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. 

A Leap of Faith

I get in cars with strangers. That’s me by the airport curb with a suitcase. If things are going well, there’s someone driving through traffic, wondering if she’ll recognize me. Then we are both relieved that I look exactly like myself.

There are pre-conceived notions on each side. Expectations and anxieties. What if I show up and throw a fit, demanding to eat only green M&Ms? What if the riders are expecting a trainer who doesn’t put horses first?

It’s the absolute weirdest sort of blind date. And it lasts for two whole days. Sometimes three.

Like most clandestine meetings these days, it starts online. You might see a photo or read a description of what I offer.  If it’s interesting, you might contact me by email with an inquiry about what I charge. A round trip ticket is required, too.

I’m not looking for a long-term relationship.

This is how scheduling a clinic works normally and it’s eventually followed a two-hour flight to Washington state or Wisconsin. I’m always grateful when someone takes the chance and hires me for a clinic. I’m dependable and I work hard, but when you think about it, organizers put their reputations on the line. If it’s your barn, then the clinician has your stamp of approval.

New Zealand trip started the same small way. I got an email that asked if I would consider a trip there. Consider? Like it would be a hardship? I said yes, if there was interest, and kept the email handy. A month later I got a second nibble, and took it as a good omen. After introducing Lisa and Karin online, they discovered they lived in the same town, Waimate, population 3000. Now my favorite place in New Zealand, for obvious reasons.

We set a rough date in February, the dead of winter in Colorado and summer in New Zealand. Even better.

Then Bex signed on, and then Tracey, Jane, and Kim. They all worked together and carefully listed expenses, booked locations, and organized details. Did I mention they worked together? All I did was say Yes.

And buy a plane ticket. Friends told me it was a risk to invest money when I didn’t know if the clinics would fill. I do usually ask for a deposit, but they took a risk to invite a stranger from almost 8000 miles away to meet their horses. It seemed fair.

It was an amazing series; five clinics that spanned the length of the country. I was privileged to meet wonderful horses and riders with a true passion to understand them. After a holiday, the series of clinics in Australia begin in March and I doubt that would be happening without this intrepid group taking the risk first.

What started as a risk ended in trust.

My clinics are about communicating as clearly as our horses do, about trust and partnership in their equine language.

Most of us think of fear when we talk about trust. We might start in the saddle with questions about personal safety, but the real trust is still beyond that. If we finally believe horses are fully sentient, then we have to let them choose to be with us. We must trust their intelligence and let them volunteer to do their part. Positive thought is crucial when transforming risk into trust.

The value of taking a risk might be one of the best things we learn from horses. In that light, I want to thank Lisa and Karin, for taking the giant leap of faith to invite me, so that I could take the leap of faith and come. Thanks to Bex, for her special genius; thanks to Tracey, Kim, and Jane, for all the detailed fussy tasks involved in clinic preparation. Nicole and Katrina for giving me a soft landing at night. Thanks to all the participants who trusted their horses to my teaching and most of all, thank you to the beautiful horses of New Zealand. I’m in love all over again. This has been one of the truly high experiences in my life.

*An update on the drama of not understanding my own native tongue. I continue to try to learn Kiwi-speak and Maori. It’s been explained again and again but now when I try to pronounce words it’s mainly to amuse my new friends. Between my hearing loss and the accent, I still have no idea what’s being said around me.

Except for the horses. Even 8000 miles from my home barn, they have no accent at all. It’s something 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. 

Being Here Now

This is the view out the front of my deck: pastures to the ocean. I’m having a rest day, staying in the future Air BnB at Bex’s farm. She organized the first clinic here, which if you ask me, was a huge success. In this context, I define success as me having a wonderful time doing what I love best. A clinic involves all my favorite things: horses and people who care about doing the best for horses. That about sums it up.

I still have concerns about understanding the language. When I went to Europe to spend my thirtieth birthday with the Eiffel Tower, I stopped in London on the way. I could not understand a word. I had to ask people to repeat everything. Nothing quite says tourist like leaning forward with a furrowed brow while staring at a stranger’s mouth.

Please don’t show my horses this grass.

