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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Ari’s Choices

 

This week everything has come together with the stallions as I had hoped it would and I am counseling myself to be more pleased and content with the events than impatient with the timeline.

I am finding that my experience with Myrnah during the first movie set my expectation of developmental time line at a rate that is intensely different than the one I am living currently with Ari and Atlas. Now I get to live what I preach and let the horses set the timeline for progress.

Trust the process Elsa!

Ari has been here a couple of weeks now and honestly, I thought we would be much farther along than we are currently. I adore him and his decisions make me grin, but wow does he have a lot of opinions and decisions to make! Mostly it seems like he just wants me to stay out of his way so he can do the thing he has planned. I don’t know how much of this is the fact that he is an eight-year-old stallion instead of the four-year-old mare I am comparing him to in Myrnah, or how much is just his personality shining through, in all the dynamic unique beauty I chose him for. He will teach me things, of that I am sure!

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In this process of Freedom Based Training®, with any horse, I start with a meditation of being around the horse’s body in all the places and all the different distances. As I do this I study the feel and timing of when it is best for me to move from one place to the next. This is the study of Passive Leadership.

Then I start adding more movement around them with the goal of helping them feel better before I settle into the original exercise again. This is the study of Supportive Leadership.

Once I have the foundation of those two ideas in place, then I can start asking the horse to do something I have in mind. This is the study of Assertive Leadership.

If my request of the horse causes them significant discomfort between the time I ask and the time they say yes to me, we are stepping into the study of Insistent Leadership.

If my request of a horse causes them to respond with fight, flight or freeze behaviors that I need to control, manage, or force to change then we are stepping into the practice of Dominant Leadership. This is where we usually need some sort of a tool to manage the horse (a rope, a food reward, a fence or something to use that is more motivating than our simple human body).

In Freedom Based Training® and this project with the stallions filming “Taming Wild: Evolution”, the process is about developing horse and the relationship using leadership on the spectrum between Passive and Insistent simply because we choose not to use the equipment that would allow us to be Dominant effectively.

When we take away the ability to dominate, what happens is we must learn to read the horse better, and our decision-making process as trainers gets honed to a whole new level.

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I found while filming the first movie with Myrnah, I learned more about being a horse trainer in that one year, than I had in my previous thirty years of life all put together. I have no doubt this current year with the stallions will have a similar impact on me. The experience of training without any means to dominate puts me in a position where I must study every tiny detail of cause and effect with a level of subtlety that all of us as trainers often fail to recognize when we are able to push for a result using dominance.

Ari is indeed honing my skill as a trainer, and where I feel the work deeply is in my patience fatigue this last couple of weeks. My brain gets tired when Ari and I seem to be slower than I think we should be from one level of understanding to the next. That is when the impatient part of me wants to gloss over the details and push toward a tangible result. That is not how Freedom Based Training® works. I must take whatever time Ari tells me he needs and notice every tiny detail of cause and effect he shows me. All the details are an opportunity to learn something more.

Ari and I established comfort in Passive and Supportive Leadership in the first couple of days, and when I started to ask him for a specific action, that was established quickly also with the caveat that he figured out immediately, he could ask me for things as well. This is where my patience was honed, and where he was distinctly different than Myrnah in the first project.

With Ari, I could ask him to reach out and touch my hand, changing his focus and asking him to connect with me. Ari was quick to learn this and quick to easily say yes to it, then he used the same action on me.

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He discovered if he reached out to me, and asked to touch my hand I would make things easier for him and he liked easier. In his case, easier was for me to stand farther away than a touching distance, preferably about a horse length away.

Ari was reasonably comfortable with me close enough to touch him, but he was adamant that I would not actually touch him, and so asking me to stand farther away made him feel easier about our relationship. If I pushed the issue, he used just enough fight or flight to explain to me that he was not ready for any touching and that was absolutely to be respected.

For two weeks, Ari would let me come close for a few moments, and then he would politely ask me to step away again and again and again and again.

I began to fear I would never get that tag off his neck and we would be stuck at this impasse forever. It didn’t exactly feel like a plateau of progress, because I could see his confidence in me growing every day in the softness of his eyes and the rhythm of his movements, but touching was off limits and without the use of tools there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it. So, we simply continued to put in the time doing the things we could do together, while watching Ari blossom in enjoying his new home.

Then one day, things changed unexpectedly and Ari was suddenly ready for me to touch him.

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I was standing close to him for a long time, and he didn’t reach out to me asking me to step away. So, I reached my hand out under his nose to offer him the chance to ask me to step away and he did not. Ever so gently I let my hand drift up to his cheek to slowly stroke it, coming directly back down to his nose again to see if he wanted to touch me and ask me to step away, but he did not, Ari let me stoke him several times without any sign of fight or flight before he finally pushed his nose gently against my fingers and told me he had had enough of closeness and was ready for the easier distance between us.

In that moment, the barrier between us melted and a little at a time the touching distance became something else we could do together.

The next day Ari let me take the tag off from around his neck and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. We could do this and while Ari was going to push me to learn and grow, and be more patient than I was accustomed to, he wasn’t asking me anything unreasonable. I simply needed to trust the process and accept the time frame he chose.

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That same day Ari let me take his tag off, we turned him and Atlas out together. Opening all the gates and letting them have the entire space was better than Christmas for me. Horses deserve to have friends and freedom and watching them revel in that freedom of space with their friends is simply awesome.

I believe safety comes first, so I gave the two stallions time to mirror and match each other’s movements from across the fences for their first couple of weeks here. Once I was seeing them regularly take naps side by side with the fence between them, matching feet and body postures then I knew they were ready for more freedom to push close to each other when they chose without a risk of injury.

Then easily, with very little chaos they were together full time, eating hay from the same hay net for hours at a time, drinking together, playing together and moving everywhere together.

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Ari and Atlas still have some dominance games to play and can squeal and strike and rear like stallions do, but it seems within reason and something everyone is comfortable with.

Now starts a new chapter for me and the stallions, all of us together, learning from each other. I promise to keep you updated as we progress.

For more up to the minute updates and video footage from week to week, make sure you join us on Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Valuing Easy

This week Atlas touched me for the very first time. It was an incredible welling up of courage for him to reach that last couple of inches and make contact, his nose to my fingers. We had put in over a hundred hours of time BEING together at distances that were comfortable for him. We had slowly and gently increased the variety of ways and places we could share space. Some days I wondered if he would ever be brave enough to touch, perhaps this being together with a buffer of air always between us, was all we would ever be able to do.

 

Some days when I was particularly sad or frustrated by the lack of trust I could see in my two stallions, I stepped away to go visit Myrnah and Cleo and bury my face in their manes and feel the sweet yielding softness of their dense fur under my fingers. Reminding myself all the while that everything develops, and I need to give Atlas and Ari time, they will not stay the same forever. With gentle feel and timing from me, over time, they too will learn that people being close is a good and wonderful thing.

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The day Atlas finally touched me, he had been staring for the longest time, ears pricked, nostrils softly flaring as he breathed in the scent of me. My hand was outstretched and his neck was outstretched in return toward me. This reaching toward each other was something I had been developing with him, always respecting his comfortable buffer of air between us and always retreating to an easier distance before that curiosity, bravery, and interest in me waned. In this particular moment, it was the end of the day, and almost dark, and before I could pull my hand away and return to my lookout post several horse lengths away from Atlas, he made a bold reach and touched my fingers firmly with the bridge of his soft muzzle, square between the nostrils.

