To my students

To my students-

You can and should expect to be treated with respect. Whether you have been riding your whole life or first time today, whether you think you know something or are scared you’ll look stupid, whether you have an expensive import or a kill pen rescue, you will be treated with respect, and you should expect it.

Once that’s clear that you won’t be judged for your ability, let’s not waste time with worrying how you look, or trying to impress or show what you know. Let’s get right to the stuff of value – because I respect you, I want to help you. I want to get the source to help you succeed. Because you know it is with respect and not personal, you can be assured it is a safe environment to receive input and even criticism without it being personal criticism. You can rest assured that I myself am still taking lessons on very basic skills, and recieve criticism from my own teachers on probably the same thing you’re going to get. It’s not personal, and it does not mean you are a poor rider or can’t be a great one.

I expect you to treat your horse with respect. You’re going to refine your idea of what respect for your horse is, and im going to ask you to stretch your comforts, and think from the horses perspective. You’re going to learn that to be really respectful of the horse, some of your habits simply will not fit into this. They’re probably unconscious, probably not meant with malice, but I need you to understand that that doesn’t matter to the horse- you need to break those habits, and take that task very seriously if you want them to be happy.

Im going to put you first, but im going to ask you to put your horse first. You might not always like what you hear, but you can rest assured it is said because I care about your success- if I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother changing your habits.

Good riding, really good riding, is exceptionally hard. Im still working on myself and always will be. Im a fellow student and fellow learner, so I will try to see from your point of view as much as I can. You can communicate safely with me, but you may be asked to think differently.

It’s ok to make mistakes, it’s ok to have emotions, it’s ok to feel whatever comes up – we will address it, but we will be moving forward, together.

Confidence in Imperfection

My confidence soared when I realized I didn’t have to know everything-

As a professional, we can be under quite a bit of pressure, but much of it is unnecessary pressure we put on ourselves. If you’re not a pro, this still applies, because you likely have the same worries. The pressure to look like you have it all together, that you always know what you’re doing. That you aren’t ever afraid, that you can ride any horse, that you have the right outfit, that your feathers aren’t ruffled, that you command an air of respect.

Maybe you get on a horse and immediately worry if everyone is judging your riding. Or you’re teaching a lesson and worry the railbirds don’t like your style, or are wanting to (or actually doing) contribute their sage advice to what you’re missing.

As a pro I’ve experienced it all- heckling at clinics, auditors telling me why I’m wrong or what I’m not doing a good job at teaching to the riders, riders having a hard time listening or being argumentative, having horses in a clinic far too dangerous or disastrous in some way for me to be able to make them or myself look good, no miraculous fix to show the audience — I’ve had all kinds of criticism, all kinds of blunders. I came off a horse at a clinic once. It just happens.

But you know the crazy thing? I still get messages every day to host clinics, to work with peoples horses, to teach lessons. Not one of these things has ruined my career. In fact, I’ve noticed public resistance far more to the digging in of perfection than admitting a mistake or admitting humanity.

When I realized I did not need to be perfect, that other peoples challenges were not a threat to me as a person, that if someone didn’t like me- it was not really as big a deal as I thought- I felt free.

I can teach a clinic or ride a horse confidently, knowing that I don’t have to know it all. That if I don’t know, I can say so, or seek help, or reach out, or continue to learn and grow until I do. That there are plenty of teachers out there for everyone and someone else might suit them better, and that’s fine. And, I think I actually do a much better job now that I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m much more relaxed and can be there for the horses and students in a deeper way.

I’m still here, making mistakes, often in public, learning and looking sloppy with many people watching- and it hasn’t killed me.

Perfection isn’t real, and if it’s your goal, or your need in order to feel confident, I have bad news for you- you’re gonna either be very stressed, or need to let it go.

If you’re an ammy and feeling the pressure, please know pros put their pants on one leg at a time, and have the same concerns as you. Nobody has a right to talk down to you or make you feel small, but if they’re not, the pressure you’re putting on yourself to be perfect is possibly just in your head, and you can just go ahead and let that go.

Keep working on yourself. Keep pushing to be better. But don’t be afraid of the messy middle – there is so much beauty and growth in there.