I had packed my high school French with me, but if I was failing with my own language, I knew there was no chance once I crossed the channel. All these years later the paranoia returned, coming to New Zealand, and knowing that I would need to speak to be understood, and I might be doing the leaning-forward-and-squinting thing at riders. I prayed that I didn’t sound as confusing to the riders employing me, as they did to me.

Now on to a few travel bits. For sake of convenience, I will refer to New Zealand as the Garden of Paradise. It’s just simpler.

My first hotel in the Garden of Paradise was a small independently-owned place. I signed in and was asked if I take milk. I do the leaning-forward-and-squinting thing and she repeats, “Do you take milk in your tea?” I smile, the best apology for being a tourist, and nod. She reaches under the counter, opens a small refrigerator, and hands me a small glass bottle of milk. We used to have these in grade school. She says it’s from a local dairy. Usually, I must beg for extra synthetic powdered chemicals to change the color of my coffee.

Failed attempt at over-grazing in NZ.

Clutching my cold milk, I trip over my bags until I get to my room, door wide open to let the air in. It’s simple but clean. There’s a French press and coffee for my fresh whole milk. It’s what happens in the Garden of Paradise. Along with large refillable soap containers, unlike the tiny plastic ones that I drag along with me, until I use up the soap and can recycle. But this room has a recycle bin, too. Yay.

The first day of the clinic means I get to talk about horses for hours on end, so I’m in a great mood when we all go to dinner. It’s a long table of women from the clinic. We all order wine or beer or hard cider, and wonderful dinners. Then we share all of that. It’s that happy chatter of old friends and I feel so warm; so very included. The kind of people you’d meet in the Garden of Paradise.

Photo-bombing horse now blog-bombing.

The menu looked a bit pricey but I’m on a stipend. At the end of the meal, I’m feeling wonderful, so naturally, I leave a big tip. The service was great and I want to acknowledge the generosity I’ve felt all day.

I’ve eaten out four times now, each at small independently-owned bistro sorts of places. The food has been natural and beautifully prepared. I don’t even see chain restaurants, the bane of my existence. I’ve had a small business since I was nineteen; I like supporting people more than corporations.

Around the second or third dinner, I’m informed that Kiwis don’t tip. I’m shocked. Such rudeness is horrible. Without dropping a beat, I’m told that servers in NZ are paid a living wage. About $20 an hour. Oh. I guess everyone would be able to make a living if it’s the Garden of Paradise. Dinner prices seem more than reasonable.

Yup, I find my other tribe, too.

At the end our clinic time together, the clinic participants all give me a gift. It’s a copy of The Wonky Donkey, a children’s book that they have all signed. It comes with a CD of the song, which someone is playing on their phone, so I can hear it. We are all singing along and dancing a bit. It’s possible that some dressage queens would not fully appreciate this kindness, but I am bray-starved here.  Then I had something in my eye, but not bad.

Thanks to all the Cambridge horses and riders and especially Bex, the organizer of this baptism to teaching in the Garden of Paradise. You were all perfect. I love your horses, too.

I’m nostalgic; I think of all the clinics I’ve been to over my riding life. How many times I’ve done the leaning-forward-and-squinting thing on my horse or as an auditor. German accents. French accents. Stuffy accents. At clinics now, I listen with each of my senses to understand the equine language I’ve tried the hardest to master, along with all its dialects. Communication –verbal, written or equine –has become my overwhelming passion. I always know what a privilege it is to do what I do.

Snapshot of a perfect moment in time: I’m in the Garden of Paradise and I’m the trainer with an accent. 

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. 


Photo Challenge & Poem: Beloved

Eyes averted, shuffling an invisible 
walk. A predator who feels like sad prey, 
trying to pass for normal, trying to
hold balance. It doesn’t fool the mare. 

She sees it all, distant movements in
her periphery or tiny broken parts deep
inside of complicated humans; bruised 
children in aged bodies, splintered 

intentions colored with anger, brittle 
betrayed love, or honor abandoned for 
sake of convenience. Details are less 
important to the mare than the sour 

emotions we hold tight. It isn’t her 
job to patch us up and make us whole, 
but for a moment, she can let us 
feel what it would be like if we were.

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. 