 

As soon as Atlas felt his nose actually touch my fingers, panic took over and he leapt away from me with a dramatic explosion of limbs, scrambling for traction to propel him far away from this new sensation. I moved also, but with more steady quiet rhythm, traveling around him in a circular fashion looking for the next place of harmony we could find together.

 

In Atlas’ sudden burst of courage, he had tried to do too much too soon, and it had scared him.

 

We took some time to do things he was good at, and share space in ways he felt confident about, then before the end of the session we had returned to practicing those brief moments where I could reach toward him while he reached toward me, and then I could retreat to an easier distance with appropriate timing, while his bravery and curiosity were still strong.

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I think this is one of the greatest gifts of Freedom Based Training®. The necessity of valuing what is easy in a partnership, more than we value the pushing forward and making progress into the new and interesting.

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When we have tools, such as food rewards or halters or flags or fences to push a horse against, the horse becomes willing to spend more time in discomfort than if we do not have those things.

 

Because a horse wants the apple or carrot, the horse will try hard to hold themselves in the discomfort of learning to find the action necessary to earn them that food reward. Because the horse has a halter on and knows it cannot leave, it will try harder to tolerate the discomfort of learning something new to find where the pressure is relieved and life feels easier again. Horses become willing to stretch their comfort zones and tolerate the discomfort of learning and growing faster than they might naturally choose, when we use extrinsic motivators.

 

In Freedom Based Training® we still exist in a world where the horse feels more pressure sometimes and less pressure other times, but the only reward for tolerating discomfort is the ease of flow and harmony between horse and human that comes afterward. This allows the horse more room to think about their voluntary participation in any event.

 

With Freedom Based Training® we spend hundreds of hours investing in everything that is easy together so that the horse grows in confidence that being in a relationship with us is about feeling good together. Only from that basis can the horse learn to tolerate moments of learning discomfort, then over time, the horse will develop an acceptance of learning discomfort, and then with more time the horse starts to look forward to and enjoy learning because it is more interesting than all the things the horse already knows.

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First though, we need to invest in easy!

With Atlas and Ari I am committed to listening to them about what they think is easy and what they think is difficult. I started by standing outside the fences and paying attention to their body language. Did they move away from me, or toward me? Did they want more space from me or less? How many different variations of together could we experience over and over and over again that Atlas and Ari considered easy?

 

The value of easy is not talked about enough in horse training.

 

We need so many repetitions of easy that the horse starts looking voluntarily for something interesting.

 

Hopefully horses reach for the next new piece of learning within the range of what they can tolerate. If they overstep what they are capable of doing, like Atlas did when he touched me for the first time, we have to consider easy again, and building confidence from the place of doing easy things.

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In Atlas’ case, I have chosen to carefully slow him down so he doesn’t scare himself again. When he reaches for me, I make sure I have enough buffer of air between us that I have time to pull away before he makes contact.

 

Again and again Atlas gets to reach for me and have me pull away to an easy and comfortable distance before he makes contact.

 

I reach toward Atlas, Atlas reaches toward me, and then before the whiskers brush my hand, I confidently walk away to the distance I know is easy.

 

Will this take a hundred repetitions or a thousand before we feel the stress is low enough to actually touch in a way that doesn’t scare Atlas? I don’t know, but I know what I am looking for.

 

When Atlas touched me the first time, he wanted to be brave, but his ears and eyes were locked staring at me in a frozen position that let me know that his brain wasn’t fully in a thinking operative mode. I hadn’t planned for us to touch, but Atlas moved so quickly I didn’t have time to protect him from his brash decision.

 

Lesson learned, no real harm done, now I am more careful. Now Atlas and I practice reaching toward each other with large gaps of time spent at the easy distance between each effort to try something new. This new thing we are doing demands respect, because it isn’t easy yet.

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When something becomes easy we will know because we will see the brain is more likely to start thinking instead of reacting. We will see the eyes and ears move softly, instead of held in a rigid freeze. When the brain is frozen, the reaction of fight or flight is likely to follow, when the brain is thinking it will move easily into yielding or playing.

 

I know the theory, but I will admit it is real work for me to practice all that I preach. Going on the fifth hour of a day with the stallions, often my brain is sluggish and I just want something interesting to happen. Easy feels boring and I don’t want to practice the same thing over again and again and again.

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This is where the real work is. This is where I dig deep and I learn. How many different variations of paying attention can I practice, while the stallions get to experience easy with me?

 

It is an ongoing journey, but I know I will be better for it in the long run. Filming this movie is a huge motivation for me to tolerate the discomfort of learning. So, I dig in and watch and plan and practice everything that is easy, in as many variations as I can come up with. I have to believe in the process and do the work, that is how I learn.

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If you are interested in more details and discussions, we have both ongoing in the Patreon Group and would love you to join us there!

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

These early days of the first touches with the stallions are precious in their own ways, yet I am also dreaming of all the dynamic and interesting learning ahead of us… only when Atlas and Ari are ready of course!

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

Introducing Arion

This week was a whirlwind of activity as it came time to go pick up our second stallion for the filming of “Taming Wild: Evolution”. Kevin and I took the amazingly beautiful eighteen-hour drive down to Nevada on Tuesday and then returned home with Arion driving through Wednesday night and arriving home with him Thursday.

When we arrived at the corrals Ari was waiting for us in a small corral next to the loading chute. As we spent a few minutes with the brand inspector getting all the necessary paperwork done, I marveled at the way Ari seemed at ease and at home, as if he owned the space he was living in. He might have been captive, but he didn’t act like it.

He walked down the chute and into the trailer with more rhythm and confidence than any other mustang I have ever picked up, and then we started the long trip without fanfare.

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Bringing a wild mustang home, I always feel deeply for them as they are exposed to so many new and dramatic experiences from the rocking of the horse trailer they must balance in, to the semi-trucks passing, and the lights flashing around them. In Ari’s case, he handled all this chaos of the travel with an unusual calm interest in everything. As I drove I could feel him shifting a little from one side of the trailer to the other as he watched the world, but there were surprisingly few sharp movements.

That is the beautiful thing about mustangs, their adaptability. Mustangs grow up traveling constantly and encountering new things every day with the support of their family around them. While the trip into domestic life may seem shocking, the average mustang is well prepared to adapt.

Ari is from a herd management area in Nevada known as the Eagle HMA, and to give you some sense of his ability to adapt, here is a description of where he is from.

Covering 660,610 acres, the Eagle HMA consists of large mountain ranges bounded by valleys. Elevations range from about 5,673 feet in the valleys to as high as 9,296 feet on Mt. Wilson. The Eagle HMA affords a classic Great Basin environment marked by extremes of every kind. Summertime temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows can fall well below zero or lower. Precipitation in eastern Nevada occurs mostly in the winter in the form of snow with sparse summer moisture. As a result of limited water, the HMA is prone to drought every few years. Wildlife in the area includes mule deer, elk, mountain lions, coyotes, and bobcats. There are also prairie falcon, ravens, quail, starlings, and horned larks. Reptiles include many species of lizards, venomous (rattlesnakes) and non-venomous snakes.

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In comparison to where Ari grew up for the first eight years of his life, he now has landed in the softest lush paradise. He has no idea how much easier this winter will be for him than winters past.

As for me, I have big plans, goals, and dreams for Ari and I. Watching him waltz into his new paddock like he owns it makes me grateful for his history and where he comes from.

