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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

 

It Takes Time

 

I stood at Kypo’s shoulder, watching him pull dense strand after dense strand of vine out of the cacti to eat it with relish. Under his right front hoof was a sharp rock, and I watched him picking up and putting down his foot repeatedly. It was clearly uncomfortable, but he was so absorbed in his acquisition of tasty vines, the rock was just a small irritant, not painful enough to consider in the face of all that blissful vine eating.

 

On this Saturday in November I had set out to do a full day of passive leadership with one horse to see what happened. Ten hours together was my goal. Ten hours with no agenda other than to see what I could learn from him about passive leadership. Usually I have some sort of a goal with horses and while passive leadership is the basis from which I start, I quickly move forward to assertive leadership simply because it works and development of relationship is clear and beautiful.

 

What I wanted to know was, if I had more time and less agenda, could I do more with less?

 

Passive leadership is about proving my worth as a leader and earning trust with my partner simply by the choices I make about my own body in space around them.

 

Assertive leadership is about proving my worth as a leader and earning trust with my partner by causing them to move.

 

Dominant leadership (which is not the goal here) is about causing my partner to move and developing unpleasant consequences if they do not. (I personally include food rewards in this category, because I feel it is unpleasant for a horse when they know there is something they really want and the only way they can get it is to perform a task – the unpleasant consequence of not moving is subtle but quite clear.)

 

Here we were, halfway through the day of our training experiment and for the most part I had followed through with my idea of predominantly working in the area of Passive Leadership. Now there was this sharp rock under Kypo’s right front hoof, and he was too distracted by vine eating to do anything about it other than pick his foot up and put it down repeatedly.

 

As a passive leader there is nothing I can do about that, as an assertive leader I can help. So I gave up my passive leadership goal for a moment, rested my hand on his shoulder and nudged him over to his left a step so he could stand with all his hooves on flat ground. The instant relief Kypo felt was perceptible as yawning and licking and chewing with big deep sighs. The vine eating happily continued, and I returned to my lookout post.

 

A leader is someone who is willing to step in where no one else wants to, or thinks to. Leaders create trust in the partnership and they create this trust by proving again and again that they can make everyone’s lives better by stepping up and leading the way.

 

On this particular day in the upcountry pastures of Kula, Maui, I was in the middle of deep and profound experiential learning – learning that was more for me than for the horses, but powerful for all of us involved I believe.

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In the first hour I found Kypo to be entitled, pushy and impatient, and I felt stretched emotionally by his company. This was going to be a long day.

 

The second hour Kypo led me out on a merry walk, just the two of us with no other horses in sight. I was surprised and intrigued. Was he that comfortable with only my company? Or would he have done that all by himself if I had not been there?

 

The third hour, Kypo walked by a boulder I was standing on and invited me to go for a ride, which surprised and intrigued me even more. That had not been in the plan for the day. I swung a leg over his back, scratched him all over under his mane, which he loved, and then got off and back to my passive leadership roll. He then took me over the hill to join his mother and two other horses sleeping under a tree.

 

The fourth hour we spent in a field strewn with boulders, so my lookout points around Kypo often involved standing up high. I was blown away by how many times he sauntered over and lined his back up underneath me to let me sit on him.

 

The fifth hour found us under a shady copse of trees with Kypo and his mother, Spirit, flat out on their sides deep asleep, Ebe lying down softly asleep and Coco and me standing watch.

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The sixth hour I had to leave them and walk up to the house to charge my phone battery and get some water, which was actually a good opportunity for me to clear my head and think about everything that had happened so far.

 

The seventh hour found Kypo and me trekking up and down a rocky hillside, during which he gave me our longest ride yet. It wasn’t long, maybe five minutes, however I was doing my best to be passive and set us up for success so I was thrilled and elated I had gotten to ride as much as I did!

 

The eighth hour I held myself in check and simply scratched him all over when he would come over to stand under my current boulder perch. This day wasn’t about riding or how much I could get Kypo to do for me. This day was about sharing the day together and seeing how many different things we could do together passively enjoying each others company.

 

The ninth hour everyone headed back in the direction of the water troughs, and I followed along. First we walked, then we jogged, then they picked up speed to a canter and I tried to keep up, but I couldn’t. I settled to a walk and figured I would see them back at the water. I have to say, it was the sweetest surprise when I discovered them waiting for me around the next corner as if to say, “Come on slowpoke, what kept you?” They started off at a walk, then a jog, then a trot. I tried to keep up, but by the time we could see the water troughs, they were off at a gallop and I walked the last bit in.

 

The tenth hour with the whole herd reunited at the water, Kypo was determined that a new horse, Gems, was not to be tolerated in the group, and he was going to chase her off aggressively over and over. I decided it was time to put my passive leadership goals aside for a little while and step up to assertive to help smooth the group dynamic. I was quite blown away by how light and easy Kypo was to move. I chose a position near his shoulder and each time I would see his eyes wander over to the intruder, Gems, I would softly touch his chest and back him up a step, or touch his neck and move him over enough to redirect his attention to something less upsetting. I was amazed how easy he was with my redirection and how peaceful everyone in the herd became with my simple persistent help to one member.

 

As the sun set and the light started to fade, Kypo and I found ourselves next to an old fallen tree where I swung a leg over his back and let him carry me around for the last half hour.

 

All those troubling impressions from our morning were gone. This horse wasn’t entitled at all; if anyone was entitled, perhaps it was me. Kypo was in fact one of the most kind, generous and authentic horses I have had the pleasure of spending time with.

 

This is a day I will not forget and the things Kypo taught me were valuable beyond words.

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I believe my biggest takeaway was that there is a time and a place for different kinds of leadership, and there are times to simply follow. If you give yourself time, you don’t need force; and if you don’t need to force things to happen, life gets increasingly more pleasant for everyone involved.

 

Here is to a good life!

Sending you all a gift of time from Maui,

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

  1. Here are the hourly update videos from the day of experimental training in passive leadership. If you are reading this blog by email, click on the title at the top and it will take you to the webpage where the videos are viewable.

 

Intro Video:

 

Hour One:

 

Hour Two:

 

Hour Three:

 

Hour Four:

 

Hour Five:

 

Hour Six:

 

Hour Seven:

 

Hour Eight:

 

Hour Nine:

 

Hour Ten:

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

 

Joy and Pain

 

Throughout this blog I have a tendency to make life look like a bed of roses, because joy is what we live for.

 

Is life worth living if we don’t perpetually reach for joy?

