Horse Woman, Our Narrative

Drawing by Rebecca Howard

I usually write a gray mare rant annually on my birthday. I’m late, but that’s because I had to let it lay in the sun for a while until the varmints picked its bones clean. It needed to decompose a bit before I could articulate my feelings into language that wouldn’t scare the goats. Like many of you, COVID-19 has given me a “memorable” year. See, if I hadn’t let things decompose for a while, I would have used another word. Usually, my best birthday rants start in the shower, for obvious gray mare reasons, but this year, it was at my desk. Kind of social distancing from the start.

It was my birthday and I’m currently isolating again. I notice if you’re over sixty-five, the plan seems to be to isolate forever. I planned a self-party, got seafood and New Zealand wine and a nice little cake. Okay, a cupcake. I was going to take the day off from online work and binge with the tv instead of my computer screen. Wild thing, aren’t I? I started looking for something worthy to stream, meaning something with horses in it. I splurged on Yellowstone, actually paying for a season. It’s the usual Western range war plot with Kevin Costner playing John Wayne’s character, set in current time. The first episode opens with Costner saying sweet words, as the camera pulls back to show a horse standing calmly in a trailer wreck with bones exposed, and then he shoots the horse in the throat.

Just a couple inches off from a kill shot. That’s the problem with us; we know too much. Loudmouth Party-poopers like me get to a certain age and are just no fun anymore. It would have made for a bad camera angle, I guess. But I paid for the full season and my kind tends to be frugal, so the kill shot didn’t work on me either. I kept watching it. Why do cowboys wax poetic about horses but then rip their mouths, gouge their flanks, and generally manhandle horses forever? How much male arrogance, violence, misogyny, and just bad training do I have to watch for some decent scenery and some nice horses? Because the horses, calming signals blazing, told their story, too, except they weren’t acting. Am I the only one who thinks the cowboy narrative has worn thin?

I do understand that women my age are no one’s demographic. No one thinks they can sell us anything, and clearly, I wasn’t buying this. As long as the films are made by the ones with money in Hollywood, we’ll be force-fed the same stories they think are good. There is the other option of movies about the horse racing industry. I’m like you. I cry when I see horses running, partly because of their beauty and partly because of the number of deaths of young horses on the track. We should all be loudmouth party-poopers, follow the number of track deaths, and put an end to these movies, if anyone listened to us. And of course there is no shortage of the horse-crazy girl genre out there. We grew up on National Velvet and there is still money to be made off of girls, I guess. Each generation seems to have a new teen hit. We joke that we never outgrow this phase, but why get us hooked on horse movies and then cut us off at adulthood? Sure, there are a few exceptions; women in supporting roles.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” I laughed when I heard her quote. It was impossible to think we’d have even an equal number of female justices, much less 100%, when women are half the population. But in the horse world, women are the majority. We own over 92% of the horses. And it isn’t girls, it’s women of a certain age who have bank accounts of their own. We are consumers; this industry depends on our dollars.

Why does it matter, any of this flap about a gray mare who wanted to see something different on her birthday? Because our culture is impacted negatively by these worn-out role models, so interwoven into our culture that we don’t question them. Because it trickles down and we are taught abusive training practices that we went along with when we knew it wasn’t okay. Because we get complacent and horses end up suffering the most. And then, if you haven’t noticed, women are the ones out there trying to clean up the mess by rescuing horses. How is our majority overlooked? Are we just too busy breathing and mucking to speak up? That might be our fault.

In the middle of my birthday angst, this blog of mine got trolled. It’s not the first time. A man let loose on several of the commenters on a blog praising mares. He mansplained about stallions and men and testosterone, those same three words in each of his scathing responses. The comments were mean and spiteful. Loud and self-important. Repetitive and uninformed. Bless his heart for trying to save us from ourselves, but haven’t we all heard enough of this kind of foolishness? Don’t you hate being underestimated? I had no choice but to take some action with the help of a few varmints. He made the ultimate mistake of using the term You Ladies. “Geldings exist so You Ladies have horses to ride.”