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

EOY P&L: Life, Death, and Tears

EOY P&L… my last post of the year always has some math involved. I don’t have the math skills to quantify the number of ways I hate math. I panic and tip 50%. I’m self-employed, I do my taxes armed with wine and Netflix. As much as it takes.

The hardest year-end reckoning happens here on the farm when I look around and do the math. How many did we gain this year? Who did we lose? On New Year’s I’ll want to remember each, mine and my clients. As if I could forget.

Can we pause here? Is anyone getting weepy? Anyone choking up? I truly hope not. Can I tell you the hardest part of this wonderful blog of mine? Really, it’s ungrateful for me to complain.

There is one thing that has been a challenge for me. It’s the number of times people tell me they are in tears. Sure, sometimes I write about death because where animals are concerned, I like it natural. There is nothing more natural than death. My friend says that all dog stories end the same way, and she’s right. Horse stories, too. And we cry tears. Fair. Even expected.

It’s all the other tears that upset me. Sadness about things that I had no idea would make people cry. Sometimes I go re-read what I just wrote because clearly, I’m pushing buttons, unintentionally hurting readers. It’s never my goal to make people cry, it wears on me.

Maybe I have bad boundaries. Maybe I should come with a trigger warning. Maybe I’m just a walking plague of tears and desolation. (Please don’t cry, I’m making a joke. And being paranoid.)

Maybe we are all just too full of un-cried tears. Or maybe we take things too personally. What if we all drown in justified tears? There’s a term for it: Compassion Fatigue. It’s an emotional and physical burden created by the trauma of helping others in distress. It’s a huge issue for caregivers like vets, rescue groups, and some trainers, but what about you? Have you become a victim of your emotions?

The antidote for compassion fatigue is self-care. Most of us aren’t great at this. Maybe it’s time to call your emotions back home. To become, not less caring, but more protective of your heart. To love yourself at least as much as you love horses. (Yikes, that’s a high bar.)

It’s the reason I’m so concerned about all the tears; I deal with my feelings by writing. Some of my most positive posts about training come from abuse that I see. It feels good to make that turnaround.

I also know that I have to pick my fights. The older I get, the more losses I gather, the more I try to make peace with death. Because someone is always dying. Since death is inevitable, I want to normalize it; talk about it like the weather. Yes, there’s a lump in my throat, but scary things shrink in broad daylight.

Of course, I do that with writing, too. I spent Christmas writing a poem/eulogy but didn’t post it. One person’s life celebration is another’s pain and tears. I’m trying to find that balance.

Back to our EOY P&L (end of year profit and loss.) This year we lost our oldest herd member and our very youngest. Chronology has failed one more time. Sure, it’s silly to think I’ll lose them in an order that I can predict. I’m only human.

When I lose an animal, I send off a donation in their memory. Amounts vary, it’s the action of generosity that matters. It’s a way that I give power to my tears because if tears don’t motivate us, they depress us. So hey, Colorado Horse Rescue Network, lunch is on me.

We’ve added two souls on the farm, as well. That’s a photo of Jack at the top of the page, demonstrating his favorite mental health technique. He’s a foster dog, staying for a while as his owner deals with some health issues. Meanwhile, teaching me what some people like about sleeping with hot water bottles. Really, this under-covers thing, who knew?

Norman has joined our barn family, a young Percheron/TB. He’s a handsome, serious young horse and we’re encouraging his sense of humor. I look forward to learning from him (and writing about it.) We’ve all fallen in love. Despite him being mortal.

It’s almost New Year’s; toast the lives we have had the wild luck to know and love. It’s also the day that horses all get a year older on paper. That must mean gray mares like me add one on, too.  It’s just common sense that it also means one year closer to dead. Cover yourself with animal hair. Sing off key! Dance with your demons! Celebrate life! (I say, in a dark-hearted and cheerful way.)

I hope that after expressing sadness about a loss, it also spurs us to action. I hope that we weep and howl against injustice and cruelty. That we share stories and laugh till we cry. That we cuddle our own heart like a lost puppy.

I hope that tears make us stronger.

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. 

