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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.



Taking the slow road

It’s not that I want to go slowly through this training process; it’s just that every moment feels precious, each stage of learning unique and irreplaceable with the responses, reactions, and communications between Myrnah, Cleo, and me, changing minutely day by day.

Could I move this process along faster into riding? Yes, I am sure I could, I am also sure the horses and I are much happier this way. Today when Cleo finally let me hold her front hoof up off the ground for what seemed like a full minute, eyes soft and relaxed, body at ease, letting me hold her hoof because she decided she didn’t mind- that felt like the most brilliant moment.

I love it when it feels like the horse knows they have a choice, and they choose to work with me not against me. When waiting for that sort of decision, time makes all the difference, and I never know how much time we are going to need. I just know each little step of progress is one I wouldn’t want to miss by hurrying through it.

The beginning of this week I chose to drug Cleo to expedite trimming her quarter crack up off the ground. We used freshly blended apples from the orchard in a syringe to get her used to the idea of something being squirted in her mouth. I am still not sure she likes apples, but she was at least interested enough in the taste that she learned to hold still for the syringe; then she would make faces like the taste was strange indeed, but it was also entertaining for her. After a break she would nudge me like she would like to try some more, even though she wasn’t sure about it. Once we had that pattern down, she took the Dormosedan under her tongue like a pro, only giving me a funny look when it didn’t taste quite like the last syringe.

The drugs made her sleepy enough that when she tried to move, her legs would get all crossed and she would look as though she was going to fall over. While she was not happy with me holding a foot and rasping it back into shape, the most she was able to do in this state was wrestle me back and forth in one spot. Having her choose to keep the other three hooves firmly planted was the only way I was able to get the job done at all. I felt like I was wrestling an elephant over the course of the next two hours, and, while I tried to give Cleo frequent breaks to reward any sort of cooperation, the glazed, defeated look in her eye left me praying she would forgive me the next day.

Cleo had the night to sleep off the meds. Come the next morning I took every care to go slowly and earn back my place in her trust. To my delight, Cleo, with only a little reticence seemed to forgive me. She is seemingly sound and happy in spite of the crack, and, little by little each day, slightly more willing to give me her feet to hold for a moment. Hopefully next time we can work together to trim her hooves instead of having her submit with little choice in the matter.

Myrnah continues to whinny to me sometimes, a low throaty whinny, louder than a nicker, deeper than a call of distress. It seems like an appreciation of my showing up. I wish I knew how to whinny back to her. I hope she can appreciate my laugh as much as I appreciate her whinny.

Myrnah and I started adding some energy to our games this week as our quiet basic work started feeling strong enough to build on. Myrnah follows me beautifully at the walk, sometimes matching my stride exactly, even though I am in front not making any effort to match hers. The first time I saw it in the pictures I couldn’t believe it, yet there we were, stride for stride together. She stands quietly and patiently while I hold her feet. She yields her front end and hind end away from me when I ask and bends around to me from a light touch next to her mane at the bottom of her neck. We have put the bending and yielding into combination with the leading and draw so we get variations of turn and move off together. Myrnah even allows me to send her into he trailer now for breakfast instead of always following me in.

Myrnah at this point is an easy going mare- energetic is not one of her adjectives. Her look of ribs with skin stretched over the top is slowly starting to give way to a more normal horse look and at the same time her belly is growing immense, leading me to believe she must be pregnant. So when I thought adding energy to our games was an obvious next step, Myrnah seemed quietly bemused. Sometimes now, instead of walking quietly off inviting her to follow, I run circles around and in front of her. All she has to do to get me to stop my antics is reach out and touch me. Then we can do what she likes best and just spend peaceful time together. Eventually I am hoping she will run with me, a game of tag we can play together. For now I find I have to be careful to slow down when she reaches out to me, allowing her to tag me within a couple of steps of her trying to connect. If I want this game to be as fun for her as it is for me, I have to play within her comfort zone.

Myrnah is like her name- peaceful. I would like that peaceful personality to also encompass all sorts of fun and playful energy. I believe it will happen best if we work within the range of who she is each day. That way we can enjoy every small change as it eclipses the change made the day or week before.

Perhaps she won’t be ready to run around with me until after the baby is born, and perhaps she will be ready tomorrow. If I don’t mind taking the slow road, we don’t have to wait for anything; we just fill all our moments with the learning that gives us a strong basis to build on. Whenever we are ready, all the pieces will be in place.

We could go faster; it’s just a choice to take the slow road. Life flies by far too fast as it is; it doesn’t need any hurrying.

So enjoy the moments, soak them up and revel in them; it’s all too good to miss!

Elsa Sinclair


    • Michael Calhoun
    • Posted September 23, 2011 at 10:49 pm
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    The narrative of your tranquil progress is almost mesmerizing, belying the intensity you are bringing to your quest-path. I think Myrnah finds you are another, oddly shaped horse and is trying to whinny-talk, laughing with you, adding queries. 😉 M

  1. Elsa, am really enjoying your blog, and it was great talking with you on the phone.

    I have to say, for me, that I am soooo happy that both mares are really coming along, and picking up the feet. Well, hooray.

    With wild horses, that picking up the feet certainly must be a big trust issue, and I sure can celebrate with your success at getting those feet picked up. With my Sunna, who was wild, not off the range, but ran wild for her 7 years of life, not having been trained, nor handled, really, and the feet have been a huge issue; it has taken, what seems forever, to me, for her to pick them up voluntarily for me. Finally, and oh, it feels wonderful, for each new step we take together. get so excited for each new step, bonding that you do with Myrnah, and Cleo. It is a big deal. Aren’t we ever so blissful, when we have those moments, where they are light in their feet when they actually trust us to pick them up. HUGE

    Love it that Myrnah greets you, with her whinny-talk.

    And, she looks huge, in her new picture, front view.

    Love your sharing your journey with these wonderful mares. Myrnah is a dream.


  2. Elsa,

    What fabulous progress! To be able to win that kind of trust in such a short time is truly amazing(and commendable)!
    It is so very wonderful you are relishing each moment! And as wonderful to share so we can relish the moments too!
    Maggie PS Yep, I sure do think Myrnah IS pregnant!

  3. “If I don’t mind taking the slow road, we don’t have to wait for anything; we just fill all our moments with the learning that gives us a strong basis to build on. Whenever we are ready, all the pieces will be in place.”
    That is absolutely my experience too. I work with two rather ‘economical’ Icelandic mares. A year ago I asked myself if they would ever want to trot with me at liberty, but I didn’t worry about it. And over time, they gradually chose to trot with me, which felt so natural then! (video)
    I’m happy to read Cleo didn’t hold a grudge at you after having been sedated and trimmed. It think you made a wise decision to go ahead with trimming her cracked foot this way. Sometimes we have to do certain things, which don’t always fit in with the present stage of training and/or relationship. It seems to have worked out well.

    • Michael Calhoun
    • Posted September 28, 2011 at 8:16 pm
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    Adding a thought…Looking back at how long your preparation took—some 7 months—and then the time from the gather in Oregon to now—1 1/2 months—you are moving at outrageous pace! This is happening so much quicker than we all imagined, and perhaps you anticipated. So taking it slow now is a bonus, a reward. Congratulations…. ; ) M

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