The Advantage of Less Time

It’s the second big freeze here on the farm and it isn’t even Halloween. Much too early for such polar cold. No autumn colors. The leaves froze to a green-black and high winds stripped the trees in a day. No color at all on this flat windy prairie. The horses don’t care. They have what matters: Free-choice hay, room to roam, and good equine company. They are hairy and muddy and frisky, and the horses definitely aren’t whining about the upcoming time change. They don’t lose an hour because they don’t believe in hours.

Meanwhile, you’re layered and zipped, your toes are cold, and there are holes in last year’s gloves. After work there’s less light, weekend days are shorter, and whatever tolerance to frigid temperatures you gained last winter has been lost. Now an easy breeze gives you an ice cream headache and you can’t remember the name for that lack of light malady, but you think you probably have it. The final insult is losing that crucial hour.

For all we have in common with horses, this must be the biggest disconnect. We worship a thing they don’t acknowledge. We get frantic about a situation that doesn’t exist for them. We spend the best riding hours at work, where we get paid by the hour, then there’s the commute, hours lost to traffic. Then we need to ride for an hour, but we are in a rush. Grooming takes longer and so does cooling out with all that hair. It feels like you’re late before you even start.

How did an hour become the measure? Hours can’t be added to the day, but somehow light can subtract hours? If your horse cared where you went all day, he’d have no sympathy. He thinks you’ll come home with hay and he’s right. Now you’re making up angry ranting lyrics to Christmas carols and calculating how many hours of work go into buying new snow tires.

Finally, you arrive at the driveway to the barn. The car thermometer tells you just how far the temps have dropped but there is an apricot hue over the pasture and the horses are running. Snow sprays as hooves churn through drifts, every tail is flagged and their necks are arched like fairy tale steeds, manes flying silver and gold. Even the old gelding is running. The herd sees you and takes another lap, just for the sheer joy of feeling the glory of being what they are. And in each galloping stride, your breath catches in your throat and time stands still.

Silly to think that we could be late for a timeless love.

What good comes from fighting time? All your horse knows is that you’re anxious and he should be wary. When did any of us think that quantity was better than quality? Rather than trying to squeeze horses into hour time slots, maybe we could gain something from evolving ourselves to horse time. Rather than feeling guilty we don’t ride longer and more often, we could forgive time and ourselves. We could turn rushed moments into precious memories. These are the good old days right now.

I’m a trainer. I live in the gap between horses and humans. I tell the time in liters of stomach acid, two liters an hour; let him eat. In lessons that last an hour, I watch the big picture, where the two of you started and where you’re wanting to go, and then I make suggestions. I am frugal and want you to get your money’s worth. I’m paid by the hour, meaningless to a horse. I’ve taught myself to say, “You don’t buy an hour of my time, you buy a positive change in your horse.” In a perfect moment, I can see your horse try to get it right, become confident he’s understanding it, and then beam with success. I can see you want more, enthusiastic and thrilled, but not certain you can do it again. I check my worthless watch, buying time to say what I dread as much as you. “Jump down, you’re done.” We step away and give him the last word. He releases, gives calming signals, maybe has a serotonin moment if we’re lucky. I do it for your horse, but I feel guilty for cheating you out of saddle time. I stay late and talk theory with you to try to make up for your horse’s brilliance cutting the ride short. Because he comes first, and you’ll get a better horse from less time.

Less primping and fussing. Less drilling and nagging. Less standing around trying to think of what to do. Less conflict. Less self-criticism.

More awareness in the moment. More understanding of the horse’s perceptions. More trust than fear. More breathing time to a stop. More gratitude.

Rather than being a moody repetitive stress-pot, you could prove to your horse that you’re not that kind of person. You could be interesting and mysterious:

  • Halter him and take him for a roll in the arena sand. Put him back out with his friends.
  • Bring out a pile of hay and get out your favorite rubber curry combs. Curry until your shoulders are soft and his skin is warm.
  • When your horse walks to the mounting block and quietly stands, you lead him back to the barn sometimes.
  • You gently mount and walk five steps, dismount, and go for a graze. Later climb on again for 10 minutes, two good rides on one day.
  • Crank up the music. Let your horse pick the playlist. Ride like nobody’s watching.
  • Have a normal ride, meaning a systematic, energetic twenty-minute warm-up on a neckring. Leave his face alone.
  • Remember that you can’t focus on a thought for long and are more easily distracted than a horse. Let that be okay.
  • Feel him soften, stride up, and feel strong. Then feel good about yourself. You’ve won.
  • Be unpredictable; laugh out loud. Ride with passion. Train complicated things for fun.
  • Ride with such sweet forward ground-covering movement that contact feels good to your horse.
  • Always get off before you want to. Always stop before your horse has had enough.
  • Thank him profoundly for his generous lesson because he has even less time than you do.
  • Smile and wave to the railbirds after you put your horse up. Forgive yourself again, in plain sight.