Photo Challenge & Poem: Serene

The cowboys I knew didn't dress like 
the movies. No neckerchiefs or fancy 
Mexican spurs. They wore easy smiles 
under the brim of a dusty hat. Rough 
hands with thick knuckles, able to 

soothe a horse or build fence or squat 
to look a girl in the eye and listen. 
The first to offer help, the last to 
doff their hat at the dinner table and 
thank the cook. Full-grown men, heroes 

who live by the Boy Scout code with 
humility. Much easier to be like these 
men-with-hats who chase horses with 
flags, jerking halters in predatory 
attack. When the horse finally shuts 

down, drenched in fear, the men-with-hats 
claim a thing they call respect. An hour 
later a small group of men-with-hats, each 
carrying sticks with flags, wait to load a 
horse too wild to lead. The trainer backs 

the trailer to an alley chute. It takes a 
couple of tries and the men-with-hats make 
small mean jokes, no one offering to guide 
her in. The trainer steps from her truck, 
head down, an apology for what she knows 

they've been saying. The men-with-hats send 
the horse, an unhandled mare carrying a foal  
due soon, into the trailer. The trainer pulls 
her rig forward, lets her dogs out to pee, 
returning with some business in a plastic bag. 

She heads back to her farm taking a thing 
I call respect with her, while the men-with-hats 
slouch in a golf cart and fluff up their pride 
with impatience to close the gate behind her.


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. 
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. And then I write a poem. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)


Making War on Horses: Is it Leadership?

By reader request:

“Horses need a dominant leader; you have to make him respect you.” “You can’t let him get away with that.” “Kick him; make him do it right now or you’ll ruin him forever.” “He’s making a fool out of you –show him who’s boss.” “You can’t let him win!” Oh yes, and this one: “I break young horses.”

A few weeks ago, a client said something that stopped me in my tracks. We’d been working on re-habbing her new gelding who had nothing short of PTSD. Over the weeks, he was slowly beginning to trust again. She reflected, “He had a trainer like I had a father.”

In a blink, I was fifteen, standing under a tree with my father, who was spitting mad at me. My filly was nervous about pavement and he thought I’d been too slow coaxing her to step on it. Now it was his turn and he was going to teach her to tie. He snubbed her to the tree, spooked her to sit back, and then hit her on the back of her skull with a two by four. I can still see her quivering, trying to stay on her feet.

These were common training practices in our area, for horses and kids. He just followed tradition. My grandfather was a horse trader and a hard taskmaster. My father grew up working horses and farming with teams of mules who (he said) wouldn’t work if you didn’t beat them. And me, his daughter-when-he-wanted-a-son, might have been the first one in the family to love horses. Imagine his disappointment.

Truth: Not only do you not have to win every fight; it isn’t even a war.

An over-simplified history of humans and horses: Once upon a time there was a culture who saw the world in terms of art and music. Xenophon, a 430 B.C. Greek soldier/philosopher said, “For what the horse does under compulsion … is done without understanding and there is no beauty in it either, any more than if one should whip and spur a dancer.” At the same time, the other dominant culture was warlike. The Romans drugged their horses and rode them into battle.

Nothing has changed. 

We’ve always had these two approaches to training horses, raising kids, and generally doing business. It can feel oppositional; men against women, old against young, science-based against self-taught, and since being called a “tree hugger,” it even feels political.

The most common thing I hear from riders about positive training isn’t that it works, although it does. Most riders say they were taught harsh habits but it never felt right. That being aggressive with horses was never comfortable but it was required by others. I can understand that. Standing against my father was tough.

Years ago, I read a scientific paper that described the physical reasons for why a horse can’t learn when he’s afraid. I held it as sacred proof and quoted it to prove my point about training with kindness.

But that was before a few years of working with various rescue horses, and horses who had been flunked out by other trainers, and the saddest, brilliant young horses who got pushed too fast. Horses who have struggled with violent leadership will be the first to tell you that they learn plenty when they’re afraid. But none of it good.

It makes sense; lots of us have tolerated harsh criticism from family for decades. Some of us rebel and never show the “respect” demanded of us. Some of us just shut down, our dreams broken and our self-worth destroyed. Just like horses.

Compassionate training can get some catcalls. I’ve certainly been criticized for training like a girl. There is that sour feeling that hangs in the air implying that we are cowards. That we just don’t have the guts to break a horse. We’re too weak to win the fight with a horse and too scared to even take the bait to fight the human taunting you. That this touchy-feely training is trash that goes against herd dominance theory.

