What Trainers Do You Like?

I often get asked what I think of other trainers. Sometimes I have no idea who the trainer is, any more than they know who I am. You do know we all work weekends, right? And that we’re not as cool as jazz musicians who jam together at after-hours clubs?

Then, the obvious thing. The horse world is huge. Most riding or breed disciplines don’t intermingle. We tend to date within our species, so it isn’t common for all kinds of saddles to be in the same arena. About this time, the rider refers me to the trainer’s Facebook page or website. More time on the computer? You want me to read even more online, beyond the stacks of articles I pour over each week?

Sometimes it’s a question about a trainer in a photo, maybe true or maybe taken out of context, and it’s easy to jump to conclusions that don’t help horses. Besides, it’s considered bad form to speak about other trainers. Unprofessional to call others out, even the ones who make a spectacle of abuse.

But still, people ask. For the most part, I think they are looking for congruity between methods. My fantasy dinner is with Nuno Oliveira, Tom Dorrance, and Xenophon.

I am pretty careful about who I recommend. Here’s the problem for both of us as we look at websites. There isn’t a trainer in the world who raises their hand over their head and proudly states, “I train with cruelty and abuse!” We all use the same positive words. People are deceptive that way.

Sorry to disappoint you with no trainer gossip, but I am willing to share my opinions on how to tell if a trainer is good. I have two methods and the second is better than the first. Here goes.

I remember years ago meeting a trainer who didn’t like horses. It came as a shock to my then-amateur mind, but it was obvious. Horses were a means to an end for them. It was like inheriting a family business; they had familiarity but not much curiosity or interest. I’ve met an alarming number of professionals with no passion for horses since then. It’s crazy. The work is too hard, the hours too long, and horses are too unpredictable to be thinking about business plans and retirement funds in the same breath as training.

So that’s the first thing to notice. Does the trainer love horses? It should be a requirement. You never get a horse’s best work if you don’t apply some of your own heart to the process. Shouldn’t equine pros be the most besotted of all?

Sometimes I get teased by clients that I have no discretion, that I just love all horses. Why even have me evaluate a horse you’re looking at if I am just going to praise him? Here’s why; I will never praise a horse for his color or the length of his mane. I will always be aware of his conformation for your purpose. I can read past-training practices in how he carries himself now. Just because I affirm his strengths doesn’t mean I don’t see the whole picture.

Beyond the words in the ad and a vet check is the realm of possibility. That’s where the question of potential always comes up. Will this be the right horse for your goals? That answer is a quotient of passion, love, and commitment on all sides. Money and technique are never enough to create the art needed for a horse and rider to dance. Love transforms. Nothing less.

We can debate whether horses love us or not, but I’m clear that the trainer and the rider need to be united in their love for the horse. It’s too much work otherwise.

To be clear, loving horses makes the job harder. If we trainers open our hearts to horses and riders, we will pay a price for that. It makes us vulnerable to loss. Yesterday I was thinking of a mare who was my first huge training challenge. She was outlandish in a hundred ways and it was my job to help her rider build a connection with her. The mare pushed me to trust my intuition as much as technique. She passed away years ago but I miss her. You could say she is a trainer I have a lot of respect for.

Good trainers all have a mental scrapbook of horses they still think about. Maybe the horse has passed, or the rider moved on, but the concern for the horse remains. It makes saying goodbye harder. I once had to part ways with a trainer who I’d worked hard with for five years. I couldn’t follow her to her new barn and she cried that last day. I was touched, I didn’t know I meant that much to her. On the way home, it dawned on me that I was losing her, but she was losing the three of us. And it was probably the other two she was the saddest about. She was a very good trainer.

When looking for a trainer, look for love. It’ll mean they’re vulnerable but the other word for that is humble. A good trainer should possess a balance of love, humility, and confidence. Like that’s easy to master.

The second method of picking trainers is better. Let the horse do it.

I know, it’s a crazy notion but here’s how. If you can watch a video, turn the sound off. Without the sales pitch of contradictory words, just look at the horse. Read his calming signals. Does he look anxious? Are his eyes dead? Does he have curious ears? Curiosity is a sign of courage in a horse. Does he look beautiful in that horse’s natural way?

If you are watching the trainer live, count your breath as a way of not hearing external distractions. Zoom in on the calming signals again. Does his eye follow the trainer willingly? Does he occasionally lick and chew? Is his poll relaxed? Watch the horse move; does he look free?