Let me start here. I am no lady. I am a Horse Woman.

Women have a proud history. My grandmother, Leafa Numbers Blake, proudly claimed she had delivered more foals and calves than any woman in early 1900s North Dakota. She said, “It was a tough life if you was useless.”

Like her, we’ve found purpose building our lives, sometimes elbow deep in dirt and blood, but doing whatever work that needed to be done. Horses have always been our north star. For many of us, the cowboy persona has never been a good fit. Women have earned a narrative to honor our own lives with horses and the land. We tell a uniquely female account of living and working with horses, coming out of the shadow of cowboy hats and spurs. For us, it was never about fighting for domination. It was always about herd and home.

With gratitude to my readers who share their stories and inspire me every day, I have a new book coming out next month. The title is Horse. Woman. It’s about you.

Anna Blake for Relaxed & Forward 

Want more? Visit annablake.com to find over a thousand archived blogs, purchase books, schedule a live consultation or lesson, subscribe for email delivery of this blog, or ask a question about the art and science of working with horses. The Barn, our online training group with video sharing, audio blogs, live-chats with Anna, and the most supportive group of like-minded horsepeople anywhere. Courses and virtual clinics are taught at The Barn School, where I host our infamous Happy Hour. Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.

 

Anna Blake

78 thoughts on “Horse Woman, Our Narrative”

  1. Love this and all your writings, Anna. In case you haven’t already seen it, I recently heard someone call mansplaining “correctile disfunction.” Happy Birthday. You are a fabulous gray mare.

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  2. Wonderful, wonderful blog. My husband just started watching Yellowstone and I got through less than the first five minutes of that shooting scene you described. (He said it gets better with lots of horses in the mix.) Sorry, no thanks. I’d rather be out sitting with River, whose tremor from the neglect she suffered over the years will likely never resolve. Your writing cracks open my heart, Anna. Thank you.

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  3. AH – yes yes yes!!! Its not enough being talked down & over when we are “younger” & I have to admit – not knowing any better. My dad was never someone who did this – in any way shape or form. But then I got married……………had 2 wonderful children got a job – working for another woman who ran a hardware store – no less! It was downright laughable when I would be at the cash register & someone would come in – look around for a man – any man & ask them where things were. THAT man would turn to me & ask me!! Learned a lot there – about various things – how to flare copper pipe etc.
    After that – worked in various offices. Then to a construction company – where of all things very little mansplaining! How about that? By the time I left there we were hiring women carpenters & laborers on the crews.
    Oh, I watched a few episodes of Yellowstone when it first came out – youre right scenery was gorgeous – but I dont watch “soaps” because they are tiresome & boring – have to admit I liked movies/shows better when there was a”fade to black”. You know – leaving it to the imagination? I have imagination-still!!!
    Bottom line – there will be LOTS of comments here.

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  4. Happiest of birthdays!! What a CRAZY year and thanks for the WONDERFUL read!! We are all hard working horse women, underrated and often keeping things running smooth for everyone around us, at least that’s how I feel! Wish you could have had a great celebration for your birthday this year! ❤️🎂🧁🐴❤️

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  5. In the midst of recognizing the sad reality of the horse industry (I use that word purposefully), that 92% of us are controlled, spoon fed and shamed by the other 8%, I also wanted to stand up and freaking cheer. So many of us have had it with being told what the “truth” is about horses – and our lives. Voices like yours keep the fire alive in all of us. Thank you, my gray mare friend. This is a brilliant rallying cry for all of us – horses included.