Do you hear voices asking if you’ve gone soft? I hope you have. Do the voices accuse you of training like a girl? Don’t take the bait. Train this way because of a knowledge of equine brain science and biomechanics. Train this way because it feels good to your horse. Train this way because there isn’t enough time in a whole lifetime, so be glad time makes you focus on quality. Always want more but stop too soon. Stay hungry.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

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Working with riders of any discipline and horses of any breed, Anna believes affirmative dressage training principals build a relaxed & forward foundation that crosses over all riding disciplines in the same way that the understanding Calming Signals benefits all equine communication.

Anna Blake

50 thoughts on “The Advantage of Less Time”

  1. Wow ! Anna !
    Today just happens to be my
    Sexty Fifth Birthday and you just gave me the best gift !
    I so needed your words today .
    Thank you .
    With love and hugs , Nina

    Reply
  2. I have learned to allocate three hours for each ride, door to door. I can skimp a bit in summer but remembering already here in our now cold turning weather, skimping makes me grumpy. I need that time to flow fore and aft rides without hurry.

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  3. Anna – Love all your posts, but this one especially. As a recent Colorado transplant to SoCal, I’m jealous of your seasons there at altitude. Unlike hours and minutes, seasons are a kind of measuring time that maybe horses understand, feel in their bones? I’m not a horse person, but I like to think so.

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  4. Another wonderful article, Anna. Thank you. It made me feel sad though…… My two horses don’t have a field they can run and kick up their heels in. They have gravel sacrifice areas and a large area I can’t use now because it is more deep mud than dry. I haul them to ride, to give them an arena turn out to occasionally play together (and pray they don’t hurt each other with too much enthusiasm). I brush them often, take them for walk abouts around our property knowing all the while that they would much prefer to be free to move and play and buck and kick up their heels. I often think I shouldn’t have horses because I’m really not set up for their mental needs. They get excellent care and are fed and handled several times a day. But I still feel guilty……because I have them for my own selfish needs. Because horses feed my soul and I can’t imagine not having them in my life. I need to be a part of their herd.

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  5. Train this way because it feels good to your horse. Yes, it does. And that is all I ever wanted, for him to feel good. Thank you Anna for telling me (and the world) that it’s the right thing to do. I knew that, but it feels good to hear it in someone else’s words. I go slow and get a better horse in less time. Win! Win!

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  6. Anna! One of the many good things about your blog is that it reminds me that I’m not alone. The timing of this article could not have been any better for me and my (can’t think of appropriate words here) self! Both of my horses are pretty overweight at this point and I’ve been obsessing over finding the time (and decent energy) to exercise them. Riding is farther down the list — just exercise of some kind is important because I will not go back to rationing their hay. I let this early freeze complicate it even more for me – silly. I’ve printed out this article and will carry it in my pocket for a while to remind me. Quality. Thank you thank you thank you!

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    • Oh, my friend. Like my herd isn’t eating it’s way to heaven. I’m not sure how we all feel alone, but I’ll write about it, thank you. And I know you do your very best. Your horses know that too.

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      • I’m am quietly convinced that you Anna Blake have lived on this earth before as a Horse and you are absolutely duty bound to share your knowledge with the world on how to go about doing/being with these majestic creatures. The flow on effect is that social media allows an infinite number of people to learn about you and your work/passion thankfully we are growing in numbers by the minute. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

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        • I kinda feel haunted (in the best way) by a good horse. Not sure why I have been given the wonderful opportunities I have, but I’m gonna ride it as long as I can. I owe horses so much. Thanks, Megan.