 

Don’t answer that question, it is meant to be left as a quandary.

 

The part I sometimes leave out of my writing is how hard life is as well, for me at least …

 

Wherever there is joy, there is also the contrast of pain and sorrow. I want with all my being for growth to be easy; I want to evolve and grow and develop so sweetly and gently that life is all about joy.

 

There it is, there is my mission statement:

 

Freedom Based Training™ is about learning to have more joy in every moment, horses and humans alike.

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There does not need to be as much pain as there is in the world. Anything I can do to alleviate any of the pain that might happen in the future, that is my job. Even if it means diving into my own internal dark nights of the soul to do it, I will struggle so others can have more roses and maybe fewer thorns.

 

Helios brought one of those mixed moments of joy and pain for me. I felt myself magnetically drawn to do whatever I needed to do for him. I didn’t need another horse to take care of. I didn’t need the drama and chaos of building fences for a stallion enclosure, or ordering gravel and spreading it in the last moments before a possible record-breaking rain storm hit. It didn’t matter what I didn’t need though. The possible pain I might experience in doing what needed to be done was far outweighed by the possible joy Helios might bring to the world.

 

I have never regretted it. Helios has brought more joy to the world than I had any way of knowing when I did my mad-dash drive across Washington to pull him out of the jaws of the slaughter truck.

 

For all my lost sleep and corresponding emotional pain of feeling like I can never do enough, no matter how hard I try because there always seems to be more pain in the world than I can possibly beat back with the joy I know is possible.

 

It is all worth it when I step into Helios’ paddock and I feel him close to me. Like his namesake the sun god, being in his presence warms me to my core in an inexplicable way. Any pain either of us has is suddenly drowned out by joy that feels exponential.

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Too many 3AM mornings jumping out of bed to write before sleep and dreams claim all my good ideas. Too many 1AM mornings where I am still awake editing video and photographs. Too much caffeine and sugar used artfully to propel me into the next moment of learning. This hurts and the body cannot do it forever, and yet I live to learn, and every time I learn a little more and I share that to bring a little joy to someone else’s life, all the pain of getting there is washed away.

 

Taming Wild is a movie about joy and connection, however, it also has its dark underbelly of pain and frustration. Taming Wild was more about learning to tame the wild impatient impulses I have as a human being than it was about taming a horse. I can’t tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep thinking I had set myself a project that was unachievable. Who trains a horse without some sort of pressure device, or some sort of withheld reward? There were too many nights I was mired in frustration that Myrnah didn’t want to do the things I wanted to do, and making a movie about joyful connection with no means of force seemed simply an effort in emotional pain caused by perpetually pitting myself against the gut wrenching pain of disappointment.

 

We all want what we want when we want it! How do you build joyful connection from that selfish place?

 

What I have found is, the only way I know to get through that selfish place is to start with admitting it is there. That frustration, those tears, that anger are there because life didn’t shape itself to your desires fast enough.

 

Sit with that, feel the pain, and then do the work it takes to get where you want to go. What if “fast enough” wasn’t the operating principle anymore?

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What if the amount of joy in every moment was the measuring stick we held our progress to?

 

That wild frustration and the pain that goes along with it, that is part of being alive. We are not always going to know what to do to move forward toward our goals.

 

I am not going to tell you to just let it go. You get to feel however you feel, and sometimes that hurts. What I am going to do is put all my own past pain to good use by writing down the steps I took, making sign posts and markers along the path to joy, so maybe you don’t have to take the detours I took into dark places.

 

The last eight weeks of sharing Freedom Based Training™ in a systematic step-by-step way through the online course has been awesome.

 

I had ten of the best students do the course with me this first session, and, whether they knew it or not, they asked me some of the most perfect questions throughout our study together. Every question that was asked became a ray of light illuminating some idea that I knew was going to be unbelievably useful for others going forward.

 

That is what I live for – more light, more joy, and more positive connection in life.

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We can all do that for each other!

 

Pain is still going to be there, sometimes it is unavoidable; but, with a little help from our friends the way out of darkness just might be signposted, so just keep moving and joy will find you soon enough again.

 

This is where my joy and my sadness get all wrapped up and I don’t know which is which. I have the honor and joy of telling you Helios, who came through my life in such a powerful way recently, has found his person, and no, it isn’t me.

 

I will be honest, it hurts to let him go; but it hurts less when I see the joy emanating from him and Shelby when they are together. Helios gets to continue living at my barn, and I will still be part of his herd and be allowed to soak up some of his sunshine every day. I also get to be part of the joy Shelby and Helios emanate when they are together. That is priceless.

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I think Helios is an example for me of what could be. I have never met a horse so clear about his interest in being with you, and paying attention, and being part of a relationship, while still maintaining VERY clearly what he is and is not yet comfortable with.

 

None of my other wild horses have ever been this slow or this perpetually positive and joyful. It was a full ten days before Helios considered putting a foot back in the horse trailer. He got minimal hay meals twice a day in the doorway, and tons of hay available just a little farther in, if he would step in, but nope, he waited until he was fully ready and comfortable before stepping in to eat his fill. All my other mustangs were in and out a million times in the first few days (even Myrnah who had unlimited hay outside the trailer as well). My other mustangs may not have been comfortable yet, but they were willing to try.

 

Helios waited until he was comfortable and then proceeded to step in and out easily and regularly like he had been doing it his whole life.

 

Same thing with being touched. It was almost three weeks before Helios permitted anyone to touch him. He would touch us, but any hand outstretched to him past his nose was promptly and decisively evaded. My other mustangs were interested in the fact that I wanted to touch them within the first couple of days, even if they were unsure or apprehensive. Helios knows what he is ready for, knows what is too much, and throughout it all continues to be a beam of light in his positive attention and interest. He loves people!

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Perhaps I have something to learn about the timing of progress, respecting personal boundaries, and how that affects positivity, interest and joy.

 

I will leave you with that idea to ponder.

 

Here is to pain, and here is to the joy that makes it all worth it, and sometimes even replaces it completely.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

 

The Unfolding of Trust

Have you ever faced a decision where you knew what to do, yet you thought of a million reasons why maybe you shouldn’t?

That place where the head and the heart come face to face and hold each other in a stand off.

Your heart calls you and says this is right, while your head says hold off, back down, don’t even think about it, let it go…

Sunday of this week, my heart won.

This is Helios.
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I don’t know why this particular horse caught my eye on Saturday night. I see and hear about a million horses that get loaded from feedlots onto the trucks headed for slaughter every week. Horses unwanted, their potential in this world discarded.

