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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 Simple Things

Fingers combing through a knotted mane, those first hesitant steps- horse hooves following human feet, fear turning into curiosity, horse noses rustling across coats, hands, faces and tangling in windblown hair.

It’s the simple things in life that make it worth living and also send time speeding past in a blinding flash. I can’t believe it has been an entire week since I last blogged, yet here I am again.

Myrnah and Cleo are progressing at what feels like light speed. I  lose all track of time when I am with them, and each new development fills me with a giddy rush.

From an outside perspective our progress is slow and gradual. I sit down to watch the video we have taken and it amazes me to see how long we have actually spent working on something. In real time, I am so immersed in our process it passes by in a flash; in hindsight on video, I realize the hours and hours the mares and I have amassed together.

Cleo continues to be more hesitant about sharing space with me, yet she is far more curious and interested, almost desperate to interact. I am listening to her this morning: walking, walking walking, through the sheds, round the paddocks and back again, I am sure pushing Myrnah along in front of her. She isn’t mean at all, just restless. She needs more to do, and when I show up to spend time with her, stroke her, practice having her give to pressure, comb through her mane… her relief from boredom seems  palpable. She loves being social and entertained.

Cleo is a riot of fun, still caught between the extremes of fear and curiosity. It is exciting for me to see the space between fear and curiosity grow as she learns to be more comfortable just existing. If I move quickly anywhere behind her she is quick to bolt away, and when she approaches me it is still usually with careful hesitant steps. Yet you can see her wanting more. The other night I was sitting with Myrnah while she ate hay in the shed. Cleo came in, one careful step at a time, and then, half way to us, she had to reach over the sidewall and nudge a shovel with her nose, causing it to fall with a clatter and a bang. Myrnah and I sat there watching the whole thing and were unsurprised by the clatter. Cleo jumped a foot in the air and looked at me accusingly as though the surprising noise was somehow my fault.

I just want to laugh all the time when I am with Cleo, though I know she needs so much more quiet understanding to develop steadiness. She seems to carry a desire for more entertainment wherever she travels. We put the halter on this week, and started developing the communication about following the feel of the lead with her nose and neck. Perhaps the feet will follow soon, but for now I am thrilled with the ease of the small developments. The first time of putting the halter on was beautifully uneventful, like she had been wearing a halter all her life. With Cleo it is going to be an ongoing balance between progressing constantly forward to satiate her need for entertainment, and going slow enough to help her develop steadiness and comfort in life.

Myrnah is a love- gentle and kind and happy to just be with me. She is happy to be stroked all over, pick up her hooves for me, and she is getting quick to walk over to me any time I ask. Our relationship seems companionable and easy. We have been practicing turning her nose toward me from pressure of fingers wrapped under her chin. That happens from a feather-light touch for the most part now. Then we progressed to asking her to turn towards me from one hand behind her ears and one over her nose. Yesterday we were able to lose the hand on her nose and she turned toward me from only the hand behind her ears. It’s a simple thing, and also one of those things that makes me grin from ear to ear.

If all goes as planned I will be riding Myrnah before too long, and when I do it will be without any tack. Right now we have gotten to the point that she can turn her nose from pressure right behind her ears. Little by little we are going to work that understanding back, until I can turn her with my fingertips on the sides of her withers. Each little step along this path gives me confidence the future developments may really all work out. Time will tell, yet the future looks pretty bright from here.

This week we took the tall metal panels away from some of the wood fences. I felt confident the horses were not going to jump out, and with the metal panels we were able to make an extension paddock into the grass out one of the gates from their main paddock. Myrnah will follow me around now, if I am carrying a bucket of fresh cut grass and agree to share it with her every so often. Cleo will follow Myrnah. So every day at some point I call them over and the three of us make our way to the grass paddock together. The fact that I take them to good places and share what food I have with them helps them to see me as a leader.

While they are grazing I will sit in the shade of the hawthorn tree and just spend time with them. Occasionally though we play a leadership game: I stand up and stare at one of them. If it is Cleo she will stare back at me for a long time, all grazing forgotten. I think that is important- the two of us paying attention to each other for as long as it takes to get comfortable together. If she goes to graze again I take a step closer; if she takes a step toward me I sit down or look away. As soon as she touches me with her nose I go back to sitting in the shade, games are put aside and grazing continues. Myrnah is quick now: the moment I look at her she leaves her grass and comes right over to say hi, nuzzling my fingers or face to check in. She has figured out it is a small thing I am asking for, and the sooner she comes over to say hi, the sooner I sit down and relax, and the sooner we can all go back to doing what we were doing. Myrnah is very practical and easygoing that way. I feel incredibly fortunate she was the horse that chose me for the project.

Looking through pictures I found this one that Cameron took of us the other day. Though Myrnah is still very thin with all her ribs showing, is it my imagination or is she getting wider? What do you think? Is she pregnant?

We will just have to keep taking pictures and see what happens. One step at a time we will travel through everything together. I am glad I can share this with everyone. It is all way too much fun to be kept to myself!

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Elsa, you wrote this about Cleo: “an ongoing balance between progressing constantly forward to satiate her need for entertainment, and going slow enough to help her develop steadiness and comfort in life.”
    It struck me as a wonderful and very important training principle in general, to be applied to the training of every horse! Would you agree?

    Have you thought about publishing all your experiences in a book eventually? I love your stories so much and find them so beautifully written, my fingers are itching to translate all your blog posts into Dutch and make an e-book out of it! Of course I would never do that without your permission ;-), but honestly, I think it would make for a very interesting book in this era of changing ideas around horse handling.

    By the way, I love the way this journey is evolving and the small=great things that are happening!

    • Marja, I would love to publish these experiences in a book, I am just waiting to see where the stories take us before I think about putting them all together. I’m glad to hear you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them. I would love to have you do some translating for me if you thought there were readers out there interested. Perhaps we should talk about doing a sister blog you could translate into Dutch?

  2. Wow! You put us in the moment with such ease…pregnant!?! Again, WOW!
    Regarding publishing, ebooks and videos, remember what I emailed you on those and related subjects…CYA!!!
    😉 Michael OOOOO

  3. I was inspired by your adventure to take action on moving my horse closer to where I live so I can spend more time with him. His was a pretty stress-free journey of only about 15 minutes. He had never been in a trailer and I was a bit over-anxious about the loading. But your experience with a BIG move and change impressed me with how resilient a horse is. I realize now that it is very good for Rocky to be challenged, too. It was an easy load and now he has settled into a new herd. He has learned something positive and so have I.
    I look forward to reading your blogs and want you to know that it is helping my horse and helping me to have a better relationship.

    • Debbie, I’m glad to hear I inspired you along your path with your horse. They are pretty wonderful partners to have in this life.

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