Happy Horse, Happy Human Mind

What does it take to make a happy horse?
In a nutshell, a humans willingness to perceive the truth over their own feelings, to keep their mind open, and to work endlessly on themselves.

I could say it takes good forage, and a herd, and movement and all that, which is true- but that becomes entangled in the first bit.

Having good feed requires a human to learn exactly what kind of feed a horse needs, and to let go of old standing notions that don’t do a horse much good. This means having the backbone to go against what friends, family, the barn owner, whatever, are saying. Or learning to do research well, and not get tangled into advertising, ending up with 100 supplements and an overfed, under nourished horse.

Being out in a herd is a doozy, because it requires many to let go of worry- worry that the horse will become hurt by other horses or by moving in the pasture like a horse will. Or worry of loss of control. Or losing “emotional closeness” with the horse, where a horse in a happy, functional herd, loses interest in coming out to the human who before was their only companion. It requires the human to let go of pride, worry, and ego, all in one swoop.

Movement is the biggest trigger of them all-
A scared horse needs to move, but a scared horse is usually attached to a scared person trying to restrict movement. You can see all that working on fear might bring up, but usually human fear trumps horse fear, and becomes the center of focus. It’s a rare human who can and will work on themselves and their fear to a point where they can actually support the horse.

So there you have it- forage, friends, and movement are all a horse needs- and yet, you can see how much they need us to change to give these three very simple needs: a tireless and unending devotion to working on our own weaknesses and shortcomings


“Rationalization: allowing my mind to find reason to excuse what my spirit knows is wrong.”

It is said that rationalization is one of the strongest human drives. We spend quite a bit of energy doing it, and we often get so good at it, it becomes a smoothly operating process entirely done without our awareness.

We rationalize how much money we spend on things we don’t need, new programs we know we won’t finish, workout clothes even if we aren’t going to work out, why we deserve that treat on the way home, why it’s ok to miss an event we signed up for, so on and so forth. We do it so often, we can get into a habit of it that can become almost out of our control- we have an exit plan for anytbing and everything that provides us the slightest bit of discomfort.

It can become such a habituated practice over little things, we can’t expect it to magically disappear over big things. What will we do when faced with hard facts, like something we are doing is causing our children harm, our dog harm, our horse harm? Why would rationalization, our friend in comfort, suddenly leave us for the hard but ethical road forward?

Many comment sections on posts about hard topics are full of a strong desire to show moral superiority – “I would NEVER let anything come before my horse,” or ”I have ALWAYS immediately fired anyone who hurt my horse,” or “I have ALWAYS advocated for my horse first,” but isn’t that, in its own form, a rationalization? The ability to glaze over all of reality to put a more comfortable blanket of how we’d like to see ourselves, as a moral champion, over the truth? The truth that it is hard, that we often become wobbly in the face of a professional of authority, and that our self doubt creeps in, and that we cave?

What would happen if we let the light in, just a little,
On the dark and cobwebbed room of our minds- would we be brave enough to see what rationalization had neatly behind curtains? And just one step at a time practice- noticing it creep up, there to protect you in the short term, while stealing from you in the long term-

Where does it creep up? To soothe you of defensiveness when you’re in the wrong
To soothe you from taking the harder path
To soothe you by providing you your comforts

What would happen if, in the smallest ways, you took the harder path?

Just don’t hit that snooze
Go for your run today
Apologize for being rude to a friend without rationalizing away why it didn’t happen the way she thinks
Just start somewhere, no matter how small
And watch your whole world open up

Then you will have awareness and the strength for the big stuff

Leg and Hand

Cold hard truth: as long as your leg is squeezing, scrunfhing, begging, and jabbing
And as long as your hand is backward, locked, too open, or micromanaging-
You cannot balance your horse.

No amount of exercises, no clinics, no patterns and no trying to collect will bring your horse into a better shape, because your body will be opposing their movement every stride. They are going to be forced to brace to carry you, and you will be perpetually blocking their back and neck and jaw.