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I am going to need a great deal of adaptability from this horse as he settles into domestic life with me, and he is showing that he is up to the challenge.

For the moment, I have Atlas and Ari in separate paddocks. They can see each other but not touch yet. Atlas pretends there is no other horse on the property, and Ari watches Atlas quietly from the hill. Once Ari has had a chance to rest and get comfortable in his new home we will let them in together to have a more normal social horse life. I have no idea what that will look like with these two stallions, but I look forward to seeing it all evolve.

Until then, each horse gets to have me for a companion as much of every day as I can manage.

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Freedom Based Training® is quiet work, spending time together and getting to know each other one quiet moment at a time. There are a million details of how this works and I am sure these two stallions will teach me a million more details about how to do this work better.

If you are curious about the details, join us for weekly videos and conversations on:

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

So much interesting development to come as soon as Ari and I rest up and recover from our travel north!

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language. 

 

“First you go with the horse”

I have so much respect for this quote from Tom Dorrance;

“First you go with the horse. Then the horse goes with you. Then you go together.”

I am not sure he ever meant the first part to be taken to the extreme I do, but I would like to imagine he would be intrigued if he were here looking over my shoulder.

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I chose Atlas to join me for this project because he had a reputation for being a dangerous aggressive horse, and I wanted to learn something about that. The interesting thing is, almost none of that aggression has shown up in our almost 75 hours of training we have done in the last four weeks. I fully believe if I do my job right, we never need to trigger those past habits of aggression. Instead we will perpetually strengthen habits of conscientious communication, until Atlas has no need to use aggression with humans any more.

When I read his body language and hear him tell me about his discomfort and then respond appropriately, then he does not need to yell at me about it with aggression. If you look at his ears, you can clearly see the distances Atlas is comfortable with here and the distance he is learning to tolerate.

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If I barged in any closer, he might feel forced to explain to me more clearly how he felt about it at this stage of our relationship. So I listen carefully and respond appropriately now, setting an example for Atlas of how he might do that for me later in our relationship.

In order to build the communication between us I have two different kinds of leadership I am using and a counter balance of flow and harmony.

During meal times and rest times we often practice going between:

1. Supportive leadership (using more movement or intensity around the horse to cause the horse to feel better).

and…

2. Passive leadership (the art of moving to different physical position in relation to the horse at the best possible time).

and…

3. Flow (The harmony and ease of BEING together). 

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Just like all of us, horses sometimes get stuck in patterns of thought that make them feel grumpy or irritated, or downright angry.

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With a little supportive leadership used at an appropriate distance it feels good to help Atlas find his inner zen again. The more we practice together the more I start to see hints of Atlas’ curious investigative side emerge. Sometimes so much that he gets himself in trouble a bit.

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It makes me smile to see him feel brave enough FINALLY to test his environment ever so gently.

If you are curious to know more about HOW all of this communication is building between Atlas and me, and WHY I believe we can strengthen his new ways of thinking so they completely eclipse his old patterns of being aggressive, please join us on Patreon.com for videos and more questions, answers and discussions. It is fascinating work and I love sharing it with you all! 

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

Plateaus

Fall is here in the Pacific Northwest and we are blessed with bouts of rain and sprinkles of sunshine intermixed. The leaves are starting to drop from the trees in a torrent of color, and Atlas and I watch all the changes from our safe little spot on the hillside.

 

It is good there are so many changes around us to watch because within the relationship it seems there are no changes at all.

 

I can step as close as half a horse length from Atlas, but it is always in the range of tolerance for him, accompanied by tight muscles, a wary eye and indecision, does he pin his ears and threaten me, or run away?

 

For the most part, I am able to read likely outcomes and adjust my position for the best possible development of feeling. Neither, the fight nor the flight materializes, and I adjust back out to a more comfortable distance on the best feeling/thinking moment possible.

 

We repeat this dance over and over and over. Investing hours in our plateau of progress.

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When I teach students, I explain that plateaus are so very important. We need them to build reliability and stability in new skills. Yet when I am living this one with Atlas I find myself wondering, is this it? What if this plateau lasts the entire year? What if I can’t get closer to him than half a horse length for the entire filming of Taming Wild Evolution?

 

It is important though to trust the process and simply do the work. Count my breaths, pay attention, and respond, respond, respond. This is how we build the foundation for everything in our future.

 

Day after day I walk out, and we spend hours practicing the fact that one and two horse lengths apart is completely comfortable now. We invest in living it, feeling it, enjoying it.

 

I school myself to revel in the success of this, instead of longing for the next variation of connection.

 

If Atlas were comfortable with me touching him already, that is what I would want to practice most. Instead, we have work to do still before I am allowed that next exciting step of progress. This plateau we are on currently allows me to fully invest and enjoy the distances of the one or two horse lengths we are good at now, that we were not good at when he first came. Every upward step of progress we make is going to need its plateau where we are not doing anything new, we are simply practicing what is recently new to us.

 

I counsel myself to count my blessings and believe in the power and importance of the plateau, and I am also human, so I worry this plateau is forever!

 

This week I was granted a little respite from the yearning for progress as it was time to go pick out the second horse for the project. A Mustang, as fresh from the wild as I could find. The travel and the excitement of possibilities thrilled me and yet, as I walked into the adoption facility with thousands of horses to choose from my heart broke and I braced myself against the waves of sadness that came over me.

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Why would I do this to myself? The majority of horse owners never set foot in a place like this. They never go look at the masses in need. Out of sight out of mind it isn’t their problem, it is someone else’s problem.

 

I found myself wishing I was home again peacefully standing with Atlas on our comfortable place of seemingly no progress. Yet here I was, at the Mustang corrals facing the fact I couldn’t do it all, I could only reach for the piece within my grasp, I could only help one of these horses in front of me.

 

If every horse owner in the United States adopted one mustang, there wouldn’t be enough mustangs to go around and I wouldn’t have this luxury of choice this week as I search for my perfect partner for this particular project.

 

As it stands, I have a luxury of choice and so I stood on the edge of the corral with a pair of binoculars looking through this group of 70-80 stallions for the one that might come home with me. They all must go somewhere, which one goes somewhere with me?

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The Mustangs I was looking at this week had been brought in off the range out of hardship. If they continued in freedom, lack of food and water would lead to starvation and death in numbers unacceptable to us. So, the government rounds them up and brings them into facilities like this. Here they wait for someone to adopt them or they get shipped off to spend the rest of their lives in long term holding.

 

If one is coming home with me, I have to choose it first. While every horse is as deserving as the next, I do have criteria that will help me find the right horse for my particular situation.

 

Eyes squinting through my binoculars I look for ease of movement, a horse that is basically comfortable in its body. Natural rhythm in movement is a sign of confidence. I want a horse that has that kind of confidence in their body.

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Then I look at height, because I have already chosen the other horse, Atlas, for the film and he happens to be tall, I would like this one to be relatively tall also.

 

Then I watch the interactions between individuals. Some of them make friends easily and seem to be loyal, always with the same small group. Others have many friends, others are loners and others have many enemies, though honestly I see very little fighting in the group. These horses came from hardship, and now here where they have plenty of food and plenty of water, their priority is to eat, drink and get healthy, fighting amongst each other is not a priority. I am looking for a horse that has many friends and seems to have some skill in relating to others.

Once I have spent hours weighing these factors I find I have written down a list of six numbers that I bring back to the office for more information on age. When the horses are run through the chute for branding, worming and vaccination they also have their teeth checked and approximate age written down.

