Being Grateful for Things You Don't Like.

WMDodgerRideMy favorite training mentor had a habit that drove me nuts. She would be working with a horse who spooked or flipped his head or had some other issue that made him a disaster and when she climbed on, if you were close, you could hear her say in a low and quiet voice, “Goody, goody.” She would have a small smile and be cheerful.

The woman was nuts. It was like she couldn’t tell right from wrong. She loved a bad ride. It wasn’t that she wanted the adrenaline thrill of trying to stay on, and she didn’t pick fights. She just thought a conversation with a horse got more interesting once some resistance showed up.

I was a novice rider just beginning to compete a young horse and neither of us was very confident. One of us was trying way too hard. And it was so important that he was perfect. We hated problems. Okay it was me, I hated it when he was bad.

So I was a conditional rider. I did well if my horse was confident and in a good mood, but if something went sideways, I couldn’t cope. I didn’t act out and jerk on his mouth or use a whip. Instead I got quietly resistant. Every cue started with the disciplinary word don’t. Don’t spook, don’t run off, don’t quit. If I could just try to control his every breath, just not allow him to come apart… I was totally focused on resisting my horse’s resistance.

So naturally, my trainer ruined my Zen by celebrating the bad like she did.

Let me be clear: She was right. I was wrong and being a judgmental jerk, the kind of person who discriminates against imperfection. The kind of person that I don’t like much.

There is a tiny moment. It’s wedged right between the point where everything is going well and you love your ride, and that point where both you and your horse start to come apart. This tiny moment is when we stop listening and start ordering. And when a confused or frightened horse gets told that he’s wrong. Understanding gets sacrificed for external appearances. We become bullies, jerking and kicking, or just holding on for dear life. We become part of the problem.

But in that tiny moment, when you just start to feel him tense, you have a choice. You don’t have to flinch and take the bait. In that tiny moment, you could confound nay-sayers and defy common sense and choose to get happy. What possible good can come out of making your horse wrong?

Instead, you can take a breath and discipline yourself. You can do something totally crazy, you can smile and let your hands breathe out some reins. You can embrace the moment, leave the criticizing to others and get on about helping your horse. Less correction, more direction.

Amazingly, in that same tiny moment, he is right there wanting to hear from you. Horses live in the present and because horses don’t get stuck using right or wrong labels, they are more fluid. Their minds are capable of change, at least to the degree their rider’s are. In that instant you can turn things around with a pat. You can change who you are and how your horse responds.

I rode with this genius trainer for five years. I learned some fancy party tricks and by the end, people thought I had a great horse. The truth was even better than that, but first I had to learn to see my horse as perfect and willing, especially when appearances were deceiving. I held to that truth and it made all the difference.

At this time of Thanksgiving, I am so grateful for horses in my life, but even more than that, I am grateful for this bit of knowledge, passed down from my mentor. It’s enough to make you laugh at its simplicity–this awareness that it’s all good, if you approach it that way.

Too Pollyanna-ish for you? It’s true there are some big ugly issues in the horse world, like slaughter and abuse. Things so nasty that it’s easier to look away and ignore them. It can take some strength to look that kind of darkness in the face and not flinch. To take a breath and start to work on a positive solution. My perfect horses taught me that keeping an open mind and expecting the best beats name-calling and whining about what is wrong–every. single. time.

“My horse has a problem with his canter depart.” “You can’t save them all.”

Now I’m the trainer and with a nod to my mentor, I say, “Goody, goody.” Because I know the one the rider thinks has the problem, is not really the one with the problem at all. Because this is a chance for something good to happen.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

Anna Blake

0 thoughts on “Being Grateful for Things You Don't Like.”

  1. What great advice! I’m sure my horse would have been really grateful if someone had taught me that! Thinking back, he put up with a lot – he was very sweet & patient!

  2. I LOVED this post! As a relatively novice rider on a horse known for his quirkiness, I used to just tense up past any reasonable expectation every time things went sideways. Now, years later, same horse … and everybody knows that when I start laughing or have a huge smile, things just really went wrong. No matter whether it’s on the trails, on a dressage court, in an arena, during a lesson, just playing around … My horse has given me the gift of acceptance, humor and the full knowledge that we are in this together. Thanks again for reminding me how far we have come.