It’s a hard truth. I was SO painfully humbled having my leg and hand taken away for a long period of time by my teacher. I wanted to work on making my horse balanced, but essentially I was the first problem that needed to be fixed. I’d developed terrible “trainer leg and hand,” essentially micromanaging horses to death to get stuff done. It happens.

I had to learn to really ride with my seat, and how to connect a horse to my body by not being blocked. Lots of horses who wouldn’t go forward we’re suddenly very forward when my leg wasn’t tensing up their ribs perpetually. Then my hand was much more able to follow because I wasn’t needing to constantly reshape what I’d blocked with my leg.

It can be a tough pill to swallow. Most of us like to believe we’re better riders than we are, and believe many of the horses imbalances are their problem, not ours.

Good riders dedicate themselves painstakingly to the very important, but minute details of good riding-
A feeling seat, a long supple leg that follows the movement of the horse, and an elastic arm, elbow and hand.

I am not there yet. I will spend my lifetime learning this. And I will insist that all my students work on this as well, before allowing them to fiddle with the horses ribs and mouth in a way that only tightens them.


One of the biggest hurdles of learning is expectation-

Expectation to show progress
Expectation to be validated
Expectation to do more
Expectation to move along father than we are ready for
Expectation to be working on something different

I think every human alive, if they’re honest, has grappled with these. Sometimes we hear what we need to work on and take offense, or feel ashamed, or go down the spiral of self deprecation. Sometimes we hear it as judgement or an insult, instead of simply a pathway forward- Sometimes our expectation leads us to lose the teaching moment, and can take us a while to sort through emotionally.

As a student myself, I’ve struggled with all of these. Sometimes I’ve wanted to show my teacher my best, and they take me back to the basics or have me clean up a training mess I made. Sometimes I’ve heard truths that I needed to hear but didn’t enjoy hearing. There have been times where I’ve had to sort through the emotional aftermath of a learning situation.

I’ve learned that being willing to give up expectation for any and all of these has set me free to learn well, and much faster. Learning to be open to the moment and the feedback without taking any of it personally has been the greatest gift I have given myself.

As a teacher, I recognize these moments when they come up with students. I’m going to have to address what’s not working to give you a pathway forward. I’m going to occasionally burst your bubble, and it may lead you to an uncomfortable mental place. I can say all these things as caring as possible, I can give them in compliment sandwich format, I can make sure you know it is not a judgement, only a place that needs some cleaning up.

I can support and guide you, but the emotional work, the work of learning not to take feedback personally, of taking ownership of your expectation, of keeping an open mind, of working on emotional control, is entirely in your own hands.

Touch: Conquest or Connection?

What is it you’re seeking from your animals through touch?

The way we touch our horses, our animals, our children, says everything about us. When do we touch? How do we reach out? What needs are we seeking to have filled, and why should it be their responsibility to fill it for us?

So often, if we look to the heart of our interactions, we will see them painfully one sided. We reach out without noticing, without taking in the needs of the one we seek to connect to. In many ways, we feel owed touch. Maybe without even being aware, we are saying with our actions, “This is my dog, my horse, my child, and I’ll touch him if I want to!” A conquest cloaked in nice words, come here and let me pet you!

From the outside eye, horses raise their heads up to avoid quick hands that reach rudely for their sensitive faces. Children protest or shrink away from pinching and pulling hands, adjusting clothes or buckles or simply reaching out for contact as if the child, a future adult, had no feeling.

We are not owed connection- this is a two way street that develops organically. Another body seeks us out when we make them feel safe, seen, heard. It is not something to be purchased, or even worked at. It’s a budding over time, which time is dictated entirely by the chemistry between both parties. And it is a conversation that changes moment to moment, winding like water flowing over turns and rocks and over low hanging branches, never the same twice – touch with respect for the other being requires no assumptions to be made, to feel, observe and adjust to the moment, and to never assume command of the other, no matter how subtle or well meaning.

Photo by Jasmine Cope

How To Tell If Your Horse Is Moving Well

How to tell if your horse is moving well-

There are a lot of words thrown around with meanings that move from person to person: one persons collection may be deeper flexion in the hind legs and the raising of the forehand, but some people use collection to mean “head down and not pushing into the reins.”

