“Now that you don’t have to be good, you can be free.” Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert ep. 209


I heard this quote for the first time the other day, and it has been ringing through my mind ever since. It reminded me of a conversation I had a few months ago with a student. We were talking about the idea of “good” and “bad” when it comes to horses and horse training. For years I have rejected the idea of a horse being “bad”; a horse might be acting out in a way we do not like, their behavior may even be dangerous, but none of this makes them a “bad” horse… it limits our understanding to even see it as “bad” behavior. When we look at behavior as being simply “bad”, we often blind ourselves from seeing the greater picture. When we label something as “bad”, we forget to ask the question “why?”
Why is this behavior coming up?
What is the horse trying to express?
What do I need to understand right now?

When we label a horse or her actions as “bad”, we mute her voice and cut off any real communication and understanding between horse and human. I believe if we want to develop deep communication and create a profound connection between horse and human, then we much strive for understanding. To truly understand, one must listen. Because of this, I don’t think the idea of “bad” really has a place in horsemanship. It is far more productive to look behind the label and see the real meaning.

But what about “good”?
If we are striving to divert from such black and white thinking as with the notion of “bad”, what does that mean for it’s counter part “good”? Is “good” a limitation, keeping us from true understanding the way that “bad” does? Is there more hiding behind it that we can’t see?
This was the conversation I was engaged in months back. It left me pondering.

“Now that you don’t have to be good, you can be free.”…

When I heard this quote, I immediately resonated with it.
We as humans put so much pressure on ourselves to be “good”. Sometimes we feel like we cannot start a project or create something new because we are afraid it won’t be “good enough”… but really this thought only limits us and our potential to do amazing things. We may want to dive into a new hobby we were always interested in but never felt we had the “know-how” to begin. Maybe we want to expand our business or start a new project but don’t feel we can until we know 100% what we are doing and feel we can make it “perfect”.
We feel (maybe incorrectly) that we need to be “good” before we can create.
We need to be “good” before we can explore.
However, many of us may never feel we are “good enough”, and so we hold ourselves back from even attempting to reach for our dreams. We play it safe out of worry that we wont be “good”. Think of how many opportunities we may miss out on because of this ideology… this fear.

When we stop limiting ourselves with the idea being “good”, we may feel free enough to actually try the things we are interested – to finally take that leap from “potential” to acting on our dreams. We are so caught up in being “perfect” (a trap – an idea we will never be able to attain) we often stop ourselves from actually producing or creating or acting on the projects we are passionate about. They never feel good enough to release, or perhaps, we never feel good enough to even start.

The funny thing is that to become truly “good” at something, we need practice, and if we are too afraid to start, we never get the chance to see how “good” we could be. The concept cuts us off at the knees – stops us before we even begin. Perhaps this idea of “good” or “bad” is just too limiting… perhaps what we really need to express ourselves as humans – to be who we truly are without fear- is to be free.

I have certainly felt hindered by the need to be “good” or “perfect”, and it has kept me from acting on my dreams. I have felt trapped by the need to be “good” before even beginning the process of reaching for my goals. Perhaps I didn’t feel ready – perhaps I didn’t feel equipped – perhaps I didn’t feel good enough yet… All these critiques in my head kept me from action – kept me from going out there and actually doing it – kept me from actually working towards (or perhaps I should say “playing towards”) my dreams!

You can plan all you want, dream all you want, but if you wait until you feel perfect and ready and “good”, you may never actually act on your potential. If I had needed to be “good” at liberty horsemanship before going in and exploring with Annie (having absolutely no freaking clue what I was doing) I would have never found this “horsemanship” I love so much… I would have never found this calling of mine or this way of life. I am so so grateful that I felt free enough to explore with her without any expectation or need to be “good”. It opened up all the possibilities! Thank God I let us off the hook of needing to be “good” because, if you have read our story, you know that it was finally when I let go of all expectations and accepted the fact that we may never be “good” that everything changed. That was the moment Annie opened back up to me and began to teach me the ways of the horse – Liberty, as we call it now.

