In Training to Be a Late Bloomer

He was a bona fide dressage master. We were lucky to have him come for a clinic. It was the early 90s and I was signed up for three rides at $225 each. More than I’d spent on my horse and I knew the clinic would change my life. The participants joined him for dinner the night before the clinic started. Aware of his training resume and humbled by his accent, when he stood to address us, we were awestruck. Here’s where it got a bit mucky. Granted, I’ve always been hard of hearing, and he did have a thick accent, but I swear he told us it was too late for us. He spoke in old-world romantic terms about riding, saying to really excel you had to have been riding advanced horses as a teen, younger if possible. Did he actually have to nerve to stand in front of a bunch of fanatic women, most of us still in our 30s, and tell us we were too old to learn?

It’s a testament to good manners and low self-esteem that the dressage master survived dinner. If I had to defend him, he probably meant that none of us would be riding in the Olympics. That didn’t come as a shock to us. We rode Appaloosas and Morgans and draft crosses. We came in odd shapes. We’d all had the experience of being underestimated; we weren’t quitters. And he was wrong. I learned a lot that clinic; things that still guide me today.

The horse world is constantly changing. More often riders come to horses later in life now, after responsibilities of family and career have lightened. Mostly women, she approaches horses with the passion of a twelve-year-old girl but with one huge improvement. She has her own checking account. There’s a sweet notion that every horse should be loved by a young girl. As someone who babysat to buy hay, I think horses do better with people who have the same desire, as well as the money to keep them well.

Money isn’t the only advantage. A woman of a certain age has gained some skills. We’re good at listening and negotiating. We understand what a commitment means and are willing to ask for help when we need it. Domination isn’t our first choice, a trait that puts us at the head of the line right there, if you ask horses. Some of us have held ourselves together when our toddlers are screaming on the floor of the grocery store or had to “cry about it later” when faced with overwhelming challenges that we still had to march our way through. And some of us are lucky enough to be past hormonal drama.

Maturity has hundreds of benefits in the horse world, but here is the problem. Most novice mid-life riders have wanted horses forever. We’ve been diminished for loving animals; told we’d grow out of this girlish phase but we were right about animals then and we’re right now. So, we hold a bit of a grudge. It was the childhood dream never given up on. This group of riders has (by now) the hard-cooked passion of a twelve-year-old girl mixed with the near belligerent stubbornness of a woman who knows what she wants. Best of all, this group is proving a certain dressage master wrong. It ends up that this is the best recipe for a rider who not only wants to do better for her horse but is capable of learning and doing amazing feats of horsemanship.

The downside is something I hear often; the sense that because of the late start, they must make up for lost time. Others rode as kids and they feel they just can’t catch up. That coming to riding later in life, being a late bloomer, is a disability. It makes me smile. Half of my clients are life-long horsewomen who are trying to unlearn old-school methods that have repeatedly failed their horses. Relearning is much more challenging than first time learning, but that’s okay. They aren’t quitters either.

The thing we all have in common is that we all know horses who were started too young and pushed too hard. Thoroughbreds who die on the track before they’re three. Performance horses competing at high levels before they are mature, retiring by the time they’re ten. Horses for whom harsh training was a trust-damaging assault. Some physically break down and for some it’s mental, but we’re all about the potential in young horses. Our dreams land crushingly hard on fillies and colts.

How can youth be the pinnacle of anything? Why do we think horses who still have their baby teeth should shoulder skills beyond their years? And why do we sell ourselves short for being late bloomers?

If you are a novice rider, may I remind you that contrary to appearances, working with horses was never meant to be a race over in minutes. We should all consider ourselves endurance riders, in it for the long ride. There is always a starting line, but there is no finish line. There are plenty of masters of horsemanship who believe, at sixty or seventy, that they are starting to make real progress in understanding horses. Plenty of experienced riders totally undone by the challenge of a new horse so totally different than others. The art of being with horses is to make yourself brand new every single day, every single horse.

