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Monthly Archives: June 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.


We Have Dates!

So it seems this dreamed up project is no longer a fantasy; it is coming down to brass tacks and looking like the real thing with dates and all!

The Bureau of Land Management in Burns, Oregon is gathering about 135 horses from Jackie’s Butte on August 2nd, and, on August 9th, they will be bringing in about 175 horses from The Three Fingers herd area.

This works out perfectly for me as I am already committed to go to the Parelli tour stop in Redmond, Oregon on August 12th, 13th, and 14th.  So, the current plan is for me and my daughter, Cameron, to drive down to Burns on Monday, August 8th, spend a few days watching the horses and hopefully be struck with lightning force by the presence and personality of the horse who wants to come do this project with me.

I would like to choose two mustang mares  to take home with me so they can travel together, hopefully lowering the stress of travel by having each other for companionship. One will be for my project, the other will be a horse I start for someone else. I am looking for mares between the ages of three and six. The one for the documentary project I am hoping will have been recently gathered; the other just needs to be a horse I think I can easily find a home for.

I have been told it is customary for the BLM to not let horses travel to their new homes for six weeks. I am asking for an exception in this case because being able to train from the very beginning as close to possible to the horse being brought in from the wild, will I believe, help people see how beautiful and simple this process of gentling can be.

I would like to prove a point with this documentary about how trainable and fun mustangs are. Though I am choosing to spend a year training with no tools or tack for the joy of the challenge, I will of course make sure the horse is comfortable being haltered and loaded in a trailer for safety reasons, and we will of course begin our training in secure high fenced areas. Once we have those basics covered we will dive into our project head first aiming to allow this horse freedom and connection, comfort and security of family and herd life throughout the process of bonding to me, learning with me, growing with me, and I am sure teaching me things I never thought I would need to learn.

So if all goes as hoped, on August 8th we will leave from Seattle to drive the eight hours to Burns Oregon. We will spend the 9th,10th and 11th watching horses, then the 12th,13th and14th will be spent in Redmond Oregon at the Parelli tour stop. On the 15th of August we will head home two new mustangs in tow, the ten hour drive to Anacortes capped off with the one hour ferry ride to Friday Harbor.

Home Sweet Home and the journey has begun!

Wish us luck with finalizing all the logistics.

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.

Those Who Challenge the Norm

A few weeks back I went looking for video inspiration. I was hoping to find documentation of horse trainers working their horses without any tools of intimidation. No matter how we start, I imagine that is where all of us would like to end up? Horse and rider working together in harmony, no need for stick or rope or spurs. The closest I was able to find was Stacy Westfall and Pat Parelli doing beautiful things with their horses, but still wearing their spurs.

This week I want to write about two trainers who do have videos out, working horses with no tools. The videos are simple, however, I think the two of them get credit for being the only ones on video record to have done this. They are both men who are extreme and devoted to high ideals with horses. They bring to mind the quote:


All truth passes through three stages.

First, it is ridiculed.

Second, it is violently opposed.

Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.


Arthur Schopenhauer


I wonder if it is because of the characters who are willing to forge ahead, break new ground and do what is uncommon or unknown, that make everyone nod their heads in knowing agreement when they hear this saying.

Few people have such conviction in a new truth changing the world, that they are willing to throw themselves up against the norm and the expected. Their intensity can be something people do not know how to respond to, making the safest response ridicule and opposition.

I wrote about Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling back in February.

I love watching him work and have a great deal of respect for him. I also have to admit I am intimidated by his idealism. I am not sure anyone can be as perfect as he claims everyone needs to be in relationships with horses.

I see extremists in the horse world point out all the cruel injustices done to horses, point out all the things that should not be done to a horse, but I don’t think new truth can win over old in a battle of right and wrong. Only, when there become more examples of positivity and better ways to proceed will truth become self evident.

Chuck Mintzlaff of Friendship Training is another such horseman challenging the horse training norm.

I devoted myself completely to working through his system of training from April to August of 2007, then moved to Norway for six months. When I returned home, I began again and worked with this process from April to July of 2008.

I have enormous respect for Chuck Mintzlaff and you might even need to give him credit for putting this idea into my head years ago. I chose to discontinue working with him when I decided I wanted to take a broader view of training horses.

I would like to encourage, inspire and appreciate all who love horses and work with them, whether they train with a harsh clarity or a gentle persuasion, with a round pen or a dressage arena, with a leverage bit or a rope halter, or nothing at all. What we have in common in our love of horses is far more powerful than what training tools or methods we may choose.

Those on the leading edge of horse training change such as Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling and Chuck Mintzlaff are inspiring and I am grateful they are doing what they do. I also have no desire to attack horse training with a forceful morality of right and wrong. I may struggle with it in my own head, however, what I would like to show the world is all the clarity that leads to an idea being self evident.