I can’t save them all, so instead I focus on the most good I can put out into the world. I keep my head down and work on my book, share the movie Taming Wild as far and wide as I can, and look people in the eye and pour myself into being there for everyone I reach. We are a society of people who long for connection and yet we often feel we are only beginning to understand HOW to connect.

How is it we can need something to the very core of our being and yet hardly know anything about how to fulfill that need?

None of us are islands, we are designed to integrate with others; and yet so many of us become paralyzed in feeling alone!

Even though I have devoted my life to the understanding of being connected, I still find myself feeling SO alone sometimes. Afraid that connection will lead to being trapped, I fight it, even though this work of connection is my whole life. Maybe that is why this work is my whole life…

Freedom and Connection… when I find the balance between the two, that is when I am happiest.

Maybe that is the heartstring that pinged and wouldn’t stop humming on Saturday night.

Here was this horse, too wary of being trapped to let any person near him. Connection was his only hope of being saved, and yet he was holding onto his freedom with every scrap of his being.

They were calling him Sport and reaching out to anyone who might listen. Four years old, untouched and seemingly untouchable. Brought to the feedlot from the Indian reservation where they breed thousands of horses and seemingly cull most of them to slaughter, keeping only the ones they like best.

This one was strong, sound, beautiful… So much potential, but who is able to take on the project of an untouchable four-year-old stallion?

Elsa’s head, says look away, you have only so many hours in the day, stay focused on your work of helping so many horses and so many people around the world. Elsa’s heart raises her hand, reaches out and says, I will take him….

Once the words are spoken, you can’t take them back. The slaughter truck is coming in the morning and no one else is going to take this horse.

Elsa will. Elsa’s heart knows it’s what she needs to do.

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An understanding of freedom within connection, that’s all this horse needs and I can help him with that.

This horse isn’t staying with me forever, but for right now, until the right person comes along for him, Helios and I are going to teach each other about Freedom and Connection.

My life is already brimming with too many things that need to be done, how am I going to do this too? I texted a friend:

“I have done something really foolish. I rescued a 4 year old stallion off the slaughter truck yesterday.”

In her beautiful wisdom she texted right back:

“I’m excited for you. Done is done, so where it might have been foolish beforehand, it is now the best decision ever! I’m thrilled for both of you, for the adventure ahead!!! Go Elsa!”

She was right, best decision ever.

Monday was a beautiful chaos of moving fence panels and setting up space for a stallion where there was none before.

Tuesday morning Kevin and I left before dawn and drove the trailer to eastern Washington. Here I was driving three and a half hours to pick up a horse from a picture and a plea for help. My head in disbelief said, we don’t even know how tall he is, we don’t know anything about him! My heart said, it’s all right, we will find out what we need to know as we go.

The taciturn feedlot owner directed us to pull through the loading chutes and closed the gates around the trailer. I walked with him back to where the grey horse stood watching us amid a sea of metal bars. The man said,
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“He’s not crazy, this one, just wild. He moves around pretty good, you ready for this?”

Was I ready for this? Dark eyes staring out at me from a chiseled thoroughbred-type head… so much higher up than I had imagined, I don’t know why I thought he was going to be small, but face to face I suddenly discovered he definitely was not small. 16 hands maybe?

There wasn’t much time to think about it as we followed the horse through the chutes to the trailer. No particular plan because, as I said, the man running the place was short on words and I was too shell-shocked to ask questions. Then we were there at the trailer, a little dance as the horse realized there was nowhere else to go, in he went and the man said in his laconic way, “Shut the doors.”

Kevin and I swung the doors shut fast as I saw two massive hooves double-barrel at the impending trap. The speed and the power of this horse took my breath away for a moment. What had I gotten myself into?

I turned and asked the man, “Is there any paperwork I need to do, any sale papers?” He looked patient with the girl who clearly didn’t know anything about how this all worked, “No ma’am, he’s not branded or anything. He’s yours now, good luck.”

Driving home we stopped from time to time so I could sit with the big grey horse for a few moments, him in the back section of the trailer, me up in front of the divider. He didn’t seem afraid, simply decisive about keeping distance between us. I didn’t know why, but I was happier than I had been in a long time.

It was raining when we got home. Helios leapt out into his new paddock, seemingly very relieved to escape the small space at last. Then he stood on the hill and surveyed the territory with a quiet ease. I was happier than I had been in a long time.
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My mares came out, took a look at the new horse, and then wandered back around the corner to the shed, leaving the cute little paint mare we have boarded with us to dance the fence line tossing her head and flirting with the newcomer.

Helios stood quiet on the hill like the sun god we had named him after, shining down on the world around him, and I was happier than I had been in a long time.

This is the work I live for. I may spend most of my time teaching and writing and helping others develop their relationships with their horses, and I love that. Traveling to teach workshops and most recently developing an in depth study of Freedom Based Training™ with students around the world where we study together connected via computers, internet and technology. This is exciting and profoundly gratifying as I watch connection and understanding blossom for others all around me.

Closer to home, this beginning process of unfolding trust with a new horse; this is where I learned how to do what I do. This work is at the core of who I am and who I want to be. I have a feeling Helios is going to teach me as much about freedom and connection as I am going to teach him.
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A girl and a horse and an unfolding of trust, I am happier than I have been in a very long time.

Thank you heart!

Elsa Sinclair

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

 

Why Freedom Based Training™?

 

This perhaps starts as far back as my childhood and that dang pony I couldn’t catch, that pony that no one could catch. There I was, ten years old, sitting in the pasture with a can of grain in one hand and a halter in the other.

 

A crowd of horses gathered around me wanting the sweet taste the rattle of grain promised, and the cute fat little brown pony way down at the bottom of the valley as far away from us as she could be, wanting nothing to do with me or the grain or the other horses.

 

Tears of frustration welling up in my eyes, anger surfacing as I chased the other horses away, determination pulling me up by my boot straps as I trudged after the pony yet again.

 

I spent innumerable uncomfortable hours in that pasture, focused on that pony as a disappearing dot across the expanses of grass blowing in the wind. The emotions ran rampant for me as every obvious failure to catch her slammed me in the gut as a personal accusation that I was unwanted and unliked. At the same time, I was drawn to her expression of freedom like the strongest magnet imaginable.

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Every other horse in the field would hear the rattle of grain or the snap of a carrot and would drop every personal intention they had for a sweet taste. Where is the self-respect in that?