It’s human to want to think that others have all the advantages, but each horse will tell you they are special. We’re free to plan whatever we want but we live in a world beyond control. We are at the mercy of unforeseen circumstances when creativity can be a better aid than book-learning. Even then, there are things we do control. We could remember our own value, use the skills experience has given us, and trust that things will work out because we have lived long enough to know that’s true.

So, you will start right where you are, accepting your horse right where he is. You aren’t late, and frankly, the longer you take, the better for your horse. Besides, you can’t lose. You are with a horse, you get to muck and groom and call the vet. You are living the dream every single day. No one has more.

Is my life what I expected all those years ago at dinner? No, it’s even better. I’m on the highest learning curve of my life. Right now, I’m training an eighteen-month-old mule. She is smarter and quicker than me, with hormones blossoming and the maturity of that toddler in the grocery store. Beware, young one. I am sixty-five, with the confidence to listen to you and the fortitude to do the right thing. I have a lifetime of experience and I study current information on equine brain science. I know you’re impatient, but we’ll do this at my speed. We’ll go slow because I’m training you to be a late bloomer.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm

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Anna’s latest book, Going Steady: More Relationship Advice from Your Horse, is now available everywhere.

Working with riders of any discipline and horses of any breed, Anna believes 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

80 thoughts on “In Training to Be a Late Bloomer”

  1. In celebration of the National Day of the Horse, this is the best message for all of us to stay with our horse dreams, to not quit. Thank you for this timely and thoughtful gift.

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  2. Yes, and thank you! As a 65 year old late-bloomer still taking lessons and, learning only now, how to be in true partnership, connection and relationship with my horses. This is what I fell in love with as a young girl that escaped me for awhile.

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  3. Having gotten my first horse at 53, I really love this! I’m 74 now and still learning. My horses keep my body & my brain active and healthy. Ride on, late bloomers! Ride on!

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  4. This one absolutely brought me to tears!!! So incredibly true!!! Thanks for putting so eloquently what all us “late bloomers” need to hear!

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  5. You’ve pretty much written about me in this post! You have put in words what I’ve been thinking about lately especially having just purchased a 10 year mustang (whom I had leased for a couple of years) He keeps this 66 year old active, learning, social and happy! Thanks for your insightful message.

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  6. This piece puts things into perspective, a real gem. There is an advantage to being a “late bloomer” because your slate is clean. These days with training approaches changing to being more compassionate over domination, the horse world is slowly changing. Those that start early have habits that are hard to change and some won’t, so here’s to the late bloomers. May your learning never end and your progress be ever rewarding. Still going strong at 65!

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  7. ‘We should all consider ourselves endurance riders, in it for the long ride. There is always a starting line, but there is no finish line.’ Lovely words of confirmation for me – someone who bought a challenging first horse at 50, finally making a real connection with her after some really slow and deliberate positive work. And loving it, despite all of the naysayers around me. This post is full of words of encouragement for me (as many of your posts are!). Thank you.

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  8. Thank you! I Love this! It really strikes a chord with what I feel and wrangle with in my head every day! I have finally adopted the attitude you so succinctly expressed, “You are with a horse, you get to muck and groom and call the vet. You are living the dream every single day. No one has more.”

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  9. Hear hear! I’ve spent my life being a late bloomer. From getting boobs to going to med school to owning horses. Am very blessed!

