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Monthly Archives: March 2011

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.



I once heard a very amusing horseman share this, and it has stuck with me ever since.

You only need three things to train horses. The first, is patience. If you run out of the first thing, the second thing is… more patience. Then if you find you have run out of the first two most important things for training horses… the third thing you need… is more patience.

It often occurs to me, as I am walking through any relationship, how unbelievably patient we all need to be with each other. Part of the fun of a relationship is being unreasonable in our expectations. When someone asks me to do something I don’t think I can do,  I often find that, for them, I will try anyway. When I come out the other side of that challenge, I find myself bigger and better than I thought I could be. I think horses are the same. We ask things of them all the time that they are not sure they can do. Yet every time they do something new successfully, their self-confidence changes, hopefully for the better. What makes that change in confidence positive or negative? I believe the difference comes down to patience in the training process.

Wikipedia states:

“Patience is the level of endurance one’s character can take before negativity. It is also used to refer to the character trait of being steadfast.”

Parelli talks of the three stages of learning: Mental, Emotional, Physical. First we must mentally understand the task, then we must become emotionally comfortable with it, then we can physically develop what we learned.

Mentally: We ask a horse to try something new with pressure, release and reward. If we get the timing right, they mentally understand the task.

Emotionally: To build skill we need to have the fortitude to practice. The patient repetition, is the art of practice. Emotional stamina, or patience, is essential in building a skill.

Physically: Once a skill is comfortable, only then can we build or improve on it.

Without patience to develop skill, we often end up seeking more excitement than we are ready for, attempting to add challenge after challenge on top of new, barely learned, skills. This leads to the stress of too much challenge and not enough skill.

All this came to mind as a necessary balance after the last blog I wrote. I wrote about limited available time, and speeding up the process of relationship building and bonding between horse and rider.… In an ideal situation, I think I wouldn’t try to speed this up; I would just take the time it takes. I would be fully patient with the process, building relationship simply out of attention and attraction.

However, I have set this up as a year long challenge for myself, so there is the desire to move training along with some efficiency. As well as perhaps a slight addiction to pushing myself out of my comfort zone and making things just a little more challenging than my skill level, giving me the excitement of having to grow faster.

Having admitted my tendency to impatience, I would like to make every effort to balance my push for progress with staying grounded in a commitment to meditative, patient practice.

Parelli suggests the guidelines of 80% consistency, 20% variety. I like that idea. For every 20% of the time I play with speeding up the process, I need a balancing 80% spending time simply getting comfortable with what we already know.

This project I believe will let me know loud and clear when I need more patience. This horse will need to be truly comfortable with the skills we develop together. If this horse gets uncomfortable or impatient, there is not much stopping him from walking away. Pure and simple, I will need to hone my patience in order to develop my horse’s patience.

If we can have the patience to build skill one solid step at a time, then everyday we will find ourselves living within a larger playground of skills.

Sounds like fun to me 😉

Elsa Sinclair

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.



Developing the bond


I wrote about Attention, Attraction and Emotion a few weeks back. Now I want to look closely at the beginning baby steps of emotion- creating a bond between this horse and myself.


When the new mustang arrives on the project in August, Attention and Attraction will be where it all starts. That is, I believe, the first piece of the puzzle. Then the question becomes: how then do we build the emotional bond between horse and rider?


Once I use attention to draw the horse to me (attraction), I would then, in the conventional approach, put the halter on. As that is not part of this plan, the question the horse might ask becomes: now that I am here, why do I want to stay with you? If I leave why would I want to come back?


In an ideal world the answer would be: because we are partners, a herd of two, and it feels natural and comfortable to be together. The more time we spend together the more of a habit it becomes to be close and the more of a bond we develop.


In an ideal world I would go with that answer and take the time it takes to develop that kind of a pure bond with my horse.


In the world I live in, I don’t have that kind of time. My time must be divided between many responsibilities each day. So how can a close bond form within the constraints of my available time?


Often people will use a rope or stick or fence line to add pressure when the horse chooses to leave, so that way there is a stark contrast when the horse remains bonded and attentive to their human partner- it feels safer and easier than the alternative. Without rope or stick, and a desire to leave all the fence lines out of this conversation… I must look for other solutions.


I considered keeping the horse by itself, ensuring the relationship I offered would appear that much more valuable. That idea was quickly discarded. This horse needs to offer me partnership, not be forced into it by desperation for companionship. So, if this horse will have a herd to live in, it has companionship, partners and a family already. Why would it want to join up with me?


