Writing and Riding

Happy New Year. It’s my ninth year of writing this blog about riding. Thank you for reading along, and I had a thought…

I was digging through my office supplies looking for a small notebook in a messy bookshelf; files of old receipts, fliers for tack I’ll never buy, a box of snapshots from way back when we took snapshots. I buy office supplies like other women buy makeup or shoes. I will never be without a pen, the kind I like with a medium roller ball point. The fine points are just too stingy with the ink.

Finally, in a basket on the bottom shelf, I see a spiral binding hiding underneath the bag of antique supplies from the 1990s. I’m that kind of organized. I pull the notebook out and I can’t remember buying it, but that’s my handwriting scribbled through the front few pages.

And I’m shot back in time. These are notes I wrote after being a demo rider in a Jane Savoie clinic. Reading the definition of being “in front of the leg” brought a smile back. It was a life-changing weekend for me. I was so new to dressage that I still called the arena a “pen.” I was riding a hot young horse who was an ex-reiner, just like me. He has since grown old and died, but these notes are as good as gold. Now I give clinics, and people take notes. At first, it was strangely unnerving, seeing that scribbling on paper, but that’s just silly. The notes are about something much more interesting and important than me. They’re a way that we learn about horses.

Maybe as a kid, you had a pink diary with a key, kept hidden from your sister. It was the first book of your secrets. As life got more complicated, it became a journal with a black leather cover, your inner-therapist helping you sort your thoughts. Maybe later you kept a gratitude journal. Some days were so dark that the only thing you could think of to be grateful for was making it to the end of the day entry. Have you written your way through hard times?

Journaling is home-made mindfulness, a way of keeping our place in time, but I think we underestimate its value as a learning tool. What if writing is just a different kind of riding?

As riders, we study how horses learn and we might pay attention to how we learn, too. What horses do in a split second, interpreting the environment with their senses, takes us longer.

The best human learning happens when we use our range of senses. It’s one reason that clinics can be such great experiences; they provide learning opportunities with varied input, in one place. We hear about it, see demos, take notes. We watch others learn. We feel compassion when they make mistakes we might make. We also see people like us get it right and we’re encouraged. We think about it, then try it, get coaching, and try again. Maybe we get overwhelmed, and then the smell of manure brings us back to reality. Our senses have a workout listening, seeing, touching, smelling, experiencing, writing, sharing, and that’s just the first day.

And in the quiet clinic afterglow, we try to keep the memory alive. Writing is not the same, but putting words on paper is taking a snapshot of the day and explaining what you saw and did, as a way of deepening the learning. Maybe after the next ride, you write that down, too, and take more of the clinic into your daily work. Look, you’re journaling without a net!

But it isn’t the dark ages. You might think technology is the devil, but maybe you need to tame it to your purposes. Don’t like to write or type? That’s fine, voice-to-word apps abound. You can dictate your journal into existence.

Then go online and sign up for a blog. I suggest Wordpress, but any will do. I know this is scary. Don’t hyperventilate, don’t get bucked off before you start.

When is a blog not a blog? When we re-task it to suit our journaling needs. Think of a blog as a word processing program that also has a search feature and comes in a tidy, attractive package. You can categorize your thoughts/posts in a more organized way than a spiral notebook. A blog can be as private as a diary, and rather than having word docs and emails drifting around the internet and loitering in other computers, or lost for decades, your words are contained in a private place but at your fingertips. And blogs are free.

So now that you have the blog, you trick it out like a clubhouse. Post all the best photos. Tell the story of how you met your horse and fall in love all over again. On a day when the weather won’t let you ride, write a ride. Describe how your body moves and repeat every bit of trainer advice you ever got. Teach yourself something. Affirm what you know. That’s always a good ride.

Then save for the next rainy day and begin a quote collection. Cut and paste inspiration to your journal-blog.