 

My pony, Chocolate, had a sense of personal freedom and choice that the other horses seemed to have given up somewhere along the path of their lives. Or maybe they had never had it…

 

When it came to putting a halter on Chocolate and bringing her in for a ride, it wasn’t the lure of a treat that brought us together; it was instead our coming together on a much different plane. Don’t misunderstand, the carrots or grain was still necessary and helpful in the process, but it wasn’t enough all by itself. I had to dig deeper and relate to that pony as an individual with all her own wants and needs just like I had.

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Two unique and complex individuals coming together, neither one of us willing to give up our sense of self to adjust to the other, and both of us determined – there was no giving up!

 

I have come to realize, years later, it was Chocolate’s sense of freedom that I loved best. There was no chance of my giving up, not because I wanted to take any of that freedom away from her. There was no giving up because I wanted to be close enough to her to feel it too. I wanted to become part of her sense of freedom.

 

This was perhaps some of the beginning of Freedom Based Training.

 

Ultimately it came down to the question that started the project the movie Taming Wild was all about.

 

What if a horse had everything it needed: food, water, companionship, freedom, comfort. What if the only things I had to offer the horse were encased in the body I walked around in – no stick picked off a bush to use as a communication tool, no rope or halter to make myself bigger or stronger than I am, no fence to trap the horse up against, and no special food item that they can’t get without me.

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If I only used the body and intellect I was born with, could that be enough to cause the horse to want to be my partner. Maybe even enough to let me ride?

 

As far as I know, I am the only horse trainer alive who has attempted this.

 

Yes, it is possible.

 

Yes, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

 

Yes, it is worth it.

 

Importantly though, since the project and the movie, I have found that Freedom Based Training doesn’t need to exist to the exclusion of other kinds of training.

 

The work I learned to do with Myrnah I did because I had to. The honoring of your horses freedom, wants and desires, in balance with honoring your own freedom, wants and desires become crystal clear when you have no plan B.

 

What I have found is, when people choose to take a couple of hours a week or more to do some freedom based work with their horses, everything else gets better too.

 

You do not need to choose the all or nothing path. Just take some time to be with your horse in freedom, respecting and beginning to understand your horse’s needs and wants and how they correlate with yours.

 

Whether you take Carolyn Resnick’s chair challenge, or join my course in Freedom Based Training, or develop your own journey with your horse, choose to take a little time to consider freedom. It’s worth it, no matter how you do it.

 

Trudging around the pastures following my pony, Chocolate, at ten years old wasn’t something I consciously chose at the time, Looking back, however, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. That was the only way that pony could help me spend time with her in freedom, and I learned so very much about her and about myself in the process.

 

We all long to be free, and we also long to be together, learning to have both is what life is all about.

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Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

 

Horses as a Spiritual Practice

 

Bugs! Swarms of little, tiny, annoying midges finding every nook and cranny of the body to bite and irritate. This year in Redmond, WA my pastures seemed to be infested! I was at my wits end and beside myself with worry for my horses. My three, Myrnah, Cleo and Zohari, seemed defenseless this particular year, and every day I saw bigger chunks of flesh peeling from between their legs and across their stomachs with swelling distorting their natural shapes and turning them into grotesque elephant-skinned versions of themselves. So uncomfortable, it looked like they waddled across the fields so slowly trying not to let their thighs touch. It had reached the allergic response stage I had watched clients struggle with in their horse management, but never personally dealt with. My boarder, the cute little paint-mare Kiera, trotted gay little circles around my three with seemingly not a bite on her. It wasn’t just the pasture with its swarms of midges; it was all three of my horses unable to cope for some reason this year. I tried every bug spray and lotion I could find to combat it (thank goodness for “Where’s that Blue Stuff”, a lotion for rain rot and scratches that gave them the only relief I could find and helped repair their abused skin).

 

Finally I could watch them suffer no more and I made arrangements to flee the swarms of devastation. Kiera went to board with a neighbor’s horses and my three loaded into the horse trailer and took off for the cool, windy freedom of the San Juan Islands.

 

My mother and my daughter live still in the beautiful valley where the movie Taming Wild was filmed. We call it Plumb Pond and it is about as close to heaven on earth for horses as any place I know. It had been three years since my horses had been there and it was like taking them home. A hundred acres of fields and ponds with fragrant cedar trees to sleep under in the heat of the day and nine other horses, all of them long time friends.

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Horses have complex social lives when we give them the chance, and I believe the glow of health I have seen blossom on my horses in the last month has been as much about the richly emotional interactions they have all day long with their friends as it is about the healthy living they do galloping up and down the hill every day across the wide expanses of grass together. Sometimes I wonder how I could ever have taken them away from this wonderful place.

 

In the past month I have traveled from the high mountain grasslands of Kamloops, British Columbia, to the tropical paradise of Maui, to the lush grass valleys of San Juan Island. I travel on the call of horses and people who want to learn some of the things Myrnah and my other horses have taught me. Each place I go I have found myself part of dynamic and interesting horse herds that differ from each other in more ways than you can imagine. This barrage of experiences has left me both brimming with ideas and peacefully empty and present.

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I am beginning to realize there has been a shift for me in how I view my time with horses. Once upon a time I was a trained professional and horses were part of a sport I loved. From Eventing to Endurance to French Classical Dressage to the levels of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, there was always another thing we were aiming to achieve skill in. How good one was at the chosen discipline was a gathering of skills, and the more skills one had, the more fun one could have with a horse.

 

While I still believe this, I find there is a new discipline that has become more important to me than any of the sport aspects one can explore with a horse. It is a discipline no one ever talks about, and I find myself wondering if I am the only one enraptured by this.

 

Freedom Based Training is what I call this thing that I do with horses now. It really is training as much for the person as it is for the horse. We all have an innate desire to be free and to want what we want while living our lives in pursuit of happiness. Training is the thing that naturally happens when we realize we want partnership as much as we want freedom. In every partnership we realize each partner is unique, and only if both parties are willing to grow and train and learn together can we find the hand-in-glove easy depth of connection we long for.

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Myrnah and I developed these ideas when we were filming the movie Taming Wild. In the movie we had one year and a very specific goal – to be able to ride together without any bribes or tools of force. This goal was so task-oriented it was still almost like a discipline of sport. I found myself mapping progress and making lists and pushing to develop skills so we could achieve our goal together. And yes, the more skill we developed the more fun it became.

