Where’s Your Line



Photo: Crissi McDonald



I have a little puzzle for you:

How would you make this line shorter?


Erase it?  Cut it in half? Scribble on it?


“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.”  Marcus Aurelius


How would you make the first line shorter?

You could do something like this:



Instead of focusing on how we can deface the original line, we simply draw a longer line underneath it.

We often use this thought experiment when teaching our horsemanship courses because it illuminates a pretty common way of thinking. Sometimes we get so caught up in how someone else is doing something wrong or bad, we forget to put our time and energy into finding ways to increase the length of our own line.

If you look at the lines as representing skill sets, you can see that shortening someone else’s “line” is what happens when we choose to run people down. I’m not talking about giving up your opinions or beliefs. What I believe is that if we consistently turn our focus to lengthening our own line, we will not only more gain more skill, but feel happier as well. Because there’s nothing like a little comparison to make you feel anything but happy.

Shortening other people’s line doesn’t only pop up in horsemanship circles. It seems these days are especially fraught with commotion. It’s incredibly easy to get pulled off the focus of our life. There have been many times recently when I have forgotten my personal ideals and ignored them with something that felt very close to relief so I could indulge in negativity. It’s not a coincidence that the increased time I spent paying attention to the news decreased my drive to pay attention to my own internal workings. 

Because developing our own skill set is challenging right? It’s much easier to forget basic manners and blast someone for all the ways they are wrong. Then celebrate all the ways we are right. Erase their line, and ours doesn’t have to grow a bit, does it? 


“There’s a big difference between wanting your horse to be better, or wanting to be better for your horse.” Mark Rashid


Our ability to increase our skill is in direct relationship to our ability to keep our focus on what is truly important for us. A focus on being better for our horses is miles away from making our horses better. The first is in our control and the second? Well, it’s only the horse’s good nature that lets us believe the illusion that the latter is also within our control.

When we turn our attention outside of ourselves in a state of dissatisfaction, it seems we cannot help but try to erase, cut in half or scribble out other people’s lines. I am convinced that this gets translated to our horses as an increase in pressure for them to just get it right already.

Conversely, there is also the voice that tells us that our line will NEVER be as long as another person’s so what is the point in even trying (I feel your pain; I fall into this trap when I practice fiddle). So what if you and your horse can’t piaffe or passage like an Olympic medalist? So what if you can’t spin at Mach 1 like the horses at The Congress? Besides the cost to the horse to get to that level of skill, there is the plain truth that we are who we are, with the skills that we have, and the choices we make either bolster those skills or let them get rusty.

I have seen, in myself and others, that once we focus on being better for our horses (or better in our life, for that matter), there is a natural slowing down that happens. We become more thoughtful and more likely to experience the joy of the moment. We pay less attention to things that aren’t important and more attention to the depth and weight of our own lives, which is really all we’ve got anyway.

We can accept where we are and grow it, or we can fight. Either way, our horses are on the receiving end of our decisions. It seems if we want quieter and more peaceful horses it would be a good idea to make choices that support that same state of mind for ourselves.




Photo: Crissi McDonald


34 responses to “Where’s Your Line”

  1. Perfect Crissi! This piece is particularly timely…

    1. Thank you! I often write about the thing I most need to hear.

  2. I don’t know if this is a good example or not, but today I was working on the turn on the forehand with Odin. I knew that in spite of how one-sided he is, the real problem was my understanding of the mechanics, so decided to go back to square one. Before heading to the barn I watched several videos on the process and then wrote myself the simplest of diagrams to reinforce what I’d learned and kept it as basic as possible. Then I peppered it throughout our schooling session. I figured if I truly understood what all the moving parts were doing first then I couldn’t help but help HIM to succeed. The minute he managed it perfectly on his good side and adequately on his bad side I quit, though I really wanted to do it again! 🙂 (Sorry for writing an essay, but it seemed like a real-time, here-and-now example of your important message. Thanks, Crissi.)

    1. Exactly! It’s wonderful to hear that you took responsibility for the movement, instead of going out to your horse and getting frustrated. This is exactly what lengthening your own line is all about.

  3. Standing ovation, from the one who went to couples’ therapy about her horse.

    1. 😀 Thank you, Anna! And thanks for the chuckle. I’d love to hear about all that sometime.

  4. Awesome. Thought provoking and true.

    1. Thank you Joni dear!

  5. I really like the line analogy. It makes so much sense.

    1. It does to me too. 🙂

  6. Reblogged this on simple.

  7. Love it Crissi! Well reading this I heard this song Biscuits in my head -“p&ssing in your yard won’t make mine any greener.”
    Lol. Great stuff in here.

    1. Funny! That’s definitely the short way to say it. 😉

  8. Thank you Crissi! Seems like this can be applied to so much and I think its called “life”.

    1. Thanks Marianne! And yes, it is a life skill worth having.

  9. As usual, such spot-on and elegant common sense. A real life lesson, to be applied to anything and everything. Great post.

  10. Wonderfully written. Again, thank you!

    1. Thank you too!

  11. Thank you for this post….appreciate these words of wisdom!

    1. Thank you Linda. 🙂

  12. <3 yes. To prove or to improve.

    1. That’s a good way to say it too. 🙂

    1. Good article – thank you for sending it my way!

      1. You are most welcome!

  13. SO needed to hear this today! Thank you 🙂

    1. You’re welcome, and me too! 😉

  14. I SO needed to hear this today! Thank you. I’ve just returned to riding after 8 years(!) out of the saddle. Yesterday, I had a lesson that began with a lot of “ambition” but ended in a cranky horse and sad Me.

    I was not at all accepting the “where I’m at” reality: 46-year-old-post-baby-ageing-out of shape-jelly-legged…Olympic-dressage-dreamer!

    Instead of bringing my soft, wise, listening self to the ride, I brought all sorts of wants and expectations.
    And got: a mess!

    So your post is PERFECT for me this morning: I need to give myself TIME in the saddle to gently let my body get more fit again BEFORE I can begin asking my horse for anything “fancy”. And I have to accept that this new “fit” might not look the same as what it was a decade ago.

    I began my morning feeling crabby, ashamed and sort of confused about why yesterday’s ride was so… ugly… when I was trying SO hard!

    After reading your post, I am laughing at myself 🙂 Thank you

    The lovely, talented mare (who IS very fit, has more talented riders on her all the time, and has not taken a decade off) will forgive me.
    – Probably.

    1. It sounds like the lovely talented mare just gave you a great opportunity for self-reflection and growth (and I sympathize with all the messy parts; I have been there many times too). I have huge admiration that you decided to take the learning from this experience and instead of focusing on what felt off, focus instead on what the path forward will look like. Good job! And yes, she will forgive you. 🙂

  15. Beautifully put and an inspiration.

    1. I so appreciate your letting me know that, Ednah. 😃

  16. The last paragraph spoke volumes to me. Thank you!!

    1. Thank you Dawn!

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