Relaxed & Forward in 2022. Now What?

The lockdown at the beginning of 2020, followed by months of quarantine, was a wonderful opportunity for a thoughtful assessment of my brilliant career choices. Said no one ever.

“Non-essential worker” became my new job title. I was like a mare pacing the fence line separated from the herd. I would have been pacing more, but I got bed-sick after flying home from a February clinic. I was lying on my back only mentally pacing, but it was no less frantic. I canceled a full year of clinic travel while taking note, as most horse owners do, that I had still not received notification of a trust fund.

Being a clinician is an intense job. I get to meet incredible horses around the world—perfect! And meet riders with universal passion and love who are changing the horse world for the better—truly glorious. It’s a cycle of “dancing as fast as I can” and barely catching my breath before the next flight but I also had opportunities I’d never dreamed of. Clinicians materialize at clinic sites, stir things up for two or three days, and are gone as quick as we came. I thrived on twelve-hour workdays and sprints to the airport.

Clinic participants appreciated getting out to learn with their horses and share the camaraderie of a group of like-minded horse people, but clinics have their downsides. Lots of us live in remote places without clinics close by. Not everyone hauls their horses. And then sometimes the horse who comes out of our trailer is one we don’t recognize. It’s stressful for horses to go to strange places. But I was put on pandemic stall rest.

For any gray mare, the idea of change is more inevitable than shocking. I pulled up my chins and launched an online school. Being a horse trainer became a desk job with spooky tech drama, but I rode it. I can train a canter zigzag, for crying out loud, new software won’t best me. Here’s a bit of now-obvious training information: It ends up that horses didn’t miss clinics at all. They like working from home. And since physical distancing is not the same as emotional distancing, the classes found that same sweet camaraderie that clinics had… only classes last longer. Zoom ends up being an intimate and effective tool for horse training. Who knew?

Months passed, I paced in my pasture. It took the first year to realize how exhausted I’d been as I rested my way back to health. I edited a friend’s book while I mourned her death -as well as three other friends, gone too soon. I daydreamed about turning a shipping container into a tiny house to write in. I tried to rescue and neuter a stray cat, only to end up with a surprise litter of kittens under my desk.

It was the women in The Barn School that inspired me the most. And these months later, real change has happened for so many of their horses. The online courses also encouraged me to think there must be better ways to hold clinics that are more supportive to horses while making learning opportunities more available to remote areas or smaller groups.

Now what? I’d be foolish to trust the pandemic was over and wind up quarantined somewhere. We need to get back to a “new normal” version of our lives, but at the same time, be safe. If anyone can figure out what safe means. In a way, it’s like starting over. I don’t know what my clients will be comfortable with now.

But I can only overthink the situation for so long. It’s time to mount up. What if I apply Affirmative Training to my work style? I don’t want to work less, I want to take more time. It’s a charm with horses, after all. I’ll go slower and say good girl to myself in a more sustainable way. I want the flexibility of not being at the mercy of non-refundable plane tickets. I want to enjoy the ride. There must be a way for a clinic to be less like a drive-by shooting and more, well, relaxed and forward.

The solution is to not fly. Sure, I’ll miss the airport bars, but now I can lollygag and take side trips. I admit, not a cutting-edge idea. I have friends who have gone the gypsy way for decades; insert their cackles and nodding laughter here.

I’ll pack my favorite horse gear, all too big for carry-on luggage, in my truck bed and we’ll head off down the highway. This suits me because I perpetually look like a tourist anyway. My dog Manning will come along, working as my Self-Care Specialist. It’ll be my job to stand tall in the morning sun and call out, “Wagons, Ho!” and Manning’s job to ask if it’s time for a lunch stop. He’ll walk me so my hips stay limber and remind me when we need a meeting (nap) in the little house. He’ll keep me tethered in space and time. You know how I get around new horses.

My first idea (and I am wild about it) is to take a sort of victory lap. But celebrating your victories, not mine. I need to visit the horses and people who inspired me in The Relaxed & Forward Barn School. I need to congratulate them in person and finally scratch their horses. More than that, I want to write about it: Your Stories. I can’t wait.

Along the way, I’ll be giving Concept Clinics, but I’ve redesigned the approach with the horses in mind. I’ve added Farm Visits, a day at your farm with a few friends for a lesson day, and Private Coaching days, again at your farm but just you and your horses. I’m hoping to reach some folks who prefer to not haul their horses. If you have a nonprofit with a herd, or group of horses to share consider a Calming Signals Educational Groundwork Clinic with one price for all participants and hands-on learning, a format that I love. I’ll hope to schedule speaking engagements with equestrian clubs as I travel and give a few writing workshops. And Barnies, members of our online group, get discounted prices.