  3. Well said. I used to have a “red-headed woman” of a bright chestnut mare, out of a Swedish stallion with a reputation for bad behavior. She would “rather fight than switch,” and being half-German, I always rose to the occasion. My clinician helped me learn to ignore the gauntlet the mare would throw down and quietly continue guiding her through our dressage work, and you know what? It took away most of her fight! The same clinician helped me immensely with the Morgan I had at the same time. He was a border collie of a horse, always wanting to do something and trying to second-guess what I wanted instead of letting me be the lead in our dance. When I learned to sit back, laugh, and enjoy all his “Do you want this? Or this? Or THIS?” it took MY stress away, and we progressed nicely together to Prix St. George (this little guy I was told would “only” be a trail horse).

    • Being a German you were always wiling to rise to the occasion when your horse wanted to “fight”? Really? Klaus Balkenhol is a German, Reiner Klimke is a German, Ludger Beerbaum is a German, and Germans created most of the dictums that allow horses to mature as they are schooled. Ignorant remark. Glad you got over it but I’m personally sick of hearing disparaging remarks about the people who wrote the Richtlinien.

      • Harsh words for someone sharing her process of learning. I understand being frustrated by generalizations… is it possible that both comments are true? (Coming from Maudie Schmidt’s granddaughter.)

      • Thank you. Here is another German who doesn’t “rise to the occasion to fight” but rather tries to establish trust and create a calm and quiet environment in which the horse can thrive.

        • Good for you. In my case, I was started by people who believed in more domineering training methods, for animals and kids. I had to learn to not fight. I’m glad you didn’t have to take that path. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Another great read! You made me think of something that dawned on me a couple of months ago. I was thinking about the concept of comfortable and uncomfortable to reinforce/teach what we are asking the horse to do, and I think in the past have thought about these being applied in equal amounts; well i was thinking about my class & how I use a lot of positive rewards/reinforcement and a lot less of the opposite, and that’s when it dawned on me that I could be doing the same with the horse. I think i was inadvertently doing this anyway, but it just happened to hit me & your post about being positive resonated with those ideas. 🙂

  5. Anna, your post could not have come at a better time! You just knew you needed to speak to me RE: my “Psydney” red head, 8 year old, Arabian mare! It was one of those rides today! Will explain further…if necesary!?…next time in Canon City! Hope you had a great Thanksgiving and I wish you a wonderful Christmas! Thank you for all your insite and encouragement!

  6. I tell you what, Anna…you and Jenny would make an awesome team! One of you is going to have to make the long trek across the “other” pond–you both have so much to contribute, and it’s all so non-conventional! Anna, I’m going to have to make my way to your place one of these days. I know we’ll get on like a house on fire and my Xino is sure to blossom!

    Indian Hills, Colorado

  7. I have always know that riding lessons are there to teach the rider and not the horse. If the riders asks correctly the horse gives what is asked for. My very firs instructor, and every other one throught my youth taught me that. If we got frustrated with horse we were told off. Now when I look for an instructors I always find some-one who teaches ME and not my horse. And as I get better so it shows in my horse, after all, he is just waiting for me to catch up to him so he can show off.

  8. “What possible good can come out of making your horse wrong?”

    How often are they actually “wrong”? Isn’t it usually a case of them giving us what we asked for, and us not realizing we asked for it?

    Love the reply above^. My (former) trainer used to say “Never let them see you sweat. No matter what happens, act like it was your idea.” Super advice.

    Great post!

  9. Thanks so much Anna!!! I really enjoyed it. I totally know about that “tiny moment” and I often start ordering instead of listening. So well said. I will definitely remember this advice. It is all about the attitude. By the way, I like the tattoo idea …;-).

  10. Loved the article and used this idea last night in the cold indoor with my TB mare, I could laugh at her “silly” moments and amazingly our short ride was much better than me fussing at her the whole time. I’m going to apply this to our agility dogs and their training too, a confident, happy dog is always the best partner for competitions 🙂

  11. I don’t ride any more but my new hobby is sheep herding. You would not believe HOW much horse training crosses over to dogs. This is exactly what my trainer has been teaching me over the last year, well four years if you get down to it. Relax, don’t try to make it perfect, take the emotion out of it. work WITH the dog, not against it. well said. Claire

  12. I need to read this everyday to remind myself to do this with my young horse. He is such a wonderful fellow and I need to remember he needs my support and not my resistance. Great post!!

  13. My first horse was a OTTB and spooky as all get-out . I got dumped time and time again. Then my trainer taught me to chase anything and everything he spooked at- cows, deer, trucks- people thought we were nuts. But I’d be whoopin’ it up and we’d go tearin’ down the road or trail or even better, OFF the trail chasing whatever. I’ve done it with all my horses since and every single one of them is “dead broke”. Nothing phases them. If they get surprised by something they turn eagerly towards it as if to say, lets go get it! It’s all about the attitude. And I used that lesson during my 24 yrs in the military too.

