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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 New Mustang

Right now there are about 375 mustangs in the pens in Burns Oregon, all available for adoption. This Chestnut filly is two years old and has been there since December of 2009. I don’t know how old she was when the photos were taken. What  I do know is, if I had the time, the money and the space I would take her home with me in an instant, her and too many others… These are phenomenal horses. Regardless of how wonderful they are though, there is only one of me, and I have only the same twenty-four hours a day as everyone else.

So here I am, working my way into a project I hope will make the most of my daily hours. While I cannot adopt all the horses in the world, perhaps I can inspire people to connect with them in ever more enjoyable and satisfying ways.

Horses cause me to grin like nothing else I know. My time with them each day lightens whatever weight the rest of life has laid on my shoulders. If I can facilitate that connection for anyone else, I feel my time has been well spent.

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. ”
— Martha Graham

Perhaps this mustang project is a piece of my expression, my vitality, my addition to the world.

Beautiful words aside, the practicality of this project is starting to come into focus. Challenges and reservations are coming to the surface to be considered. I find myself wondering how I ever thought bringing yet another horse into my life was a good idea.   My foremost partner is my Mustang mare, Saavedra. My two-year-old Mustang, Antheia, is my up-and-coming, brilliant, school horse… She has the perfect temperament to educate people with grace and fun; however, she is still just a youngster and will be my partner for a long time to come before she is expected to take on a teaching role. My two-year-old, Gypsy gelding, Lir, is just passing through my life learning how to pull a cart with me and learning how to play all those games people like to play. He is for sale, though so lovely to work with I can’t help hoping he doesn’t sell too soon. My mother and I maintain a teaching program with the help of six wonderful Arabian horses. My daughter has an Arabian mare, my mother has two Warmblood geldings, and then we have six more horses who come with their riders, back to our pastures in the summer bringing our numbers up to eighteen- well, twenty when you count the two retired geldings also.

I feel compelled by this idea, inspired by this project. I can’t wait to turn the page and see what happens next. Then the numbers give me pause: twenty horses is a large number, am I insane to add yet another horse? These are not just horses, these are my family. How big does my family need to get?

I considered letting Antheia fill the role of my project mustang, suspending her training with ropes and sticks and halters and letting her learn only in complete freedom for the next year. It would be easier to work with a horse to whom I am already committed, and yet somehow that doesn’t seem like the project I set out to do. The challenge I was interested in was a horse untouched by human training, a horse who could start at the beginning with me- a beginning without any tools of dominance.

I spoke on the phone this week with Tara at the Burns, Oregon Bureau of Land Management facility. At this point they do not have any funding for gathering new mustangs. If funding comes through, the herd areas of Three Fingers and Jackies Butte will be brought in, most likely in August. Then it will be four to six weeks before those horses are available for adoption. I find myself thinking… if the horse I am adopting for this project has been in the paddocks for six weeks, it isn’t exactly fresh off the range anymore. That changes the feel of the project, though it looks as though there is nothing I can do about that.

I would like to have a horse with as little previous contact with humans as possible, yet still at least three years old so that riding can be part of our experimental training year together. The next consideration would be male or female: A stallion will be hard to keep in the natural setting of a herd, I certainly do not want to breed any more horses at this point. A horse recently gelded seems a rough start to trusting humans. So that rules out the boys. A mare will most likely be pregnant if she is directly off the range. If I am questioning adding one horse to my family, I really don’t need a two-for-one deal. I don’t know though, is that just a risk I have to take to do this project from the fresh start I had in mind?

Scenario one: I pick a mare from the horses that have been in the pens long enough to know she isn’t pregnant. She is more adapted to people than I had hoped, yet, she is physically the best horse for the project.

Scenario two: I pick a mare fresh off the range. She may be pregnant, she may not be. If she is, that will be an interesting twist to the end of our year-long project.

I am not sure what to do. Perhaps I just need to go down to Burns and see if there is a horse who calls to me- see which horse wants to work new ideas with me. Regardless of whom I choose, this most likely isn’t the last dilemma I will face in this project. Highs and lows, questions and decisions, come what may this project calls me forward.

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Whatever scenario you choose, I think there will be a horse ‘who calls to you’ and if you keep all your senses sharp you will meet him or – most likely in this case – her). How exciting!

  2. While I look forward to each posting, this one especially fits in with what has been and is happening. You break it down excellently—the real problem is the start; ‘No matter how, ya gotta start’ 😉 Michael

    • Yup, gotta start… just happy I gave myself 8 months to build up to the real start 😉

  3. I love your blogs. The right horse will be there at the right time.

  4. Maybe the little chestnut is the one — what a beauty she is with that strong round hindquarter and that soft, intelligent eye! “Fresh off the range” sounds romantic, but what a good deed to take any horse out of those bare pens and into the freedom that trust and love and a new beginning provide. Can’t wait to meet the new one, whoever she is. See you next weekend, I hope!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence Sarah. I agree the little chestnut is a beauty! 375 horses to choose from there, and they said possibly another 200 if they do a gather in August. So hard to know who is going to jump out at my and say Pick ME Pick Me! 😉 It’s gonna be interesting…. How long are you on the island? I am working in Fall City this weekend, should be home late Sunday night. Drop me an email if you are still around Monday? I would LOVE to see you!

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