You can import your vet records and make a category for that. A category is a way to sort, so five years from now when memory fades, you can find that previous incident with your previous vet. Add information about supplements that you don’t need yet. Keep links to bitless bridles and a record of saddle fitting sessions. All the boring things that you’ll wish you had later.

Keep a record of riding lessons and clinics you attend. Writing them out is like getting two for the price of one. Add a list of goals for the season, and the year. Define your vision and map a path ahead. You might add a photo of your trainer, she never forgets you. Write about trail rides and show experiences. Post photos of your friends and their horses. These are precious times, more valuable in hindsight.

Finally, most importantly, that dorky gratitude journal. Take a moment at the end of the day and say thank you. How would it impact the relationship you have with your horse in the saddle, if this was how you ended your day?

Since beginning to give writing workshops to riders as an add-on to clinics, I’m been so inspired by the writing people share. I am convinced our words matter, now more than ever.

There’s a reason teachers used to have students copy a sentence a hundred times on the chalkboard. All these years later, I think I have learned almost as much from this blog as I have from horses. The practice of writing has deepened my understanding profoundly.

Besides, it’s how you and I met.

I’m not suggesting a New Year resolution or that you ever need to go public. I’m just saying that a word at a time, month after month, is a way to be in the barn with your horse when you aren’t. It’s another expression of the passion that drives us all, and you can store that up for a time you need it, an investment of the best kind.

All horse stories are the same. We get the wrong horse. We find a way to build a relationship in the old-fashioned way, a little bit at a time. Then in a blink, years have passed and that hot young thing is an old campaigner. You aren’t who you were either. You’re much better, in ways you never imagined. When the only really bad day with your horse comes and you have to say goodbye, you have the best keepsake. You’ve written the legend of your horse. Forever yours.

Anna Blake at Infinity Farm
Horse Advocate, Author, Clinician, Equine ProBlog/FB/Email/Author/FB/Tweet/Amazon

Join us at Relaxed & Forward Tribe, Intl., with Anna Blake

Our 2019 clinic schedule is filling. Email [email protected] for hosting details or to be added to the email list.

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

44 thoughts on “Writing and Riding”

  1. Absolutely brilliant. I have written myself through bad times. Writing is such a a good way for me to release and heal through pain. Also love being able to look back especially as the years fly by so quickly ..almost 50 you know! Ana you are a word wizard always enjoy your posts! ✌?❤️?

  2. “We find a way to build a relationship in the old-fashioned way, a little bit at a time. Then in a blink, years have passed…” Like entering the time zone of horses.

    I began a journal about our horse four and a half years ago, organized into years, 1st year, 2nd, etc. Reflecting on some of what transpired years ago has brought many smiles, and as you say, much insight into how we too have changed.

    Thanks fot all your blog entries. I cut and paste some of them into a folder that you could say is my Anna Blake journal. Many smiles and insights there, as well.

  3. I keep a riding lesson journal and love, love, love reading it over and over again, especially when I am stuck. (so that means I read it about, ummmm, every week!) But, OMG… how can it be that this phrase “… still holding too long…” shows up year after year? Get a grip, I say to myself. Or better yet, don’t get a grip. 🙂 HNY to you and your horses and all the beings you hold dear.

  4. Yep, that’s exactly how I use my horse blog. I can’t count the times I’ve used it to remind my vet husband just when a horse was injured or came up lame, and what he did to treat it; ha!

  5. Hi Anna. Thank you for writing today’s piece. Starting back in the early 90’s I journaled every experience with my new horse. Unfortunately the first couple years of entries were lost on a corrupt floppy disc so I continued writing the old fashion way with pen and paper and rewrote those lost words the best I could remember. I used to joke that I would read it when I’m 90. Well, it’s been a little over a year since my best equine friend crossed the rainbow bridge so you can do the math of how many journals I have written. They aren’t pretty. There are cross outs and scribbles, teeny tiny writing when I ran out of space. There are stars and arrows directing you to jump to a different page because I thought of something else after. Sometimes I added sketches or diagrams. Definitely tons of spelling and grammar errors. But everything is there. Every trail ride, every clinic, every injury and every time being together doing nothing. I havent been able to read those journals yet. But I know I will. Your last paragraph today summed it up … we wrote a legend together. I have all the feelings in my heart and the wonderful details on paper. Somehow it’s greatly comforting to me to know it’s all there. Thank you Anna for always writing stuff down that makes me think, yup, I get that.