  14. ‘Goody, goody’…could be applied to every aspect of life where there is a challenge…the key is in seeing it as it arises. Something that can be so hard (to get out of your own mind/emotion) to see it and something that is hard to let go of the need to control it. Thanks for the ‘Goody, Goody’ 🙂

  15. I loved what I read. So beautifully said and something I am learning & practicing more than ever before. Thought I had such great “connection” with my horses, after a TBI & no riding for over a year now, the much deeper connection I have now from just being there, not always asking, and or correcting, has truly been astounding. At age 69 you are Never too old to learn and never to old to continue your passion.

    • Glad you are recovering, and I agree. I think we totally underestimate the value of the work we do on the ground with horses. And I don’t even like calling it ‘work’. Great comment, thanks.

  16. This is basically the theory my Mother taught me from a very young age. I made lots of blunders but came to easily accept it. Easy. That was a quiet word to any horse I was dealing with when trouble started to appear. Easy baby, easy. In that low soft voice. I have always had very soft hands and between that and Easy. I have never been dumped. Horses just like me. They misbehave but they have never become violent. I am 49 now. Wish I could ride more often. But it was a Mother and an Arabian stallion that I owe my ability to walk too. This was a very pleasant read and reminded me of so much good.

  17. …I knew we had messed up, right there in front of everyone to see, and beyond the point of correcting “us”, the only horse/rider in the ring…I started laughing (something like a big giggle), dropped the reins, and walked over to the judge. I said, ” I’m sorry for wasting your time!” (Still giggling). She said, “no, no, don’t be…that’s the most fun I’ve had all day!” Her smile was as big as mine. We were tired. The last day of a 3 day circuit. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, come to think of it….tired! I sure love my horses! I was 43…it was time for a good laugh and a long nap 😂.

  18. I just want to thank you for this, I came across it completely randomly, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. You have helped change my relationship with my horse for the better. MANY MANY thanks for this – very grateful. As I ride through the spooks now I smile, relax my body and sing quietly “there is a *moment*”, but now there are no any more anyway!

  19. Your writing is so delightful. I find myself wanting to comment on this snippet or that, and if I commented on all of them, I’d have to start my own blog and call it The Anna Blake Blog Response Blog. Or something like that. I think instead of all that, I’ll just say thanks.

    “… if you were close, you could hear her say in a low and quiet voice, “Goody, goody.”


  20. A friend shared this with me. I don’t have horses, but I do have an agility dog that sometimes stops mid-course to playbow and chase butterflies. When I find myself getting frustrated, I need to take a deep breath and think about why butterflies are more interesting than the 35 seconds we spend in the ring and how did I get us to this point. At least she has fans and judges who enjoy her antics. So much food for thought.

    • I’ve done agility with all my dogs, I know the precious moment when the butterflies come!! Even more appropriate with dogs–the need to be cheerful and positive with a GOOD BOY when the dog finally returns…after visiting all of his new friends and pretending he has never seen me in his life! Thanks Rebecca.

  21. I’m what you might call a re-rider — rode before I walked but had to let it go for 40 years until I was in a position to buy a horse at 56. And what a horse — a spooky, Breaking Amish draft cross mare with minimal riding experience. I’ve forgotten far more than I would have thought possible but somehow we’ve managed over the past 3.5 years to make a go of it, mainly because I have learned to listen to and work with her. I learn something about and from her every ride and am so thankful for this opportunity.

  22. I enjoyed reading every comment posted and all of Anna’s reply’s, so imensely;
    I deeply look forward to the next..
    I would not have known about Anna, if not for Amy Larson who posted her link on FB..
    Thank you, Amy Larson…

  23. Anna – Thank you for your profound article. Since 2014, I have devoted myself to becoming a horseman rather than just a rider aided by tie- downs, brain chains, bits , etc. I have ridden all my life; but my focus was on me and on competing. I drilled my horses to help me win but recognized that the willingness, softness and fluidity that I experienced in my Father’s horses was not there in mine. My eyes were opened in my later years by talented people that trained my horses for me or helped me solve problems with my horses. I witnessed that they truly could change a horses mind & then their demeanor; this peaked my interest. I decided that when I retired from the corporate world that I would spend my time becoming a horseman. I was anxious to learn new and wonderful techniques, but soon discovered that I needed to begin by learning about myself and what I needed to change within me before I could be an effective partner with my horses. My journey is going to be long as I have so many bad habits & so much to learn – but my mind is open and now I have the time. Your article has helped me immensly; THANK YOU!