 

The six horses I have chosen range from two to twelve years old, and I go back to the pen to watch some more. The two younger horses are out of the running, I need a horse I can potentially ride in the next year and I won’t put weight on the back of a horse still growing. Also, the younger horses still have the potential of being adopted by other people, beautiful horses with so much life ahead of them.

 

It is the older horses I am drawn to. In the eyes of most adopters these horses know too much, and they will fight training with much more determination and strength than the younger ones. That doesn’t bother me, I want a horse I will learn from as much as anything else.

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Two of the older horses are hard to see, they hide behind the masses of their friends and shy away from the camera. These two do not want to be movie stars.

 

My list is down to a buckskin horse and a brown horse. As I point my camera in through the rails of the arena the brown horse walks over to the hay feeder right next to me, pausing to look at me, look at the horizon, and then back to me. Picture perfect poses against a backdrop of painted hills. He eats a little food, turns to inspect me again, and then goes back to filling his belly and finding his health and strength for whatever comes next. Unconcerned even though he has only been in captivity for a couple of weeks, it becomes clear this is the horse that needs to come home with me. This is my partner without a doubt.

 

This eight-year-old, brown horse with rhythm and confidence to his movements, this is the horse that will teach me more about connection.

 

This horse probably isn’t the easiest horse to train. There are plenty of equally good Mustangs in front of me with more natural fear of humans. Those horses would be an easier choice, perhaps even a smarter choice for me.

 

There is something about this brown stallion though that reminds me of Myrnah, and how grateful I am for everything she taught me. So, I choose him for the fact that I think he will teach me more than I teach him and that is point of the project.

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Atlas, whom I already have at home, this new brown stallion and I will discover each other, and along the way we will also discover new ways to develop together. Then I get to pass all I learn on to you.

 

For now, I am back at home with Atlas enjoying the views from our lovely plateau of progress and dreaming of the day soon ahead when the new stallion arrives to joins us.

 

Once both horses are here I have this foolish idea that the two stallions are going to take turns having plateaus of progress and I will always get to have the excitement of the upward surge of skill with one or the other… I know that is likely not how it will work in reality, but a girl can dream.

 

I do hope you join us on Patreon for weekly update videos and an interactive group where questions and answers are pondered.

 

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

It is going to be exciting as we get rolling into the full project in the weeks ahead with both stallions home at Sanctuary Lane!

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

 

_I0A3935The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Counting Breaths

Mouthful after mouthful of hay, ripped clean out of the hay net with hardly a pause, Atlas has figured out that eating here in his new home is good. The protruding ribs and hip bones are starting to look softer and his muscles are starting to take on curves they didn’t have a week ago.

I notice this, and I notice the raven flying overhead. I notice the deer walking through the yard to our right, and the late insects twirling around in seamlessly aimless spins through the air. I notice the leaves starting to change color on the oak tree outside, and the dead limb on the cherry tree that needs to be trimmed off.

This week I have found I have a great deal of time for noticing things as Atlas buries his head deep into his food and eats like there will never be another meal.

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On the one hand it is good that he is eating; he needs it before the weather starts to turn cold and inhospitable. On the other hand, there is a level of obsession that could use softening, and that is where I come in as a leader to help out.

In the first days, anytime I moved too much he would become very afraid and start to run and snort. So my job was to invest in as many hours as needed using purely Passive Leadership. That meant moving as little as possible and making very good decisions about how often to move and how long to be still.

As we moved from the first week to the second week Atlas began to sometimes show disinterest in my company by looking neither toward me nor away, and by completely focusing on what was in front of him as if I was not there. This was exactly the next step I was hoping to see and it gave me permission to start using Supportive Leadership.

Supportive leadership at this stage of the game means I am moving around more than Atlas is. It might be cleaning up the manure from the paddock, it might be trimming the branches of the trees, or taking a walk or stretching my body. As soon as I see a focus change I like (which is pretty much ANY focus change at this point in the process), I return to flow and harmony, matching Atlas to the best of my ability. He has the power to bring us together as partners, and he is learning how to use it.

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When Atlas takes that brief moment to look up from his hay, changing focus before reaching for his next bite he is taking an action that brings me back into flow with him, my feet the same as his, my body stillness the same as his, and my focus complementary and watching out for danger while he is vulnerable eating. This enjoyment of togetherness is something Atlas has learned to enjoy over the last week, and now he is learning that something as simple as a focus change is how he can ask for this flow in partnership with me.

Every yin must have it’s yang, and every like must have something in contrast that is less liked. So in counter to the Passive Leadership, pure flow and as little change as possible, we have Supportive Leadership which is movement and change, not a direct request for Atlas to do anything different, simply a set of actions that allow Atlas to realize he can ask for a return to flow and Passive Leadership with a positive change of focus, when and if he chooses.

At the start of this process it was easy to get the paddock cleaned of manure, because Atlas would dive deep into his eating and I would walk back and forth with a manure fork cleaning up and putting everything in the one pile I do hope he starts using more of the time.

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Then Atlas realized he had the power to ask me to be still and he started to use it. It also seemed he learned to count. I had decided eight breaths was a reasonable amount of time to be in harmony with Atlas while he fixated on eating hay. If I got to the eighth breath and he had not looked up to notice anything different yet, I went back to whatever job I wanted to get done, then he changed focus and I took one last step and fell back into flow with him. This was all fine until Atlas learned that looking up and around every seventh breath kept me nicely in quiet Passive Leadership with none of that less desirable extraneous movement.

Once Atlas learned that, it started to take me close to two hours to complete the paddock cleaning I had in mind, instead of the five minutes it should have taken. For ten or fifteen minutes at a time Atlas would remember to look up every seven breaths or so and keep me still, then he would forget and become immersed in his hay eating and I would get a little work done before he asked me to came back into flow with him again.

On the one hand I am internally cheering for him that he figured out the pattern and he knew how to positively ask me for what he preferred. On the other hand I was honestly frustrated with how long it took to get a simple job done.

It won’t always be like this though, later on I might have a six or four breath limit on how long I will stand quiet while he hyper focuses on his hay, or I might require two or three or four focus changes before I come back into harmony with him. For now, I have to keep the game simple and easy for Atlas to figure out the rules.

This is about strengthening Atlas’ desire to communicate in a thinking way.

When horses come from stressful pasts they know how to communicate with fight, or with flight, and while we have to listen and understand, that kind of communication is not the kind we want to nurture and support. The thinking kind of communication is what needs to be fostered.

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Before I start asking for anything from Atlas, he needs to know that he can ask for what he needs, in a way that is good for both of us.

When we take away all the tools that might be used to cause pressure or direct reward we have no way to manage the fight or flight anymore. In Freedom Based Training® our only course of action is to strengthen the thinking ways of communicating until they are so habituated and normal for the horse that fight and flight don’t feel like good options anymore.

This week I thought I was doing so very well with this process, and we had worked our comfortable flow distance down to half a horse length frequently. I could imagine the feel of Atlas’ fur in my fingers and I thought the touching distance was mere days away.

Then the incident with compost bin happened and I changed my mind.

I was standing a fair distance away, surveying the territory while Atlas dozed next to a big green plastic compost bin in his paddock. He decided to turn around, so I also decided to walk around him in a big circle until I could take the last step and find flow again. Only, Atlas misjudged his distance from the plastic bin and it ever so slightly brushed against his leg as he turned. The speed at which he went from sleepily turning to firing out with a hind hoof and putting it right through the side of the bin was shocking. The loud noise of the plastic breaking sent him in a snorting trot circle that brought him right back to stand next to the now broken bin. It seemed he wasn’t afraid of the bin, only the noise it had made when he destroyed it, once the noise was gone he could return to his nap.

