Battlecry of the Gray Mare

Sun’s up, I’ve thrown hay, and now I’m in the shower. My second-best thinking happens here because there’s a window to the pens and barn; to the horses, donkeys, llamas, and the goat. (Every dressage barn should have a goat as a reminder that control is not an option.) It’s my birthday. I’m hoping that no one will sing When I’m Sixty-Four because, well…

A woman my age isn’t much of a peep show in the shower but it could be worse. There are some scars and lumps but I’ve still got my teeth. My left pinky can’t straighten; I’ll take that to the grave with me. My feet don’t match since the surgery. Lots of metal inside but it doesn’t hurt now. I traded excruciating foot pain for swollen ankles, yay, I got the best of that deal. Truth is I’m a gray mare with chronic lameness.

I’m at an awkward age. Maybe all ages are awkward or maybe it’s that I’ve never fit in. But it’s happened once or twice at the grocery store. During checking out, as my groceries fly over the scanner, the clerk will say, “Did you find everything, sir?” I suppose that’s normal enough, living in a conservative small town, as I do. Probably lots of gray-haired white guys wear dangly pearl earrings.

It’s not just the grocery store; I’m a politics geek, so I notice no one mentions women my age as a voting threat. Salespeople look past me, most of us shop less than when we were younger. Do we become transparent as we age? If we’re not careful, we’ll lull people into a false sense of security. They’ll make the mistake of thinking we’re irrelevant.

About now I remember Lilith, the most determined walking corpse I ever met. She was a foster donkey who came here to die but ended up running for the place for eighteen months first, kicking every vet and farrier she met. And me, of course, but no hard feelings. They were just warning shots. She thought aging gracefully was for saps. In hindsight, she looked a little like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Birthdays, once we’re past the age of balloons and staying up all night, are about taking stock. There’s a clock ticking and since I’ve trained myself to not over think around horses, it’s freed up lots of time to obsess about being a woman of a certain age and trying to find my place in this world. It’s trying to separate peer pressure from personal choice. But what’s peer pressure other than our own judgment of ourselves out in the world, heard in the voice of others?

One of the things they tell you as a kid is how many ways you can totally ruin your life, especially us girls. We’re taught life is a vale of tears, (more likely a landmine field,) and so we prepare for battle. What they don’t warn you about the larger number of times you will have the chance to reinvent yourself. That’s the real birthday question, “Who do I want to be this year?”

I’m ridiculously blessed in this life. I’ve always been a dreamer, but this is crazy. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror. I’ve published my fourth book, who would have ever thought? And I’m preparing to be a presenter at Equidays in New Zealand. It’ll be my second trip this year, again, beyond all expectations. Best of all, I spend every day with horses, on the largest learning curve of my life. This is exciting and I’m grateful! (Understatement, but words fail me when I think of my wild luck.)

Meanwhile, at a recent author event, I was behind my table, books displayed in front, when a man roughly my age walked up, and seeing my titles looked horse-related, he decided to hold forth, saying, “You want to be real careful riding a mare if there’s a stallion around.” Then he starts to explain why and I’m thinking who leaves stallions loose around mares? I am polite, I smile.

For the next twenty minutes, he regaled me with his feats of horsemanship. He’s never owned a horse, but a friend used to let him ride years ago. At one point, I interrupt him, hoping to escape but he got firm, “I’m trying to give you advice here.” He actually scolds me and then continues to tell me about killing a horse by tying him on a rope that was too long. There’s an author who writes westerns here, why is he dogging me?

I was aware of my calming signals; I turned my shoulders away, I looked down. I was absolutely breathing deeply, being schooled this way. Finally, I stood tall, held full eye contact, and thanked him for the advice. It isn’t about what I wanted to say.

Day by day, we all stand at the corner of Do You Know Who I Am? and No One Cares! The intersection of confidence and humility, making a decision about who we want to be. Sometimes we get it wrong. The other word for that is life.

The Dude Rancher gave me a birthday card, he said it reminded him of someone. It was a vintage photo of an old west cowgirl, a bit blurred but she was holding a pistol:

Do No Harm But Take No Crap.

Is there a better mantra than that? After a life of being strong for others, maybe it’s finally time to be strong for ourselves. To stop selling ourselves short because we don’t want to threaten others. And find some compassion at the same time.