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  6. I wish rodeo cowboys and arena team ropers weren’t most peoples main exposure to “cowboys “. I came from an eventing, dressage background when I married a cowboy 25 years ago….You see there is a whole entire class of cowboys who make a living riding. Many work for large corporate ranches that depend on horses entirely….no 4 wheelers….These crews ride 360 days a year and keep a string of 6-10 horses usually, a couple 4 and 5 yr olds and a few old campaigners and a few middle age….They take amazing care of their string and rotate them and choose the horse carefully for the day….Only one person will ride a greener horse and on long days nothing under 7 goes….I have learned much to help with my own riding from some of the amazing horseman we have been lucky enough to work with….My husband has three times the patience with a confused horse of most women I know….Currently he has a 23, 18, and two 16 yr olds in his saddle horses…They have clean backs, legs and happily like to work…I used an endomondo ap last summer and had 700 miles on the 18 yr old I used on the ranch….I wish you could see the nice soft handle and quiet mouth these horses have when running to cattle to doctor sick calves…We are not the exception, many, many excellent horseman abound….They are not in the limelight and you need to get off the beaten bath to find them….I could write novels on the guys ( and gals) who have taught me so much on management, riding etc….When you make your living on horses they are way more than a tool….Bottom line I guess is I find offense to being lumped into what the media shows people and what your exposure may be….Lots of cowboys are doing right by their horses.

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    • Jeanne, I know those men, too. No shade intended. I’m glad your husband is patient. I’m a horse pro, too. My point is can we do better for more horses? Let’s shut the monsters down. Thanks for commenting.

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  7. Happy Birthday and best wishes for a great year!
    Almost as bad as condescension and patronizing is being laughed at!
    I am not happy when men do it and even less happy when women do it.
    I started riding when I was 64. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. At 69 my right hip caused soooo much pain I couldn’t ride (a living hell) The hip was replaced and although the surgeon said I could ride again I think for several reasons that’s not a good idea. But I cannot live without horses and so recently I got myself a miniature horse (yes horse, not a dog and yes a real horse. Acts like any horse. He’s young and green and I have a trainer who is teaching us to be a therapy couple (well, and also drive). I love your posts and I ride in my dreams. Thank you for all the equine love you share.

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  8. Hippo birdie two ewes. I backed a natural horsemanship clinician down when he wanted me to force my young mare to do something she was clearly uncomfortable with at her level of skill. When older she did all that and more. I got a lot of splaining about how I was going to ruin her. I think I was the only one to tell him no and we didn’t go back for the next day. After that all the other devotees wanted nothing to do with us but I hope some eventually became uncomfortable enough with the practices to question what they were doing. Love your articles

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  9. You hit it out of the park again, Anna. Can’t wait for your new book. You seem to always be able to express thoughts that have been busily knocking around my brain but unable to come out in a useable form. Then, you say it.
    I love you Horse Woman.

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  10. Hurray for Anna Blake! Hurray for RBG! Hurray for Kamala Harris! Hurray for Sybil Ludington who: “was a heroine of the American Revolutionary War. On April 26, 1777, at age 16, she made an all-night horseback ride to alert militia forces in the towns of Putnam County, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut, of the approach of British forces.” (see wikipedia for her story). And hurray for you and for me!

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    • Yet one more real historical FACT that never seems to have come to light. Sorry to say I never heard of Sybil Ludington either. I’m in the process(and it IS a process) of reading a book by Howard Zinn – A Peoples History of the United States. There is a lot of history that few of us were ever taught. It will take me a while – in between some David Baldacci’s. But after seeing the info on the Greenwood Massacre & another “incident” in NC – its clear there are blank places in what I was taught!
      I had to have Suzie put to sleep couple weeks ago – feeling guilt about looking for another dog this quickly but my whole routine existed around her. Juliette (cat) is really trying to fill the void & needy, but I havent been without a dog for years now so will keep looking.

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      • Hey, Maggie. So sorry for your loss of Suzie. When those times happen in my “family,” I comfort myself with the thought that they wanted to make room for another…horse, dog, cat…who needs care. Hope this helps.