 

The year of the movie was more about sport than spirituality because it was more about my wants and desires than Myrnah’s. It was by accident that the spiritual aspect of this process was born and I fell in love with a whole new way of being with horses.

 

What if we start from the basis that there is nothing that needs to be changed or developed? What if we start with the premise that the horse is exactly perfect already, and the person is too; the only thing in need of development is the depth of bond between them. What are the things we then do to create connection that honors both horse and rider’s innate desire for freedom of choice?

 

This, I find, is more of a spiritual practice than it is a sport.

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My horse wants to eat grass; I want to ride and run through the fields! My horse wants to sleep with the herd under the trees; I want to go for a trail ride, climb a mountain and explore the world. My horse wants to run with the other horses; I want to stand peacefully and watch the magnificent beauty pounding with incredible horsepower past us.

 

It sounds impossible when you lay it out like this, and that is why we have halters and bridles and whips and treat-pouches for training. We think we need to overpower a horse’s desire to be free and replace it with incentive to do the things we want to do. If one is interested in sport, then yes, most likely you are going to have to invest in incentives.

 

I find I am increasingly more interested in the core of this relationship. If we strip away the incentives, what is underneath? What are the things we can do together that build a bond that nurtures our freedoms and develops our desire to stretch and encompass the wants of our partners as well as our own?

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I am finding that sport and spirituality are not separate or exclusive, you can combine the two ideas in whatever proportion works for you. I am finding the more time one puts into the development of the spiritual side of riding, the better the sport side becomes as well.

 

The curiosity for me is the better I get at the spiritual side, the less often I am willing to put on a halter, or reward a behavior with treats in order to achieve an end goal. I find I am much too fascinated by the natural evolution of partnership in a spiritual sense, and the sport of achievement doesn’t hold the same thrill for me that it once did.

 

I still love my work as an instructor, helping students and horses develop partnership and achieve their goals of sport. Finding the right incentive to help partners stretch together is fascinating.

 

However, when I walk into a lesson, I find I no longer have any idea of what horse or rider should or shouldn’t do.

 

What do you want?

 

What does your horse want?

 

How do we make that work for both of you?

 

That is what matters to me.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

I will be leading an Online interactive course on Freedom Based Training starting in September. I am only taking on twelve students and will be personally available for coaching on a one on one basis during each week between classroom sessions. Email me at Elsa@TamingWild.com or click here for more details if you are interested in taking part in this learning opportunity.

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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

The Cost of Freedom

 

Green grass, knee-high, in meadows of scattered ponderosa leading to rocky hillsides and scablands, leading to more meadows and then down into wet valleys with babbling brooks, and then up again.

 

Cleo and I, along with Cam and Antheia were traveling the mountain sides of Ochoco National Forest helping with the wild-horse survey. We had been riding for a couple of hours, following a rough circle through our designated area. We were seeing stud piles of manure with fresh leavings on the top and we knew there were horses somewhere around us, but the area is vast and we were only two. It felt like a band of horses could easily be hiding on the hillside above us and watching us pass by without us knowing at all.

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The countryside was beautiful and the horse I was riding, Cleo, felt spectacular. She is a mountain horse like nothing I have ever ridden. Up hills, down hills, over logs and scrambling over loose rocks. We covered some of the steepest territory I have ever traveled on a horse and Cleo made it all feel as easy as flat ground.

 

Here we were, back in Oregon wild horse country for the first time since Cleo had been rounded up six years ago. She had spent two years in the corrals in Burns, OR and then four years with me learning to be a domestic horse. I had no idea how she was going to feel about being out here again.

 

Because of a substantial scar on her coronet band and corresponding sizable quarter crack that her hoof grows out with, Cleo is not a good candidate for the freedom of a wild horse. Without the proper trimming and protection she has a tendency to tear a quarter of her hoof off at times and then spend three months in rehab before she can walk comfortably again. Out in the wild where a herd needs to travel for miles to find food and water, a weakness like that leads to a very short life.

 

I know all this in my logical mind, yet heading out across the land on our first day I could feel Cleo pulling for the wild. She was alive and alert like I have never felt her before and the group of horses we were riding with had no draw for her, nor did the camp or trailer or the base we had set up for our temporary home. She asked me again and again to let her head out away from the others, away from camp and into the wild. Each time I corrected her path and brought her attention back to the group and back to our chosen route, my heart broke a little for her. The cost of freedom would be too high for her. Here was I, this human, making the decisions for her, keeping her safe and trapped in domestic life, yet who was I to make that decision for her?

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Quality of life, length of life, how do we weigh these as priorities, or problem solve to allow for some of both? How do I take it upon myself to decide Cleo has a better life at my beck and call than as her own master, making her own life decisions?

 

I find myself faced with these dilemmas every time I spend time around horses that get to live wild and free. Their freedom seems so idyllic, yet I know I am seeing them in summer season when food and water are easy.

 

I know I am seeing them in numbers managed by people to adapt to the fact that cows and sheep graze this land along with the horses and all the other wildlife. The ones that are too many are brought in for adoption, like Cleo was, and there are far more horses that need homes than there are people looking to bring them into domestication.

 

The cost of freedom is complicated.

 

Cam and Antheia were riding ahead when I heard Cam say, “Look, horses!” Our horses have clearly spotted them, necks arched, ears pricked. Cam sees them and I am searching. “Look straight-ahead between the two tall trees, you can see a brown rump with a short tail.” And then finally, with such direct help from my daughter, I can see them.

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“Three, no four, no look – there are six!” And then we spot the seventh. One looks young, yearling maybe? Boys? Girls?

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They move away from us down the dirt track through the woods and we cautiously follow. Cleo, who was so eager to get out in the wild, seems all of a sudden not sure we should get any closer to this band. Antheia on the other hand is so excited wanting to go introduce herself, Cam has her hands full stopping her and waiting every time the herd stops and turns around to watch us.

 

From what we can see, at least four of them are stallions, and we figure it must be a band of bachelors. Here we are on our two mares – how safe is this?

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The two younger looking colts start walking toward us, and then change their minds and run after the older ones walking off into the meadow. I feel better about watching them now.

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I can’t help looking at Cleo, this magnificent horse I get to ride, and wondering what her life might have been like. She could have had a family of her own and an intricate social life I can only begin to imagine.

 

She could have… but the risk was too high for her. There were too many reasons that freedom was denied her from her personal hoof injury, to the fact that someone decided that her herd area didn’t have enough food for her and all the others that needed it too, to the fact that I think I needed her help in my life.

