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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.


Week three has led us into a distinct contrast.

Myrnah’s development progresses ever so gently- a meandering path, peaceful and easy. We know each other a little better each day. She seems Zen- at one and at peace with everything.

Cleo feeds my soul with her thrilling beauty. From a logical standpoint I find myself wanting training to go softly and quietly, and yet, when circumstances cause Cleo to move too quickly for me to follow, the resulting explosion is breathtakingly magnificent. While I stand back watching her rippling muscles and agile movements in awe, she rockets around trying to escape the dragging rope she thinks is chasing her. On the one hand, I feel terrible I have set her up in a situation where she is afraid; on the other hand, it is generally short lived and not terrible compared to the steep learning curve most wild horses have to climb while adjusting to domesticity.

Generally Myrnah and I stand back, watching quietly as Cleo takes a lap around the pens and through the barns, hooves striking out in every direction as agile as a cat before she comes back to me shaking like a leaf. Then I can re-approach- reach out to her as she reaches out to me with her nose. I pick up the lead again, and we go back to working together. My gut instinct is that she needs to move slowly and quietly like she would in the wild, traveling from one watering hole to another. The halter is new to her so our progress is slow and gradual. We take few steps to the left, she reaches out to touch my hand, and we rest together. Then a few steps to the right, she reaches out to me, and we rest again. We take breaks to rub her all over and let her adrenaline drain away, and more and more I drag the tail end of the rope on the ground as she follows me so she gets to be the chaser of the rope and gain confidence in the idea of things dragging along the ground.

Life does contain chaos and I think sometimes it is okay to live through it and find your way out the other side, unhurt and realizing what it is to find calmness again after feeling shaken. I do my best to foster learning for Cleo as calmly and gently as I know how. In some circumstances though all I can do is let her find her own way through the fear: like yesterday when she decided the pressure of the rope was something she wanted to back slowly away from instead of giving forward toward me. When she backed into the edge of the trailer and then exploded forward in surprise, all I could do was let go and stand out of the way waiting for her to come back to me. It is a beautiful feeling when she does come back, looking to me for answers.

Between the occasional displays of magnificent action, Cleo is becoming reliable in her habit of walking right over to me when I reach out a hand to her. She stands quiet and easy for the halter to go on and off, and I can lead her almost all the way across the paddock now without needing to stop for a rest. I am as much thrilled with her progress as I am with her instances of awe-inspiring movement. I will keep looking for ways to help her learn through confidence instead of fear. While I may love to watch the display of athleticism fear can create and logically excuse it as one way to learn, it will never be my preference.

Last week Myrnah was starting to come over to me quickly any time I asked. She would touch me with her nose and then we would rest together or go back to our respective jobs of eating and lounging in the shade.

This week we developed a breakfast routine. The horses have free-choice, local, island hay all the time. The richer hay shipped in from Eastern Washington is reserved for when I say goodnight to them at the end of the day, and then to play around at breakfast time. In the morning, some of it goes in the trailer and some goes in a tub on the other side of the paddock.

The first day I let Myrnah eat in the trailer while Cleo and I practiced with the halter and I led her on a meandering path to the other feeder. The second day made me smile as I let Cleo get in the trailer to eat with the idea of having Myrnah follow me to the other hay trough. Myrnah was not fond of this idea. Again and again, she tried to get around me to get in the trailer with Cleo. I was an inconvenience and I loved it. How often do you hear of people having trouble keeping their horses out of the trailer? I love that I was confronted by my new “wild” mustang about the audacity of my insisting she stay outside the trailer on this particular day.

So here is training with a purpose- I was aiming to move Myrnah to a new good place to eat. She didn’t know it yet so on the way there she had a chance to practice yielding and drawing to me- one hand on her shoulder, one on her cheek asking her to yield away from me a step and stop when I rub her. With some persistence she understood and stopped, facing away from the trailer, pointed toward the other hay pile.

Once we got our direction sorted, I could step out in front and ask her to take a step toward me to touch my hand with her nose. After being frustrated about getting in the trailer, she wanted none of the next part of the game. So I would wait a moment, and then go over to pet her, and ask her to yield her front end over a step before offering for her to draw forward toward me again. Slowly she figured out I was going to persist moving her a step at a time left and right until she was willing to walk toward me and check in with her nose. Then I would sit down and we could just relax together for a while before repeating the exercise. It took us a quite a while to get to the hay that first time. I think Myrnah agreed with me though, the trip was worth it.

Each day Myrnah comes away from her hay a little more willingly and follows me a little more fluidly to a new eating spot. When she does get stuck I love it because it is an opportunity to practice her skills about yielding to pressure: the same pressure we will use when I ride her- the spot behind her shoulder where eventually my leg will sit, or the spot on her neck where I may lay my hand to guide her onto a new course.

Slowly and peacefully, one step at a time, Myrnah and I are building the language that will allow us to travel together. The thrill that comes from that is quietly breathtaking.

Cleo and I have had a more obviously exciting trail to blaze together this week. No matter how much I love the thrill that brings through me, I am determined to strive toward peace with her too. She may be wearing a halter while Myrnah is not, yet I want the same ease and confidence all the way through the process for both of them.

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Very interesting contrast! It seems to me this is more and more growing into a story of two horses instead of one, because the contrast between the personalities of these two horses combined with the contrast between the two different approaches (with and without tack) you are using with them, and describing these contrasts, make this project even more interesting than just focusing on one horse and one approach, which was in fact your initial plan.

  2. You are a GREAT teacher! You’ve got two wild animals teaching each other while teaching YOU how they want things to go. A very elegant process is evolving under your hands. 😉 Michael

    • Ritambhara Tyson
    • Posted September 4, 2011 at 6:13 pm
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    • Reply

    It’s definitely is a story of two horses and you with different
    for each. Very interesting to hear about. Thank you for doing this.

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