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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.


Everyone deserves to be loved…

Once upon a time I was married. It seems so very long ago, a fairy tale shrouded in mists of perfection. Fairy tales are just that way, sometimes the sun must come out and burn through the fog showing all that was hidden for better or for worse. My husband fell deeply in love with another woman. For a time we both held tight to the fairy tale, as though by ignoring it, a love on the other side of the world could have no power over our story. She became suicidal and he was torn. It was complicated and dark and difficult. I loved him and believed he should be with the woman he loved, even if it was no longer me; then she became homicidal, threatening him should he not comply with all she asked of him, and I no longer knew what to think.

In a conversation with my sister during this time, trying to sort out the anger, hatred and disbelief if felt for this woman who could threaten the man who loved her, and the man I still very much loved, my sister said something that rocked me to my core. She said: Everyone intrinsically deserves to be loved, even her.

I knew my sister was right, though it is only years later I think I am finally coming to terms with the idea.

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.” Thich Nhat Hanh


I do believe we all have an intrinsic need to be loved. When we feel alone and uncared for, an insecurity is born that becomes the basis for desperate actions. No one is immune, we all know what it feels like to have done things we shouldn’t have.

Horses and life get all intertwined for me. When I can’t figure out how to train a horse, sometimes the solutions will crop up from the most unexpected places. When life seems unfathomably difficult, horses often show me the light at the end of the tunnel.

I have spent the last week riding Saavedra with no tools of control, no ropes or sticks or spurs, simply her and me among and around her herd in the pasture. I want her to travel about the herd carrying me along beautifully, peacefully, and serenely through the spaces between horses. Saavedra has other ideas; she wants to move all the other horses out of our way at every opportunity. If they are at ease, it is not too difficult for me to redirect her to the open path; however if they pin their ears at her and tell us to get lost, the thrill of a confrontation is like a drug for Saavedra. Her neck becomes arched and her ears prick forward with vibrant intensity. That spot in the pasture she has just been asked to leave alone is the ONLY place she wants to go. Then there is a battle of wills between us. I am voting for peaceful travel; she is desperate for connection with her herd. I understand the feeling and I empathize with her. How do we build up her self-confidence to a level where she can travel through the herd unconcerned? How do we support her to be confident in her connection with me, feeling safe without the constant reassurance that her equine herd is there for her.

I am asking of Saavedra so many actions she would never choose to do on her own. We are traveling nowhere in particular; we are not going to get water, or organizing the herd structure, or finding a better patch of grass to graze. While some horses might find it fun to simply travel, it seems perhaps it is unnerving and stressful for Saavedra to do so. She feels alone and strange with her rider all of the sudden so passive and powerless. When faced with a lack of confidence, there are generally two solutions: freeze up and feel helpless hoping someone else will fix it for you, or take action to feel connected and part of the world again. That action is going to look like play, or it is going to look like a fight, depending on the desperation felt.

We hear horse trainers say you have to be a strong leader, and horses will test your leadership constantly until they trust you. I think there is some truth to that. A horse who lacks confidence wants to be part of something bigger than himself. Interaction makes a horse feel part of things. Positive or negative, interaction usually feels safer than being alone, particularly for a prey animal like a horse.

When I ride Saavedra with a halter or I carry a stick, if she becomes unconfident I can assert myself as a leader using pressure and release and she finds comfort in being my partner. Her confidence seems to increase after she tests my strength and we move forward together.

When I ride Saavedra with no tools and have not used force in any part of our day together, interestingly I find her confidence decreased. I can’t force her to move her feet one way or another to prove my leadership. All I can do is ask and reward.

I believe the secret lies in how I ask for things. If I ask with a sense of fun and play (a skill I feel is still in it’s infancy for me), I don’t have to prove how strong I am to give her confidence in our partnership. Fun and play naturally fill that intrinsic need to feel loved. If I ask with a serious or challenging demeanor (a skill I seem to be comfortable and familiar with) she doesn’t know she is loved and accepted by me until she tests my strength. If she can test me and I can stand up to her confrontation, she will feel safe… however the moment she feels weakness in me, she will have to test me again. Her safety depends on being part of a herd. She needs to feel loved.

I believe there is a natural sequence to these things. As foals, horses will follow the older confident horses as they learn about their world. When they feel alone or unconfident they will play and that makes them feel a part of their herd, safe. Playing builds confidence. Inevitably at some point a foal will feel alone and unsafe, beyond his ability to soothe himself. Then he will become aggressive, pick fights with his siblings, or kick at his mother. If this earns him the attention that makes him feel safe again all is well with the world.

My theory is, that we all need to play and frolic and have fun, until we are confident enough to stride forward and do things on our own. When we are not confident enough to take positive action it becomes tempting to pick fights, look for arguments and confrontations, all in an effort to feel safe and a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Everyone deserves to feel loved. If I am going to train horses with no tools of power, I have a feeling I am going to have to learn how to be a lot more fun in order to build the confidence my horses need, to carry me the places I would like to travel.

Elsa Sinclair




  1. Wow, brilliantly written… This is really food for thought.
    By reading your post it suddenly struck me that we can not even be 100% sure whether training a horse without tools would be best for every horse. We always consider training at total liberty the friendliest way to approach a horse, but is it? For every individual horse? In every situation? While I ask myself this question, I hear the answer in my head: ofcourse training without tools will not be the best way for every horse, because in life – and hence in training horses – there is no such thing as an absolute truth. Every alleged ‘truth’ that contains the words ‘never’ or ‘always’, will prove wrong some day, sooner or later…
    Thinking about this post made one thing even more clear to me than it already was: always stay in the Here and Now, with each horse in each situation, and ask myself what is in the best interest of this horse, here, now, despite everything I ever learned and think I ‘know’.
    Thanks for making me realize this Elsa!

  2. Elsa, this ties in with and underscores what we were saying about my visitors…they were screaming to be loved, and I only had love for her, not him.
    You clarify through gentle pressure, which is pure Natural Horsemanship. WOW! Cheers to you, Love and playful support, Michael

  3. This was beautiful again. I do love and not afraid to admit it 😉 But being a loving leader is much more difficult. Something to chew for a while. Thank you.

  4. Love this post. Questions that have popped up many times. Your dialogue with Saavedra sound very similar as the once I have with one of my horses.

    Finding that balance in Leadership and not getting stuck in being one “type” of leader for your horse but be able to be flexible, depending what is needed at the time.

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