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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.



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


  1. Interesting thoughts Elsa. I read your post a few times to let it ‘sink in’.

    Why would a horse want to stay with us, or come back to us after they have left? I think horses ‘know’ in a subconscious way that horses and humans have to offer each other values they can’t develop without each other and which can enhance their existing qualities. Horses can teach humans about sensitivity, social behaviour, awareness, consciousness, and humans can offer horses lessons about developing their consciousness to a higher level. For instance learning to deal with their instincts in a domesticated world where these instincts aren’t always useful anymore.
    The outcome can be a ‘1 + 1 = 3’ partnership . I think both horses and humans know/feel they can lift each other to a higher level somehow, and this is in my belief what attracts them to each other and makes them want to be together. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that this attraction and bonding process is easy and doesn’t take any effort. On the contrary, both species have to develop all kinds of new qualities in themselves to enable this bond to grow, and perhaps that’s the beautiful part of it all!

    “So how can a close bond form within the constraints of my available time?”
    I think by making sure that the time you do have with your horse, even if it’s just two minutes, is 100% for your horse, without any distractions. The bond will perhaps grow more slowly when you have little time to spend together, but that doesn’t mean the bond won’t be deep. Carolyn Resnick always says that it’s important to let these processes develop very slowly. The slower, the more stable and consistent the outcome will be.

    I’m sure food is a very valuable tool in the bonding process with a horse. I too have found food to be very useful, not to ‘bribe’ them, but to keep them motivated and interested in what we have to offer them. It can be as easy as walking by the pasture together and giving access to that pasture for just a few minutes, to show the horse I am acting in its best interest. This ‘eating together’ develops the bond even more.

    “So my plan is to start with attention, build to attraction, then develop the bond “
    I believe the order of things is not a very strict thing, but so far – in my own experience – developing the bond by just sharing territory, without any strings attached, is the most important foundation to build upon and return to again and again. This uncomplicated and unconditional bond provides a good basis for asking a horse’s attention later on in the process. But well, this is my personal experience, and I’m sure there are lots of different experiences and ways to reach the same goal.

    Thanks for sharing, you make me think about all this and I find that very valuable!

    • Your welcome, Thank you also for sharing your perspective. I worry I won’t have enough time to build this bond as slowly as I would like… but I think perhaps that worry is groundless if I really give my 100% when I am with them as you suggest. Thanks for your thoughts. Elsa

      • The beautiful thing about developing the bond between you and your horse is that it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t worry about the amount of time it will take to build a deep bond, because whether you want the process to develop slowly or quickly, the bonding process will take care of itself anyhow. I.m.o. the only thing you can and should do is really BE with your horse 100% and then let nature (or ‘the universe’, or God) decide how much time it will take for this unique human-horse combination to grow a deep bond. It’s my belief and experience that the more we worry about our lack of time, the slower the bond will develop, because as long as we’re worrying we’re not with our horse 100%.

      • That is a really beautiful point. Definitely one for me to keep in mind. Thanks Marja

  2. Elsa,
    As we have discussed, trust, respect, love…and leave them wanting more. I have gotten horses to be more reactive by walking up, letting them sniff, saying “Hi” and then walking off. They always want to spend more time with me the next time. Eventually, they are following me to see,’Just what is this critter up to, that’s more important than US?’ Satisfying curiosity is a herd leader technique that crosses over. And you are fantastic to envision this, and now, carry and LEAD it through. Good, great luck! Michael 😉

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