Recap: Recommendations are often unfounded or ill-informed. Trainers can be deceptive. But everything a horse thinks is written all over him with unrelenting honesty. They’re the ones to trust.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 

The Middle Path: Peaceful Persistence

I had two conversations recently; one a spellbinding conversation with a brilliant and beautiful young mare. The other conversation involved a group of riders and we were really enjoying descriptive word choice. My two favorite kinds of conversation, here goes.

The mare is very young, not started under saddle, and her human is doing a fine job with her. They do obstacles in hand, hike a bit, have age-appropriate ground manners. Her handler had asked for some advice about the process going forward.

We’d been talking about one of my favorite exercises, leading from behind. It’s standing back by the horse’s flank, well behind the drive-line, and about four feet to the side. In other words, well out of the horse’s space. Once the horse is comfortable moving forward in this position, you can do obstacles, but rather than leading her, you send her from behind. Or more literally, the horse does obstacles in autonomy, volunteering, and out in front like ground driving. The handler walks along, makes suggestions, and cheers.

I asked if I might have her horse’s rope. I’m aware that I’m asking for a privilege. I’ve heard all the trainer horror stories, too. But she trusts her mare to me and I say thank you.

The mare is beautiful and she is quite aware of it. Period. Can I take a moment here and say that if you work with a beautiful mare, it might be more productive to acknowledge your own beauty rather than hers? She already knows, and you will need all your confidence to keep up with her. Says this gray mare with chronic lameness.

We did a few obstacles but she let me know with some sour ears that I was uninteresting. That’s fair.

I thought she was answering by rote, meaning the mechanical or habitual repetition of something. You say sit and the dog sits. Yawn. Pretty dull conversation if that’s all you do.

The mare had been doing the obstacles in the most obvious way. Not only that, she thought repetition is for dolts. Or that humans might be very slow learners. A conversation by rote is beyond boring. And if we just repeat the obstacle the same way each time, then we deserve a sour ear. Any mare will tell you that.

Time to get creative. I asked her to walk on from behind. There was a pair of arches, and I sent her under. But now I wanted to send her between them. It was wide enough for her but not wide enough for both of us side by side. I sent her out on an arc, in front of me, and she stopped at that narrow spot between the arches.

She doesn’t think she can do it. I ask her to hold her own self up.

She is standing right there; she knows what I want. She’s smart; she doesn’t need me to “train” her. She needs confidence.

I let her know when she’s getting warmer. I’m positioned totally back from her head, she’s facing the narrow space between the arches, telling me it might be impossible, and I am happy. I can tell she’s thinking, so I exhale. Good.

This is how obstacles work: She could be standing facing anything: a bridge, a pedestal, or a trailer. (Float to my new friends.) It’s all the same; I get to say what we do, and she gets to say when. Partnership.

I coax her to figure it out. I’m not going to do it for her and I’m not going to bully her. I wait. That means I’ve become interesting and mysterious.

I let her know she’s on the right path. Good girl. I ignore the rest and I breathe. We’re having a conversation. She tries to distract me by suggesting there might be a kangaroo in the bushes. I usually fall for that but not this time. I tell her she’s brave with a big inhale.

Standing to her left, my left hand is on a long lead, toward the clip at her chin and my right hand is near the end of the rope. I might cue her with it, but if I do, it must be so quiet that she takes only one step. I only want small efforts. If she gets over-cued anxious, things will take longer, and she’s paying attention. No reason to escalate. She isn’t refusing; just trying to figure out how to do it. We’re both intelligent people. We whisper and breathe.

Her sour ears have been gone for the last five minutes and I care less about the obstacle and more about her keen mind. We are focused, enjoying each other.

Would you have upped your aids by now? Circled her or disengaged her? Would you have distracted her from her task or she you? Hold steady; there’s time.

Her calming signals are small, with less anxiety than before. She blinks slowly with a large soft eye. She gives me a little lick and chew, and she’s almost ready. Dialing my energy to balance hers. I ask her to move a bit, and then, with no fanfare, she walks through. Onlookers sigh and give her a quiet golf-clap and the young mare is positively glowing with pride.

Can we use positive energy to encourage a horse to push her boundaries, in a good way? Can we have the confidence in her to give her time to figure it out? In the saddle, as well as on the ground? And when she volunteers, let’s celebrate her new-found courage. Confidence is the most important gift we can give our horses, regardless of our riding discipline.