In the interests of time, here is one idea I have come up with. In the wild environment, resources such as food and water are claimed first by the leaders in a herd, shared with the others when the leaders are ready to share. I believe that is an aspect of natural life I can take advantage of. While I don’t have the time to impress this horse with my leadership qualities just by the power of my personality, I do have opposable thumbs well suited to opening and closing access to food and water.


I am aiming to keep this process as natural as possible, therefore, I must keep food available at all times. A horse’s stomach is designed to be digesting food all the time. Even when there is no food, the stomach continues to produce stomach acid, which in the absence of food can create ulcers, a common problem in domestic horses. In the wild there may not be much to eat, but there is always something to browse on. In my endeavor to keep things natural I will make sure this horse has access to slow feeders with simple grass hay 24 hours a day.


That leaves me with water. In the wild, water is something that is traveled to. It isn’t always available. If I put myself in the position of being the herd leader that brings the horses to water a few times a day, I believe I may be able to speed up the bonding process. I also can be the one to bring them to salt, minerals, and supplements- nourishment that is special, above and beyond the simple forage always available.


So my plan is to start with attention, build to attraction, then develop the bond between us as I consistently show the horses my leadership is something well worth having.

It’s exciting thinking about all this: within one year of training, using only the pressure my comparatively small body can wield,  to somehow convince a horse completely new to the world of humans, that I am a leader worth following, and a partner worth exploring the world with.


However much we do or do not achieve together over this year of experimental training, I think the process will be a life changing one, for both of us.


Elsa Sinclair

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.

When time gets full, and seems more work than play. I start looking for inspiration. This week’s blog is just a little fun. A visual inspiration. I want my life with horses to be this much fun…. More play, less work 😉

Elsa Sinclair



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.


I think it’s time for a story. Where I am today is due in large part to the phenomenal teachers I have had along my path. My human teachers have, of course, helped me immeasurably; however, it’s the horses I feel I need to write about first.

I have heard it said. “Words don’t teach, experiences teach.” A hard concept to swallow when I, in daily practice, am a teacher utilizing words to school my students. If indeed I believe that concept to be true, all I can do is use my words to set up opportunities for life to be experienced in new and enlightening ways.

Horses are the pure experience, without the words. They are the ultimate teachers of horsemanship.

This story is about Zohari: a horse who could never say no to me, a horse who gave me everything he could give everyday, a horse who gave so much of himself away that he lost all self-confidence and propelled me into the world of Natural Horsemanship. When he lost his courage, I was told I should sell him and start again with a new horse. Instead I chose the path less traveled and became a new person to partner my horse who needed a new start himself.

Zohari stands sixteen hands tall, with the lightness of his Arabian sire, the strength of his Westphalian grandsire, and the lanky build of his Thoroughbred granddam.

Zohari’s sire, Zorro, was bred to a Wesphalian Thoroughbred mare named Harmony. Zorro had been entrusted into my family’s care when I was young. My mother eventually couldn’t stand to see him kept alone, as stallions are in the world of captivity, so, to improve the quality of his life, he was given a couple of mares, the family he had never had. Harmony was one of those mares: a well bred Warmblood whose overall form had not met the expectations of her breeder. Passed from home to home, she had ended up with us. I had my apprehensions about breeding her; my mother knew it was the right thing to do. Again, I have to admit, she was correct. Zohari pulled out of his gene pool all the best traits and put them together with a harmony his dam had managed only in her name. Zohari was beautiful.

Perhaps Zohari’s emotional tendency to apprehension started when he was born. That night Harmony was still in the pasture with Zorro, the stallion. They were great friends, however, Zorro, had never seen a foal born, and with no one around but them that night, his curiosity and interest in the baby drove Harmony to be intensely overprotective. Not allowing her foal away from her chest and protectively bared teeth, he was unable to nurse, and she kept him moving away from the stallion as much as she was able until we arrived in the morning to put things to rights. Once we took the stallion away, she settled, let her baby nurse, and proved to be a wonderful mother.

Zohari, was a dear sweet foal, but never the bravest. All the babies we had had up to that point had enjoyed going out on the trails loose to travel alongside their mothers and explore the world. Zohari joined his mother for one trail ride only, and then decided that was enough for him. From that point on when we would take Harmony to the barn and out on the trail, Zohari would contentedly say goodbye at the edge of the herd and stay with the other horses until she returned. He always seemed composed and accepting of whatever happened around him. Weaning was smooth, and he became part of the boys herd with his brother and sire. The three of them led their coltish existence happily, though I am not sure Zohari ever realized he was substantially bigger than his sire and older brother. When they played he would give ground more of the time than not.