  6. You blogasaurus, you! I love this post. I’ve been blogging for 7 years (Wordpress just reminded me) and it’s been all of what you describe, wonderful and life-changing. But in the analogue world, I sketch-journal – and have you ever thought to add drawing to the mix of observational learning tools? Without needing great skill, it’s an extraordinarily effective way to focus and a good way to discover things you might otherwise overlook. I still remember horse-drawings from when I was about 8 years old – and sketching and writing for me are two vital but different ways of understanding and learning. Thanks for yet another great read!

  7. Brilliant, Anna! This makes me wish I had started journaling or blogging when we first adopted our OTTB five years ago, but instead I took lots of photos with whatever camera phone I had. Conceivably I could go back and connect the dots with some of those early photos into a coherent story of how we have come such a long way with Sugarfoot. This beautiful boy has been one of my best educators and I believe he has appreciated that I’m trying to learn from you, too. Thank you and Happy New Year!!

    • No reason to not write it from the middle each direction… I’ve found it gives an interesting perspective. Thanks, Celeste.

  8. Your ending paragraph contained an ah ha moment for me “All horse stories are the same. We get the wrong horse. We find a way to build a relationship in the old-fashioned way, a little bit at a time”.
    I work in a profession where I do a lot of documentation, so “documenting” or journaling for fun has never appealed. I should try, as I am primarily a visual type person – maybe I will. Thank you. You intrigued me with the lines above as that is exactly my current journey. I find myself asking though, is she the wrong horse? Or the horse God felt I needed to have so that I could grow as a human.
    Thank you and Happy New Year.

    • Well, isn’t that the question? Good luck, she is either right where she needs to be, or on the way to where she needs to be. Video journal, maybe? Good luck, Kathy.

  9. yes! how i wish i’d written down all those memories from long ago. well most of them are no longer memories -but if id written them down- they would be! so many lessons forgotten, so many glorious moments lost, so many reflections muddled into one! i guess its not too late to start …………..

  10. Oh thank you for this blog Anna! I’m blogging for many reasons, because I love to journal and I wasn’t sure how this will all go but am having a blast and I have been blogging about riding but it’s mixed in with my life, called My Life and Horse Stories!! What I love and learn from you experienced bloggers is learning other things I can do with my blog. Categorizing and making files or documents for important things like veterinary calls. You’ve given me so many ideas I never knew I could do, but I’m learning! You are such an amazing human being, as I love your insight, your words your encouragement, your love for horses and humans alike!! Thank you!! ❤️

    • I’m not that amazing, but I have slogged the blog thing half to death! Thanks, glad to pour some gasoline on your fire.

  11. As with Valery, tears are also close as you touch those special memories. Now sally’s special friend Fred is aging also.
    My blog has changed in content over the eleven years, and I know this years travel life enters a different phase……So thanks for giving me a prod in thinking about how better to express.
    Always you inspire, Thank You.

  12. I am in my 70th year and I am acutely aware of how prescious time is. All of my horses have been the wrong horse but somehow we found each other and I am a better happier person for it. Thank you for the nudge.

  13. Oh Anna. I don’t know how you are able to write and think so brilliantly so consistently. Every week’s post is the best ever and I can’t imagine it EVER being as good as the one I just read. Then it is. Every week. I’m grateful beyond words that you exist, do what you do, teach what you teach exactly the way you teach it, do it every week. And that some magic occurred that my path crossed with yours. “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”
    You are so the right, best teacher for me and I am GRATEFUL.