I’m not romanticizing the challenge. I’ve driven thousands of miles giving lessons in Colorado and I swore I never do it again. Embarrassingly, my parents loved RVs and I swore I’d never set foot in another. Well, so much for never. We’ll do it Our Way, (the music rises to a crescendo.) Manning and I will start around spring thaw and we’ll go where we’re invited. Slower but no less enthusiastic, we’ll be drifters on the road, looking for horse training adventure and liver treats. It’ll be part clinic tour, part travelogue, part online teaching at The Barn School, part writing escape, and mostly a celebration of horses and dogs and people doing their best. You have stories to tell and I’ve missed you so much.

Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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Anna teaches ongoing courses like Calming Signals, Affirmative Training, and more at The Barn School, as well as virtual clinics and our infamous Happy Hour. Everyone’s welcome.

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Anna Blake

86 thoughts on “Relaxed & Forward in 2022. Now What?”

  1. I love how you used this time to take care of yourself and rethink the path to your goals. This is a such a unique opportunity, hopefully one that will never come around again. It is so great to see people asking how they can do things differently and better for themselves, their clients, or their families. I enjoy reading your blog!

    • Canada won’t give us work permits. I’ve tried to come, I’ve checked with other trainers who can’t get in… if I come and don’t have a work permit, the organizer gets a thousand-dollar fine. For now, I’m limited to online work with Canadians. So sorry.

  2. How exciting! I hope you’ll be posting your stops where folks can come audit?

    I’m 9 days out from quadruple open heart bypass surgery – as my brother says, “genetics suck!” – so travel is not in the plans in the near future. And we’re still in the process of moving to our new farm.

    But were you to have a clinic within a doable drive that my hubby and I could audit, we’d be there with bells on!

    • Hey, Shelley. Glad you’re on the mend, and I’d love to meet you both. Auditing is always available. Please email me at ambfarm@gmail and tell me your location. Thank you!

      • I did reply via email, but thought I’d also add our locations n, just in case there’s someone anywhere “nearby” we could commute to.

        We’re in the northern tip of lower Michigan, about 30 minutes from the Mackinaw bridge.

        But we are will to drive a bit as we have to pretty much anywhere we want to get to!

        Anyone? Anyone? ?

        • I am in Jackson County Michigan. A good drive but I have a nice guest room if Anna ends up this way. Horses and donkeys in the backyard.

          • Hi Susan. You are on the map… and I hope to get that way. Won’t need the guest room but you are very kind. It would be great to meet your herd.

          • Susan, my last job before becoming disabled was in the IT department at Dawn Foods headquarters in the old Jacobsen’s Headquarters buildings, and one of my dearest friends lives in Jackson county.

            So we’re quite a few miles but maybe less than 6 degrees of separation from each other!

  3. Looking forward to hosting you in Kansas and I have a beautiful hotel in which you can stay for free if you like.

  4. Glad you’ve decided to look after yourself now, Anna, but oh my word it’s sad news for me (and all your other UK fans).
    I was looking forward to inviting you here for a clinic. Perhaps I should just come and pester you on your side of the pond?

    • I’ll be traveling internationally again. In the time it took to write this essay, travel restrictions have returned.
      And you are always welcome over here! Thanks Carolyn.

  5. Yay you!! Will you come here to Montana.. ? There’s always room at the inn if you choose !!!
    My herd of now 3 (maybe 4) and I would benefit .. methinks you would too 🙂

      • I’ve got peeps that would love to watch what you do since I’m always doing the Calming Signals and showing it to them as best I can at this point.. 🙂 Up close and in person with the Master would be amazing 🙂 Even if it’s a couple days, and it’s just you and me and the herd… I’d be willing to see what you need to make it work

  6. Road trip! No cackling from a fellow gypsy-at-heart, but a full-bellied breath of WHOOOT! Love that you’ll have your Self-Care Specialist. I’m inspired to see if I can get you to my beloved northern woods…

  7. Anna,
    We are 68 and 72, and our barn owner is 68, so we are all slowing a little. The other day, Louise said,
    “I am sort of turning into a retirement barn.” I said, “Nothing wrong with that.” She has a few kids
    taking lessons on ponies, and a couple of teens. One active rider, one dressage rider and as for us —
    we are mostly groundwork and in-hand.