    • Tom, Good for you. It’s Xenophon (430 BC) who 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.” These two training methods have been going on since the beginning of time… and we are still trying to learn. I applaud your efforts. Thank you for your honest, thoughtful comment.

  24. I loved this! My Clydesdale taught me this lesson the hard way. He kicked me and broke a rib! “Regular” bossy horse training did not work for us so I stopped. Started learning “Natural” training of “goody goody” and we lived happily ever after – ha!

    Turns out these healing relationship skills apply perfectly to families of alcoholics as well. Like horses, Addicts are very sensitive to pressure and hate to be controlled. My horse gave me many gifts! Thank you for your article!

    • Thank you, Betty. I am always so clear that good “training” trickles down to so many parts of my life; I do confess reading “” got a chuckle from me, then I went to your site… well done! Thanks for commenting, Betty.

      • Glad you got a chuckle – that is the intention. Horse Whispering analogy offers a “fun” way to discuss a normally very unhappy and touchy subject – especially when it is about changing myself instead of that “darn, bad acting, horse”. : )

  25. I have a horse that when I got him 10 years ago, was. 8 had only recently been gelded.
    He was always ready for a fight.
    He was quite terrifying, I was so disappointed that my dream of owning my own horse had gone so wrong.
    This horse taught me so much about myself.
    Mainly we humans have a huge ego.
    It is a 2 sided thing, what am I bringing into this. This was a big one for me. So much will repeat it what am I bringing into the situation
    Respect works both ways.
    Also I believe horses reflect back to us ourselves.
    Interestingly the turning point was when I saw the horse for what he was AFRAID.
    His anger, and violence was because he believed he had to be prepared to kill you because he believed you were going to kill him. I cannot imagine what abuse was in this horses past.
    This horse profoundly changed me and my approach to training not just horses but dogs. I will always be truly thankful to him.
    My first thought when frustrated, upset, disappointed is I need an ego check. And what am I bringing into the situation. I did not think I had much of an ego at all, but this horse told me different.

    • Great comment, Beccy. Ego has to be redefined with every conversation with a horse… We ask them to forgo their own instinct, and then get surprised when they ask the same of us. Thanks for sharing.

  26. :-). after many years with horses and learning to be a better leader and partner. I have learned to leave my ego behind. I enjoyed your article, I have a similar mentor who tells me to say “how interesting” when things don’t quite go as I’d like or as expected. With horses as with life, the way you approach things and with what attitude can make a big difference. The horses certainly know the difference.

    • Thank you, Donna. I think you are so right about attitude. Labeling something in a negative way puts us in a corner to start. The label isn’t helpful. Great comment, thanks.

  27. Awesome advice. I can not agree with you anymore. I am not a professional rider or trainer, but through the grapevine people seem to call me and want help with their horses, ponies, or mules. I can not stess enough how important being relaxed and confident effects the animal and your ride. People are amazed at how their horse acts when I ride, compared to the ride they often are given. I try my best to explain how their nervousness, anxiety, and frustration is felt by their horse, and if they could just relax things will go a lot easier. If you act like something is wrong they think there is something wrong. I really like to goody goody attitude. This can save a lot of horses from unnecessary stress and demise.

    • I have a client who once had a trainer yell at her to stop being scared. You are right, being relaxed is the answer; just that simple. The problem is that there is a huge gap between simple and easy… that’s where good help is really a gift, and bad help destroys. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Michele.

  28. This was wonderful and should help the experiences of both horse and rider. Years ago, I began realizing I needed a new approach to people (usually), events or animals sometimes that I found “difficult”. That somehow set me off, didn’t maje me feel like me. Where I became ruled by emotion, response. I realized we have infinite choices in 1: how we view a situation and two infinite possibility and choice in our reaction. I turned things around from feeling victimized to feeling constructive first by merely re-labeling these situations as my “Spiritual Trainers”. It helped a lot to diffuse any anger. Now I can see anytime a person or animal produces an unexpected feeling in me, I go into psychological detective mode. It helps do much to not take things personally and to be the person I want to be to animals and people. We always have a choice on how we label our experience and we can change the filters by which we sort the infinite input we are receiving at any moment for the better. I wish everyone a wonderful year and to fulfill your dreams

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