 

Cleo is my rock and my steady place. When emotions crash like storms around me I can lean on her, and interestingly she asks the same of me. We make each other’s lives better; we both give up a little of our personal freedom to take care of each other.

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Is that fair to ask of a horse? I struggle with that every time I am out in the wilderness watching horses who only give up personal freedoms for other horses. What we ask of them as people – is it worth enough to give up the lives they might have without us?

 

The question is more complicated than I can fully answer, but I guess that is what makes it worth asking and pondering.

 

What do we give up in terms of freedom in order to fill our lives with relationships?

 

What qualities of life do relationships bring us that we couldn’t find on our own?

 

What do we give up in terms of relationships in order to feel free?

 

How much can we have of both?

 

Of the horses I saw and heard about this weekend, why do sixty-nine of them choose to all be close together in the lush valley, a complicated mix of stallions and mares and babies, while the seven stallions we saw choose each other and stay higher up on the hill side? Why does one horse decide to shun the company of other horses and live with the herd of cows instead, or one stallion decide to separate out a filly seemingly far too young and keep her away from the others until she is old enough and then they become a family – mare, stallion and foal.

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How much actual choice is involved in these life decisions, and how much freedom do any of these horses actually feel? They are more free than Cleo living in domestic life with me, but they don’t have the security she has.

 

I don’t have the answers, only the questions.

 

What I find most interesting are the feelings underlying the questions. How much freedom can any one of us feel while enjoying the quality of life that comes with community, relationship and partnership.

 

Every day I thank my horses, Cleo and Myrnah and Zohari, for helping me think about it. They make my life better, and I hope I do the same for them.

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair

 

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

Love it, or Change it

 

What I do with horses is Freedom Based Training.

 

We all, horses and people alike, instinctively reach for freedom. Freedom is our ability to be unique and individual and reach out to live a life that suits us.

 

Training is also part of every day life because training is simply the development of habits. I believe habits form regardless of intention, and, if we can be conscious, then we can form the habits that may serve us. That consciousness and deliberation in training can at times feel restrictive and binding, yet, in a roundabout way, isn’t that more free than the alternative of creating habits randomly that perhaps do not serve us?

 

We are free to create the lives we want over time within the framework that life offers us developing one small habit at a time.

 

Watch your thoughts for they become words,
watch your words for they become actions,
watch your actions for they become habits,
watch your habits for they become your character,
watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

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Horses do not have words, they have movements – their movements become actions and actions become habits and habits become character and character becomes destiny.

 

I don’t know about you, but I want my horses to have the best destinies possible. I want them to feel their freedom and uniqueness of being and at the same time develop habits that serve them.

 

That is Freedom Based Training.

 

So we start with their thoughts… how do we know what a horse is thinking? We notice where they are looking.

 

I talked about this in a recent blog, Attention and Confidence

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is totally self-absorbed, ears relaxed and attention turned inward. As a skill, this is self-confidence.

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We know what it looks like when a horse is interested in their leader, ears and eyes following every movement the leader makes. This skill is confidence in the leader.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is watching the group, scanning from one individual to the next. This is confidence in the herd.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is watching and wanting to focus on and investigate all the objects and environmental variations around him. This is confidence in the environment.

 

We all know what it looks like when a horse is trying different things to get comfortable, the head coming up and down a little, the body adjusting left and right, the figuring out where in time and space one needs to be to get this right. That is confidence in learning.

 

Thoughts become actions (looking at something is an action) and this is where training starts.

 

If we can aim to build good habits in the action of attention, all the other actions follow that.

 

Here is the key: while all of us are individuals and long to be uniquely and freely ourselves, we also crave connection. We all seek someone who wants to do the things we want to do, we all want partners, we all want harmony and easy association with others around us.

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That feeling of ease between characters is dependent on the development of complementary habits.

 

I truly believe it is our nature to perpetually seek balance between our love of freedom and our love of connection.

 

Our intrinsic motivation to develop new habits or strengthen old ones (on the horse or human side of the equation) is based on one of those loves- freedom or connection… or can we have both?

 

It starts with Flow…. A harmony of being that sets the base line for this relationship. Most likely one of the partners in the relationship is going to have to voluntarily give up their freedom for a moment to match the other.

 

When I start with a horse I match them, I give up my wants and desires and just watch what they are watching and move how they are moving.

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Then, in order for my personal freedom to come into play, I have to ask the horse to do something I want to do. I have a choice, I can move towards a draw or a drive.

 

A draw is a suggestion, an option offered. I walk away and invite the horse to come with me, they can choose to or not.

 

If they give up their freedom for a moment and follow me, we have flow again. We are building habits that support deeper connection between the two of us.

 

If they ignore me completely they are exercising their freedom, but they are not developing reciprocal habits of connection. The horse in this case is in essence offering connection just on the horse’s terms; stand here with me and we are a team, do anything else and you are on your own.

 

Here is the challenge. Freedom and Connection are usually equally important, and I cannot get MORE connection by offering you MORE freedom. I can only get MORE connection by offering MORE connection. (I can often get better connection by offering you better freedom, but that is a nuance to explore in another blog). Simply- we get good at what we practice. Our actions become our habits.

 

Here is where drive comes up as an option. I am going to do something that is a direct request. My horse is going to feel pressure that increases until they do something that connects us more, and then they feel the release back into flow and partnership.

 

A halter and a lead line are a form of drive. I may be drawing away, but if they don’t follow me they will feel pressure until they make an effort to connect and do the thing I want to do.

 

Positive reinforcement training, best known recently as clicker training is a lovely sort of drive. The pressure the horse feels knowing you have a cookie to eat and he has none is eased, if he gives up his freedom for a moment and follows you, so that the cookie may be shared. That is drive.

 

In a more subtle drive, if I stare directly at my horse with all my focus and intensity and don’t give up, eventually the horse will do something. If that something is something I like, connecting us together, I reward it with Flow. A matching action of me looking in the same direction my horse is looking will be a preferable feeling for the horse. Repeat that enough times and you have a habit.

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We are changing our habits all the time, and we are reinforcing our habits all the time. We are, all of us, comfort-seeking missiles. Living in a world where we find comfort in two apparent opposites, connection and freedom, is a rich environment for learning and growth.

 

The greater variety of things my horse and I can do together the richer our life experience will be. The only way to grow our skills is through this dance of Flow, Drive and Draw.

 

We do what you love, then we do what I love, then we do what you love, then we do what I love… and then as habits become established, we find we love the same things… or we change again.