    So, Anna, this is not a good idea you have…It’s a GREAT idea, springing from your own creative mind.
    It makes perfect sense. (I love your small ‘caravan’ (as we call them in Ireland). I hope you have a good
    AAA coverage for your trips, that’s the important thing.

    Like you, I had some caravan holidays in my youth, and I always said, “Why do people trailer around when they
    can fly?” That was in my younger days. Now, I understand it perfectly. Because it represents freedom and going
    at your own pace, with your beloved dog. You must have totally dependable people to look after your farm when
    you are absent?

    All right, down to business:

    1) Can you prepare a sheet showing your pricing?

    2) It’s a bit of a wee drive, I know, but would you consider coming to Virginia? Do you have members in Virginia?
    Do you have any in the Gloucester/Yorktown/Williamsburg/Saluda/Fredericksburg areas, where we could combine
    a clinic?

    3) Would you like to spend a few days in this area, visiting Colonial Williamsburg too?

    4) Captain Jack and Simon would love a visit.

    5) Would you be willing to stay at the ‘Villa Galbari/Justis’ (Small, but comfortable room, with private bathroom)?
    The farm is 23 minutes from the house, and near shops, restaurants, and all else — especially Starbucks (very important).

    You would meet the 60s ‘ early 70s crowd.
    Clients I would imagine, would include
    Beve and her dressage mare, Serafina (she could do with some groundwork). She’s an Andalusian beauty.
    David and myself with Captain Jack (OTTB) and Simon (retired TWH) — both good at groundwork but just need
    some new ideas and more encouragement.
    Stephanie (LVT) and her OTTB (Gee) and Appendix (Frisky).
    The barn owner, Louise, would welcome you (she might have a new horse by then). She has a semi-retired mare who
    could do with some groundwork.

    Anyway, I could inquire on your behalf.

    Keep us posted on your developments and new plans! A great way to begin the new year.

    Blessings, stay safe and well,

      • Well, now. I knew there was something in the works, but this is UNBELIEVABLE… and so clever and fun and lovely! I will start to assemble ‘the crew’ here in VA. Beware of a southern welcome where you might just get a soft bed in which to land and grits in the morning (egg and bacon for Manning, of course!) That buggy looks awesome, Anna, seriously. That is not “your parents RV”. I’ll email you so we can set up a plan. I so look forward to meeting you, you brave, wonderful person you.

  8. N.B. Anna,
    That is an absolutely GORGEOUS photo of you and the lovely mare.
    Send it out in your Christmas Cards, too.

  9. Anna…I literally love every single thing about your new “driving the open road” approach!! And, as always, I found myself nodding at your wise observations and laughing out loud at your wise observations. Safe travels!!

  10. What a wonderful idea! It will be an incredible experience for you (and Manning) and all those who you will meet along the way.

    I am 55 and returned to horses after my kids were in school. This time around I am not as brave nor as nimble as I was before, but patience, enjoying each precious moment of life, and longing to learn more have entered in. My love and passion for horses has never ebbed.

    I have no transportation for my horse this time around, but have sweet friends who often include my horse and me on adventures. For this reason, I find myself auditing clinics, when possible. If you find yourself meandering through Iowa, I would be so happy to meet you and learn from you.

  11. Hi Anna, you continue to amaze me with your sense of adventure and commitment to affirmative action for yourself and your clients. I was hooked with your book!
    Alas, I have no clinic or horses for you to visit, but I would love to meet you for lunch or a drink if you get anywhere around Columbia, South Carolina.
    You inspire me.

    • Thank you, Sheila. I amaze myself sometimes. Glad you liked the book. I am working on two new books now… in my “spare time.” I don’t know right now how far into South Carolina I’ll get, but I’ll try to keep your name.

  12. I love your sense of humor Anna…I love the idea of slowing, gentling, pup time. I hope you roam or gypsy back over to Oregon?♥️?Lots of welcome here!

  13. Well, now. I knew there was something in the works, but this is UNBELIEVABLE… and so clever and fun and lovely! I will start to assemble ‘the crew’ here in VA. Beware of a southern welcome where you might just get a soft bed in which to land and grits in the morning (egg and bacon for Manning, of course!) That buggy looks awesome, Anna, seriously. That is not “your parents RV”. I’ll email you so we can set up a plan. I so look forward to meeting you, you brave, wonderful person you.

  14. Oh Anna, my jaw literally dropped when I saw your plans and rig! Perfect little camper, just don’t forget it’s behind you – so much lighter than the loaded horse float! Careful though, you may find it addictive?

