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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.


The Balance between Independence and Community

I walk this line every day, and every day I question my right to travel on one side or the other.

The extreme of independent thinking- I want what I want, when I want it. Joy needs no justification.

The extreme of community thinking- Is everyone happy? What can I do to make everyone happier?

However, the two extremes can only exist together. A happy community is made up of happy individuals. We serve our community by taking care of ourselves, hopefully in a way that is in balance with a thriving community.

I live in a community of horses. Some days the push and pull of community versus individual seems brutal and difficult to balance.

Just like anyone, horses want to feel safe and comfortable and happy. Left to their own individual choices, that would include a herd life with plenty of food and water and wide open spaces where they could see the world and know they were safe from predators. They would enjoy interaction with others, maintaining their freedom of choice to walk away when they didn’t feel like playing.

Horses, however, live in a state of slavery to people. There are too many of them to run wild and do as they please. If people are going to spend their resources feeding and caring for horses, horses need to, in turn, become community minded about the world of people.

Yesterday I taught a two-year-old Gypsy colt to pull a travois of poles in preparation for pulling a cart; I taught a two-year-old Gypsian colt to be comfortable and relaxed having his ears clipped; I taught a two-year-old Mustang filly how to trot alongside my car to travel from one pasture to another. Thanks to halters and ropes I was able to progress these horses through the learning process of their challenges with incredible efficiency.

Any one of those three youngsters would have preferred to graze on the lawn and just be easy and relaxed in my company. They would have enjoyed playing with small challenges I gave them, so long as the rewards were sufficiently matched to the degree of difficulty. That would be a fun balance between their individual desires and the natural desire to interact in community.

People, though, always want more. So I find myself forever pushed to push the horses out of their individual mind set and into being more and more community minded. If they can learn the habits of being easy and soft and willing to do whatever is asked of them, there is a better chance they will be taken care of. The better they are taken care of, the happier and safer they will feel.

I can logically justify the training I do as a good thing. I can use pressure and release to cause horses to learn to take care of themselves in a community-minded way throughout whatever challenges might come up, sharing their lives with people.

Every day though, it kills me a little to see how horses are kept, even horses that work hard to be community minded and are lovely and easy to work with. They are locked in small stalls where they can’t move around, or kept in paddocks with mud up to their ankles, or they are kept in dry gravel paddocks with nothing soft to lie down on. They are kept in isolation, or in groups in spaces not large enough to get away from bad tempered horses.

This morning I watched a video of something different: horses being cared for like horses might choose to be cared for, the horse’s individual nature valued more in balance with human’s needs for them to perform, 320 acres to roam, family, stability, security, and people to play with in a fun relaxed environment.

I wish I could give that kind of life to my horses… Someday perhaps…for now, though, in an effort to keep everyone fed, and the quality of life as high as possible here and now, we will continue to walk the middle road: letting horses teach humans and humans teach horses, riding with halters instead of bits, using stiff sticks instead of stinging whips, endeavoring to use psychology instead of force. Someday, perhaps, we will lose the halters and sticks too and still be able to satisfy people’s individual desires in community with horses.

I understand both sides of the equation- I am human and I too always want more. I dream of jumping four-foot fences and galloping cross-country, doing piaffe and passage and intricate obstacle courses at speed. I wrestle with my sense of justice to the horse. How much pressure would it take to get us to that level of skill together. Is that pressure justified? Or selfish?

So I will continue to weigh the balance between what I personally want, and what my community of horses might like. I will continue to weigh the cost of living for our herd and what kind of pressure they need to gracefully accept in order to earn their keep.

This project with the new mustang in August is an experiment of balance between the horse’s individual desires and mine. No tools: only the pressure the horse and I can put on each other, individual to individual in an attempt to build community together. If we can bond our individualism into community, what then can we do together, the horse choosing to engage in the tasks in equality with the rider?

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Elsa,
    Yes, and I can justify your training too because my horses are happier! I used to say they are getting smarter but it is I who is becoming more aware. They always were. They are relieved of the “clutter” we humans must live with.
    Truly I am learning that sometimes we really DON’T have to understand everything. We just have to trust in ourselves and the process and then “get out of the way” of the results. It takes a very self-confident horse and a self-confident person to take those steps. But what glorious fun and awareness!

  2. Elsa,
    I’ve been considering this for several days, rethinking my own independence, compared to the needs of the Equine community. Very provocative, as usual!;) Michael

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