  14. Wonderful post Anna. Yes, and emotional at the end. I too collect quotes. From books, magazines, from an app which delivers daily or one can search any old sage. I write, and prefer the hand that god steers, later committing them to digital storage. Little papers on most subjects of things I’ve learned around horses. And what we in Australia call Bush Poetry, which comes quickly and sometimes keeps me up nights. When I’m gone, whoever gets my stuff may open a stationery store. My favourite pen is a fine felt tip, “Fineliner” and they seem to go for years. A ballpoint needs to be pressed, I don’t think I could find one in here. Ballpoints ruined our handwriting.

    One of my own favourite quotes “A horse can’t pull if you give him nothing to pull on.”
    Another I recently read in a Horse Deals “The horse was born to go forward, but we impede him.”

    And late last night on You Tube, Warwick Schiller – “First you go with them, then they go with you, then we go together.” Warwick is an Aussie I think in California. Spends his life running clinics all over the world, and taking on the “wrecks” of the uninitiated.

    Old horses are for the new riders. Young horses are for the old riders. It takes a good horse to make a good rider, else how are you going to know how very excellent a horse may be under you? Equally, it takes a good rider to make a good horse.

    Thank you, your blog always resonates.

  15. I do need to pick up the pen. I have many. I too love pens…and office supply stores! Haven’t written in my journal for a while but I think I will. I do enjoy it. Like writing letters to myself. Thank you Anna. =-)

  16. This was such a powerful blog. It really hit home. When I first started volunteering and working with horses it was five years ago. I started a journal and I’m going to be pulling that out. Thank you so much for this! Spoke volumes in more ways than one.

  17. I love your thoughts and your writing. Thank you for putting them/it out there so regularly!
    I “came back” to riding when i was nearly 40 – almost 30 years ago now, yikes. For years I kept diaries of all my sessions with my horse/s. Would use them to reflect on how they went, and plan for the next rides. It worked… BUT for many years i had instructors with no coherent system, and the amount of ineffective instructions and yabbering in my head gradually started to send me bonkers. Luckily i eventually found some fabulous people to help me through the maze.
    For a while i just wrote up the fantastic clinics i went to. Then a year ago my wonderful instructor moved nearby, so we work together most weeks. Now (partly because of your influence?!) i don’t plan too much. I’m more in the moment! (Two years ago, i set “goals”. That can be a successful strategy, but for me it resulted in a meltdown of communication with my horse. I started to say “you should know this” when we had a few bad rides as we pushed up a level. Mea culpa! Luckily we found the way back, and ARE learning half pass and flying changes – albeit a year later than my original goal! And i have a beautiful relationship with my little mare.)
    The arena where we work is 300 metres away up a long drive, and i use this to walk with her, do a few transitions, and stand and breathe with her till she’s ready to move on again. (I watched one of your days in Australia last year. I can’t believe how long it takes, sometimes, for her to “come back” to me!) I aim to keep this connection in all our work/play together.
    I also love your quote about writing as “applying the ass to the seat”! I worked on a writing project for more than 5 years. It is the biography of a (real) police horse, who had a few different careers after being sacked from the Mounties… and ended up retired on our property with 3 mares… Slow, steady, but enjoyable work, as i explored and researched various related subjects I wanted to include, notably about better ways to TRAIN! The book has just been published, and i’m very proud of it!

    • Congrats on the book, Shan. And great comment, that balance of goals and being present is always a tight rope… but I’ll always think horses like both. Thanks for commenting.

  18. I never thought of it as a journal, but always kept some sort of daily description of going to the barn – whether I rode – what supplements I gave Chico – his health – vet appts etc. I know I have the last one in my dresser drawer – need to go back & read it over. Its not quite the same as most of these described here – we (Chico & I) didnt spend much time in arenas – mostly out on the trail & in the woods. Will take it out & re-read it. It ended in December of 2002.

  19. What a brilliant idea! Using a blog for journaling. Wow! I love the organizing options and ability to “dress it up”. I think I am going to try this.


Leave a Comment