 

Love it or Change it, one small piece at a time.

 

Here is to Freedom and Connection. We really can have both, that is what Freedom Based Training is all about.

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Elsa Sinclair

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

 

Ps. If you want to learn more about Freedom Based Training, there is an internet based course in the development process right now that will be offered starting in September 2016. If you want to work with Elsa and Myrnah directly in this online format, email Elsa@TamingWild.com for more information or to get on the list of participants. We will be keeping the participating groups small and the format adaptable to the uniqueness of each horse/human pair.

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

Step and Wait

 

This evening I sat in the gravel against the side of the barn, tucked into the twilight shadow of Cleo. Her herd had left for pasture and the lush spring grass, and shortly after everyone left Cleo had come back, seemingly just to be with me.

 

I sifted gravel through my fingers and felt her nuzzle my cheek and blow in my hair. The weight of the world resting on us together for a moment, in this moment it was our world together.

 

My big bay Mustang mare, quiet of temperament, slow to find comfort, slow to reach out, slow to adjust to new situations – The deepest rivers flow with the least sound.

 

She is deep, so very deep, with a complex clarity of being I wish I more fully understood, as I wish I more fully understood my own complexity.

 

Myrnah seemed to choose me in her bold forthright manner, and taught me more than any horse I have every known as we did the project and made the movie “Taming Wild”.

 

Cleo and I ended up together almost by accident; in a torrent of events and amidst a sea of other stories, we found each other and fit together like matching puzzle pieces. We feel at home in each other’s complexity.

 

We both need time. Perhaps more time than anyone else can understand. We feel too much and drown in the currents of our emotions. We are capable and strong. We are intelligent and savvy.

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Our strength lies in our ability to wait.

 

There is a right time for everything, and waiting for that rightness is a skill.

 

I say in training all the time, it is not so much what you do…. It is when you do it. Timing is everything.

 

Take a step toward where you aim, and then wait.

 

Take a side step so you can see your aim from a different angle, and then wait.

 

Take a step back and see your goals from a different perspective, and then wait.

 

Step and wait, step and wait, step and wait.

 

I talked about this in the movie with Myrnah. Those still moments are where we feel safe. Those still moments are the moments that bond us together.

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When you find one of those still moments. Wait, and soak it in.

 

All together too soon life will flood your experience with a torrent of activity, energy, and chaos because that is life. It can be counted on to change perpetually and constantly.

 

Waiting is where we build our strength for our next step. Don’t worry, we can’t wait forever. We just need a little more time, a little more time to feel bonded and safe and together.

 

Here is the key.

 

Waiting is not about distraction. Waiting is about being in the moment. Waiting is about feeling every grain of sand slip through the hourglass – feeling time pass and being aware of when it is time to take the next step.

 

There is no hurry, but we do need to show up.

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I ride ten miles with Cleo every morning. We put aside three hours for this, even if I have to get her out of the pasture at four in the morning to take that kind of time. We don’t need three hours, but we need to think we have it if we want it. Cleo and I need time to build our strength, to feel our partnership, to be together.

 

I promise the book is being written, the online course that follows the movie is in development, there are clinics being planned, and a whole amazing community of people drawing together around the seed of the ideas that Myrnah planted for us in “Taming Wild”.

 

The steps keep getting taken, yet their power is in the waiting.

 

Cleo is helping me with that as she comes back to me and reminds me it’s OK to just be here, right now.

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I encourage you, try it out in your own life, with your horses, and with your partners.

 

Find your strength in your still moments.

 

Elsa Sinclair

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

 

 

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

Attention and Confidence

 

The last blog I wrote set off a wonderful train of events and brought up so many corresponding questions. There is always going to be something new ahead, the world is rich and full and we will never get it all done. However, there is something powerfully alive in being on the cutting edge of what we understand and watching it grow.

 

Leadership and Friendship I believe are two sides of the same coin and really we want both in balance and ever increasing detail with our horses. Both Leadership and Friendship have taken on some negative connotations in horse training. Some feel that, in an effort to be a leader, cruelty becomes condoned. Some feel, if you are a friend to your horses, they become spoiled and difficult and can never really trust or be trusted.

 

Perhaps in an effort toward positivity in this work we might rename these goals or attributes Trust and Companionship.

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I want to build ever more Leadership with my horses, and I believe that is the same thing as building ever more Trust with my horses.

 

I want to build ever more Friendship with my horses and I believe that is the same thing as building deeper and more bonding Companionship with my horses.

 

So how do we do that?

 

In my last blog “step for step, breath for breath,” I explored the idea of being willing to ask questions that might have “No” answers. Leadership comes from the ability to work through those “No” answers and turn them into “Yes.”

 

Moving from discord into harmony is a skill. When we can prove our ability to move the relationship from difficulty to peace, we prove our trustworthiness.

 

Unfortunately we have to touch that discord in order to prove we can be trusted to help life get better. We have to be willing to let life get a little messy in order to prove we can be trusted to bring the relationship back to comfort.

 

This takes some wisdom because there are some situations that are beyond our control. If we try to turn a “No” answer from our horse into a “Yes” and we fail, that doesn’t make us seem very trustworthy. That just turns into an unwinnable fight.

 

We have to have some wisdom about when to be a friend and offer companionship and understanding without changing anything; sometimes emotions are running too hot and too fast to be easily changed.

 

Sometimes we can step in with some pressure because we know a little change of perspective will make everything feel better and prove we can be trusted to lead the way out of discord into harmony.

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Both of these have equal value and I believe are two sides of the same coin.

 

Like a coin however, I think there are some other dimensions also.

 

There are five confidences I aim to continuously build in my relationships with horses. (Thank you to the Parelli organization for bringing these to my attention years ago)

 

  1. Confidence in Self
  2. Confidence in Leader
  3. Confidence in Herd
  4. Confidence in Environment
  5. Confidence in Learning

 

You can see these building by watching where the horse is looking; what are they thinking about?

 

We get better at what we pay attention to, and like most of us, horses tend to like paying attention to what they are already good at. Or, they pay attention to the thing they desperately need more skill with. The first builds confidence; the latter tends to be a day late and a dollar short. We can help them with that by encouraging them to pay attention to their weak skills in calm moments, in times of ease, when stress levels are low and emotions are running smoothly.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is totally self-absorbed, ears relaxed and attention turned inward. As a skill, this is self-confidence.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is interested in their leader. Ears and eyes following every movement the leader makes. This skill is confidence in the leader.