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While Atlas returned to his nap, I returned to my watching of the territory, but this time with a newfound respect for the touching distance. I have taken a hint from the hole in the compost bin and I will not be brushing up against Atlas’ body casually any time soon.

When it comes time for us to touch it will be when he is fully awake and aware and has told me he is ready.

For now, I will count my breaths and watch the world go by as Atlas adjusts to our new partnership. Everything will happen when he is ready. Right now he is ready to explore these transitions between Passive Leadership and Supportive Leadership and I will show up consistently to play that game with him for as long as he needs.

There will be a point where he is ready for the next step and it will be natural and easy because I didn’t push for too much too soon.

Count my breaths, pay attention, and respond, respond, respond. This is how we build the foundation for everything in our future.

If you are curious to see the next piece of the relationship puzzle falling into place, I am thrilled to share the journey with you all!

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Every Friday for the duration of this project I will be posting a video of our progress on Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

Dates are not firmly set yet, but within the next ten days we go pick up the Mustang stallion that will be joining Atlas and I on this journey. I am so very curious to see who stands out in the crowd and comes home with me to teach us all so much in the year to come.

Hooves and Heartbeats,
Elsa

Taming Wild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Hurry up and Wait

“Taming Wild: Evolution” has started filming!

After so much planning and organizing and working to get all the pieces in place, the first horse is finally here. Now I wait with as much presence and skill as I can muster, for Atlas to realize his life is better with me.

Atlas is over sixteen hands tall (I roughly gauge that as I watch him from my safe distances) and he is rough as a horse who has been through the rodeo circuit as a bucking bronco has every right to be.

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When I met him he was living in a herd of stallions in a pen, all of them heading to slaughter shortly as the unwanted category of horses that don’t buck hard enough to keep working in the rodeo, and horses who are now too aggressive and distrustful of humans to find a place in gentle society.

Breaking my heart as it did to leave the others behind, I chose Atlas out of the group as the horse that might come home with me for the filming of “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Under extreme pressure some horses shut down and take all their feelings and expressions internal, they just stop relating to the world. That was mostly what I saw in the group of stallions that day. Atlas was a little different in that his ears and his eyes never stopped moving. He didn’t like us humans there anymore than the others, but he was willing to take action without provocation to put himself where he needed to be, while the others seemed to wait for a bite or a kick or someone to scare them into a response.

Freedom Based Training® is the slowest way possible to train a horse, and if I am going to film a movie about this incredibly gradual developmental process, I need to pick horses that are reasonably extroverted in their actions and emotions. Atlas fit the list of requirements.

The horse dealer that sold him to me was colorful on the phone, but a man of few words once we were in person and the recording started. On the phone I got, “that horse is a fucking psycho, why do you want a horse like that?” In person it was the more toned down version of “Like I told you in the beginning, I never ever let these kinda horses go out in the public, cause I don’t want no blood on my hands, I don’t wanna see anyone get hurt.”

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Loading, I watched the horse dealer skillfully keep himself safe on the other side of metal panels as he used a flag to push Atlas into my horse trailer. The very same trailer I used seven years ago to bring Myrnah home for the first Taming Wild movie. I have learned so much since then, and I have a feeling I am about to learn so much more.

This horse was afraid, with every reason in the world to be afraid. Now he and I just needed time to ease that fear, soften that aggression and start over.

The trailer ride home was supposed to be six hours in total, but we hit traffic and missed our ferry, so my day turned into a fifteen hour marathon of events from the time I stepped into the car in the morning until we unloaded Atlas into his new home in the dark of the evening.

I didn’t mind though, listening to Atlas snort his huge dragon snort again and again as he moved around his new paddock in the dark of that first day, I was glad he was safe. My exhaustion was a small price to pay for this chance for him to start again. He and I together.

Now it was all about feel and timing between us.

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In the morning I started outside the fences, making responses to Atlas’ movements. I needed him to learn that what he did mattered and I listened. My responses might be different from other people he had met in his life, but our communication would be consistent and he could count on me.

What I see often in horse human relationships is that people push a horse when they see it is already afraid or in flight, and when a horse gets aggressive or pushes into a human there is a momentary instinctual freeze or backing off in the human that gives the horse a moment of relief. This is how horses learn to be aggressive.

I need to change that conversation with Atlas from the very beginning, even if it only subtly from outside the fences.

Here are my ground rules:

If any part of Atlas moved toward me (eyes, ears, or any part of the body) I would move toward him.

If any part of Atlas moved away from me I would move away also.

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I needed to be smart and take small enough steps toward him that I did not provoke an aggressive reaction. Also I needed to be wise about taking big enough steps away from him that I remained working at a distance range that was acceptable to him.

Those simple rules, with good feel and timing, plus time equals success in partnership.

How much time? I don’t know yet, but I am going to find out.

On the first day we spent four hours together broken up into short sessions throughout the day. I worked mainly just inside the fence where I could duck through to the outside if I needed to, but I never did need that escape.

This conversation Atlas and I were having was a new set of rules for him, so there were moments where my decision making felt dicey like perhaps I had pushed just a little too close to him too soon, but I wanted to maintain my consistency stepping toward him when he came toward me. He would look at me and I would take the smallest possible slide of a foot toward him. I was being consistent, but tactful as the tension in his neck and back and eyes, along with the planted feet told me he would fight back if I pushed in too close.

It was almost as if he expected that one of us had to scare the other one. Either I was supposed to chase him, or he was going to have to chase me off. This conversation of subtle movements and distance changed all the rules he knew.

Day one was all about long distances, and only sometimes working in as close as two horse lengths from him, but mostly farther away than that slowly and gently working my way around his body in circles.

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Day two there was considerably more ease in his body language and I spent more time at the two and three horse length distances.

Day three there started to be some yield to Atlas’s movement and he was comfortable with me walking along with him (at an appropriate distance) instead of the circles around him from the previous days. He nibbled grass and watched the world go by while I stood guard next to him, vigilant about everything so he could relax. Occasionally we even got as close as one horse length of distance between us.

From hour to hour it doesn’t look like much is happening between Atlas and I, but if you know what you are looking at you can see a deep and meaningful language building.

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I am feeling the “hurry up” because I desperately want Atlas to trust me enough to trim those big overgrown hooves. Yet, I know I will wait for as long as he needs because overgrown hooves are nothing to worry about in comparison to the life we just pulled him from.

I will put in the time, and he will tell me when the time is right for us to take the next steps into doing more together.

For all of you who are curious about the process with Atlas and the mustang stallion that will be arriving in a few weeks, consider joining us on Patreon where I will be posting update videos each week and answering questions about all the details of the process as we develop together.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

There is so much to learn and I can’t wait to share it all as it evolves in “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Blind Date

Yesterday I went to a horse auction. It was a small auction with only twenty-two horses being sold, and it was not very far from my home, so it was a comparatively gentle opportunity to do this thing I had heard about, but never dared do. I watched the crowd measure up the animals and I watched the animals cope with the noise and the chaos and the dust. I watched, and I listened, and I learned, and I mostly kept the tears at bay.