The worst? I saw a video of a rider on her young horse. She was trying mounted shooting and her horse was confused and extremely frightened. Her “friends” cheered her on, urging her to fight him through it. The rider kept kicking, jerking the reins, and shooting her gun. The more confused her horse was, the more they yelled to encourage her to keep after him. It felt like a death-fight at a Roman Colosseum.

Readers also ask me how to deal with rail-birds who tell them they aren’t tough enough on their horses. It’s a good question. How do you defend compassion in the face of criticism? Why is there so much peer pressure to dominate horses? Do the intimidation tactics that they use on their horses work on you, too?

I notice it’s as hard to stand up to bullying as it ever was.

Start here: The FBI raised animal cruelty up to a Class A felony, with murder and arson. Pause. Think about that. It isn’t that the FBI thinks kittens and foals are cute. Statistics show a majority of violent crime begins with animal abuse.

After my father passed, my mother confided that she was always afraid that he might seriously hurt one of us kids. It almost felt good to have our family tradition acknowledged.

This might not be what you expected to hear about the “you can’t let him win” philosophy. It’s a topic that I take very seriously. I’ve certainly seen humans declare war, claim dominance using weapons –sticks, whips, and spurs. Only to run horses in circles until they shut down or cripple themselves. And if cruelty was limited to barns, as much as I love horses, I’d be happy with that. But it’s a topic that reflects more about who we are than we like to admit.

Humans are born predators. We make war but we are also capable of great acts of heart. How we deal with horses, dogs, and even children give us a chance to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Are horses who we really hate? Why is it so important for us to label each other victors or victims? Is it possible for our intellect and heart to rise above our predator instinct?

I’m not saying that how we train horses will bring about world peace. It’s just one place to start.

Solstice in Scotland: We’re in process of planning a series of clinics in June 2018. If you would like to host a clinic or attend a clinic, please contact me here.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Sleeping With The Wrong Dog

Warning: This is not an upbeat rescue story.
It’s a sad story with a sad ending. 
Proceed with caution. Or don’t proceed at all.

I have a habit of writing about the rescue horses and donkeys and dogs that have come through Infinity Farm to be evaluated, fostered, and trained over the years. In a seemingly contrary way, I hope to encourage people to bring rescues into their homes but at the same time debunk romantic notions about rescue. It can be a pretty complicated topic.

Mostly, I think an abused pony or a rescue dog deserve to have their story told as much as equine Olympians and beloved family pets from reputable breeders. I write about rescues because I believe their lives matter.

People remind me that “you can’t save ’em all” but I’ve known that in a profoundly literal way since I shoplifted a dying cat back in my teens. I’ve second-guessed myself about writing the final chapter in Seamus’ short life dozens of times. Maybe I shouldn’t continue now.

The first time I wrote about Seamus was when he came to Infinity Farm to be fostered/evaluated at 13 mos. old. He was on Prozac and in a shock collar. By the second post, he’d become a different kind of “foster fail.” Usually, foster fail is a clever way of saying that a foster human fell in love and adopted their foster animal. In Seamus’ case, it meant he would never be adoptable. He had no other place to go. Readers were kind; glad that he landed with me. And again, I thought perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned him publicly.

“Her life was ok. Sometimes she wished she were sleeping with the right man instead of with her dog, but she never felt she was sleeping with the wrong dog.” – Change of Life by Judith Collas

I’ve had this quote tacked up on my wall for as long as I’ve been sleeping with dogs. It just makes me smile. And I’m grateful for a few generations of dog-piles that helped me find some rest during the rough times in my life. Recently the quote took a different twist.

I’ve always appreciated challenging dogs. Seamus fit the bill. He had good moments but more commonly, he had a snarling sideways glare. He’d bite at unpredictable times, both dogs and people, and seemed to have no knowledge of his name. Sometimes he could be coaxed with treats and sometimes he attacked us. His extreme destructive behaviors had gotten him crated full-time previously; now he needed to be out to decompress but I wondered how much of the house would survive.

