“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

I Know Your Horse

I know your horse

I know how they like to be scratched and where
I know what time of day they sleep, how their feet and lips twitch while they dream, I imagine of running

I know how their hair whirls and changes over their chest, and their flanks
I know just how they like to be brushed

I know their feet, their growth cycles, and where the flair and cracks show up
I know what is needed to head those off

I know how to soothe them when they get antsy
I know how to draw them to catch,
And how they like me to carry myself a particular way

I know when cold rain makes them shiver
But wind doesn’t seem to bother them much
I know which corner of the pasture they find shade in
And when they’re comfortable, or uncomfortable

I know they don’t like to be cinched fast
And they hate it when my mind wanders
And I know they remind me to stay present
With a stomp of the foot, or meandering away

I know they remind me to let go of what I know
And to observe, and make no assumptions about who they are

You may have your worries spinning round
From an enclosed space, an office chair
An internet article,
A friends recommendation

You may have a program, a series of labels
He’s an introvert, or a naughty boy, or a lazy boy, or a pet

But I know your horse

He is not on the timetable of you and I
And he doesn’t carry our goals or worries or thoughts

And he knows you
And he knows me

no amount of covering up
Can hide who we are from the horse

The Gift

The Gift

We are given gifts probably thousands of times a day- a visitation from a little bird, a strangers smile, a cat rubbing up against our legs, the laughter of our children, our horses endless generosity. Each day is sprinkled with them, and we often miss many, or discount them.

Gift giving, inherently, is not a transactional experience. These occurrences mentioned happen just because you’re alive. They’re your reward for simply being. Certainly, the more you pay attention to them, the more positively you engage with the world, the more of them you recieve, but they are not transactional. They simply are.

Probably everyone has experienced someone giving a gift and expected something in return. We’ve all heard the words, “after all I’ve done for you!” spewed at us with resentment. We feel stressed during the holidays because if someone gives us a gift, we owe them back. The endless human exchange of owing, measuring worth, tracking debt is a depleting and counter productive spiral –

And it shows up with our horses.

Whether we admit it or not,
We wait quietly with them to calm down because we want something- something owed us for our patience.
We feed and care for the rescue because we want something – accolades, admiration, a perfect relationship the horse owes us for saving them.
We work toward the rehab, the abuse case, the scared horse, and somewhere deep down, we feel we are owed.

After all I’ve done for you! We think, when they trot away, kick at us, break the fence, won’t get in the trailer.

The horse is giving us gifts 100 or more times a day. The sound of their breath, their company, their beautiful shape trotting across the field, happily standing at the mounting block, fulfilling our requests, even though they were muddy and unclear to the horse, simply getting along with us in some capacity every day is a damn miracle.

But when we live in transactional mindset, we are perpetually owed, and the world is in debt to us. We look for more to be happy, show me a sign? As if the world and our horses were not showing us signs a million times over.

And in our entitlement and uncharitable hearts, we miss them, and we miss out on the true joy of giving for giving sake, without being owed a thing.

A Horse In His True Power

A horse in his true power

I think one of the main reasons so many training programs make quick work of shutting a horses energy down is fear of their power.

If you’ve ever ridden a horse who is fit, unblocked through the back and confident, there is quite a formidable amount of energy in there. It is a strong, bounding energy, like riding a lightning bolt- you’re part of the circuit, but you don’t have near as much control or say as you’d hope.

I think a healthy frame of mind for riding is to consider your weakness and infinitely poorer judgment and timing in the sensory world of a horse. One must let go to some degree-

There is much to be gained in the letting go, in the integrating into the movement of an animal much more graceful than you. To sit and allow your body to become better than it ever could on it’s own- this is an experience that requires detachment from control.

If you work to develop balance and strength, you have the obligation to stay out of the way and let it be shown. A horse in their glory feels like moving, and moving powerfully, and this is precisely what most people do not want.

But why?
Why aren’t riding schools teaching folks to sit centered and stay out of the horses way?
To understand, support and honor movement?

Why don’t people invest heavily in learning to ride, and ride well, like their life depends on it?

instead of hoping their horse, a 1200 pound rabbit with a sports car motor and a brain that could fit in one man’s hand, adjust to meet their needs instead?

Why instead, do many lesson programs immediately indoctrinate young children with kicking, pulling, making a slave out of a tired and weak horse?

Why do people fear lack of control on a beast who’s grace and freedom and power is what attracts them in the first place?

So much fear, so much desire for control, so much teaching the horse to physically power down, to drop the base of the neck so there is nowhere to go without artificial human energy taking its place –
Or to mentally escape because there is nothing and nowhere worth going to.

The reality is, you can develop a friend, you can develop confidence, freedom, and balance, and you will still be riding a rocket ship. You have some say, but likely you are slower, less agile, and have poorer judgement as things concern intake and processing of information, so you have to accept some lack of control to get along well with horses.

Learn to balance the horse, help them feel free in their bodies, and stay out of their way.