Everyone has their own meter to describe feelings under saddle, and not everyone understands what they’re feeling or desires the same feeling. Some people are happy with a “zippiness” and electricity. Some like a heavier contact, some like a horse to not touch the contact at all. But each of these feelings create different types of mobility and different usage of the body. People often use all the right classical language, while riding a very bunched up, tight moving horse, which to me is just proof that feeling is very subjective.

So how can you tell if your horse is moving well?

I have some definitive markers:

-if they can go forward out of whatever you’re doing on a straight line in one step. This suggests the horse is carrying equally on both hind legs. If not, they will have to wiggle and squiggle their way out of the movement they were in and pull into the next movement with much assistance from the rider.

-they have an equal feeling in both reins. This assumes that both sides of the body are equal in length. That feeling depends on the riders preference for contact, but a horse who is using both sides of the body is not dumping into one rein and completley floppy in the other. They don’t feel like the second you let go of your reins they’ll fall apart either.

-they can lengthen, shorten, or change gaits with relative ease, without their head and neck height being affected too much- this is to say, without riders hands blocking the head. Meaning, if you let go of the reins and the head pops up, you were blocking the neck, and the hind leg wasn’t active. A well balanced horse can make changes with some ease (not always the same as prompt responses – because they can sometimes respond either promptly, or smoothly, and these are different). They are organized in their body and don’t require begging from the hand or nagging from the leg to get to the next gait. Their head is no longer being used as a lever so it does not pop up or thrust down, because they are using the hind legs well.

This last one takes some tactful understanding of your horses ability- it wouldn’t be fair to expect immediate responses, from halt to canter for example, on a green horse, with any fluidity. Maybe from walk to trot.

But the level of ability of the horse to transition from one gait to another with ease demonstrates their ability to carry.

So these are some ways to determine how your horse is going. These to me are free of discipline and useful for any horse to be able to do.

To recap
-can go forward after whatever you just did in one straight step
-equal in both reins
-can change gait with relative ease

Home Free

Self importance is the enemy of growth

When many think of self importance, they think of arrogance. But the reality is that most of us are the most important in our own worlds to some degree- we think about ourselves endlessly- what others think about us, whether they like us, whether we will become afraid, if our feelings are hurt in a lesson by hearing uncomfortable feedback – it really is all about us.

As long as it is about us, we will perpetually draw energy away from growth, and back to our own self protection.

Most of us don’t mean to be self absorbed, but it’s a normal part of being human. It takes considerable self awareness (not the same as being self absorbed), a sense of humor, and the understanding that we are no better or no worse than another.

In my experience, the minute you can catch yourself in a stupid train of thought and laugh about it, you’re home free. Being human is absurd, and it’s a shared experience by all.

But as long as we’re worried about ourslelves- our image, our feelings, our worries, our whatever, we aren’t there for our students, our horses, or anyone. We have a limited cup to draw from.

When we forget about ourselves, when we see the commonalities in all and how silly, short sighted and usually wrong our own feelings and thoughts are, we can let go- and draw from observation of the moment. There is considerable power available in any moment, if we can get still enough for even a fleeting period of time, to notice it.

Be Nice

Be nice!
Sit with your legs together!
Say you’re sorry to Susie

Be nice!
Apologize for smacking Timmy, he just likes you!

Smile honey,
Nobody likes a sour face!

Don’t rock the boat!
A woman should be smart, but not intimidating
Be pretty, but not too pretty!
Nobody likes a show off

Are you really gonna wear that?
It’s too revealing/you look frumpy!

Stand up for yourself
But not too much! No need to be prickly!

Get married!
But don’t throw your life away!
Have kids
But for Gods sakes don’t just sit around in sweats and a pony tail.
Put on a little lipstick!

Smile baby
You don’t wanna scare people off with that face
If you put a little effort in,
You could really be cute

Say you’re sorry for offending the boss!
Say you’re sorry telling him he was over the line!
Say you’re sorry for raising your prices
Say you’re sorry for telling the truth
Say you’re sorry for setting a high bar
Say you’re sorry for making others uncomfortable
Say you’re sorry for existing!

But everyone knows
The world is not moved by nice
Or pretty
But by determination, and grit