Training rules: You may only say yes to the horse and to yourself. No punishment, just yes. This part is harder than it sounds. Every time you see any calming signal, you listen and go slower or stop. You may not escalate. Keep a friendly tone. Breathe. Acknowledge every tiny try.

Peaceful Persistence:
    Not aggressive.
    Not conceding. 
   Not emotional. 


We need to pick up our mental game. It’s crazy the way we prattle on about how sensitive our horses are, geniuses at reading our minds, and totally capable of learning anything but then dumb down the training process to learned helplessness, bullying, and answers by rote. It would make my ears go sour, too.


Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 


Photo Challenge & Poem: Out of This World

You are right to be wary of us, 
Little Mare. Your hooded eyes
dark and silent, you must be 
concerned, yet your brows are
smooth. Not even a natural breeze
in your tail, still to your bones.

You betray nothing, no fear or 
warmth. It's easy to imagine you,
foal by your side, moving by day
over hard land. Surviving by 
listening to your inner ancestors.
You're right to keep their counsel.

This is complicated terrain, we're 
predators who ask you to surrender
those instincts. To rein in your 
wildness enough to share our life,
enough that we might find a lost
part of our own nature in yours.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 

Out of this World

Horses Are Pessimists

Your horse is a young horse or a rescue horse or the heart-horse of your life. A mare or a gelding or something else entirely. He comes in a plain brown wrapper or loud spots. He’s fresh as rain or he’s an elder with high withers and a slow stride. You stay on the ground, immersed in a simple love of horse breath and mucking. Or he has a canter that makes you feel the way babies feel when their father gently tosses them to the sky, provides a soft landing, and then lobs them up again.

(I stipulate that your horse is beautiful and perfect and the very best horse ever. Just like mine.)

It doesn’t matter if you’ve only just begun with horses or you’ve been riding forever. If it’s an ordinary day or a special day. It’s something beyond your riding discipline or breed or training method. It’s so deep in a horse’s very fiber that a hundred years after his death it will stay in his distilled essence…

In an instant of overwhelming surprise, he thinks the absolute worst will happen every time. Instinct rules. Fear makes his eyes wide and his poll freezes. His jaw turns to stone and he bolts. You might see it coming or it might hit both of you from behind in a hot blow of furious anxiety. It isn’t that he thinks the spooky thing is a matter of life or death. It’s just death.

Horses are born pessimists.

Of course, they are. Horses are flight animals, first and foremost. It’s an instinct woven into muscle and bone. Bolting away is their best natural defense. Add to that the power of natural selection, at least historically, and the horses here today are the winners of a literal race for survival; the ones who think the worst the quickest and act on it.

Dawdling through a chat with the herd about the spooky thing would be crazy. An extra moment spent wondering if the shadow was a plant or a predator could easily be the end.

In this light, we should be almost grateful for their pessimism instead of correcting them, thinking spooking is a disobedience within their control. We ask so very much from horses and it’s easy to get complacent about what we are asking means to them.

Seen from this perspective, fear-based training seems like riding on thin ice. To some of us.  Kind, confidence-building training can encourage a horse to trust his rider with what his instinct tells him is potential death. Shouldn’t we humans find that humbling?

Empathy is the word that comes up in quotes from ancient dressage masters and wise old cowboys. Can we try to understand how horses feel without being overly sentimental or overly harsh?

Humans are works in progress, too. Some of us spook every time our horse does. Some of us get mad or frustrated by what we see as their shortcoming. Stoic humans might just get a little tighter deep inside. So, our insecurity shows as timidity or false bravado or perhaps an un-natural stillness, more obvious to our horses sometimes than it is to us. It isn’t just that they read our emotions; they’re impacted profoundly, even the stoic horses.

In a passive laziness, humans can fall into pessimism quite easily. It’s natural for us in a different way; we think too much, so it can feel like common sense in a resting state. No is the easy answer. It’s almost sensible to not try rather than make ourselves vulnerable and face failure. Is it just less disappointing to be negative? Ack.

Optimism does take more energy. If the mere idea makes you tired, you might be not just having a rough patch, you might be truly depressed. Give your horse a break, be kind to yourself, and get treatment, please.

If you’ve just landed in a resting state of pessimism, if you are protecting yourself with cynicism, that’s a reasonable behavior. It just doesn’t help your horse. Humans are theoretically an advanced animal because we have self-awareness; we think about our thoughts. Positive thought can be as hard to ride as a spooky horse, but we could pick up a good mental trot and head to the barn. Energy spent in positive thought returns at a gallop. Optimism is addictive. What if positive thinking in our own lives was the cue that most helped our horses in theirs?

