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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One trainer, No tools, Just body language.

The Goal:

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

“Elsa’s Herd”

The plan is to adopt a new Mustang. A wild horse, fresh off the range, as natural and untouched as is possible. I have an idea of what it might look like  to develop a riding partnership with a horse, using only body language, no tools of force. I would like to test the validity of my hypothesis with a partner who has not yet been habituated to human requests. A partner who will act like a horse and give me responses untainted by previous human interaction. A horse that will act like a horse, and respond as a horse would respond, unfettered by any previous understandings of human expectation.

The original plan was to spend a year building up to this. Write, meditate, and walk through potential processes with horses that do already know me. Ease myself into this challenge with the help of horses that already trust and respect me. With some careful thought about the process of documentation, I am leaning toward starting the process earlier. Basing plans on my projected year of documentation, if I start with my new Mustang partner in August, then I have some beautiful fall weather to take pictures, and video of the very beginnings. Following that, I will have the winter to work slowly and thoughtfully between rain storms. Perhaps by spring I will have built a strong connection and be ready to make the most of the glorious spring and summer weather in the San Juans with my new Mustang partner.

That leaves me with six months left to prepare, play, and contemplate the challenge. This blog entry is about a few of the horses who are doing their best to educate me.

Four mares live outside my front door. In the summer our horses have the run of a hundred acres of pasture. They live in a marvelous herd of almost twenty horses and life is good. In the winter, those pastures mostly flood, and become waterlogged and fragile where they are not flooded. So the horses are separated off into smaller herds of compatible horses, and kept on gravel and sand closer to home, waiting for summer to come around again. I know they miss their freedom and family life, but selfishly I love having them close.

These four mares are dear to me, and are incredible fun to develop ideas with. They greet me when I come out the front door in the morning, and they kiss me goodnight at the end of the day. When I can’t sleep they let me curl up in the hay manger and nuzzle me between bites of hay. When I am teaching students, they help me with endless patience, and are always interested in whatever might happen next. They are as individual as any four people you might spend time with, and when I have a new training idea to try out, each one of them gives me a different perspective to think about.

Saavedra is my Mustang mare I wrote about two weeks ago. She is my girl. My number one equine partner. She is my current Levels Horse for the Parelli process. She is my demonstration horse. She is my mount when I teach. She is my best friend. She stretches me to learn all the time. She is independent, and dominant. She is so confident in herself, she is a leader within the herd. Yet, she is a skeptic, and often lacks confidence in the new or unexpected. Often I will find the other three horses in the sheds eating hay, and Saavedra will be out in the woods by herself. She was wild, she doesn’t need sheds, or people, or confined spaces. She is self sufficient. If things get stressful, she will drive all the others out of the sheds too, take them all out to the woods, try to convince them they are all better off away from confinement.

Because of my life being full and busy, I love having a horse who seems as happy to see me as not. Who likes to play, but doesn’t seem to need it. It used to be, when she saw me, she would look me over and if I invited her, she might come see me, or not, depending on her mood. We were partners in an independent sort of way. When I would ask her to do something she would expend the least amount of effort necessary, and yet somehow show me she had so much untapped talent. Power and beauty she might express if I asked her just right, maybe. For me she is perfect, I have to earn her partnership. She makes it clear she doesn’t have to do as I ask, she does it because she chooses to. She makes me work for it, and when we get it right together, there is an incredible thrill I think we both feel.

This last few weeks, as I have been playing with her more without any tools, and exploring new ideas with her, she has dramatically shown more and more desire to meet me at the gate and ask me what took me so long to get there. There is a whole new dimension to our relationship blossoming with unexpected momentum.

Antheia is the youngest member. A mustang as well. Only a year old, but she is a horse beyond her years. I met her at the Oregon State Fair last year. She was in a pen with three other Mustangs up for adoption, brought up from the BLM facility in Burns OR. Antheia is a simple grey color, less flashy and eye catching than the others were in that pen. Yet, to me, she was the one that caught my eye. There is a steadiness about her. Like nothing rattles her. She isn’t dull, just too intelligent to be easily shaken. She always seems completely in the moment, soaking everything in with no thought of yesterday or tomorrow. She gives you her full attention; when you are with her, there is no one else. When I am with her, I always feel special. Those days at the fair I spent hours by her pen. I knew I shouldn’t take her home, I didn’t need another horse, and even as I filled out my adoption papers I explained to Gary, the man in charge, I was only taking her home with me if no one else stepped forward to give her a home. Fate was my ally. I came out of my last halter class with a ferry to catch and very little time. Antheia was still without a home, so I told Gary she could come home with me if she got in the trailer within the next ten minutes. She did. I think she actually may have loaded more quietly and simply than the other two youngsters we had brought to show. She traveled with a wisdom far beyond her age and experience. She unloaded to spend the night on Orcas Island, then loaded into a different trailer without fanfare the next day to come home to San Juan with me. She is young and fresh and keen about everything, while maintaining a Zen like intelligence. She is probably the easiest horse I have ever spent time training. When I ask her to do things, I feel she would do anything for me, yet, she will look deep into my eyes and let me know I had better have a good reason for asking. Everything means something to her, and everything I do with Antheia, I feel she is soaking up and remembering. No moment is ever lost on her.