Back at the farm, usually around four in the afternoon, I want to get in my pajamas.  I’ve been working for twelve hours, it’s fair. Pajamas is a euphemism for wanting to get out of my underwear. Have I stated that in a way understood by other gray mares? Then I try to stay dressed until after dinner.

Sitting on the edge of my bed after late chores, grateful, realizing even though my body that was never good enough when it was younger, it has become dear to me now. Caress those old knees, feel strong muscles under crêpe paper skin. As I put oil on the scars on the repaired foot, I glance at my tattoo. It’s older than some of my friends. I got it in my rebellious youth, never once thinking years later they would be so common. Go figure. I’m ready for rest, it’ll be a big day tomorrow. It’s always a big day if you want it to be.

Have you been beaten back by nay-sayers? They’re the ones who manage to drown out all the cheers from your friends with nothing more than a raised eyebrow. We give them too much power. Might be time to raise an eyebrow right back at them.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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103 comments

  1. Happy Birthday beautiful and wise woman. As always, so many good thoughts here. I am about to turn 58 and, though a few years behind you, recognize what you are saying. Thank you for all that you share because not everyone is that brave but we all share the need to feel connected through the things we all experience and it takes someone to open up the conversation. Hope to meet you in person some day. Have a great day and maybe you can get into your pajamas at 4 pm in light of it’s your day, or get into your dancing boots!

  2. Do no harm but take no crap. A new twist on the Hippocratic oath. I can assure you, it has been my mantra for years now.

    When we’re 64, Anna. When we’re 64.
    ~Emily

  3. An instant favorite! Giggled most all the way through! Thanks for being you! Thanks for teaching us all to “breathe.” And Happy Birthday too!

  4. I love it! It is too bad we have to wait so long to follow that advice! I love being in the 60+ phase of life. I take a lot less crap than I used to. I enjoy life and appreciate every day. It is so good to be more in control of me and not worrying about stuff that won’t matter in five minutes 🙂 Thank you Anna

  5. A bit older than you but yup! You’ve got it right! Don’t think I could’ve kept my mouth shut with that guy though. People like that REALLY chap my cheeks – especially the males. Trot on!!!!

  6. Thanks for writing this-good reading and lots of laughs! I’m a gray mare,too, a little grayer than you, enjoying this wonderful time in my life.

  7. I could have written this. Same age. Same life situation. Thanks for making me feel better about being called Sir at Home Depot. Wish I could convince married people that working out life alone can be a freeing and empowering experience (on good days). Didn’t choose this, fate took husband; don’t care for the new prospects.

  8. Whether it’s a poem, photo or one of these, I so enjoy knowing I have a soul sister somewhere out there. Blog away Woman, as I’m sure I’m not the only one needs these.

  9. Anna, just so you know, when they put “Captain” in front of your name, you take no crap, so well done Captain!

  10. I love this on so many levels: your new mantra; your self-restraint with the jerk who schooled you uninvited. I think I need to read this at least once a week, to know I am not alone; to remind me to look at life positively, even on the downhill side.

    BUT — I may be the only one here who is more comfortable wearing a bra than not (and it’s not because I’m “big”)! Ha!

  11. Anna – oh my! so many echoes here! indeed we do become invisible and irrelevant to many I think. I think maybe I am often invisible to myself, as well, which is even scarier! i used to have a reputation for not taking any crap and have been kidding myself that is is good to mellow. and maybe it is, but not neccesarily ALL the time. Going off to raise that eyebrow a few times. Thanks as always for making me smile and realise that indeed I am not alone!

  12. I just turned 64 and we did play the song several times and it was amazing to think that I am 64! When that song used to play on the radio I could not even imagine. Talk about reinventing…4 young kids and a divorce in the works. I seem to be following my mother’s footprint. I find my self at that intersection so often. When I was younger it was so much easier to stand up for myself. I’m a little beaten down, I need to get my boss mare attitude back I guess! So many people fall away.
    You are amazing! I love your thoughts, understanding, your gratefulness for all that you are blessed with! And your ability to write it all down and share it with the rest of us!
    Happy Life!!

