Peaceful Persistence, a Horse Training Manifesto


What does “not conceding” mean? Oh, I can’t wait to bray about this, says this trainer whose spirit animal is a donkey. We train with Peaceful Persistence which means we are: Not aggressive, Not conceding, and Not emotional. This week I’m writing in response to a reader’s question. We met at a clinic in Australia and she’s been following Bhim’s Training Diary at the Barn School. Thanks, Susan. It’s so much easier when I don’t have to come up with all the ideas myself!

But first, a little about the concept of Peaceful Persistence, which is the core of Affirmative Training. From the beginning, there have been two schools of thought about training horses. One says domination and fear is the best method because horses are all about fighting for herd position and we should do the same. The other says horses are not aggressive and work together for the safety of the herd, so training with cooperation and affirmation is the best way. It’s dictatorship versus democracy. Domination versus partnership.

As we learn more about the nature of horses, and how their flight/fight/freeze response works, we reached the conclusion that fear-based training is ineffective. Horses can’t learn when they are afraid, common sense should have told us that, but humans want results. Fear will get a response quickly, but intimidation trains horses to not trust us. At the same time, we become callus to the chronic violence, we become hard in our hearts and refuse to understand the other side. Define partnership as two voices, rather than compulsive obedience.

But horses do need to get along with us for health care if nothing else. The big question then is if the old intimidation and correction plan is ineffective, then what do I do? Simple. Say yes.

Not aggressive. Instead, give the horse time to think and process. We don’t body slam them or batter them with flags and sticks, or tease and cajole, claiming their space as our own. We train that a respectful distance is more peaceful. We give them room, literally to stand on their feet, which equates to room to think, with us standing a few steps away. Then we begin to build a language with that horse, one of partnership rather than domination. We give the horse a voice and then listen to their calming signals. Sometimes when asking for something, the horse visibly braces, afraid of what comes next, but we affirm less is more and don’t escalate because the cue was too big already. Less correction; more direction.

We show strength by not taking the easy way out. We don’t give a bigger cue, but rather pose a smaller question to the horse and give them time to answer, trusting their intelligence. Rather than forcing a quick answer by intimidation, we give the horse time to settle his emotions. Flight is an involuntary response, so we slow down, so they might do the same. Then we engage the horse’s curiosity rather than demand compliance. Our goal is confidence because a confident horse is less likely to spook, injure themselves or others, struggle with health or lameness issues, or agitate the herd.  Domination is easier for a predator than listening, but we do not fight time, either. We let it take the time it takes because we treasure time with horses.

Not conceding. We don’t give in to impatience or the judgment of others. We don’t allow ourselves to be dominated. We hold to the truth of our horse’s need for autonomy and find ways for the horse to be right, be acknowledged, and be confident in their own intelligence. And we do the same for ourselves. Knowing there are faster ways, we choose patience. If we have a challenging day, we come back tomorrow and try again. We will never concede the horse’s mental health for a trained behavior. We love horses for their nature, never quite tame, and we respect them enough to not confine them to subservience. We don’t expect them to fit into our world; we build a world where they can remain free, and join us by choice and not force.

We show strength by saying yes, and refusing to be punitive. We hold to seeing the best in horses, when it’s human nature to find fault and to want everything on our terms. At the same time, we do not surrender our own autonomy. We are not doormats or punching bags or love-struck girls. We strive to be the equal of horses, the true meaning of partnership. We earn value by not surrendering to our horses but by holding our own self-respect as worthy. We don’t settle for less, we ask for better. First in ourselves, knowing that we model the confidence we want for a horse. When things are challenging, we refuse to be held back, but rather rise above our base nature. We prove ourselves to be predators capable of understanding rather than giving in to the ease of fear and violence. We wage peace with horses.