 

We know what it looks like when the horse is watching the group, scanning from one individual to the next. This is herd confidence.

 

We know what it looks like when the horse is watching and wanting to focus on and investigate all the objects and environmental variations around him. This is environmental confidence.

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We all know what it looks like when a horse is trying different things to get comfortable, The head coming up and down a little, the body adjusting left and right, the figuring out where in time and space one needs to be to get this right. That is confidence in learning.

 

Sometimes one confidence is so strong it makes up for others that are weak, like a blind person having greater perception in other ways to make up for lack of sight.

 

I believe though, the more we can build and encourage these skills in balance, the better quality of life a horse has.

 

We need to build the skill of leadership, because leadership is synonymous with trust. Our horses have to trust us if we are going to help them strengthen their weaknesses and become the best versions of themselves.

 

Asking our horses to pay attention to us and build confidence in us as a leader requires a sensitivity of timing.

 

Sometimes we need to just be a friend and companion, allowing them to pay attention to the confidence that feels most important to them in the moment.

 

Sometimes we need to put pressure on them to pay attention to something they would rather not, so they become stronger where they were once weak.

 

Here is where it gets interesting. This is a partnership – horses help us as much as we help them.

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How do we set it up so we notice where our attention is? We notice where their attention is, and together we strive to become stronger in a balanced way.

 

How do we learn when to push each other to try a little harder and when to just be good companions letting things be just as they are?

 

Here is to attention and confidence!

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair

 

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, 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.

Step for Step, Breath for Breath

 

This is my favorite part of being with horses, that time when we move as one being. Time and space enveloping and embracing us like a single being instead of two. This is the time I feel least alone in my life, and I find I crave this like nothing else.

 

Honestly, the faster we can go in this unity, the happier I am. The more energy I can feel flowing through us the better. At one point I thought it would be so much fun to be an exercise jockey for race horses. When I spoke about this in a dreamy youthful way to my trainer at the time, she asked me if I liked the shape of my nose? Hmmmm, yes? Why? Because, she explained, jockeys have a tendency to have their noses broken by young horses throwing their heads up and smashing their riders in the face with the tops of their heads.

 

And then my dream came crashing down to reality. Those young racehorses were not doing something they were comfortable doing, those young horses were being pushed to the point that they hurt people in their anxiety. That was a world I wanted no part of.

 

I crave unity. I crave the feeling of moving in harmony, step for step, breath for breath, to whatever degree of intensity I can find that still allows everyone to feel safe and comfortable.

 

I think horses crave this too.

 

When intensity comes at the cost of someone’s comfort though, that’s when beings start hurting each other. A line gets crossed from fun into anxiety, and how do anyone of us set a boundary before someone gets hurt? What is OK and what is not OK?

 

Here is where the subject becomes touchy.

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Leadership vs Friendship.

 

We all want to be our horse’s best friend. Those of us who want to work positively with our horses cringe a little at what we know gets done to horses in the name of “Leadership”.

 

This I believe was actually my biggest failure in my ongoing project with Myrnah. Yes the project was a huge success on the whole, but moving forward, this is the piece I would do better.

 

I don’t like asking for anything that might be answered “no”. The vulnerability of that position makes me feel the separateness of our beings in a painful way, when all I want is unity and harmony.

 

If you give me the right tool – bridle, whip, spur, carrot or grain pan – I can set the situation up so I am much more confident in getting a “yes” answer from my horse and unity stays intact.

 

If you take away all my tools (including food rewards), The probability of my horse saying “no” when I want to do something gets really high and actually frightening for me.

 

Here is the thing I do when I am frightened: I stop taking risks. Instead of asking for things, I just exist in whatever harmony I can find. If Myrnah wants to stand still, we stand still together for hours; if Myrnah wants to walk around, we walk around together; if she wants to drink water, we splash in the water trough together; if she wants to eat grass, I move with her from bite to bite in harmony and ease. If she wants to move faster than I am comfortable with, I get off and give her space. All of this is beautiful friendship, but it is not leadership.

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I find, after long days of working to be a good leader for my students and their horses, all I want from Myrnah is friendship. Step for step, breath for breath. I don’t want to be vulnerable anymore; I don’t want to practice being a leader; I don’t want to risk asking for things that she might say “no” to.

 

A great deal of time spent building friendship means Myrnah and I love being around each other; I think that time might be some of the best moments of our day. We crave each other’s company, and that is good!

 

I also find, when I don’t practice leadership with her, she becomes much less steady.

 

A leader is someone you trust. A friend is someone you like being with. The two, being a good friend and being a good leader, are separate skills.

 

When you have a leader and you have trust, you can do more things; you can step out of your comfort zone more. You find random events in life don’t frighten you as much because you have someone you can trust at your side.

 

I believe I have spent much more time with Myrnah building friendship than I have leadership, particularly in the years since filming the movie. The downfall of too much friendship and not enough leadership is over emotionality and sharp boundaries.

 

During the times I have been practicing being a better leader, I find Myrnah is more willing to try things and be positive about new experiences. I find she is less afraid of strange noises and shapes moving in the distance.

 

When I am a better leader I find she is more relaxed and adaptable.

 

So what does practicing leadership look like? It looks like setting goals that require you to take actions that might get “no” answers.

 

Good leaders find the space between failure and success, the space between yes and no answers, and take the risk to ask.

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Good friends spend time enjoying each other’s company without asking much at all.

 

Bad leaders ask a lot of questions with “no” answers. Bad leaders ask for too much too soon.

 

Good leaders don’t ask for too much, but they do dare to ask. Asking for things is what creates a leader. Asking for things builds trust. Asking for things builds stronger bonds and makes everyone feel safer.

 

I may crave step for step and breath for breath, I may crave harmony and unity and I may get all those things in friendship with Myrnah.

 

When intensity finds Myrnah and me, like the night a coyote appeared all of a sudden on the dark path in front of us and we found our hearts pounding in unison, flooding us with adrenaline, and putting us on edge, that was a moment I was glad for every bit of leadership I had ever practiced. We could face it calmly and wait for it to go on its way, even though we were out of our comfort zone.

 

Our boundary with the coyote was adaptable; there was no need to turn and bolt into the darkness away from it, but I could feel Myrnah wanting to. I could trust her to hold her ground and wait out the discomfort, but only barely. Those are the moments I vow to spend a little more of my time asking for things and being a good leader, and maybe a little less time just being with her as a good friend.

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Here is to finding the balance – friendship and leadership.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com