What if I, a girl from the Northwest of the United States, not particularly different from any other girl in love with horses, can, over the course of a year, develop a relationship with a horse using positive reinforcement and only the corrections I can create with my own body- no sticks or ropes or pens, working through trial and error with no particular emphasis on a moral right or wrong. Just simplicity put to music, on film, with an aim to inspire. I don’t need to change the world, but if I do, I would like to escort truth gently into the self-evident stage, leaving the trail-blazing to characters like Chuck Mintzlaff and Klaus Hempfling, with all their fire and moral intensity.

I am here for quiet, beautiful simplicity.

We will see what happens…

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.


Speed and Tranquility

This week, summer seems to have finally arrived in the San Juans. The sun is out more often than the clouds can hide it, the grass is chin high, the horses are sleek and glossy, there are ducklings on the pond and the swallows swoop in and out of the barn.


I decided this week to throw caution to the wind. Let my hair down and feel space and time whip through it. My mare, Saavedra, seemed ready and willing for that kind of venture. Mostly we spend our time together slowly and carefully building our skills and communication through groundwork and riding patterns in fields or arenas. I love the subtle intricacies of developing a partnership with horses and the meditative quality of riding, aspiring to be ever more centered in fluid harmony. Sometimes though, I remember what it was like to be a kid, back in the days when it was all about speed. We loved our horses, and what we loved most with our horses was running and jumping. It wasn’t about style or grace. It was just the thrill of the chase pure and simple.


I have come too far to go all the way back. I have no desire to relive the bucking fits, runaways and bruises acquired from low hanging branches. Those are memories best left in my childhood. The speed though, I miss the speed.


So this week Saavedra and I did our ground work each day to establish connection and then, when we felt well set up as partners in crime, we lit out on the trails like the devil himself was behind us. Sometimes a girl just needs to feel twelve years old again.


It’s so much better now than it was when I was twelve though. I ride with my halter, but over the course of a couple of hours, I can count on one hand the times I actually need to pick up the reins. Mostly I can leave my horse’s nose alone and ride with my body and a little support from the string around the base of Saavedra’s neck. Today we galloped a stretch of tight turns through the woods on a slight uphill. It is nothing less than thrilling to be able to sit up before a turn, needing nothing more than the string around my horse’s neck to reinforce my body cues. To feel my horse gather underneath me in preparation for a perfectly balanced flying change to take the corner with ease, and then a burst of speed before we do it all again: corner, sprint, corner, sprint, corner, sprint- it’s just pure fun.


And then, come the end of the day, I notice the lovely languid peaceful expressions Saavedra and I both carry. There is something beautiful about physical exhaustion that leaves the mind clear.


Though I lose myself sometimes to childish fancies, I still have a project to wrap my head around. How do I build a relationship with a horse where I never need to control their nose with a halter or bit. How do I forge a connection so strong that I don’t need that piece of string around the base of my horse’s neck to reinforce communication?


Saavedra and I had a breakthrough this week. Our evening rides at liberty out in the pasture amongst the herd have been mentally demanding for me the last few weeks. Without any tools to reinforce getting us started on the right track, she has been determined to challenge me at every turn. I felt as though I was trying to reinvent the wheel and just couldn’t seem to smooth out the lumps. Thanks to a couple of great students this past weekend, I was allowed to teach a few things I myself desperately needed to remember.


1. If a horse isn’t interested in drawing to you, gently driving them away with patience, attention and tact can build a connection and bond that can draw the horse back to you.


2. The front end of a horse is easier to direct than the back end of the horse: do the easier tasks first and build from there to the more challenging tasks.


3. A steady pressure is supported by a rhythmic pressure. If you push against a horse and it doesn’t move, pushing harder just makes them want to push harder back against you. If instead you switch to a vibration or rhythmic pressure, it is easy for the horse to learn to move with and not against you.


Incredibly simple ideas that I teach everyday, and yet sometimes I seem to be my own most challenging student. Remembering that the same concepts apply, even when training horses without the tools, was a powerful moment for me. Applying those three simple concepts to my ride the other evening led to one of the most fun relaxing easy peaceful rides I have ever had in amongst the herd. Just me, the horses, and a few good ideas- nothing extra.


Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler. ~Einstein


Here is to simple and beautiful!

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.

Looking for Inspiration

So I am going about this horse training project all backwards. On purpose of course, because isn’t about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Robert Frost

None the less, I find myself looking for inspiration this week. There are brilliant horse trainers out there who use tools first and then end up with a relationship where tools of control are no longer necessary. While I may be going about this training thing the other way round… I would still love to have a little inspiration from the brilliance that has gone before me.

Here are the only two videos I seem to be able to find with horses and people working together without the use of sticks or ropes (though… there are spurs on, so who knows how much of a role they play in the performance..) If you know of any other videos with horses and people without the tools of control? Please send them my direction.

Pat Parelli’s video was not allowed to be embedded in the blog, so here is the link if you are interested.

While the halter and stick show up briefly in this video… it is so beautifully minimal, I had to include it.


Elsa Sinclair

ps For those of you who get this in email form, to see the videos click on the title of the blog and it will take you to the blog page where the videos are. Enjoy!