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  10. Anna your writing reaches deep, putting into words things I have thought, felt and known in my heart. 63, also still taking lessons, family grown and my love of animals still there after city living and other loyalties almost drowned it, my 9 year old stock horse as perfect as I could wish for, I am experiencing all you describe. I now have horse friends from 11 years old to 79 years old, my heroes being those who are open to learning and kind with their horses. With my horse each hour is outside of time. My biggest challenge is to keep it that way. Worry about time passing robs the joy.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom and encouragement

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  11. I was a most fortunate 12- or 13-year-old who got my first horse from a patient step-grandfather who guided me through “breaking” her, starting with groundwork/ground-driving and other gradual, kind education. I’ve enjoyed starting my own ever since, but haven’t always had that privilege. Now, at 58, I’m looking at getting what may be my last horse, and much of her appeal is that she is a clean slate, a quiet three-year-old that has been haltered and occasionally had her feet trimmed and not much else, just allowed to grow up running on pasture with other horses, developing a sound body and mind. Provided neither of us breaks down, we can join the Century Club in 20 years, a reasonable goal that we should be able to achieve working at a snail’s pace. 😉

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  12. Anna, so reassuring to hear these words! I finally was able to learn to ride at 48 years old. I took riding lessons for a year and since then have taken sporadic traditional lessons and audited clinics etc. but, primarily been on my own studying and learning nonstop for 10 years. I’ve watched and read many folks and devoured everything I could find concerning the horse. It has been a journey of many twists and turns, mistakes and triumphs. My mantra has been “I’ve got to catch up! I’m so far behind!” However, 10 years later I have realized that I’m not “behind” and never was but just exactly where I needed to be. It’s the moments of pure joy when I am with my horses- their smell, their beauty, their ability to just be – those are the times to cherish. Learning is great but “being” is so much better.

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  13. I imagine that Cash & Zen Bear are quite relieved I am a late bloomer, less ambitious about performance, more emphasis on harmonious relationships with them . This feels like a good way to be coming back after a 30 yr hiatus from.horses. Thank you for this essay ! Love it so much.

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  14. This makes me smile Anna! Because I adopted a “rescued” 11 year old Mustang with a sketchy, but more than likely abusive history. He is the kindest soul I’ve ever met; but he’s also tough as nails, lacked confidence around people, was overly reactive because he thought he had to be that way, and had such a deep and strong desire to trust that it humbled me beyond words. He has this way of looking at me and seeing through me to my very soul. He is amazing. He also has a stubborn streak a mile wide (would put my Appaloosa to shame) and would rather hang out and be groomed and snuggle rather than be asked to work. Honestly, I’ve never asked him to “work”. When I ride him, which is very infrequently, I do more walking than anything else and we spend time working on softening and flexing, moving hindquarters and just being soft and relaxed, body and mind. I love him more than I can express, but almost everyone I know always pushes me to push him. He’s getting old (he’s now 19) and do it now before it’s too late, etc etc. I don’t care how old he is, I don’t even care that he has very little formal training…neither do I. But there’s nothing better than spending time with him and when I do ride, I feel like I’m being honored. He is happy and confident in his place in this world. He has a herd and a home. He knows he is loved. That is enough for us. Thank you for your encouraging words, and for the work that you’re doing. 🙂

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  15. Good gods I needed this right now. As a hard week – year – wraps up and I reflect, miss the losses, froth at the unfairnesses… Wondering what the hell I’m doing saying no to a promising career and buying a small farm to have the horses I’ve always wanted. Your writing soothes and heals, thank you.

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  16. Got my horse at 63 and have been training her myself, with guidance. Now, at 70, I often wonder, after a ride, if my hips will obey when I try to dismount! The farmer who gave me the mare is still riding bareback at 80 even though she has trouble walking. I waited 63 years for this, and I’m not about to give it up even if I can’t ride. I appreciate the knowledge base of the folks who have grown up with horses, but little by little I’m gaining confidence in my own inner voice. Thank you, Anna.

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  17. Thankyou so much Anna. I’ve been my own enemy for so long questioning why I have taken on (adopted) three lovely young blank canvases, as a late blooming 50 year old novice!. Expecting so much, so soon of myself and wondering why things weren’t going to plan? I kept feeling the need to learn, to catchup, in the process leaving myself vulnerable to negative experiences. So what would I do, try even harder……eeek! I’ve been making better decisions since finding you Anna with heartwarming results but I continue to be a work in progress! This wonderful read is just the tonic I need going into 2020! 🙂

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  18. Every time I read one of your posts, I wish I had written it myself. Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been thinking and feeling.