  13. I am about to celebrate my 60th birthday, Sunday, and am I with family? Heck no, I am at a 3 day horse clinic camping with one of my closest friends. This is the one time I had to leave my horse home, but my amazing husband said, go, have fun, I will take care of the ranch. People say I don’t look 60, they all think I look 50. I tell them, this is the new 60, have fun and do whatever you want. After 40 years of nursing and having my body, mind, soul beat up, I decided to retire even though I haven’t hit “retirement age!” My husband agreed so we both jumped off the cliff together and aren’t looking back. I wanted to be able to continue living my dreams of being active on our ranch and ride my horses whenever, wherever I want. Our income is at poverty level but we know how to do it because we lived that way when we first got married. I grow our food now and live in a community where if someone has more than they need, they give it to you. Anna, thank you for writing about us girls who are living and appreciating life and being bold and if something isn’t right, saying so, politely!

  14. Love the “ do no harm but take no crap” !!! It’s a very fine line to pull off!!!
    My teenage kids once said to me….
    “Mom you never get embarrassed do you?”
    Nope…. don’t care enough what other people think of me!!!
    Another thing I cherish as I get older….

  15. I’ll be 71 in a few weeks. WHAT!!! Even writing that seems unreal, but it’s the truth, hard as it is to believe.Just as the old grey mare may have A LOT of life left in her, even as her back sags and her teeth grow long, she can still kick up her heels and canter across the pasture. I like to think that’s me.
    I absolutely LOVE that you are reveling in your life, that you lead by example and open a world off possibilities for those of us who want to work with our horses as long as that is possible even through the injuries (not if but when) and the extra expenses of caring for them. I love your words and your perspective and that you are sharing them with an enquine world that needs a kinder view.
    Rock ON, Sister!!

  16. Ugh – I was guilty of un-generously receiving “advice” from an ignorant man just a few days ago. I let fly – in as few words as possible – but still. In my defense we were in the throes of preparing for hurricane Florence, with the direst of predictions for our island… *hangs head*

    As a fairly recent member of the women who don’t merit a second glance club (turned 54 in May), I would submit this: Can’t we all remember complaining about unwanted looks – comments – advances and worse throughout our more “desirable” years? I say thank goodness that phase is over. What a waste of energy. Treat me as a fellow human and I’ll do the same for you. (but you can keep the unsolicited advice to yourself – thanks!)

    • I couldn’t agree more, thanks. Great comment. (Just for the record, I have some very un-generous days. It was a book event and I was on my best behavior.)

  17. Ah yes – “getting into pajamas”! There are DAYS of not getting out of them! Can still walk the dog – maybe read a book – do my exercises and STILL not get out of them! I’m a ways past your birthday – but everything you write rings true. Life was fantastic while I was lucky enough to have a horse – trail riding – and just being around him & the people at the barn – really good memories. Didnt actually retire till I was 75 – and boy am I glad I did! Hang in there – old grey mare – enjoy your life lived NOW!

  18. Happy Birthday!
    I’m just 4 months younger than you and I must admit, I tend to try to go into hiding when my birthday comes around! So much truth and wisdom in your writing, it always brings a smile to my lips and often a belly laugh! Please feel loved and appreciated on your special day!!

  19. Happy Birthday to a grey mare I’ve never met in person, but feel as though we could easily share a bottle of wine and swap stories into the night. Well, as long as we had our jammies on and hit the hay by, oh, let’s say 9:00’ish.

    I’m 66 and, judging by the comments above, we are all in great company with each other. The best part about our ages? Cake has no calories or, if it does, who gives a damn anyway? Happy, Happy Birthday, Anna!

  20. I just have to say it – Happy Birthday to you! I do love this post and its message of reinventing. I will be looking at my 71st birthday isn a couple of months and I am now having to find and reinvent myself as a new widow. Every day I am thankful for having the horse and all that I am learning now – last time I had. Shores I was a teen and I already knew everything then! Thank you for my continuing education in horses from your blog and books!

    • Remind me in the future to not send a reply on my phone . Sorry for the typos, but I’m glad you could see what I was trying to say in spite of arthritic fingers on tiny keys. Every time I read this post again, I enjoy it even more. Thank you.