Not emotional, because horses have emotions of their own, we choose to not pile ours on top. We don’t make excuses because nothing is personal. We take responsibility and resolve our issues on our own time because the horse needs our clarity and affirmation. We learn to focus on the horse and leave our quirks out of the conversation, as they only distract our horse from their task.  If the horse has anxiety then we give them time to soothe themselves. We don’t prize our emotions and martyr ourselves for horses. We are far from perfect, but we don’t give up. We accept that we are each a work in progress. A work of art in the making.

We show strength by letting the horse be the priority. We don’t allow our anxiety to become our horse’s problem. Being unemotional is what it means when we release our ego, that big rock we are always stumbling over when we judge ourselves. We demonstrate maturity and trustworthiness by focusing on the horse. We never surrender our own autonomy and we avoid self-blame by holding close to “the better angels of our nature.”

Peaceful Persistence is a manifesto. We don’t fight. We don’t give in. We put the horse first.

Watch what I mean:

Join us in Bhim’s Training Diary, Part One here. Or Bhim’s Training Diary, Part Two here.

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Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward

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Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.

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21 thoughts on “Peaceful Persistence, a Horse Training Manifesto”

  1. Again I must tell you how much you have helped me train. I have especially learned that we don’t change the horse we change the human. You are a blessing! Please keep writing these uplifting reminders. Sue Stone and Santana, Unadilla NY

  2. WOW, this is the BEST one yet!!! I have copied a large part of these sayings for my “Best Training Tips” notes. The balance between autonomy and subservience in the human part of the equation is always tight-rope decisions when moving from Connection to Training. I think the secret is to always remember that they are intertwined and inseparable. The best way to do that is to step back, take a deep breath and ‘listen’ but still be persistent in our request, just find a different way to ask.

  3. Anna,
    Thank you for today’s post. Fantastic is an inadequate word. Can’t really find a word that works for me, but I will just live in gratitude for the way you write, the way you advocate for the horse. William Thanks you. My stoic, intelligent 25 yr old gelding. Here at the later years of his life and mine we are searching together for the “Better and the Peaceful.” Unlearning the past for either of us is not easy, but we try and I am grateful for his generous spirit.

    And yours. Thank you for sharing what you’ve experienced and for being a generous guide on this journey.

  4. This might be my favorite post from you ever. I’m going out tomorrow to treasure our time together and wage a little peace, feeling affirmed in the path we are taking. Thank you.

  5. This description is so clearly expressed and courageous in not following the long tradition of dominating horses by fear. Thank you Anna for putting in words what so many people know in their hearts! Your contribution to human/ horse relationships is immense.

  6. Anna, I do understand that there is no “magical mantra” because partnership between predator and prey is complicated. Your manifesto inspires me to keep trying in spite of my frustrating human predatory failings. I find myself breathing with intent to calm more and more often because of your invaluable guidance. I thank you, but more importantly my horses thank you, especially Ferdinand.

  7. I intended to comment yesterday, but glad I didn’t as failure to do so meant I read your essay one more time this morning. I like this piece a great deal as it condenses a plethora of concepts. Easy to understand, so much harder to implement !! But we are trying here at Horse Dreamer Ranch to do our best.

    This is especially a timely piece because my friend, video person and occasional helper around here just asked me to teach her about Affirmative Leading. This will be good to pass on to her to read. She is in love with Tango, and it would be convenient for me ( and him) if she knows how to interact in an affirmative way with my horses.

    Love “our” manifesto !! Even when I can’t always rise up to meet the challenge. .

  8. Thank you Anna! I’ve read and re-read this manifesto many times over since you posted it and will continue to do so.
    I’m particularly stuck on the phrase “We will never concede the horse’s mental health for a trained behavior.”
    Many of our ’rehab’ horses have suffered. How can we move forward with them?
    Your Peaceful Persistence is so clearly demonstrated in Bhim’s Diary. I’m all eyes and ears!

  9. To be the equal of a horse. Now there’s a proposition! Not because we need to reach down to find them, but because we need to rise up.


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