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  19. Ohhhh, yes. Been there with the esteemed maestro and his accent, though in my case he played a flute. Told us it was really too late, in his French accent, and we were college students! I went ahead and had the 30 year career anyway. Before that career were horses. And here they are again! I thought I was behind because of the time I was away, but the horses know there is plenty of time. Thank you, Anna!

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  20. Thank you Anna; once again you have struck a chord, and for me as a late bloomer, a very sensitive one at that. To me, one of the pluses of being a late bloomer, is that I appreciate every minute I’m with my horses, no matter the activity. Been a horse lover all my life; finally got my first horse at 51, and now pushing 70, I still have that lovely mare and 3 other horses. I’ve learned to actually “listen” and breathe. Every horse is a blessing, and I learn something every day. I love the line too: ‘There is a starting line but no finish line.’ Your insight and skills are definitely a blessing.

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  21. Anna. You make my heart sing.
    You are so right. The patience and compassion that comes with maturity makes the horse adventure worth the wait. Less expectations and and more ‘ don’t give a damn ‘ what other people think.
    And breathe ….

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  22. Anna!! I love this! I have recently been with The Spanish Dressage Master, too, with my (actually very well-dressage-trained) Irish Cob. He looked us up and down and I could hear him sighing inside, shaking his head.. even before seeing us move together. He changed his mind later, and yes – i learned good stuff, too. Haha. NOT a pleasant experience, but so much easier to get on with, when gray-haired!! <3 <3 I have been following you since your first book and you and your words have been a great help in many situations. THANK YOU, and PLEASE keep on writing – I (and many others) will keep on reading blogs and buying your books!!! <3

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  23. What a beauty Missy Mule is, and what a blessing she has you for a teacher.
    As always, wise words of wisdom from years of experience. I laughed out loud at your sentence “This group of riders has (by now) the hard-cooked passion of a twelve-year-old girl mixed with the near belligerent stubbornness of a woman who knows what she wants.” Oh, don’t we though!
    Our best wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with love, laughter and lots of critters!

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  24. Having discovered you and your writing only recently, Anna, a lot of your pieces strike a chord with me – especially this one! After more than 50 years around horses, I am learning more now than ever before in my riding life. And I am taking the time my horses (and I) need. I c]don’t care any more what others are suggesting I should do – I know what I want in my horses! I am listening to my horses more and more, gaining a better and clearer understanding of what they need/want. At 65, I am living the saying “The older you get, the less time you have, the more time you take.” I have always allowed my young horses the time to fully mature before making demands on them – finally I am mature enough to allow myself the time I need. Late Bloomers all around!
    I am looking forward to meeting you, Anna, on your next visit to Bywong, Australia!

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  25. Just came home from my first “schooling ” dressage show and re-read this. I’m a late bloomer, this is my first horse and my first time off property with her. Heck I realized , at 62, it was the first time I personally participated in an athletic event as an athlete in my whole life (not as a mom with oranges at the soccer game, or supporting my spouse at a marathon)!
    Even better this was billed as a Dressage Play Day, with the judge giving verbal comments after the test, as well as scores. After my test, while the score was good she pointed out that with the windy day and me being my first time, might my partner and I have been been a bit tense? Why not stay in the arena and just ride transitions til you both relax? You have time, you have a lot of shows ahead of you. The gift of time for a late bloomer.
    Thank you, Anna for making me feel Ok to be a late bloomer, and how lucky to have this reinforced today.

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    • Love to hear you had such a good first “show” because judges are on our side, and everyone is tense in the beginning. What a good start, you late bloomer, you! Thanks, Diane

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  26. brilliant… poor dressage master, he sound like a rigid mentality sort of guy..not an effective teaching skill. The horse and human world has changed, wonder if he caught up to the idea?

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