Let the naysayers make excuses; horses respond to optimism as the confidence-building missing link that bridges the gap between instinct and training. If we want a horse to offer us behavior they’ve chosen above their natural instinct, then we have to push our own instincts first. Toy with the idea that vulnerability is actually a strength.

Feel your heart soften to empathy. Say the word good with an exhale of warm breath. Let yes be your answer to every question. Remember to say thank you. Practice until praise is your most natural instinct.

Maybe it’s humans who need the discipline to lift our optimism to encourage horses, appreciating fully the challenge we pose when asking for their precious trust.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 




Horses: Technique and Art

“Shut Up and Dance”

It was written on one of those little tin lapel pins and my friend wore it when we went to bars back in the day. It was like a rebel yell of a Zen mantra; we’d dance with men or women or dogs. It was a rambunctious celebration of being young and alive. We frolicked like colts cantering about a field, snorting and kicking up our hooves. Free.

Then life happened. We got distracted by family and careers. We bought calendars and scribbled appointments and noticed the sound of our parent’s voices coming out of our mouths. We learned the attraction of a slow dance because we were hurried all the time.

Before that, if we’d had the wild luck to have a horse, we’d climb on and if we wanted to go to the woods, but the horse wanted to go to that patch of tall grass behind the barn, there was no problem. We went to that patch of tall grass behind the barn.

Horses taught us to be spontaneous, but our new-found maturity, we decided we needed to steer our horses, control their heads, make them do a task. As soon as that happened, we started missing the way it used to be with horses when we were kids.

As the magic escaped us, we searched for what we lost. We asked for help from a neighbor or a local trainer. In my case, I got a book from the library because it was before the time of the Computasaurus.

Some of us found videos put out by trainers who were smart enough to see a need in the market. Technique got seasoned with the sweetness of financial gain… for the trainer. We were desperate to do better for our horses, who had about lost patience with us by now. Which means we had about lost patience with techniques.

We tried our best to find someone who knew the path back to how it was but there isn’t a trainer in the world who holds his hand up and declares, “I train with cruelty and abuse.” Still, some do. Each trainer had a different definition of leadership, along with various techniques for picking up feet, doing canter departs, and everything else. Some work and some don’t.

Disclaimer: Horse people are very opinionated, and everyone is certain their way is absolutely right. This includes me.

We got good advice and we got bad advice, but then we layered that with conflicting advice, and finally on top of that, what worked for your horse one day, probably didn’t work on another day. So we ended up with lots of techniques vying for dominance in our minds, and we got more involved with our thoughts than our horses.

Horses keep telling us that they are individuals and we keep trying to squeeze them into a succession of one-size-fits-all training plans that never quite fit.

Some of the horses didn’t show us much tolerance as we flounder with a new technique. They gave us calming signals because we were abrupt or gave cues louder than we intended. Or we didn’t really understand the new technique, so our confidence was a bit frail and the horses responded to that with confusion. Eventually, tired frustration made it feel like nothing worked but aggression, and that only worked if you kept escalating. Like a rat on a wheel, driven by compulsion and not inspiration.

A plague of doubt. And it doesn’t matter if it started with your horse or you. It was contagious.

The secret no one seems to mention is the technique, regardless of whose technique it is, will never be enough. A technique is a noun, a thing like a skeleton or a box. It’s dry science until we clothe it with creativity, make it our own, and then allow our horses to discover it for themselves. A technique is hollow until each rider breathes their unique life into it and then introduces it to their unique horse.

It’s a catch-22: The technique won’t work unless we are inspired by it but it’s hard to be inspired by a flat technique.

The answer is that we have to embrace the art of training. We must believe in the what if. We might need to show our horses more confidence than we have in the beginning.

Shakespeare, the bard of theater, said, “Assume a virtue, if you have it not.” It’s a much more poetic way of saying fake it, till you make it, but your horse is reading you right back as you read him. Can you be interesting and mysterious?

Put your doubt on a shelf and let the play begin. Let your serious goals for training take back seat to spontaneity. Lighten up with the science, horses like recess more than books. You were once that way, too, remember? Laugh at yourself. Let him see you try and if you stumble, laugh more. Show him it’s more fun to try than to stand back and doubt.