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        • Thanks so much Lynell. Thats what I’m telling myself. Hopefully someone will soon come along.
          Appreciate the kind thoughts

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  11. Happy happy birthday, you wonderful Gray mare!

    Love your writing, speaks directly to me every time. I so struggle with the inequities of life that I sometimes can’t enjoy any of it. You make me feel like I’m in a special group instead of being alone with it. Thank you

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  12. As a nerdy little teacher’s kid, I never fit in with the cowboys and cowgirls I grew up with. They may have looked out for me, but not one looked out with me. I had no clue what I was looking at. Then I found your work, both the training and the writing. Thank you. I can’t wait to read what comes next.

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  13. Let’s hope this lockdown will encourage humanity to examine how the legacy of our histories as well as our beliefs serve us??? It could be good to look inward for peace rather than out to the glorified world of computers and ‘friends’ for entertainment. We have a huge responsibility to earth, nature, animals and yet we look at them as condiments to ‘our’ life.
    Thankyou for your thoughtful words.

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    • Thanks, Sharon. I agree; so much of what I write about is impacted by those responsibilities you mention. Maybe condiments for city dwellers and the “office workers” in Wash. DC. Real life for us.

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  14. Happy belated Birthday, Anna
    Pretty much I read everything you post. You are one of the few emails that I will set work aside to read. I am always appreciative of your perspective! Always find the time stepping into it, valuable. Sorry to say though I have only been following you for about a year and must have missed your previous rants. This one was so good! I found myself ranting right along with you and smiling. Just wonderful to know you are there and share a perspective that I feel but cannot articulate. Thank you!

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  15. Another great post. I love your fury. But in answer to your question, I actually metaphorically rub my hands together with glee when I am underestimated–which is often–because when I ultimately pull out ahead and they find out just how wrong they were about me, it is a sweet revenge. You’d think they’d have learned by now to never underestimate an old gray mare, but they are slow on the uptake. I look forward to your new book–and Happy Birthday!

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  16. Happy Birthday OGM! I agree most horse TV is ugh. I’d rather be at the barn, sitting in the loft listening to the ponies turn hay into my garden for next spring 🙂

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  17. Happy Birthday Anna, when I spent my birthday roughly the same way in March I was feeling sorry for myself never imagining that this would last long enough for all of us to be in the same boat. Adopting my Bella and your group have given me so much to think about and maintain a semblance of sanity. I am so happy to have found you all! I think that the reason I regected western riding from an early age was the “Cowboy” mindset in dealing with horses. Then I found a whole bunch of that same mindset in the “English” world as well. I wanted a career in the field back in the 70s and early 80s. The more I saw the more convinced I became that the only way to make a living at it was to throw ethics out the window and I walked away. Now four decades later I know I was right! There is a better way and it is time for a revolution. Thank you Anna for being our lead mare! Your heard is growing!

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  18. Belated happy birthday Anna! I’m camped back in the area where I first met you face to face…..Wish things were better so you could be here again. Last week a random conversation with a stranger in the street, whose bracelets identified her as a horse woman, had me steer her to the topic of horses. Out poured her story. Eventually I was able to suggest she visit your work. There’s so many with passion out there but in need of direction. So grateful for yours.
    Looks like I’ll be buying your new book for my birthday😁👍

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  19. Happy Birthday, Anna!
    I was blessed to have been taught and encouraged about horses by a strong man. He was strong enough to be gentle, observant, caring, to not force his horses to do anything, just ask and wait for them to decided. He refused to let anyone ride who was loud, aggressive or dominating. He said his horses were more valuable than any money he might get from people like that. It was obvious that his horses loved him, they would come to him, wanted to be close to him, he didn’t make any effort to “make” them, didn’t bribe them with treats. He was quiet around them and insisted others be as well. I do know the kind of “man” you’re referring to, the ones who have to be aggressive, dominant, loud, disrespectful. I’ve seen the damage they do, to their families, dogs, horses if they have them. I suspect women are just simply more empathetic, more inclined to be nurturing and gentle.
    I try not to miss any posts, I always learn something or have something reaffirmed. I don’t have a horse and now no dog either. The world isn’t right without a dog, would be better with one and even more so with a horse. Keep up the good work.

