I frequently see a theme in my teaching trips, and it’s one I’ve found that tends to show up in all relationships where humans are involved. The rider comes in each day expecting and already defending against certain actions they have come to expect from their horse, and the horse readily delivers. In fact, the horses will often exaggerate the issue (whether it is “I won’t move forward” or “OMG, what’s THAT??? Let’s get out of here!”) because they know that the opportunity is present for their rider to make a change. I see riders jumping right into whatever pool their horses create, splashing and thrashing around and adding their own frustration, fear, and often anger to the churning waters. I used to do the same back in the day.

No matter what situation is presented to us, it is our own internal response that determines our experience. In that moment when we feel the first touch of anxiety, fear, or anger, we can make a choice between expectation (she always does this!) and expectancy (wow, here he is doing/feeling/being this again—what a great opportunity I have to pay more attention, do something differently, and see if this new action is helpful to my horse.)

As a species, we humans tend to live much more in the future or past than in the present moment. Our thoughts whirl and swirl in an emotional cocktail which is constantly either reliving what has happened, or is predicting/exaggerating what is coming toward us. These thoughts act as a potent filter for our perceptions of what is actually happening. There is a difference in the words “expectation” and “expectancy”. Expectation sets us up for the closed loop of predicted action and response. Expectancy is holding the space for the best possible outcome without having any emotional investment in the results. Expectancy can return us to what is often called beginner’s mind…that state in which we used to live as small children where all input was processed equally without preconceptions.


If you find yourself in one of these repeating situations, take a moment to just stop. If you’re mounted, get off if that is what you need to do to feel safe or regain your composure. Take a mindful cleansing breath from your belly. If you can’t get air past your chest, steady yourself and feel into your feet, whether you are on the ground or mounted. Horses are very grounded beings, and it upsets them when we are living in our heads. Connect to the earth and find the weight that goes down through you from opening to the situation instead of armoring against it. Now go back to your breath and focus on dropping it all the way past your pelvis into your feet. Sometimes just doing this simple exercise can bring a fair amount of calm back to your equine partner as well. Rather than stuffing any emotion or allowing it to splash all over everyone present, tune into where it feels the strongest in your body. When you’ve become aware of the location of what is churning, ask that part of yourself what it is trying to tell you. This is a powerful exercise, and the answer can be quite informative. Be open to what internal pictures or feelings come forward after you ask your body. These can be pretty subtle when you’re first attuning your awareness, but you’ll find that if you’re paying attention, they will repeat until you address them. Acknowledge to yourself and to your horse what it is you are experiencing. Tell your horse you’d like to work with him, and ask for his assistance. There is a strong taboo in training circles to never let the horse know you have fear. Yet I’ve found the opposite to be true. Whenever I am experiencing fear, I tell the horse exactly that and ask them to support me in moving through it. Release any anxiety you might have about what other people will think. They are currently in boxes. You are choosing to step outside yours. This is about you and your horse. No one else. Once when I was really frustrated working The Gray Goose, I just stopped and sat in the saddle quietly asking for help—his help, Divine help, any help at all! What I received were images of how much more patient I was with horses who came in for training. I didn’t have expectations for new horses…I just worked with what was being presented. Eureka! It was quite a revelation to me, and I was so grateful for this gift. From that time forward, whenever we hit a sticking point, I took a moment to visualize Gray as a chestnut mare who was in her first day of training with me, and things progressed far more smoothly! Step outside that emotional pool onto terra firma, ask for help, then give the answer, in whatever form it comes, a chance. It takes courage to release what you’ve been told/shown/read, and to listen to the innate wisdom of your heart and guts. But it sure does earn your horse’s gratitude.