Success depends on not how well you mimic the particular technique you are using, but instead, how well you listen to your horse and engage him in the moment.

Technique is necessary and good. Then, shut up and dance.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 




Where the Trail Leads…


I know people who read cookbooks like they’re high-drama best sellers. I know people who fantasize wild lives of pirate adventure reading travel bloggers. It’s all good, just not for me. I like being in the barn.

Want to know a secret? I never had a dream to be a professional trainer. I wanted to be left in peace to abscess about my own horses. No, I don’t mean obsess. I only cared about my own self-absorbed riding. I wanted to be a forever student. But one lucky day, I got distracted by a herd of wayward weanlings. From there, it was like running downhill. It made all kinds of sense. If I trained, I could always be a student, but I’d have more horses. Yours.

All of this is to say I’m sitting in the San Francisco airport waiting for my flight to Auckland. I’ll be giving clinics and traveling in NZ and AU for the next six weeks. What an adventure! Not that Preacher Man, the corgi, didn’t try to trap me in the bathroom this morning.

So, this is the warning: I’ll be posting as usual but I’m so bad at math, there’s no telling when the usual Friday morning post will show up. You might have to start the coffee without me. Poems will still arrive somewhere near the vicinity of Monday. I’ll be posting more about the trip as I go, along with photos. If I’m not mistaken, I think the word for that is travel blogger.  I won’t post everything to Facebook. I could end up taking pictures of food. Oh, jeez. Did I just say that?

Meanwhile, I’m simply amazed at the New Zealand clinic organizers: Bex and Karin and Lisa and Jane and Tracey and Kim– miracle workers (and Corey, catching me at the airport.) In Australia, Megan and Tony and Jane and Kris– you’re wonderful. I’m so grateful for this opportunity to come meet you and your (my) horses.

I will confess, typing away in an airport bar, I am simply gobsmacked. Life is a wild ride; the abrasion of sadness and loss trotting along right next to bright and shiny possibility. No idea where we’ll end up but the horses brought us this far. No reason to pick up the reins now.

Thanks, Everyone. Thanks for reading along and sharing the trail.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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 he

Photo Challenge & Poem: Variations

Isn't it dysfunctional? He asked, 
his head cocked. His confidence 
steeped in every privilege due 
to a certain sort of man, by 
accident of birth. The talk of 
animals bored him. Wouldn't it 
be better to focus on your own 

species? He might have meant him.
Clever and righteous, summing up
up the damning evidence like a 
closing argument in court, he asked, 
Isn't choosing to live with animals
actually a kind of avoidance 
behavior? Yes, I say. Exactly.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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 he

Variations on a Theme

Repetition Vs. Consistency

There’s a moment, sometimes at the beginning of a lesson or during a clinic, where I meet a horse for the first time. I might ask him a question, a simple thing like taking a step back and I might ask him with my feet. The horse isn’t sure what I’m asking so he’s thinking about it.

Meanwhile, his rider is anxious for him to do well, so she tells me how she cues him and sometimes steps in to demonstrate it. Meanwhile, the thinking horse becomes what we see as an obedient horse. He goes back to habit along with his rider.

There is a comfort for both horse and rider in familiarity. It is a cue that they have drilled; a known answer exchanged between partners. Like starting church with a hymn or a ball game with the national anthem. It has a comfort we all understand.

In the beginning, training is repetition. We ask for something, the horse tries a few things, and gets a release when he finds the right answer. We cue him, he steps back, and the cue stops. He learns in hindsight and then gives us the right answer when we ask because he likes it when the cue stops. Simple success.

The problem is that we want more. More cues, more obedience, more good feelings. Most horses oblige to a point. Then we want bigger progress and get frustrated when he doesn’t keep up. A cue that makes sense to you leaves him blank. Or something changes; the routine gets altered and the two of you lose rhythm. Or the horse is distracted when we ask and we startle him with a correction. Somehow, things come apart. Because they always do.

Or you might want to change things in your training for the very best reason. Maybe you are aware of how hard your horse tries. Aware that he gives you the benefit of the doubt at times you might not entirely deserve it. You see past the surface of obedience, recognize his intelligence, and decide you need to do better because you want to match his kindness. He has inspired you; wonderful.

The two primary training principles that seem to carry across disciplines are these: You must be consistent. You must change things up.  This is why so many longtime novice riders get stuck. It’s a crazy contradiction so our behaviors go nuts to match.

