“Success” With Your Horse

By Terry Golson

Here in New England, it’s the beginning of horse show season. There are tune-up schooling shows to go to, and we dressage riders are mapping out which USDF recognized shows to enter later this summer. I like showing, and Tonka seems to, too.


We’ve certainly done well since entering our first class in May of 2015. Since then, we’ve appeared before the judges 34 times. In a third of those classes, we came home with blue ribbons (enough to have a pillow made with one side in my favorite color.)

Mane and Tale Sewing Co.

It’s easy to get caught up in judging how well you’re doing based on the number of blue ribbons you win. Competing at a horse show is certainly a valid way to test your training skills. But, and this is a big BUT – it’s not how I gauge my success as a horsewoman. There are a lot of other things that I do with Tonka that are indicators of how successful we are together.

I’ve had an on-going issue with Tonka getting angry – and even charging me – when asked to circle on the lunge line.


I took a break from it, then changed up my approach. Yesterday, Tonka trotted around, as relaxed as could be. Success.


When it comes to what we do with our horses, success is fluid. The first ‘success’ when lunging Tonka wasn’t yesterday when he did a full circle around me. Rather, it was when I could attach the line without him looking ticked off. That trot isn’t the end of story, either. Can Tonka go with more energy without getting stressed? Can he do transitions? More things to work towards, more small moments of success to appreciate before we move on.

I recently had a conversation about what success means with Karen Pryor. She’s a good friend, and we get together a couple of times a month. I take care of the correspondence that comes in via her website, so I know about a conversation that she recently had with a scientist in Russia.

She was asked by a professor at the Russian Academy of Science for words of advice that could be passed along to motivate young scholars. The professor asked Karen to answer this question: What was the secret of success in science?

Here are a few sentences from Karen’s response:

I would never think of scientific work as leading to ‘success.’ There are many happy moments in discovering or developing steps forward in scientific projects. But I do not think of it as ‘success.’ Progress, yes. Achievements, yes. One after the other. But you never reach the end.

One of the joys of working in science is there is always more to think about. 

Perhaps it is just that ‘success’ is something that has come to an end. Like winning a football game. That’s a success, and now it’s over. 

Could your students be thinking about progress, and growth, and learning new things all the time, and sharing the progress with others?

Perfect advice for scientists. Also perfect advice for us horse people.

It’s something I’ll be keeping in mind as I plan out my summer with Tonka. Will we show? I don’t know yet. He’s going really well. The pain in the sacroiliac area has abated. We’re getting back to schooling in the dressage arena. However, the other day, Tonka let me know with a crow hop, that the leg yield to the left wasn’t comfortable for him. I’m hoping that more time and gymnastics (hill work on trails!) will bring him to 100‰ soundness and that we can get back in front of the dressage judges. If not, Tonka and I will discuss what we want to do next. Because, as Karen said, there is always more to think about.


I love that in Karen’s advice, she said that part of success is sharing progress with others. Tell me about a recent success you’ve had, and what the next thing is that you’re thinking about!

3 thoughts on ““Success” With Your Horse

  • Shaste

    I had a major success last weekend! We bought a new horse last summer and realized he had some major separation anxiety issues to the point where he became dangerous to handle when out of sight of his new buddies. We let him settle over the winter and did a lot of work this spring on getting comfortable away from the herd. It paid off in spades! We went on a trail ride last weekend and the were several times we were out of sight of our riding buddy. Instead of panicked spins and rears he stood quietly.

    I credit Anna Blake’s blogs that liken buying a new horse to kidnapping which really helped me see his point of view and not rush things too much 😉

    • Terry Golson Post author

      That’s quite impressive! Switching a herd bound horse’s perspective so that they can calmly focus on you and the work at hand does take patience and consistency. Kudos!

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