After a few weeks, I thought Seamus was almost leveling out. Not quite improving; there were still dogfights and tense separations and extreme anxiety, but less of a scorched earth policy from him. We’d managed a vet visit by giving him a tranquilizer first. It didn’t work well, but with a muzzle, we were able to sedate him for blood tests and x-rays.

Not surprisingly, his little body was a painful, complicated mess of health questions, lousy joints, and fear… along with the affliction of bad training. Who knows what else?

Then a turning point: Construction workers came to repair hail damage on the farm. I took the time off work, staying with the dogs every minute. A four-day ceiling repair took two weeks. The house was cut in half for asbestos abatement. The tools were loud but the workers were louder and Seamus just came apart. His eyes changed and his anxiety exploded like a virus.

Seamus had loved the boarder who always took the time to talk to him. He’d roll over, asking her to scratch his belly through the fence and it was a happy habit. Until he bit her mid-scratch.

The next week, another boarder was talking with me in the house. Her toddler was standing by her chair when Seamus broke down a gate. A strong gate. The boarder picked up her toddler immediately; she knew Seamus’ history and didn’t hesitate. She was miraculously calm, the right answer as Seamus leaped up, nipping at her little girl. I knew I couldn’t correct him without making it worse, so I used treats to try to call him off. It took cheerful coaxing but finally, he turned to me and the aggression stopped long enough to get the little girl out of the house.

We all felt like we were living in a war zone. Maybe Seamus most of all.

At night, I’d lay down and he’d leap the edge of the bed, dropping his belly crosswise on mine, and falling immediately asleep. I matched his breath. His weight on my heart was undeniable, as I considered the unthinkable for the millionth time.

My vet wasn’t surprised when I called. She’d broached the subject of euthanizing Seamus the previous month when I brought another Corgi, Preacher Man, in with a facial abscess from a dogfight. It’s times like this that having an honest vet means the most. We had a complicated conversation about how to euthanize an aggressive dog in the most kind and compassionate way.

On the morning of his final appointment, I gave him a special breakfast. Special because it was his favorite raw meat with a nice fried duck egg on top. Special because it contained an overdose of meds to quiet him. They had the opposite effect.

We did our best for Seamus his last day. Sometimes your best looks ugly-bad. Seamus was one month short of his second birthday.

When things come apart like this, there’s some unbalanced equation of physical issues and bad history. Pain and anxiety. I believe that animals can have similar mental health issues as humans. Some find a way through it and some just can’t. Again, like humans.

I tried to make sense of backyard puppy mills and shock collars and professionals who give bad advice, as I felt despicable for appreciating the peace. Trust me, I know you can’t save ’em all but that’s no reason to quit trying.

There’s been a horrible quiet in the weeks since Seamus has been gone. It’s as if the house got stuck in an exhale. The daily “accidents” inside stopped in a while. The Dude Rancher’s dog, Finny eventually trusted the backyard again. My elderly dog came out of her Thundershirt and Preacher Man is trying to be less defensive.  I realized that the reverse of that old quote mattered to me just as much. I hoped the dogs always felt they were sleeping with the right human.

And this boy, Seamus. Some of his trouble he was born with, and some of it was done to him. In the end, it doesn’t matter how it started. I think he tried his best to fight it but that got turned around, too.

If Seamus finds redemption, I doubt it will be waiting at a mythical rainbow bridge. He might prefer a place that doesn’t allow humans.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
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Photo Challenge: Delta

Walking the washout, high desert
ground between pond silt and
prairie pasture, I know to look
for crushed cans, bits of barbed
wire, and runaway fence staples.

Only to find you crouched,
invisible and silent, refusing to
see me even as I bend close. Not
a blink of eye, so wildly strong.
So committed to life as to play

dead. Brave hatchling, as you grow
you will find your voice, singing out
your name, race-walking in a stilted
gait, an undeniable citizen of this
pond. Too often humans lose voice,

fearing it won’t be missed in the
din and flap of a chaotic world,
forgetting the indisputable power
of a single call, clear and true,
to lift the quality of the very air.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Speaker, Equine Pro
(WordPress Photo Challenge is a weekly prompt to share a photo–I enjoy twisting these macro prompts to share our micro life here on the Colorado prairie. I take these photos with my phone, on my farm. No psych, definitely not high-tech.)