          Reply
  7. I have noticed my four geldings are very aware of the time…time for morning feed and hay; time to be let up to the front field where there’s more grass; time to leave the front field and get our evening hay (we return without being asked!) This I call time-time. For them, I don’t think that hour thing is that big a deal. I may be wrong about that, though!
    Clock-time is another matter altogether, bringing with it lots of stress, financial (be paid by the job and get it done faster) as well as emotional (it is rude to keep another human waiting…which it is!) Still, I do envy those non-clock watchers as they really know how to live in the moment more than the rest of us do.
    I remember when horses first came to live in my back yard. I was in the fast lane with a highly stressful job. I would head to the barn early in the morning to feed. I had to get “it” done quickly, as there were people waiting for me. Being in my horses’ presence, though, immediately time-time took over as I joined the “live in the moment” world. And while I envy those non-clock watchers, I give myself a secret smile for the honor of being with my time-time herd even if it’s just for a little while.

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  8. Interesting and mysterious? I’ve never thought of myself as both. Sometimes interesting maybe. I guess it’s time for both! Will practice! That picture is amazing although it makes me cringe a bit. I know that weather is coming this way as we inch towards winter. Hopefully it will come in a kind of elegant and thoughtful way rather than the full on tantrum you experienced! Yikes!

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  9. “Thank him profoundly for his generous lesson because he has even less time than you do.”

    I have never thought of this. I constantly remind myself of my age, my aches and worries. But, other than “he’s in his mid-20’s” or “the little mini will be 10 this year”, I’ve not thought of their life span being so much shorter than mine.

    Thank you Anna. Today will be the first day of all of our lives and it’ll be well spent. Curry combs in hand.

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  10. I try to be all dressage-y and play something classical but my wee beastie girl just loves Terry Clark. Miss Dancer is a QH/Appy/Percheron and she’s a real prairie girl. She will wear a blanket because the barn manager is cold but she’d rather point her giant butt to the wind and doze. She grows hair in all the inappropriate places (a little like her middle-aged human) and knows how to give side-eye if you disturb a good nap on a windy bug-less day. Sometimes we hang out in the pasture instead of following the agenda. Sometimes I bring her in and spend 30 minutes grooming her, then carrots, then back out with her friends. I love how she and I have changed since I found your blog. And I love the poetry. Thank you for your contribution in making the final years of my 19 year old mare so much better.

    Reply
    • Kinda flattered to think of my writing as a kind plan for a smart mare. Thanks so much. Thanks for liking the poetry, too. That’s the challenging part of writing for me. Best to Miss Dancer and for crying out loud, don’t let her hear Lady Gaga. 🙂

      Reply
  11. I love everything about this blog.. and most especially that you managed to include tips on how to be interesting and mysterious since that is not my strongest point ! I tend to get too serious with my horses and love how light and happy you always seem in your videos !! I get all teary eyed about their time being shorter than ours, and I think it’s important to always remember that. The gift of an hour of their time to us is priceless.

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  12. Thank you for this beautifully written piece. I enjoy reading everything that you write, especially your poems. This post is particularly poignant as I have been thinking about many of these ideas recently–slowing down, being present, helping the horse to feel safe with me, watching for calming signals, quality over quantity. Your suggestions at the end are great–I would love to share them on my facebook page (would that be okay?), with credit to you.

    I would like to attend one of your clinics–do you ever come to Canada? I am in Edmonton, Alberta.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Diane. Thanks for reading along. Especially the poems… I like them, too. Share away, yes. Me and a few trainers I know try to come to Canada but the work visas are impossible. Sadly, I can’t come. Sorry for that part.

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  13. As of today, this has become my credo. Thank you for the validation of how I have felt, for so long, it really should be. ❤️

    Reply
  14. Reading this on friday I felt “yes! Yes!” from my inner trainer perspective.

    Last night giving a lesson to my daughter I had a bit of an epiphany. For those of us who are primarily ‘teaching horses’ so to speak, it’s critical to stop when ‘the lesson’, some small but perfect step forward, is complete. This might be 5 minutes, or 25, rarely an hour.

    For those of us working on our own riding or teaching humans, the focus is on the human advancing in the physical skill of riding. For many of us this opportunity only exists for that weekly hour lesson. Yes, lots can be done out of the saddle to improve the rider. But experience actually riding is paramount.

    Would love your thought on the riders need for volume of physical experience versus the blessed and most patient horse trotting “once more, practice a quick check of your diagonal” around the arena.

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  15. Such great reminders for those of us who are driven to accomplish throughout our work day and then rush to fulfill our true passions at the barn. Set aside the “plan” and honor the horse by going wherever the horse needs to go to have a good experience on any particular day.

    Reply

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