 

There was a big sign on the wall, “all livestock sold by the pound unless otherwise stated – 73 cents per pound”.  I watched as a big untrained quarter horse mare came across the sale pen. No one seemed to want her for more than $400, and the man leading her around bluntly told the crowd, “Either one of you buy her for over $500 or I sell her later for meat.” The crowd stepped up and someone handed over the necessary $500 to take her home. She was a big mare, so I think it is possible that buyer turned around and sold her for meat at a profit later that day, but I hope not. I hope she has a chance to live the rest of her days in a pasture with friends.

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As I prepare for this next film “Taming Wild Evolution” I am searching for my horse partners. One Mustang stallion directly off the range that knows very little about people, and one stallion from the domestic world that perhaps knows too much about people and needs to learn to trust again. It is the search for the domestic horse that sends me on blind date after blind date, looking for the right partner and wishing I could save them all as I walk away again and again with tears in my eyes.

 

I am going to spend a year with this horse and spend countless hours going through pictures and video footage to tell a story. This horse can’t be too white or too black because that makes the filming infinitely more difficult to do in a way that is easy for people to see. It can’t be too young because if all goes well I will be riding at the end of the year, and I feel strongly about not putting weight on an undeveloped spine. It can’t be too introverted, because a horse that pretends everything is fine until it can’t take it anymore, only trying to kill you in a last desperate attempt to survive, that subtlety of character will film as a willing partner in most people’s eyes and they won’t see the danger I hopefully never trigger in the course of Freedom Based Training®.

 

I need an extroverted stallion, over five years old and coming from a background of human handling that has led the horse to lose faith in humanity.

 

The problem is not that they don’t exist in America, the problem is there are too many that fall outside my particular parameters. Too many horses that call me out on blind date after blind date and I have to see them, hear them, give them my time, my space and my blessing, while I still have to walk away and hope they land on their feet with someone kind.

 

As I watch the plight of so many sad horses, I am not proud to be human right now, but I am determined to be a little bit of light in this human world, in the best way I know how.

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Last week I made the effort to train and hone my skills with a rescue horse I had never met before. This was an effort to pour considerable time into a relationship with a horse I did not know, and I might not meet again. I wasn’t there to change him or train him, I was only there to get to know him, while I developed my own skills of feel and timing.

 

The SAFE organization was happy for me to come and spend a day with Mason, a beautiful red bay thoroughbred, out in his paddock and they were happy to tell me as much or as little as I wanted to know about this blind date we were setting up. It was a relatively kind situation for me to walk into because, while Mason showed a body full of scars that spoke to a hard life in his past, his future was bright. He was a horse who seemed to resist training with difficult explosions of flight when he got overwhelmed, and yet he was one of the lucky ones who had found a person who wanted him in their life regardless of his difficulties. Mason was currently living at the rescue, but would be soon moving to his new home.

 

I was there to learn from Mason, and I had the calming knowledge that he had a person who cared greatly about him and would be there for him, even when I walked away at the end of our blind date.

 

In this particular situation I had seven hours to spend with this horse before he went into the stalls for dinner, where guests were not invited to linger. My normal training challenge this past month had been eight hours spent with one horse in one day, but there was no particularly good reason for this time frame, it was just an arbitrary number. Seven hours was going to teach me a significant amount also.

 

It was important to me that I listen to the horse in the current moment more than I tried to understand any of his past. I didn’t mind that I was told he was explosive in flight when too much pressure was put on him, but I didn’t need to know why. I could see he was covered in scars, but I didn’t need to know the stories behind the scars. I simply needed to be present with this horse, asking nothing of him, while I listened to him deeply and made choices around him, so I could hone my personal understanding of feel and timing to a sharper point of accuracy.

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Now at first I started by harmonizing with Mason from a medium distance while he grazed, perhaps a horse length away from him or a little more. This is my most comfortable distance and it is where I feel I have the best rhythm in my movements as I respond to the thinking twitches of ears and subtle shifts in mental awareness as the horse looks from one thing to a different thing.

 

Mason seemed reasonably comfortable, sometimes getting close to a fence and letting me know I had stayed on that side for a bit too long by forcing me to choose a different place. Other times edging closer and closer to me as we stepped our way into a touching distance. He for the most part ate grass and seemed to accept my presence, only occasionally giving me any attention at all.

 

His pasture mate on the other hand almost seemed to be in competition with me (I have no idea if that assessment has any place in reality, I am only relating what I felt as I observed). I would match Mason’s feet positions and steps from where I stood about a horse length away, and repeatedly Mason’s pasture mate would step neatly between us matching his feet to Mason’s as well, while making sure my only next choices could be farther away not closer to his friend.

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I noticed more often than not they matched each other in mirror image, opposite hooves moving in harmony like kids running a three-legged race instead of the left foot – left foot, right foot – right foot I feel like I usually see in horse partners.  I don’t know what significance this holds if any, but I made a mental note to keep my eyes open for the kinds of situations that seemed to bring out one way of partnership versus another.

 

A few hours into the project Mason was moved from the grazing pasture to the dirt lot with hay to eat and a larger group of horses to interact with. In the new space I spent an hour or so partnering at my most comfortable distance and then I decided it was time for me to experiment with my distance partnership.

 

Distance is not usually something I practice, because I love being close to horses, and most of my horses love being close to me. However, I know the new stallions for this next movie are not going to start out that way, and I need to hone my distance partnership skills!

 

Mason ended up being the best teacher I have ever had in this distance partnership. As soon as I was on the far side of the paddock it was like his brain unlocked. His ears started gently and easily changing focus all the time, his eyes started seeing things and changing focus categories with effortless ease. All of a sudden Mason was a million times more involved in being part of life around him. I had thought he was perfectly happy with me at the medium and close distances, but only when I stepped out to the farther distances did I see him really come alive and dynamically enjoy the world in a different way.

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Now, on this particular day it was interesting to note, it wasn’t just me, it was the other horses also. When they were close, Mason shut down a little. He did not seem unhappy, simply less involved in living. When Mason had space, it was like his brain woke up and he could fully enjoy everything he saw and heard around him. He liked his friends, he just changed who he was a little and seemed to become smaller and less involved when his friends were close.

 

I have never seen anything quite like this in any of the horses I have spent time partnering, and for me it was the perfect experience to hone my skills in the area Mason seemed to most enjoy my company.

 

In hour number five, I am often most tired, so when Mason stepped under the apple tree to take a deep nap, I let myself step in close and work at my happiest distance, almost touching. For about an hour I stood or crouched next to Mason while he slept, watching for nonexistent danger so he could feel safe, and changing position around him to assess the safety from a different place each time he flicked an ear.

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Then Mason woke up and I saw that the slight freeze habits of the morning were greatly minimized after his long freeze of napping and rest.

 

In this optimal state of rested awareness, Mason and I were joined by the people at the rescue who love him and care for him, and I was able to share the things I had seen and learned throughout the day.

 

I continued to work my partnership from the far side of the medium distance, while his other human friends played with partnering him from various places of closeness and we talked about his responses.

 

You could see how stepping in close led to an instant freeze and his eyes and his ears slowed in their responsiveness to everything, as if his brain was working through peanut butter.

 

For the rest of the day I talked theory with the humans who came to join Mason and I, and I think I was able to shed some light on perhaps why he explodes into flight when he feels the pressure of training, but it seems his brain is stuck in slow motion. If you can’t think your way to a solution in training, the only option that seems left to relieve pressure is to run like hell or fight back. Luckily for everyone Mason wasn’t a natural fighter, he was more likely to run like hell. He wanted to be with people, he seemed to like people, his brain just moved really slowly when they were close to him and that caused him problems trying to learn the kinds of things people expected him to learn.