Repetition isn’t a bad thing unless we repeat it too much. But that’s kind of how humans do things, left to our own instinct. We turn the key in the ignition switch, happy that the engine roars. Gas. Brakes. Gas. Brakes. We love that control. It’s too bad it doesn’t work the same way in a saddle.

One of the ways that learning and understanding sinks deeper, allowing for breakthrough work with horses, is by re-defining old words and taking that new awareness into the present moment. We might evolve from wanting an obedient horse who answers by rote to wanting an engaged horse who is answering spontaneously. The secret to improving your riding is to give up some desire for control to encourage your horse to be more curious and willing to take a guess. It’s the kind of counter-intuitive idea that feels just like a stone in your boot.

Riding more often, repetition, doesn’t make a horse better. If that was true, those old sainted lesson ponies would be in the Olympics.

Consider evolving the definition of a new word: Consistency. Being consistent is more than scheduling rides a certain number of times a week. It’s altering the quality of those rides. It’s being aware of each cue, even the ones you didn’t mean to give. As a rider lifts her awareness, it means that engaging his mind becomes more important than giving the stock answer. It’s the act of having a conversation of cues rather than a command to be obeyed. The challenge for a rider is to keep a horse interested in the conversation; it takes mental focus. We must stay engaged in each stride if we hope to have a responsive horse.

It can start as simply as asking for longer strides in the walk. Do it with a subtle cue, using just your sit bones in the saddle. If you feel a tiny difference in his stride, good, reward him with an exhale. Then return to his working walk and in a few strides, as for some shorter strides, again just with sit bones. Feel his response. He’s right there, connected in each stride. That part was almost easy.

Eventually, the canter. Instead of a jerk-and-kick canter depart, breathe and relax yourself at the trot. Be still, keep your shoulders back, and feel the landing of each stride. Allow him to stay relaxed and cue in rhythm with his movement, so he can make that transition with balance. Keep your energy in check; you’re asking for a change of gait, not a change of speed. Give him time to understand the difference and reward his effort to understand. Let the canter depart have the steady confidence of a jet plane on the runway.

Prepare for the day when you think the cue, allowing subtle changes in your body, and letting time slow down. You feel a lift in his supple shoulders, his neck is long and soft. His head is on the vertical, not because you are pulling on the reins, but because when he is forward and relaxed, and that’s his natural head position. On your inhale, he lifts you to a swinging rhythm, your body follows as he glides over the earth. It’s a canter that feels like more air than ground. It feels like being weightless and powerful; the peace inside the eye of a hurricane.

Consistency isn’t about drilling the same question, judging right and wrong, punishing or rewarding. Consistency is an ever-evolving mentality that stays present with energy and an openness. It’s rewarding his curiosity with your creativity; a witty repartee of cues and releases that feels like laughter between equals. It’s knowing that he’ll give the best answer if you focus on asking the question in the best way.

Trust, first defined as not being afraid of falling, grows into the confidence to fly. Consistency is a rider working toward being the best they can be, allowing their horse to do the same.

Horses reward us for our uplifted consistency, usually with something a little sweeter than what we expect. Generosity.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 

The Middle Path: Discipline

“I’ve noticed that you sometimes seem to take reader requests for your blog, and I was wondering if you might sometime be able to talk about the specifics of correction. I find myself struggling sometimes to know exactly what to do, not wanting to be too harsh but at the same time not wanting to be a namby-pamby nag.”

It’s the dilemma, isn’t it? Dominating a horse into terrified submission is always a bad idea. I’m not sure that nagging them into a stupor is any kinder. Finding the middle path with a horse, between these extremes, is the sweet spot where communication flows without stress and confusion. Name that place confidence.

First, I am always going to wonder why we feel such a need to punish or correct horses. The obvious answer is that they aren’t doing what we want. Most of us feel some sort of nebulous voice warning us about respect or the danger of wild animals or the opinion that the natural world must bow to us because humans are superior. The voice has a slightly parental ring to it.

Most people tell me that they feel uncomfortable punishing animals, in spite of that traditional back chatter. It makes for an over-busy brain. Once and for all, pick a side. Dump the concept that correction or discipline as a necessary part of training. Tell those Neanderthal voices to shut up and correct the internal anxiety in your own mind. In that moment of peace, recognize that discipline is your friend.