I started Zohari under saddle at three, smoothly and easily. When he had his basics, we began Three Day Event training. He was powerful over fences and hated to touch the rails, so he jumped clean and easy. I was in heaven and thought I had won the lottery. We galloped round a beginning novice course when he was four and, though he hesitated at every fence, when I asked him, he always said yes. His natural tendency to obedience made Dressage patterns a joy to train. His hyper carefulness of rails made stadium jumping feel safe and fun.

Our trainer at the time suggested it was time to get him jumping height, while he was still young enough to think he was invincible. She said he wasn’t really strong enough to jump four foot fences easily, so the idea was to gallop at them so fast that our momentum would carry us over. It was thrilling, and, if I said go, he did his very best. The winter he was four we did an indoor jumper show, showing at three foot six and three foot nine. The warm-up arena was so crowded it felt like entering the freeway at sixty miles per hour. You had to see your spot in the ring coming, and jump from halt to trot to get in. Zohari rose to the challenge and did everything I asked. This was to be our first experience jumping indoors. The sight of the solid walls behind every fence backed Zohari off significantly. He jumped the course slowly, and with such hesitation that everyone in the stands was sitting on the edges of their seats, clucking encouragement as we approached each fence. For me, and for them, he jumped them all, in spite of his apprehension.

The year Zohari turned five, everything changed. He had tried his heart out for me. I was ambitious and no matter how hard he tried, I always wanted more. Little by little he started showing his apprehension more obviously. Spooking at objects and leaping away from things became daily occurrences. I rode with a strong hand and a strong leg, with the aim to get him more focused on me and less concerned with the world around him. I tried spurs and drop nosebands and different bits to gain control over him and his fears. One day, headed out to the trails, he finally could take no more. We were traveling down the shoulder of a country road. Something bothered him and I tried to push him past. Instead of giving over to my strong leadership as he had in the past, he reared straight up and spun around, bolting for home. There was nothing I could do to slow or turn him. As we galloped flat out down the yellow line in the middle of the road I tried every trick I had, to no avail. Only once we had reached the safety of the barn would he slow. I was shaken and I don’t remember much after that, though knowing me, I am sure I lead him back out there, along that road on foot, with me in control on the ground, and I imagine I was not kind to him in my desperation to feel safe. From then on it went from bad to worse. The far end of the arena became an area to bolt from; every spook threatened to take us all the way back to the barn. Our riding gradually became limited to the side of the arena closest to the barn while I worked determinedly to build control back into our relationship.

At about this time, my wonderful mother did something extreme. She felt our horses needed a more natural life, and she informed us all there were to be no more bits in the horse’s mouths, and no more shoes on their feet. It was up to all of us to figure out how to make that work. I struggled on with conventional training for a time, attempting to do my dressage and gain control of my explosive horse with only a sidepull hackamore. Eventually, I had to admit it wasn’t getting any better. I had to find a different way.

Sus Kellogg came to my rescue. I was willing to try anything at that point. I was not willing to give up on Zohari, and I was frustrated that everything I had learned up to that point was not helping us. Sus insisted I quit riding for awhile and develop the ground work. I wanted to know how long it would take to complete this magic Natural Horsemanship stuff so I could go back to my Three Day Eventing and reclaim the Zohari I had known before he turned five. All Sus would tell me was in three months I would be really pleased with our progress.

Those first three months were rough going. Zohari was afraid and reactive to everything. I was frustrated and wanted to hurry the process along. Nonetheless, we took a day at a time and did the best we could. When we started riding, Sus insisted I ride bareback as much of the time as I could. I hated it. Zohari was always abruptly slamming on the breaks throwing me onto his withers, or scooting left or right leaving me to grab desperately on with my knees. The loose reins of freestyle riding seemed absurdly challenging on a spooky horse… yet, the process worked its magic, and, little by little, Zohari found his stability. When a horse makes a deliberate choice to be your partner, it’s a different feeling. I will never forget the day I was riding Zohari bareback and started to slide a little to one side. Instead of getting rattled as he would have before, he steadied, and hunkered down to step underneath me, putting me squarely up on top again. A movement so deliberate and focused, was something I had never felt from any horse.

I have loved this horse from day one, yet this was an action I had never expected from him. While he had always tried to do what I asked of him, taking the initiative to look out for me was a whole different world. It proved to me this was a way of being with horses that, once tasted, I couldn’t get enough of.

Over the next few years we developed our partnership to include liberty work and bridleless polocrosse. Jumping and trail riding with a whole different perspective: one of building his confidence, not just getting the job done. Passing our level three Parelli assessment test allowed us to revisit dressage with a whole new sensitivity. Performing in front of large crowds challenged us to new levels of confidence. Step by step Zohari and I grew into new versions of ourselves, and I am forever grateful to him.

Elsa Sinclair