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  20. Love this one …. thank you for this and for helping us rally and own/speak our truth about horses. You have helped me see how important it truly is for us who relate to horses in a different way than the mainstream to speak up. To take pride in what we know and be an advocate for the horse.

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  21. Happy Birthday, Anna. It isn’t about stallions and testosterone for men. It’s about fear. If you’re scared of horses (or blacks, or minorities, or women), you naturally find some way to justify domination.

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  22. Notorious Gray Mare! Hooray to all the loud mouth party poopers. I have not been much fun for most of my life. Always get sideways looks when I point out the obvious (apparently not to everyone). When it has to do with horses, it is a calling. Happy Birthday to you.

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  23. Happy Birthday 🎊 🥂 and hoof bumps. The gray mare soul coughing…? Like cool spring 💧 to parched travelers in the
    deser🌵.
    😎

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  24. Well said, Anna, and major congrats on the new book! Let us know as soon as it is available for purchase. Super excited for that. Regarding your post, I have known many men who are kind and loving and patient with their families and animals. My father was one and every man in my life has been, (except one, and he is no longer in my life.) I think we women need to CHOOSE men with those good traits, thereby leaving the others (the nasty, self-righteous, mean spirited, controlling) in the proverbial dust. I think we need to teach our daughters and granddaughters that those men with the characteristics we desire are the only ones to marry and mate with. Those men, in turn, will teach their sons the right way to live a life. Let’s use the power that we have, but often don’t feel as if we do, to start controlling our destiny by starting first with who we choose to be with. Let’s start using the natural power we have (that of selection) to help shape the world. Often we mate with or marry an SOB and then wonder why there is unhappiness and chaos in our life. Let’s start by first not allowing them into our lives. It may take generations but it will happen if enough of us just say, “go away…. and don’t come back.”
    You always inspires — obviously sometimes too much! Thanks for giving us a welcoming place to share our thoughts and for me, personally, a look into the future which I can now face more boldly. xx

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  25. Oh yay!! About time for both of us.
    My fav part of your whole rant – the last paragraph – it created a new vision for me, staked a claim on our otherness.
    Thank you.

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  26. I wish I didn’t know just what you mean—-about every darn part of this. Happy birthday from one gray mare to another. Julie Williams

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  27. Just this week at the farrier appointment (a self-described cowboy) I first had to negotiate disagreeing about a bounding pulse (there wasn’t one, all four were the same, I didn’t need a lecture on pulse taking) followed by objecting to carving into my gelding’s less than robust sole on speculation of an abscess, despite zero reaction to hoof testers, and my observation that the problem was likely higher up.

    I eventually prevailed. And I’m fine with doing whatever is necessary to advocate for my horse but it is (insert curse word here) exhausting to have your opinion reflexively and consistently questioned or dismissed because of no better reason than gender.

    Hope you salvaged something from your 2020 birthday – wishing you many happy returns Anna! ♥️

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  28. love this anna. so many words ring true. i tried to do the yellowstone thing- waited eagerly for it to get to the uk,sorely disappointed. what is also sad is that many ranches do not treat their horses that way anyhow! and yes why do we still have to portray that,and only that each time theres a film/series.
    mansplaining – i read a great article by a female author -sorry cannot remmeber her name – who sat at a dinner table at some awards do with a chap who mansplained her book to her, that she wrote……she had tried to tell himshe wrote it and he didnt hear. he gave a (wrong) synopsis of it, then said he hadnt read it. he apprently looked shocked when her friend rather forcefully told him that the author was on his table. wtf. such arrogance.

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