    • Annie, that’s it! I pulled it home and kept checking the rearview… and it isn’t all that visible! I’ll be like you, thanks, Annie. Let’s both write our books!

  15. Ha! Snap! I’ve been living and travelling in a camper van (RV for you) for the last 14 months. I still own two horses who are living with good friends. My three Jack Russell terriers are travelling with me. I’ve been staying with friends and working with their horses, but am due to move on soon. I have found I love living in a small space, moving on after a few days, and living my own life.

    • Anne, I thought of you. I follow your travels, gasp at the beauty, and love it. My little house already has me sleeping there… 10 feet from the house. I can’t wait. Thanks, Anne.

  16. COVID has been a real lesson in making lemonade, hasn’t it?

    And you know where Virginia is? Right next door to NORTH CAROLINA – – – that’s where! In the meantime, there’s always cyberspace. Looking forward to connecting – wherever it may be. ?

    • In less time than it took to write the blog, travel restrictions are in the news. It’s a crazy world where this notion of mine seems safe. And you are directly in my path!! You know, if I drive off the edge of the mainland. 🙂

  17. I sure relish scrolling through these comments and seeing the positive responses your essay today has elicited ! Bravo ! You write about these times so engagingly, and this is an AWESOME and creative solution to the many obstacles in doing clinics. Of course we hope,, pray, fingers crossed, to see you here in Texas. You have a good following here as you know !!

    Bear and Cash sure hope you stop by for a clinic here and to give them a scratch.

    Your camper -RV is so dang cute !! You and Manning will have a blast. Well, actually I think you are already !

    • There is a lot to learn, power systems, etc. And so much planning… but it feels good to make a leap. See you soon, Sarah.

  18. PS You do accessorize amazingly well !!! Nube, scarf, sunglasses.. wonder if I would be as cool as you if I had sunglasses like that ?

  19. I’d love to meet you, Anna. l read and mostly remember Rudd. I don’t have a horse, much as I still want one and now being owned by a cat (my first, always had dogs). I am at present in Chicago but am hoping to be not far south of Kankakee in a house by summer and in a small town so maybe in your path going east or coming back west. I write but haven’t managed to publish anything yet. You’d be more than welcome if you decided to stop in passing. I think it’s a great idea to travel around doing what you love and getting to see some of this beautiful country in the process. Happy travels!!!

  20. Hurray for you Anna! Adventure always adds some juicy details for story telling. I’m hoping you will have some time for local travels here in Boulder county. I know Ferdinand, Noche, Raz, and newly added Chica (tiny mare with enormous attitude…….may share lineage with Napoleon) would benefit from some of your magic. I absolutely covet your tiny house on wheels!

  21. It is only 2247 km from Peyton to Kelowna, or 21 hours and 20 minutes according to Google maps.
    It’s also a very beautiful and scenic drive. I have loads of room for your trailer in my yard, and a dog (or two ) that would love to play with Manning.
    I live in wine country and I hear I am not too shabby a chef. And then there are several horses that would REALLY love to meet you!
    It could be a very relaxing vacation in beautiful BC! 🙂

    • Vacation? Is that a French word? Being self-employed means we don’t know that word… and Canada won’t give me a work visa as long as you have horse trainers of your own…. but this mapping thing. (making a map of where people live over at the Barn School) I have a clinic 300 miles away in the PNW. And there’s Manning Provincial Park right there. It wouldn’t be impossible. I’ll think on it. Thanks Susanne

  22. Best wishes on your new format! I would like to get you at our place here in Santa Cruz, CA. Please let me know if it looks like you could come this way.

  23. What an adventure! Obviously, all this begs lots of questions about the Colorado ranch and logistics. But in time I’m sure to here about them. You certainly do have guts, determination, and passion. Cheering you on (today from Burlington VT of all places).

    • Thanks Chaz. You and Peggy do a good bit of moving around yourselves… I’m lucky that Colorado is centrally located. Being away from my farm, Edgar and the horses, is always a challenge but my trips will bring me back to home often. I’ve traveled so much in the last years, but missed the earth. Hope we’ll cross paths at some point.

  24. Have forwarded this to my granddaughter in Florida – any chance you will be brave enough to venture down there? Shes near the new Horse Park (or not too far away). If so, I could enjoy it through her!!

  25. I’m interested in having you do a clinic at the Hope and Healing Academy (HAHA) near Topeka, Kansas. HAHA is a non-profit doing Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy. We do weekly individual therapy sessions that include the client, therapist, horse and equine specialist. There are 4 Therapists , 3 equine specialists and 13 horses that provide therapy to about 50 clients a week.


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