This idea of letting go of “good” in order to be really free – free to express, free to explore, free to create, free to act, free to be who you are – it takes you from a place of judgment to one of true Play. Play is a place where you can explore and create without the pressure of perfection – without the pressure of a flawless, end result. Play is where you can let go of the expectations and really dive into your passions. Play is so vital yet so undervalued! In our culture, we may even think of play as lazy, childish, immature, but often, play is where the most revolutionary, brilliant ideas and projects are born. I have found for both the horses and myself that play is unimaginably essential to living a fulfilled, meaningful life. Play takes you to a realm beyond the ideas of “good” and “bad”, where there is potential for understanding in everything.

I am really starting to believe that waiting to be “good” at something takes the fun out of it – it takes the exploration away. I relate it to playing with the horses: the fun isn’t found in repeatedly preforming the same old tricks they already know again and again (this actually gets boring pretty quickly). The fun for the horses (and me) is in learning something new – trying something we haven’t tried before – exploring new territory. Before we are “good” at a trick, we spend our time challenging ourselves, deepening our communication, and playing around with all the possibilities. This is the process that we love so much – it’s the process that feels truly blissful! If we started our play with the single, linear goal of being “good” rather than exploring and having fun… honestly that just doesn’t feel like something we would love to do the way we love to play. It doesn’t sound very inspiring or fun.

Play is freeing it – it’s pure expression and creation without the need to please everyone around you.
I am getting to the point where I just want to go out and do it! Do my dreams without the need for “good” limiting how far I’ll go! I don’t want to worry about the judgments of others. I want to have fun trying new things without the pressure of “good” limiting my growth! It isn’t lazy or irresponsible to crave that fun – I know that the more I free myself from the pressure, the braver I am to begin the process, and the more likely I am to work really hard on my goals. We do not need the pressure of “good”, preventing us from starting and limiting our potential. We need more freedom – more fearlessness – less care about what other people think so that we can get out there and create our visions unapologetically! Honestly… that’s where real mastery comes in.

“Now that you don’t need to be perfect, you can be good.” – John Steinbeck
“I am so tired of being good, and now all I want is to be free.”

I just love that.

“‘Good’ is just another cage.”

So what does this mean for our horses?
We are often so concerned with “good” and “bad” that we lock our horses in a place where they do not feel they can express themselves openly with us, in fear that they may “get it wrong”. I have arrived at a point where I believe even the idea of “good” limits their expression, possibly keeping them from fully sharing who they are with us. There is so much depth to explore with the horses we love… perhaps the next level of connection comes from liberating them, and ourselves, from this possibly restrictive idea of “good”.

I wonder… if we set aside limiting, black and white ideas such as “good” and “bad”… do you think, just maybe, we can set our horses free?

Maybe it’s not about being or training a “good” horse – being or changing into a “good” human – maybe it’s about liberating our spirits so that we may all live our lives as our true selves, no limitation…
Maybe it’s knowing and loving the horse for who she really is, no expectations or need to change her…
Maybe it’s knowing and loving ourselves.

Only when a horse is being her complete, unbroken, full self does her spirit truly shine and inspire us all. When she is free, we all fall in love.

Release ourselves and the horses from the idea of “good” (and “bad”), and maybe we can reach a place where we feel truly free to express, explore, and create unimaginably beautiful things together, one step, one mistake, one victory at a time.

How do we set aside the idea of “good” and get to a mindset of freedom? How do we do that for the horse?
It’s something to think about as we dive into this new realm of the horse/human connection.

(photos of the girls and me by DAG Photography http://www.dagphotog.com :) )






  1. Nina

    Whenever a person calls their horse, dog or sometimes child a ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ my belly tightens. Why? Why does this bother me so much? I realized, and I have done it at times too, that calling someone ‘good’ because they have done something WE wanted them to do is incredibly limiting indeed. It feels to me like the ultimate expression of conditional ‘love’. If you do as I say THEN you are good, we are good, because it makes me comfortable. We express this so often, give a ‘good boy’ a lollipop after he sat still for a shot at the doctors office and you are teaching him to endure, to be still, be silent, be good. What would the world look like if we taught our children to be inquisitive, as we naturally are, to play, to enjoy life for life’s sake. I wonder if there would be less fear…

  2. Cristina

    I truly admire and love what you’re doing (and saying). Could you use an extra pair of hands in the future (short or longer term). It would be such a great opportunity to learn from you and work together.

    Best wishes,



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