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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.


What horses like most

Each day I marvel at the bond Myrnah and I have developed in our relatively short time together. The logical and analytical side of me wants to know WHY everything is working as well as it is. There are no carrots, or grain, or clickers and treats. I haven’t round-penned her or used any tools to pressure her into looking to me for answers. Nonetheless, Myrnah will come when I call now, even away from green grass, or her favorite hay she has just settled in to eat. She will walk all the way around the paddocks with me and stand quietly while I pick up her hooves and move them around in preparation for trimming.

The test of our bond came on Sunday as Myrnah let me stick an inch and a half needle in her neck to give her the booster vaccine I promised the BLM I would take care of. I had been dreading this task, terrified I would break the trust Myrnah and I had so carefully built. A promise is a promise though, so we took the plunge.

I spent weeks leading up to this, preparing Myrnah for needles. Using toothpicks and acupuncture needles we built a habitual sequence for her to lean on. Pressure in the needle area means bring your nose over and touch me. Early on we had built the skill of bringing her nose around to me with my fingers on the side of her muzzle; little by little we connected that skill with a prick on the side of the neck to bring her around to touch me.

Even so, when the day came, and I looked at the needle realizing how much bigger it was than the tiny acupuncture needles we had been using, my heart started racing and my hands started shaking. Would she forgive me for this?

We went through our routine out in the middle of the paddock with space for her to leave me if she needed to. Myrnah was wonderful- she moved away from me in surprise as the needle went in and then came right back to me, standing solid for the rest. She even spent time afterward to nuzzle me and be with me, as if reassuring me we were okay and I really didn’t need to worry so much.


(For those of you reading this by email, click on the title at the top and it will take you to the blog page to see the video)

So what is it that has gotten us to this place of intense trust so quickly? I believe it is that thing that horses love more than anything in the world: to simply exist in company.

The most natural reward for them is to be quiet with their herd. From day one with Myrnah and Cleo I have used this concept. I know it works beautifully, and yet I am still in awe of how strong the resulting bond is.

While I am the person that brings them hay and water, I really don’t think that is nearly as powerful as the awareness and timing of what horses love most.

I have a progression of training we are working through, and, for each step along the way, I know the horses need to feel it is worth their energy and attention to learn new things with me. I can pay them with time.

When the horses take an action toward building a stronger relationship with me, I take a moment and a breath to look around and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. I take time to focus anywhere else than on the horse I am sharing space with. For horses, focusing on them is pressure; focusing elsewhere while being near them is the ultimate comfort. Timing is of course everything.

When I take time to be still and quiet I need to always be aware of what happened directly before I took that time. Was it something that was building the relationship and bond between me and the horse, or was it a moment when the horse was looking for distance from me? WHEN I choose to be quiet and still makes all the difference in how well our habits and patterns develop together.

It still is amazing to me that I can ask either one of the horses to come with me, away from their food, and they seem happy to come. We can walk together, or practice our pressure games, or just exist side by side, observing the world and enjoying each other’s company. They trust me, they seem to enjoy learning with me, and I keep reinforcing and rewarding that with time spent-

simply existing- together.

Elsa Sinclair


    • Michael Calhoun
    • Posted September 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm
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    It’s working because Myrna and Cleo LIKE you. It is that simple. From the beginning, you said that Myrna focused on you at the gathering. She noticed you, and both horses are rewarded, as you are, with the ease of this project’s progression.
    You are so deeply buried in this, I don’t think you realize how advanced your process has become, especially compared to other ‘natural’ training techniques.
    This is that ancient legend of the first horse woman, and you are proving it. 😉 Michael

  1. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful…. I’m in awe too Elsa… The video brought tears to my eyes, because it radiated so much trust and willingness, from both Myrnah and you.
    I think the ‘secret’ (if there is one) lies in the fact that you know you can’t lean on treats or tools this time, in this process. Knowing that might just be the reason for your whole demeanor and intention to be directed towards cooperation with the horse and looking for its trust. It’s so intriguing what’s happening here!
    (P.S.: I will email you soon about the sister blog idea you suggested to me in another post)

    • Ritambhara Tyson
    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 6:41 am
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    Wow, Elsa, the video brought tears to my eyes too. I am reading a book right now that I think you would love about Magali Delgado and Fredrique Pignon’s way with horses. It’s called “Gallop to Freedom”

    • Yay, tears are a good thing 😉 Your timing suggesting the book was perfect as another friend had handed it to me the very day you wrote this. I just finished it and loved it!

  2. Elsa,

    Pretty incredible, Elsa! I am learning SO MUCH about what horses REALLY want from us!
    How much saner Myrnah’s life already is knowing she has such a loving, trusting and consistent partner.
    If giving a mustang a vaccination at liberty at only a few weeks of having her isn’t proof, I don’t know what is!
    Learn on!

    • Cornelia Schneider
    • Posted September 10, 2011 at 11:23 am
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    Elsa, you take my breath away!

    • Thank you Cornelia, I will do my best to continue doing so. Give Louie a hug from me xoxoxox

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