  21. This is such a captivating post. I don’t know how else to describe it, other than beautiful. It’s not a rant, but it’s not a story. It’s straightforward and honest. Wow.
    The thought of one day turning “a certain age” is on my mind almost constantly these days. I hear women who’ve rounded that corner talk about feeling as though they were turning invisible. It makes me wonder how I’ll handle it. Your perspective is one that I will remember. It’s so strong.
    Also, I’m amazed at your calm resilience in your response to the “mansplainer” who was giving you advice about horses. That must have taken incredible patience. I’m not that strong. Maybe one day…but not today.

  22. Oh, Anna! Thanks for this. I’ll be singing the Beatles’ song to myself in about a month. I’ve already had to reinvent myself…didn’t think I could do it, but I did and I’m happier than I was before. My kids live in Greeley, CO, and every time I go over there, I wonder if we’re anywhere near where you are. 🙂 I’d love to come by and visit sometime. Have a great time in New Zealand.

  23. Love the post but especially this bit…

    Day by day, we all stand at the corner of Do You Know Who I Am? and No One Cares!

    🙂 Thank you Anna! Keep on keeping on and Happy Birthday!

  24. Happy birthday, from one grey mare to another! You extraordinary stranger, beautiful poet, woman of horses. Here, I’m savoring Horse Prayers, reading a poem each morning.

  25. I’m with you, Anna, and I hope it is a grand and glorious birthday. I’ve hit 66 nand counting. The knees are shot, stairs and walking are unpleasant and I learned that invisibility is a great trick to use to your advantage (my mother used to use it all the time – sometimes it was annoying not to be able to find that little old lady behind things in stores). I don’t take crap anymore either, didn’t well when I was younger and even less now. I long ago decided I was going to wear what I wanted, what was comfortable and what I liked and tough on anyone who did”t like it, spouse incouded. I’ve been called “sir” at stores, on the phone (I somehow ended up a tenor) but it never bothered me – I knew the truth and that was all that mattered. “To thine own self be true.” Have a wonderful time in New Zealand.

  26. Happy birthday 🤗
    I can relate to most of this, especially the ‘invisible’ bit. Although at the local supermarket, they often ask me if I’d like ‘help’ with my grocery bags. My reply … If I can lift bales of hay and 20kg bags of feed, and push wheelbarrow loads of firewood up the hill to my house, I’m sure I can manage a couple of grocery items! 😅

  27. Great post, having felt invisible (and often inaudible) most of my life I can relate. Then at 45 I met a guy and he helped me be me, whoda thought, I AM a real person. Now after 20 years I’ve lost my guy to cancer and here I am reinventing myself, but now I’m pretty comfortable with me and so my answer to the (seemingly) thousands who want to know if I’m keeping the ‘farm’ and how I’ll manage the acreage, the horses, the goats, etc. is watch me!

  28. Happy Birthday! It’s nice to hear from all us old gray mares. I’m 68 and was fine about that until I realized it was just 2 years from 70. Ah well. I admire your patience with the obnoxious man. I am not as polite. I find being old to be very freeing. I remember reading that after menopause women get mouthier and care less about socially acceptable behavior. Was pleased to find it to be true. What I didn’t know was how much I would enjoy other older women! Went to my 50th high school reunion and found myself fascinated by old friends and what they’ve done with their lives. Enjoy your trip to NZ!

    • Having “hit” 80 this year – 70 seems so young!!! All a matter of perspective, isnt it? Best of all – we ARE still here & life is not that bad. Could be better with horses, but do still have memories & they are great. Enjoy 68!

  29. Have a Beautiful Birthday Anna! Go treat yourself to a lovely massage. Your body will thank you for it! And I’m with you on the 4pm underwear thing. I want to take this dang harness off and free these little ponies lol! You still have eyebrows? =-)

  30. Thanks Anna. I’m 64 myself and my eyebrows are getting quite a workout lately, lol! Happy Birthday.

    >

  31. I so identify! Turning the page to 65 has been fantastic! Are you coming to Canada any time soon?
    Thanks for your wisdom and true advocacy for our animal friends.

  32. Thanks, everyone. I just love the comments, on this blog especially. Thank you so much for inspiring me over the years. Okay, I’ll be a testy gray mare in the morning, but it’s late and I’ve gone a bit mushy. I love all you crazy-horse-girls. Now go to bed.

