Problem Solved: Space to Breathe.

I’m walking next to you and I’m talking loudly. I am so close that you feel the heat of my words on your skin. My right shoulder is pressed into yours and I have hold of your face. There’s a stick in my other hand. I am not walking evenly, one stride longer than the other because my body is slightly twisted. I am leaning toward your ear and you bend your neck away, but for every ounce of pressure from you, I answer with just one ounce more. We’re both moving at a stumbling walk. Sometimes my knee hits your forearm or trips over your hoof. I am sideways-leading, but you can’t move freely, clipping your steps to avoid my feet. I pull you to a stop. I pull hard enough that you must rebalance. Then you withdraw inside yourself even more, you partly close your eyes as I peer at you. You hate this, even if you like me.

You know that I don’t trust you. I worry you’ll do something bad. I try to correct any possible problem before it happens. Then I put my hand around the soft bone in your nose and pressure your muzzle to me. I wipe your hair out of your eyes and kiss your face and call you my partner because I want it to look like we are connected. I want it to be true.

You can’t breathe. You have a choice, but you don’t have a choice. You can either pretend this doesn’t bother you, press your lips tight with a brittle shell of tolerance and act meek about it. Or you can blow up. If you do that, I might punish you. But this is already punishment.


Without repeating or correcting, I will offer you the gift of space when you are reluctant in your task. I take a couple of steps away because you aren’t saying no, just that you need some breathing room to think. I give you time to answer because I respect your intellect as I respect my own.

I let you take me for a walk. You take me somewhere else. We each hold ourselves in balance, confident in our strength and autonomy. Gentle in our asking, yet quick to release the other. We move with synergy more than energy. Our footfalls soon match in a natural rhythm, but we don’t need to notice. On your back, my legs follow the sway of your ribs, my spine flexing with yours. With utter freedom, we choose to be together like murmuring starlings leaving a warm breeze in our wake. We breathe in the other’s acceptance until our lungs lift our hearts.

Giving you space* is an act of trust. I give you control over yourself and instead focus on my own awareness. I offer trust as generously as I welcome yours. We live by the law of reciprocity.

Let clean space between us slow down our communication and allow willingness to replace pressure. Leave the thoughts to rest in our heads and let the conversation be physically experienced. Eloquent body language, passed with easy intention through a sea of air to the other, because our real connection is best shown at a distance.

*literal definition of space is at least three to six feet from the horse’s head, either wide from their side or back toward their flank.

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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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23 thoughts on “Problem Solved: Space to Breathe.”

  1. Just wow. This will be printed, framed, and cherished. As I have often said, your words are to be passed around, handed down, and should be available for all who know and love, or want to know and love, horses. Can’t we just sneak around and tack this up in every horse barn in the country?!! Beautifully done.

  2. Oh, the synchronicity of your words. I just had a conversation with Marcia yesterday about holding space for what is and what is to come. This is beautiful. Thank you.

  3. The 3rd & 4th paragraph strike a very deep chord and will be posted in my barn. It’s just so beautiful and deep, yet simple. A credo for a barn and for a marriage.
    The meaningful thoughts & words seem to flow from you as naturally as water from a spring; today it’s as if you had taken dictation from the horses the reside in your head and your heart. Thank you for sharing.

  4. …“leaving a warm breeze in our wake. We breathe in the other’s acceptance until our lungs lift our hearts.” Anna Blake

    Thank you, thank you and thank you forever.

  5. I don’t usually take on interns…but there was one special young woman. I was teaching her how to give IM shots to lemons 😆, because as an intern, I could not have her give shots to horses. The thing that startled her the most, was I never hid what I was going to do, or surprised a horse with shots or tubes, everyone saw syringes or tubes in a casual way. All the horses in my care that regularly got IM shots went through Jane’s “Cookie Day” school. (Shot day) They all learned there was one day that if they could hang with me through the injection, they got 5 cookies each. Something they never get. They loved shot, I mean COOKIE DAY. She thought (from her previous experience) giving a shot or paste tube was typically a hour long process with lots of fear and head tossing. And was so surprised when I’d finished giving injections to 5 horses in less than 10 minutes, all happy as can be.
    Most horses associate restraint (physical or psychological) with something fearful coming. Unhooking even one cross tie (if the lead is on) can make such a big difference to a spooked horse. I prefer no cross tie left hooked, just lead, but every horse and situation is different. I was so proud of her the day a horse began to lose it around her, and she stepped back quietly to give him room, and cocked a foot and looked where he was looking. De escalated within seconds, literally. Opposite to the cowboy way I learned, it’s never taught a horse to “get” me to untie them. (Most of them can manage that by themselves). 🤣🤣🤣 Thank you for speaking up on behalf of all the cowboyed horses and people! Brilliant as usual.

    • Did the treats change your mind or theirs?? I gave my young mare a shot every week for two years, for a stifle issue. I did it at liberty and kept a smile on my face and didn’t fight. But that isn’t the important part. Every time I see someone who did not get the cowboy start you and I did, do what your intern did, I get giddy. What if they get a shortcut; how much farther will they go? This is how the world changes, they stand on our shoulders and I am thrilled. You rock, Jane. Horses around the world give a golf clap.

      • Lol, the treats probably started to give ME confidence. Their shots were at liberty in pasture, but it did want them to turn their heads to me to relax the muscle I was going to inject. Cookie with alcohol wipe, a little skin flicking with cookie #2, inject while munching, and 2 to wipe out the shot and reinforce the memory it’s about cookies. They luuuuuuved shot day. About my special girl, I had her from 15 to 18, and she got a job as a vet tech for a large animal practice, where they immediately paired her up with the least experienced equine vet….and she taught her VET how to slow down and keep a horse calm without immediately resorting to twitches or unnecessary drugs. So dang proud of her! The good listening keeps rolling over new people.

  6. Anna, this was a spectacular reminder, and oh so timely. In a desperate search for murmuration I stupidly reached out for Ferdinand this morning before “checking in”. He told me I was scary and rude. Sometimes I feel guilty that I haven’t helped him to develop more trust over the past 4 years. I know what to do, but I’m not evolved enough to be consistent. If I’m tired, or hurried, or desperate for connection, I forget the golden rules. Perhaps you could move in with me and tutor me each morning over coffee in order to change the shape of my learning curve?

    • Ferdinand is a quandry, I don’t know that I could solve he questions in four years. He is safe and he has hay. He doesn’t wish for me. But “normal” isnt his thing and probably for good reasons that we may never know. You and I would enjoy coffee and morning chats with him, though…

      • Indeed we would. I’m hoping these chats come to pass. I missed my opportunity last time (life got in the way). But if you plan to travel again horse gypsy style, maybe we can make it happen.

  7. This is so lovely. You have churned out a perfectly stated communication on behalf of the horse. If only we humans can keep this foremost in our minds !

    A cowboy whose name I won’t mention says, ” Believe in your horse, and he will believe in you.” I think your essay is the essence of that. We have to trust and believe in the intelligence of our horses, and when we really do that, they in turn will believe and trust us.

    I need to print this out, as others have remarked, and have it available for my own reminder, every single day.

    • So much of what we call training is dumbing them down… these statements are hard to understand in their flowery nebulousness, but at the same time, they are the blunt truth… Thanks, Sarah. I enjoyed writing this.


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