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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.

Meeting Myrnah

(pronounced Meer-nah)

It was 2 a.m. on Monday and I had woken yet again with a thrill of glee running through me. Today was the day the adventure really started. Sleeping on the couch at a good friends house in Seattle, I couldn’t believe that every time I woke up, eyes wide open ready to go, the clock would tell me to go back to sleep- it wasn’t time yet. Finally 3 a.m. rolled around and I was bouncing up and down like a kid on Christmas morning. A few minutes drive west to pick up Margaret, then we were off to Carnation to meet John and head south to Burns, Oregon.

Beautiful scenery driving down 395 through Pendleton and John Day. Great company and the drive went by in a flash. We checked into the hotel and then headed right out to the corrals. The wranglers were working on numbering, branding, vaccinating and worming the horses just in from Three Fingers and they said we were welcome to stay until they finished up for the day. It turned out the Three Fingers gather had finished early; half the horses were in the corrals, the rest were scheduled to arrive in trailers the next day. So John, Margaret, and I drove out around the pens, map and binoculars in hand. The first group was Three Fingers mares not yet sorted through the chutes. The second, Three Fingers mares and foals with numbers and brands freshly in place. Beyond that were the Jackies Butte dry mares, Jackies Butte mares with foals, Kiger dry mares, mares and foals who had been in the pens for a while, older dry mares in the trainer incentive program, Kiger stallions, geldings who had been there for a while, Jackies Butte stallions, and Kiger mares and foals.

Hundreds of horses, all of them temporarily there, waiting for adopters to find them and take them home to a new life. Being an adopter seemed like a huge responsibility- how would I know which horse to choose? The Three Fingers horses have the reputation of being flighty and hard to get close to, yet they were the group most recently brought in from the range and so the most appealing for my particular project. I watched them through my binoculars as they traveled back and forth at the far side of the pen, tightly packed and constantly moving they were difficult to observe. There was one mare though, with a lightning strike blaze on one side of her forehead, who kept looking right at us even when the others were looking desperately for some escape route. She was almost always on the side of the herd closest to us. I liked her herd placement and attitude, yet I dismissed her as being too long and rangy in build. I am usually drawn to a more compact body style. For two hours we watched the horses, and, while I caught glimpses of horses I thought I might be drawn to, they were only glimpses, fleeting and insubstantial. That night in our hotel room Margaret and I went through the video footage, and the mare with the lightning strike blaze kept jumping out at me as she seemed to own the camera, front and center.

The next day we were there at six thirty in the morning to continue the search. Even though there were hundreds of horses to choose from, our criteria narrowed it down to the geldings and mares with no foals. Thank goodness my trailer wasn’t bigger, otherwise it would have been mighty tempting to take a foal home as well.

Midmorning we found ourselves in the covered space watching the horses come through the chutes to have their numbers put on and shots and branding taken care of. It was the Three Fingers mares who were so difficult to see when they were way out in the corrals. This way we could see them up close and get a sense of them from a nearer perspective. They were wild, throwing themselves against the metal panels, trying to climb out, banging and clattering or dropping their noses to the ground to stand shaking in abject fear. Then the mare with the lightning strike blaze came through, quite a bit taller than all the others, and so much calmer. She didn’t try to hide in fear, and while she would shake and pull away as far as possible when you came close, when she had a little space again she would lick her lips and seem to digest all that was going on with a grace none of the other horses seemed to have. At that point I knew she was the mare who needed to come home with me.

Her teeth were checked and they thought she was about three years old. She didn’t have a foal on her, and, when she was separated out to a different pen, she took the change with an easy style. I was in love.

John was torn between three mares: all horses who had been in the pens for a while, beautiful horses, but over the age of three and less adoptable because of that. By the afternoon he had decided on a three-year-old mare from the Stinkingwater herd area- beautiful mare, yet missing the tip of one ear, which is probably the reason she had not been adopted out earlier.

Once we had our horses chosen we thought it would be a week before they were ready to process us out. When they offered to load us up and get us out of there that afternoon, we were surprised and thrilled. That meant John could help us with the drive home instead of flying home ahead of us, Margaret could make it home in time for her boyfriend’s birthday, and I could just get home and started on this project without delay!

We left Burns at four in the afternoon. Driving through the night, over to and up I-5 was fairly quiet. The horses would startle when we were passed and the first freeway experience definitely sent them dancing in the trailer for a bit, but after that all was quiet. We did have one traffic jam for an hour where they were repaving in the middle of the night; even so, we were at the Anacortes ferry landing just before four a.m. in time to catch the four fifteen boat to Friday Harbor and unload the horses in their new home at about six thirty.

The girls came out of the trailer quietly, one step at a time, beautiful, tired, and very alert.

Over the next two days I spent time with them and have been blown away by how quickly they trust me, relaxing into their new environment.

My mare’s name is Myrnah (pronounced Meer-nah) which means beloved. John’s mare is Cleopatra, or Cleo for short.  Myrnah, being fresh from the wild, is a clean slate and very quick to adjust, trusting me to pet her all over her body and take her neck tag off already. Cleo has a little more doubt about humans from her year unhandled in the pens living with all the other horses afraid of people. It is so thrilling to see her break through and reach out to me, her trust growing each day.

We began with advance and retreat of gaze. Looking at them when they were trying to avoid me, looking away when they were interested or curious about me. This led them to investigate me, nuzzle my coat, and taste my hair. Then we played with me approaching round about and without looking at them, spending time sharing space, then we played with me reaching out to them and retreating when they were willing to reach out to me in return. When Myrnah was ready for me to pet her, I felt honored to be given that kind of trust.

All of this is moving much faster than I expected. While I have spent more than three hours a day with them since we got home, the time goes by in a flash and I find I can’t wait to get back out there to play with them again.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next week. I will keep you posted.

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Wow, this is going quickly for sure! Transporting the horses, getting to know each other, gaining trust, everything in fact!
    Myrnah has a beautiful look on her face, and what struck me in all pictures were her long, tall ears!
    I never would have thought these horses from the wild would allow you to approach them so soon in the process, but well, what do I know, we don’t have any wild horses in our crowded little country ;-). And of course, no two mustangs will be alike either.
    Are you going to film all that you are doing with these horses and publish it on your blog?

  2. John shared your blog with me. I met him a couple weeks ago at a Wendy Murdoch clinic and he told me about you both adopting mustangs. You’re doing a fabulous job! I will enjoy following your progress.

  3. Elsa, you are home early than we all thought—GREAT! What you’ve been through shows…rest some more. 😉 M

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