 

I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Was Mason born like this which led to people abusing him? Or did people create this by causing Mason so much stress every time they were close that he developed a habit of freeze that then led to him getting abused more. I don’t know, and I am not sure I need to know. I simply know that we can help.

 

With good feel and timing Mason can learn to think as clearly in close partnerships as he does in distance partnerships.

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This process of Freedom Based Training® where we help horses be the best version of themselves voluntarily is slow to develop, but it often works where other types of training have failed.

 

I know I learned a huge amount from my blind date with Mason, and hopefully I left a little light and understanding in the hands of the humans who work with him every day.

 

Now, I just need to find my partners for the Evolution project so I can put all I learned from Mason into practice in a long term experiment for the world to share with me. I want to show how Freedom Based Training® can be effective in rebuilding broken trust or building trust to begin with. Domestic or wild, untouched or abused, the concepts apply equally regardless of the horse or their history. I want to show how good feel and timing and a deep well of patience can be applied to create the kind of relationship with horses we all want: collaborative, voluntary, deep and rewarding.

 

For any of you who might want to watch the Evolution project up close from week to week, I did just open up a Patreon platform where I will share weekly videos and insights on the process with the two stallions. I would love for you all to join me on this adventure.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

ps. for those of you receiving this via email, I do have a short video attached to the end of this blog post that you can see at EquineClarity.Org

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Unapologetically Happy

When was the last time you were completely and totally unapologetically happy?

 

For me it happens in the early mornings as I am walking out to see the herd of horses. The fog is slowly lifting and sunlight is filtering through, bringing us all into the bright sunny day ahead.

 

For me, the more deeply I feel I know and understand the horses, the better I can find my place among them and the richer that happiness feels.

 

A couple of weeks ago I set myself a weekly challenge to spend eight hours in a single day with one horse. I started “The Eight Hour Challenge” with Cleo who I know well. Then the second week I continued, “Playing with the Foundations of FBT”. I did this with a horse that belongs to a friend of mine; this horse Lily has deeply fascinated me for a long time.

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This week it was time for me to return back to my roots and the horse that started it all: Myrnah.

 

Here is the funny thing about me, I feel like I need to earn my happiness, and work at increasing it perpetually. I fully believe everything in life waxes and wanes in natural cycles and we get more of what we pay attention to.

 

If I want more happiness in my life, I need to pay attention to the things that foster happiness.

 

Connection with Myrnah was my focus for eight hours on this beautiful day in August, however I wasn’t going to do it the easy way, I was in deep for learning!

 

When Myrnah and I are close together or touching our connection feels effortless and her focus changes are so fluid and easy as she does whatever it is we are doing together.

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When I am farther away Myrnah seems to ignore me completely and while it doesn’t feel like she is overtly pushing to get closer to me, or trying to get away from me, I often find myself somewhere completely different than I had intended to be and I was never quite sure how that happened. On this day I was determined to practice this thing I wasn’t good at!

 

I would stand in flow with Myrnah about twenty feet away, watching her with my peripheral vision to see any changes of focus that would signal me to move slightly to my new place of harmony with her. When she walked I would do my best to walk with her holding my relationship in space with her… yet somehow I found myself on her right shoulder about six feet away over and over again. It was funnier than anything to see how deftly Myrnah put me where she liked me.

 

I persevered and kept using my supportive leadership and walking to find my distance flow again. After a particularly good stretch of harmony, I would relent and drift in closer to that six foot distance or touching that Myrnah and I love so much. Then when I could I would drift back out to the challenging distance again. I walked and walked and walked all day struggling to establish distance, and while Myrnah didn’t seem to object, she certainly didn’t make it easy for me to do.

 

As I watched throughout the day (one hour in the early morning, and then seven more hours in the afternoon and evening) I saw how much more social Myrnah is than most horses. She drifts around the herd in continuous close partnership with one horse partner after the next and she LOVES her friends. The interesting thing is she particularly loves a friend who will push her a little. When a horse would approach with pinned ears and a nod of their nose, Myrnah would pin her ears too and grumpily move her feet to accommodate their push… and then the two of them would settle, staying in perfect flow with feet matching stride for stride, step for step for ages. It was like the push was the glue that stuck them together, and that togetherness brought Myrnah so much peace and contentment.

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Now, I had taken the task on of being her partner passively and supportively with as much distance as possible, and since there was no push between us it also felt like there was no glue. I didn’t feel unwelcome, but I felt completely unnecessary to Myrnah in this endurance day of partnership.

I persevered, because I really felt like there was something important for me to learn from this.

 

I watched and mirrored, and found new places of harmony on the thinking moments I saw in Myrnah. When she did not let me hold my chosen place of harmony I walked and walked and walked until I saw a thinking moment that might yield better success for us feeling the flow together.

 

By the end of the day I felt more connected to Myrnah than I have in a long time.

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It was perhaps one of the most challenging eight hours I have ever spent with a horse. I could see how perpetually happy Myrnah was all day with all her various friends, and I only seemed to make the friend list if I was close enough to touch her. I wanted more connection with her than that; I wanted to mean more to her than everyone else seemed to! I had to laugh at myself as I realized I was in that trap of wanting what I wanted when I wanted it! That wild streak in me needed to be tamed and I needed to show up and pay attention to building what I wanted, one small success at a time.

 

When I walked out into the early morning fog to see her the next morning that unapologetic happiness for us seemed deeper and cleaner than ever before and I think it wasn’t only me, it seemed deeper for her too.

 

I am eternally grateful for everything Myrnah has taught me, and continues to teach me. Connection with her is my unapologetic happiness.

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What is your source of unapologetic happiness? What would you do to foster it and let it grow?

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

(for those of you who get this by email, click on the title at the top to see the video on the blog site)

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

Playing With The Foundations Of FBT

My beautiful dapple-grey partner for the day was subtly and gently displeased with me, and I was not sure why. From reading her body language I knew she was displeased with me, because there was no yield in her movements, and I was working hard to figure out where to be in the spaces around her to find the partnership where yield became easy between us.

I was standing about twelve feet from her shoulder, out in an arena that was next to the stable where she had been eating hay for the last couple of hours. Lily was watching the neighborhood around her paddock and I was watching it with her.

Without any warning I could see, Lily turned directly spinning on her haunches so that suddenly I was at her tail and she was walking away from me. That was a movement I had no way of keeping up with, and there was no way for me to continue to hold the spot twelve feet from her shoulder that I had chosen to be, so faced with this communication from Lily, I walked around her (in the opposite direction of the spin, so I was not chasing her head as she turned) and look for my next spot to choose, hoping that it would be a place she appreciated my company more.

If I got it right I would know because Lily’s movements would start to show yield and become softly easy for me to match step for step. This is the simple quiet communication horses are always giving out.

The horse says to us: If I make it easy for you to move with me, or stand with me, you are in a reasonable place in relationship to me and you know this because of the yield in my movements.

If I move in a way you cannot hold the place in relation to me that you chose, you chose the wrong spot, or you chose to be there too long. You will know this as I try to get away from you and show some small degree of flight, or I push into you and show some small degree of fight.

I believe horses broadcast these messages to each other and us perpetually, but sadly, often, no one is listening.

On this day, I had decided to give myself fully to understanding Lily and listening to her for eight hours.

