Nube: How a Horse Taught Me a Canter Cue

The short version is that my horse poked me in my sit bone, which isn’t possible, is it? But let’s start at the beginning because both my Grandfather Horse and Nube are gone now. And it’s fall, that bittersweet season.  A friend had asked to ride my Grandfather Horse. He was just Spirit then, a … Read more

Cleaning Out the Toolbox

If it weren’t for manure frozen into the ice, we’d have no traction at all and it’s only the eleventh week of January. It’s been dark with below-freezing temperatures outside for so long that I can’t remember. I’m standing in front of the fridge, seriously considering cleaning it out. I can see a jar of … Read more

Things We Should Refuse to Train Horses To Do

Warning: Loudmouth Party Pooper Rant. I think we all know whose side I’m on in this horse training reality show. As an early holiday gift to my favorite four-legged friends, I thought I’d lob a few ideas to folks who actually like their horses. In a world where we normalize fear-based training, I hope to … Read more

The Simple Truth About Complicated Training

It was back around the time the light bulb was invented. My Grandfather Horse was a lanky spooky colt, I was still biting my lip instead of breathing, and my mentor put a western saddle on her stallion and attached her tackle box and pole to go fishing, (but the same thing might happen if … Read more

Being the Railbird: Anniversary Edition

A reader gave me a writing assignment. She asked me to write something from the perspective of a railbird. This won’t be fiction. I was at the National Western Stock Show. It would take me two more years to get there with a horse but showing was the dream since I was a kid. Over … Read more

Finding the Ground But In a Good Way

Our T’ai Chi master told us to drop our weight? I was barely legal and my fledgling art career was doing so well that I didn’t own a car. The class met in a church gym, he stood in front with his back to us and the small class mimicked his slow-motion movements. He told … Read more

Virtual Dressage and Girls in White Shirts

The FEI passed good rules this year, and the Olympic judging held to the high side. Dressage had things to celebrate but then the modern pentathlon debacle happened, not even an equestrian event, and we all saw the competitor crying and whipping her horse. The press failed to grasp what we all know: Horses take … Read more

Advice? Take a Deep Seat and a Faraway Look…

My young horse was lame, so my mentor asked if I’d like a lesson on her horse. It wasn’t a rhetorical question; we all knew the barn rule. Even if I was green -lime green- I knew if you were offered a horse, you said yes. My mentor watched as I climbed on her impeccable … Read more

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

Want more? Join us at The Barn, our online training group with video sharing, audio blogs, live chats with Anna, and so much more. Or go to to subscribe for email delivery of this blog, see the Clinic Schedule, or ask a question.

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.



Sharing Horses with Little Sisters.

Ah, Spring! When a young girl’s thoughts turn to… horses. Just like old girl’s thoughts, and just like every other day of the year. Horse-crazy girls are a consistent bunch. Most of my clients are adults, but now and then, I get a young rider and I love it. It’s nice to be reminded. This … Read more

Part Two: Thanksgiving Every Day.

Last week I had a bit of a Christmas rant (read) and declared I would celebrate Thanksgiving until New Years. I feel better already. I followed with, “And if thanksgiving is my religion, then the barn will be my church.” I know I run the danger of offending a wide range of religious and spiritual … Read more

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me!

Namaste is a Sanskrit word -which means it’s very old.  Most translate it to some version of “The spirit in me respects the spirit in you.”  There is so much in a name. Namaste is also an easy-on-the-eyes, young, Friesian-Arab gelding with a big  dressage heart. I have known him for about 5 years and … Read more

A Lesson Horse is Born….

… and Grace gives herself a promotion. Dressage borrows lots of language from ballet -after all, we are the dancers of the horse world. Pas de Trois is a dance of three. I have commandeered that phrase to describe riding lessons as a conversational dance between horse, rider and instructor. All three participants have to … Read more

Embrace a Career Change.

I’ve traveled in all directions in the last few months- looking at potential lesson horses. I want to rescue the skinny ones. I try to guess how much retraining will be needed for others. The right horse needs to be not too old or too tall. There is a temperament I am looking for; tolerant, … Read more