Maharrah is the newest member of our herd. An Arabian mare I fell in love with years ago when I was teaching in Portland, Oregon. Be careful what you wish for, as you may get it. In the fall of 2010, Maharrah’s rider, a young girl, decided she was ready to move on to other focuses in life. Maharrah was part of their family, and how do you sell a family member. They contacted me in search of the perfect home for Maharrah and I found myself desperately wanting to be that home. The pieces fell into place when my daughter, Cameron, needed to let her horse go for the winter. She had been sharing him with his primary rider, Megan, an eighteen-year-old girl. Cameron was heart broken to lose her partner, Shahan. I saw the opportunity to invite Maharrah into our life, and let Cameron, for the first time, have a horse of her own. Maharrah is hot, a classic Arabian, chiseled head and swan like neck. Moves like a dancer, with balance and rhythm. Unlike most Arabs I have known, she has very little spook, Her attention seems to be hyperfocused. She notices everything and it seems that little can surprise her. She is sensitive and light and can leap about as life seems sometimes unbearably exciting to her. Yet, she settles quickly, and is far more sensible than you expect such a sensitive mare to be. She likes being close, but not too close, there is a palpable bubble around her, as though her body takes up more space than its physical dimensions. She is alert and sensitive and light on her feet, and somehow solid and steady too.

Savannah. A conundrum to describe. She is also a chestnut, Arab mare, like Maharrah, and yet vastly different. She was a rescue case for us years ago. A mare for whom opposition was the first answer to everything. When we started riding her, in the days before understanding horse psychology and Natural Horsemanship, if you asked her to go forward, she would slam on the brakes and grind to a halt with ears pinned, push her and the bucking would begin. Many devoted students poured time and love into her, and little by little she blossomed into the interesting convoluted character she is. She loves to be treated like a princess, loves the coziness of a stall. She will always enjoy a cup of tea with you- quite literally loves to be brought a bucket of warm water to drink. Loves people so long as they are polite (when a little girl met her the other day and walked right to the shoulder to stroke it, Savannah let out a squeal and a stomp. I had to explain that Savannah would prefer you approach with hand outstretched to be smelled before stroking.) She likes to be in the vicinity of horses and can be quite herd bound, but doesn’t want to be too close. She travels with the herd almost as a satellite member. When cornered, she can be quite aggressive in her actions. She feels a good offense is the best defense. She is not dominant, just extremely defensive in protection of herself. To ride now, she is the lightest, softest partner. You can open any gate from her back, and she loves to head out in the lead with confidence down any trail. Unfortunately, her strong self-defense and lack of tact with other horses led to some lower leg injuries this past summer.  As of now she is just starting to come sound at the walk, so her days of heading out on the trails are temporarily suspended and she is spending time working quietly with me. She is excellent at letting me know, in her very opinionated way, exactly how polite she thinks I should be as I develop and test out my liberty training ideas.

Thank goodness for such wonderful teachers. While I have many many helping me develop through this phase of the project, these four mares are my active herd. I am counting on them to help me sort through and evolve my ideas of liberty training .  They know me, they trust me, and they respect me already. For the next six months, I will work with them both under saddle, using the usual tools, and also through the liberty processes I hope to utilize with my new partner.

Savannah perhaps has the freedom to stay working with me strictly at liberty as she heals from her injuries. The other three will be doing double duty as my working partners, helping me teach the methods in which I am already confident; and also working as my partners is experimental science. Helping me expand the possibilities currently at play in the world of horse training.

Thank you to all the horses and people in my life who expand who I am everyday.

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Elsa…I met you through Lillan…I am so excited to see this project and can’t wait to hear the reports of progress…your mare, Saavedra, reminds me of my gelding…I will follow this project!

    • Welcome Brendan, I am incredibly excited to share this project with everyone as I go along. It will be interesting to see if any of my revelations with Saavedra are things that correlate for you and your gelding who seems similar. My blog posts are whatever pulls most at my attention that week, and just an overview of my thoughts at best. If there is ever anything you are more curious about, please ask. Talking about what I am thinking often clarifies my thoughts in my own head. So don’t be shy. 😉 Elsa

  2. Knowing Maharrah gets to live with you has made letting go of her graceful. Thank you for everything. We can’t wait to come visit this summer.
    : )

    • Thank you for Maharrah, and your welcome…. we take good care of her everyday and are glad she is with us. 🙂

  3. This gets more and more fun! While gently garbing the solid concepts of becoming a herd member, thinking like a prey animal, and yet being that creature that drops from trees, so the first to be distrusted. But you have crossed that bridge—I have seen your herd’s love for you as you show more of you to them. What an incredible idea, Thanks for sharing this with us! 😉 Love, Michael

    • I like the idea that I have “crossed that bridge” but I think it is more likely I have crossed only one bridge of many many ahead 🙂 It’s all about the journey though… That’s the fun of it all….

  4. Marvellous descriptions of your four mares, great characters!
    I wonder whether it will get confusing for you once in a while, once you will have started working with your new mustang totally at liberty, while with your other horses you will keep on using tools? That would require quite a lot of ‘swithing’ in your mind I guess?
    Just pondering a bit on that ;-).

    • It will be interesting Marja, so far it isn’t confusing, just a constant puzzle. Every time I am doing something with tools, there is a little voice in the back of my head asking… how would you develop that skill without tools? It’s a good brain teaser…

  5. This is magick to read I am so ready to go back out to my trouble making mustanges and keep working with their personalities. Even if I have no idea what to do with my horses, these blogs just show spending time and love with them may produce good happy horses.

    • Jen, I agree, time, love and attention will work wonders…. One of these days I am going to pull together the step by step process I intend to follow with the new mustang and make it a blog entry. My mares are still debugging the process for me though, so not quite ready to put it down in bold print yet. Once I do though, perhaps you can play with the process on your mustangs too and see what you think?

        • Jen
        • Posted February 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm
        • Permalink

        I think this sounds amazing. I read this and went out my “herd” and we had fun, troubles, but ended with a good note. I really look forward to reading more.

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