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Why eight hours? Because it was a length of time that challenged my stamina and skill in a reasonable way, and I have found something often changes for me and the horse together in a particularly beautiful way somewhere between hour six and hour eight.

In this particular moment of our session (about two and a half hours into the day together) we had spent most of our time in the stable as Lily ate hay from the hay bag on the wall, and interacted with the horses around her. Now we had taken a walk out to the arena for a moment and Lily was telling me that all my choices of place were wrong, or too long.

I determinedly tried to do better, circling around her until I saw that change of focus or ear flick that gave me a hint she was thinking more, and I might be in a spot that was acceptable to her. When I saw that flick of an ear from Lily, I came back into flow matching her feet and her focus, only to see her spin slowly away from me again letting me know I was wrong. Wrong place Elsa, too long.

Each time I walked a circle around again looking for the right place and thinking I had found it I would come back into flow, and again Lily would spin slowly away from me.

Frustrated with my lack of understanding as I listened to Lily, I kept trying to get it right and after five attempts to explain it to me, Lily decided to get more direct in her communication. Turning her quiet flight away from me into fight towards me, Lily pinned her ears to her neck and marched directly toward me in a threatening way, forcing me to put my arms out to defend myself as I skirted past her.

Then the light bulb of understanding turned on for me. I was too close!!! My adjustments from twelve feet away to fourteen feet to sixteen feet and from left side to right side and back side were all good tries, but not actually the right answer. Lily at that moment wanted me a good sixty to a hundred feet away.

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Why didn’t I figure that out sooner!

I fully believe if I had intuited that “right decision” of where to be and taken that choice of place, then Lily would have felt like I really was listening and I really understood her in that moment. As it was, we had to work at communicating until we figured out how to be together peacefully.

Once I adjusted my position to one much farther away, Lily’s movements became much easier to flow with and she let me know I was on the right track to understanding her in that moment.

However, just to be sure I got the message, Lily did something I have been noticing frequently when horses don’t want to have a close partnership with someone. Lily went and found her other friends, Mouse and Koa, and she placed herself directly between them in a way that made it very difficult for me to even try to get closer. Message received loud and clear Lily, I am listening and I will respond in a way that lets you know I am listening.

Because Lily was in the stable at that point, I chose to be her partner from outside, standing in the aisle of the barn. I was outside the bars and I did my best to move positions on the momentary signs of thought I could see in the flick of her ears, the theory being that noticing those thinking moments and responding to them with finding a new place of harmony, before I wore out my welcome in the place I was standing, was perpetually proving to Lily I was listening and I was responding to her. Even from outside the bars of the stable, I can listen to Lily, and I can respond. If I do it right, and I make the right choices, Lily will let me know by showing more and more yield in her movements so we can go places together when she chooses to move. If I do it wrong, there will be some degree of fight or flight letting me know I need to make better choices if I want her voluntary partnership.

Over the next month or six weeks, as I work to develop my personal stamina for my next year long Taming Wild project, I have decided to take one day each week to spend with a new and different horse.

During this day I am not aiming to change to help or develop the horse I am with, instead my goal is simply to hold space for them and be WITH them in the best ways I know how. My job is to observe them deeply and learn who they are in each moment we are together. As I grow to know them better, I can anticipate what they might choose to do next and I can place myself in the best location to partner them in their moment-to-moment choices.

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The theory of Freedom Based Training® starts NOT from a place of changing the horse, instead we change ourselves and hone our skills of where and when to be around the horse so that they become more and more interested in partnering with us.

We are attempting to change our own skill of body placement around them so they are in the frame of mind where they start to voluntarily develop into easier partners.

Later, from that foundation I will be able to more directly ask a horse to develop good partnership skills. Today’s task with Lily was simply to hone my own partnership skills while listening to Lily’s feedback deeply.

I noticed that Lily started the day in self-focus and I was making my responses as she made subtle focus shifts from one version of self-focus to another. Such as, pulling the hay out of the hay bag in one moment, to chewing the hay she had just pulled out in the following moment. Even though there was no obvious change in the ears or the eyes in the difference of those two actions, I would chose to respond to Lily’s small change of thought, moving to a new place around her.

If I could change places around Lily in a moment I thought there was more thinking, I would move only briefly returning to harmony as directly as possible.

If I had no thinking change from Lily and I had to move for any other reason, I would continue to walk around her until she showed me a thinking moment to let me know, THAT spot of physical relationship is one that might work for us.

My job was to listen to Lily and do my best to respond to her subtle body language conversation. I was not just doing whatever I felt like around Lily, I was taking small actions in response to her positive communication.

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What happens all too often in relationships is we do what we feel like until someone gets irritated enough to yell and get our attention that we should have made a different choice. In contrast to that, passive leadership is about making responses to positive communication (those subtle thinking moments) because I believe if we deeply listen and respond to the positive communications, there is less and less need to for the louder communications of fight or flight.

Lily showed me this throughout the day as she was mostly self-absorbed and did what she felt like as I shadowed her to the best of my ability. Every once in a while, Lily would put herself in a place that irritated Lovey, or Koa or Mouse and would get chased or threatened with some intensity. I could see it coming and would be for the most part walking away before it happened (leading Lily by good example that she could choose to follow or not).

Horses crave social interaction, and they seem to often feel much better after some conversation with each other. The problem is, if no one makes the effort to respond to subtle positive communication, they are going to have to push on each other harder to get any attention from their friends.

After every negative interaction with her paddock mates I observed Lily markedly happier with more thinking moments and more focus changes, with signs of licking and chewing and yawning and deep breaths. In a strange way irritating her friends into chasing her was rewarding for Lily, because she felt much better after they paid attention to her and gave her some response.

My job was not to change this, my job was to observe and learn and continually show Lily that I was responding to her small thinking moments, so she didn’t have to get loud or irritating to get my attention.

Throughout the day, slowly and surely, there was more and more yield in Lily’s movements, less and less pushing on and irritating her friends and each of my next responses to Lily started becoming easier to gauge and choose correctly.

The important thing for me is that I was not trying to make this change happen in Lily, I was trying to train my own awareness and responsiveness to her. Lily’s positive changes were an accidental by-product of my practice.

It was hugely gratifying in this situation to see the partnership with Lily grow easier for us both as the day went on. From the deep self-focus of the morning I watched Lily vary in thinking patterns, changing between patterns of more or less diversity as she focused around herself on a greater or lesser variety of things. As I observed and responded I saw a gradual overall change in the way Lily thought about and considered the world.

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As Lily’s thoughts became more diverse and had a wider range of interest, it became easier for me to be in the right place at the right time. I could see the eyes and the ears change first, and then the feet would start to move following her thought. This was very different from the beginning of the day where thought changes were very subtle and Lily’s feet seemed to move, propelled with no thought or plan behind the movement. In those moments I felt forced into supportive leadership where I had to keep moving my feet until I saw some sign of thinking change again, that led me back into Flow and Passive leadership.

Every moment I could see clearer thinking from Lily I wanted to jump up and down and cheer, and then I would remember, that isn’t the goal today that is the side effect of this work. The goal is for Elsa to get better and better at responding to the positive thinking and yielding signs. What Lily chooses to do with that is not my job to change; it is simply feedback on how well I am doing making my perpetual choices around her.

Still, when I get positive feedback that the general trend between us is better… I want to jump up and down and cheer.

But I don’t.

Instead I breathe, and match Lily, and think deeply about how I might do it better in the next moment and the next moment and the next.

This is my work, and I love it.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com