get all four feet done, but by the time I’ve finished, my husband has already swept the floor, put out the hay, done poop patrol, cleaned and put away the feed bins, filled the water troughs, tended to any minor medical needs, and picked out the other 3 horses’ feet!
    Ahh, yes, I really love being in the moment with my horse!

  2. It’s funny, I have lately developed, much to my husband’s chagrin, a habit of humming. (Who needs headphones and an ipod:)?

    One day, my family came with me to the barn. They were around Stormy while I went to get his tack. When I came closer to join them, my son said, “Mom, he perked up when he could hear your humming.” I didn’t even realize I was doing it! LOL

    Anyway, it was a relaxed “perk-up!”

  3. What’s your advice on depression Anna? I put a positive face on how difficult life is atm, inside I’m pretty weak sometimes and I ride a 9yr old tb mare 😀 Excellent blog, thank you …

    • I can only speak for myself. When I was younger I struggled with chronic depression and worse. I went to a therapist… off and on for 20 years. It worked for me. Good luck, Niki.

  4. As for myself I try to calm myself as I collect her tack, choose brushes, and all of that so she doesn’t have to deal with my emotions. I want her to be as happy to see me as I am to see her.

    • Just an experiment, Joan. If you want her to be happy, show her your happiness. I’m curious if that would be different than showing her calm… Thanks, Joan.

  5. This is an absolute truth. My horse knows exactly who I am and he has known it since the first time I came to try him. In a world filled with pretense horses bring us honesty.

  6. Thank you Anna…this one made me smile. My Rusty knows which persona I’m carrying even when I don’t !! If he doesn’t like who I am in that moment he refuses to be with me …smart boy!

    • Dear Rusty. Annette’s comment made ME smile. Of course that’s what you were doing, you smart boy. I think I might understand a bit better, too. Thanks, Rusty. Thanks Annette.

  7. I love you Anna! I love the respect for animals that you have and that you let us readers be inspired and freaking MADE to develop and express to the animals that live at our barn. Thank you so much. Tears are streaming down my face, dripping into my breakfast cereal as I read your latest blogpost. Tears of gatitude, and humility, to you and, above all for my horses, cows, sheep, geese, ducks, hens and cats in my barn. To all the individuals who patiently, in all weathers and moods bear me and ALWAYS light my day. I can just humbly hope I sometimes light their’s too. Thank you Anna!!!

    • The good news is that animals are so much easier on us than we are on ourselves… Helena, I always think of farms like ours as circles… we all take care of each other. Thanks for reading along, Helena.

  8. I love love love this!!! As always Anna, your words describe exactly how we feel. Shared this with my friend who leased me my very first horse. She loved it because her personality never worked with him (the horse). She gave us the chance though and we just clicked. I brought a lot of patience into the relationship and fresh eyes that just loved to be around horses. We ended up both growing together as a result and it was a really beautiful thing that no one expected. 🙂 Damn we are so lucky to have horses in this world!!!

    • Love this comment. So many times people martyr themselves to keep a horse they don’t get along with. Maybe your friend’s job was to facilitate that horse getting to you. I’m happy for you and your horse, and even more so, happy for your friend for holding the door open. Great comment, thanks.

  9. Love this…and yes, the secret to Dodger’s interest in anything is to bring it to him laughing. Which just makes me laugh more. Which just extends his patience further.

  10. Thanks for the eye-opening, and heart-opening writing Anna; I’ve been the “make them do it” rider in my past, and in my experience it’s not only the horses that develop fear issues from that kind of attitude. Both of my mares and I hate being told what to do, but will try our hearts out for someone who asks nicely.

    The word “good” is like a magic spell for us; it tells my mare that I like what she’s doing, but more importantly, it reminds me that my horse IS good, and DOES good. Its not only an excellent verbal marker for any desired behaviour, it seems to have a calming effect on my little white mare (the nervous one). I can see her ears flick back to me, and even feel her relax a little when I say it. No cue exists in a vacuum, so I expect there’s a corresponding “release” in my body as well. Oddly enough it seems to give her courage too; if she’s facing something scary and I praise her for standing without trying to push her through, she will sometimes venture forward on her own. It seems like literally just that one word inspires trust. The more things I find to reward her for, the more she relaxes and opens up to me.

    • Thanks for this wonderful comment. I think it’s the magic word, too, in all the dimensions you expressed so well. I believe saying good when a horse is considering options (facing something scary) works almost like a cue to her best self… and you and your white mare know just what I mean. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  11. FABULOUS food for thought. I will try to do better by my Treasures. Thank you.

    On Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 9:45 AM, Relaxed & Forward: AnnaBlakeBlog wrote:

    > Anna Blake posted: ” Do you ever get the impression that your show up at > the barn and your horse is watching you with an expression of “who are you > today?” Most of us have a few different personas. There’s the one for work; > you watch your language there. The one for yo” >

  12. So, so true!
    I couldn’t help but chuckle at your post (SO glad I found it) because I literally came back from the barn 3 hours ago … and I realized my little mare gives me a Look every time. Not so much “Who”, but rather “How are you today”, but it still resonated. Because I don’t always show up in the exact same state of mind (who does?), but carry the mood of the day with me.

    Not that I can ever fool her (nor do I try) but this girl is amazingly quick on the uptake. From “Oh, she looks stressed out today, I don’t need that spoiling my nice mood, noooo. Come get me from the other side of the pasture!” to “Looks like we’re in a goofy mood today. Fine by me. Let’s play toss the carrot!”
    Today it was a beautiful “Oh there you are! Looking nice and relaxed, old girl. Hold up, be right with you” (and she came strolling right to the gate)

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