Think about the idea of correction. The behavior that just happened is already in the past, but we are choosing to drag it back into the present, so we can discipline our horse about something he thinks is finished. Sure, he does learn from being corrected but not what you want. Punishment damages the trust our horses have in us. Really think about that. Then, correct yourself; let go of your grudge and get back in the present moment. Reward your own discipline.

If something went wrong, on the ground or in the saddle, correct your judgment and take a breath. Hear the amen choir coming from your horse, who is now starting to love this new definition of discipline.

Did your horse swing his head too close or push into you? You’re in his space. Discipline yourself to step back and let his anxiety cool. Watch for calming signals. If he licks or yawns or shakes his neck into a stretch, good job. You have listened to him. Real love means giving him autonomy.

Did your horse nip at your hand? He’s in pain; don’t you dare correct that. Behavior is the only way horses have of telling us how they feel. Listen to where it hurts. If he doesn’t stand still while saddling, think about ulcer issues. Correct your quickness. Slow down and pay attention any misbehavior, translated as discomfort. Listen to his body, regardless of your time constraints. Now that’s real discipline; put your horse’s needs above your ego. Good girl!

Let’s say the thought that you might be a namby-pamby nag crosses your mind. Take the idea seriously. Have a no tolerance policy for muffling your own voice. Correct your mind-jumble. Pause, inhale and say exactly what you mean in a clear cue. Focus and don’t apologize or let yourself be distracted.

Stay on task, don’t repeat yourself. Watch his eye; his face. Is he thinking about it? Of course, especially if he’s giving calming signals. Reward him right then. Reward him for thinking; build his try. Then trust your horse’s intelligence. Let him figure it out. Discipline yourself to give him time to do it himself.

Training isn’t a right or wrong game. It’s that kids game of Hot and Cold. Ignore his cold responses and let him know when he’s getting warmer. Be generous in praise of all things heading the right direction. It’s called progressive approximation and it’s how all of us learn. Discipline yourself to be ridiculously cheerful and positive. Now you’re mentally looking forward and your horse can’t tell the difference between discipline and partnership. Yay! Winning!

Search your memory. Was there a time that being called out and humiliated taught you anything positive? Did someone feeling sorry for you make you stronger? Have you ever felt betrayed by someone who under-estimated you? Then correct yourself when you say words like “rescue” and “problem with my horse.”

If you don’t like the plight of the horse, get off FB and into community government. Donate the money spent on manicure and hair dye, and get ready for world transformation. Create actual change but understand whining about it in front of a horse does more damage to how he relates to you, than it does good in the world.

Correct your definition of training problem; stop seeing horses as hapless children or dysfunctional victims. They are not stuffed toys who magically heal us. We must do our own work before we can help them. Discipline yourself to see horses in their full glory. Strong and intelligent. As perfectly capable of trust and partnership as humans are. Aspire to keep that promise.

Continue to cue cleanly, clearly, and consistently. The other word for that is honesty. It’s a profound relief to just say what you mean. No longer biting your tongue, soon confidence seeps in because honesty just feels good. Nice correction, give yourself a pat. Most women have known enough confident asshats that confidence has gotten a bad name.

Redefine confidence is a sense of positive well-being based in honesty. Set about demonstrating that for your horse. Know that training a horse to have confidence,  to feel peace and acceptance, is the resolution for every problem he will ever encounter. Leadership is giving a feeling of safety. Correct your stiff contradictions and anxiety about not being good enough. Recognize you’re passing it on to your horse, causing the behaviors you want to correct in him. Discipline yourself to accept your shortcomings and promise to do better. Love yourself as much as you love horses.

Your horse doesn’t care if you’re always right; he just wants to trust himself through your partnership. Your confidence is his confidence. Train that.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Currently planning upcoming Concept Clinics. 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. 

Photo Challenge & Poem: Weathered

It’s winter on this tumbleweed prairie. 
The sun comes up late and flat yellow,
without warmth. This dusting of snow 
will stay on the ground and my hands 
will stay stiff in my gloves. I hear 
him before he comes into sight. This

bay horse trots as effortlessly as
he breathes, a proud cadence, each
pair of feet, front and back, landing
with sharp unison. A crisp clop,
one-two rhythm, perpetual as a
metronome ticking a blunt backbeat, 

hooves to ground, steam to whiskers. 
Holding me frozen in his sway. This 
bay horse moves with the icy glide 
and flow of a skater covering the 
crystal earth with slick purity, 
never dreaming of another season.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
Blog  FB  Email  Author  FB  Tweet  Amazon
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.