  33. Ahh! Getting ready to turn 65 next month, I can finally stop fielding the calls from insurance brokers, agents and companies that want my MediGap insurance! Please! I find myself starting a new chapter of equine vices, endurance but from a kinder more equal partner approach. More specifically LDs (limited distance rides) ’cause I don’t think I would be able to move if I tried 50’s or more! Things chafe that never chafed before, when did THAT area get so needy? I love reading your insights, learning to turn down my volume and lead from behind more. Thanks for being you!

  34. Love, love, love this (and photo and poem above too very poignant).
    “Who will I be this year?”. Very empowering, thank you Anna 🤗😘
    Sue from Victorian clinic

    PS try being 6’1″ tall, I had really short hair and earrings on a trip two years ago. Several “Sirs”…. Sigh 🙄

  35. How wonderfully precise! I so appreciate your wisdom and your attitude towards life Anna. You bless me with inspiration, experience and humor all rolled into one, every single time I read your words. You are a blessed and beautiful woman! From one grey mare to another, Happiest of Birthdays!

  36. Belated birthday wishes, hope you had a fantastic day.

    I’ve only just had time to read your post.Always busy round here, apart from the usual work we had 4 cords of wood delivered, 8:30pm in the dark. Spent many hours the next day sorting and stacking. Bit of a shambles, but completely normal here in Bulgaria.

    You’ve done it again, everything thing you say rings true to women of a certain age who are not beauty queens.
    I’m not quite a grey mare yet, more strawberry roan and nearly 58. But I know exactly where you’re coming from. Anyway, your platinum blonde is stunning and I wish I were brave enough to wear my mane short I have a long curtain to hide behind when I need calming signals.
    I also have an ancient tattoo, did that to annoy my parents. On my shoulder, I often forget it’s there. Don’t spend that much time looking in the mirror.

    As for the being real careful about riding mares around stallions, Bulgaria is the land of macho man, they simply don’t geld stallions. It goes against the whole principal of man-hood. Any hint that my girl Karina is in heat and I daren’t go out the gate with her. Not only are there stallions all over the village, they often either running loose or tethered by a bit of string that wouldn’t hold a hen.
    According to macho man, women milk cows and goats, but they do not have anything to do with horses. Donkeys yes, but never horses. So now there’s a crazy English women in the village who rides and cares for a horse. Not only that she is of an age that in this part of the world is known as “Baba”or in English grandma. I should be in the parlour making goat milk cheese or something.
    I have had a few issues with my little mare, so when the man I bought her from told me recently, whilst we were enjoying a cold beer at the local bar. Yes, Baba drinks beer. In public..!
    Anyway, he told me, with the help of a friend interpreting, the language barrier is somewhat challenging. Apparently I should beat and whip Karina, then she would be easy to deal with.
    I smiled sweetly, drew myself to my full height, at almost 6 feet I can be quite imposing. I then went on to explain, slowly, that had he not been so brutal with her in the first place there would be no issues.
    For instance, when he had her, it took 3 strong men and a length of rope to trim her hooves. She still has scars on her hind legs to prove it !
    Now, she stands in the middle of the yard, untied, and lifts her feet for attention with barely a touch or word from me….Baba Kati.
    I don’t hold it against him or the other macho men. Poor things, are ignorant and know no better. I just do my best to lead by example. The evidence is plain to see in my happy, healthy horse.
    I could tell you so much more, it would make your teeth curl.
    But now I must stop. I can put on my pyjamas whenever I like, because I’m a escentric English Baba..ha.ha!

    My advice:
    Be yourself…and if you can’t, be a 🦄
    Unicorn.

    • Oh, Kate. I grew up in that macho world, it’s crazy. But I confess, I love that you are poking them! What a great comment, thanks so much for sharing it with us and making me smile along the way. #graymarepower You wear it well, Baba.

      • Thanks Anna, I have to tell you, the local Bulgarian baba’s come out to wave and talk to me when I ride past. I have not idea what they’re saying. But judging by the big smiles and waves, I think it’s somewhere along the lines of “GO GIRL ! wish I could do that”.
        Love Ya 🦄

  37. Happy Belated Birthday Anna!
    Loved what you said. Loved all of the comments too!
    Happy to say I have been on Medicare for the past 10 months and looking forward to drawing social security 2 months from now. It’s my way to smirk at all the young ‘uns!

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