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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.




How to Measure Success…


Each day I am blown away by how successfully this project seems to be progressing. I am continually awestruck by Myrnah’s interested focused attitude about learning with me. All the training I have been exposed to so far in my life relies heavily on either reward and punishment, or more subtle pressure and release. When I took all my tools away for this training project I knew I would use the same concepts, but the intensity would need to be dialed down so far that I really wasn’t sure what kind of results I could expect.


The only pressure I can use on Myrnah is that of focus and expectation, combined with the pressure I can exert with my fingertips on her body, or my hands moving through space- even then if I were to push too hard she is free to walk away and discontinue the conversation with me.


The only reward or release I have to give is being still and peaceful combined with being sure they know I am the one who fills up the water trough and puts the rich hay in the trailer for them to eat at breakfast. They are never out of hay, and the water trough is never empty for more than a short time. Given my self imposed limitations I am not able to reward for behaviors immediately in any other way than to be still.


With such a low intensity of pressure and release I expected I would have to work hard for everything Myrnah gave me and have near perfect timing in order to keep her from walking away. Happily I have found I was wrong. Myrnah seems to have a good sense of my intentions, enjoys working with me, and is willing to be persistent, letting me know in those moments when I am clearly not getting things right.


Our original agreement was that any time she touched me with her nose I would stop everything and wait for her to take her nose away giving me the go ahead to continue. Now we are at a point where I can ask her for one more thing after she touches me with her nose, but I need to stop after she reaches out to connect with me again, otherwise that touch of the nose turns into a more forceful shove; or if I am particularly dense that day, asking over and over for things five, six, seven times after she repeatedly asks for a break, that touch of the nose starts turning into an ever so gentle bite motion, mostly the lips, with the teeth only slightly implicated. We have an agreement- one which can be changed and expanded over time. I just can’t overtly break the rules. I need to remember that time is an important factor in the adaptation to change, Myrnah has a say in this process too.


So how do I measure success with Myrnah? (Yes, I am looking for feedback here from any of you watching the process evolve- what would you consider success from your view point?)


So far I feel wildly successful in both ways I expected and ways I never imagined. Myrnah and I can now take walks with me at her side, positioned right next to where I am going to be riding her. My hand can come down to behind her elbow to push her into a slight turn away from me to get her moving, just like my leg will do when we ride. When I am ready to stop I can run my fingers up the far side of her neck to ask her to bend around and touch me, followed by a break for both of us. All that is coming along so well I can’t help but look forward to using the same communication riding. I can now put a hand on her withers and a hand on top of her rump and jump up and down, bumping into her with my belly. She stays calm and relaxed as I jump and whenever I ask she brings her nose around to me again so we can take a moment to be still and think about everything we are doing together. It doesn’t seem so far away that I will just jump all the way up there and she will be ready to carry me.


The unexpected success is even more fun. The other day when I went out to give her a grooming in the morning sun, Myrnah was standing on the other side of the paddock in the shade. I called to her from my sun spot, and she whinnied back from her shade spot. So I called to her again, and she whinnied back to me again, as if she was asking me to come to her in response to me asking her to come to me. After the third exchange she ambled over in my direction, coming to join me for a grooming in the sun. It may seem like a small thing, but I have never had a horse whinny to me for any other reason than food. This vocal communication Myrnah and I have is outside the scope of anything I have done before, and that is a beautiful thing.


With Cleo, success is a little harder to measure from an outside perspective. She is less naturally trusting, more easily overwhelmed and panicked by things she doesn’t understand. On the one hand that makes me feel more challenged and less successful; on the other hand, if I think of what is most important to build between horse and human, Cleo presents an interesting case of total success building the best foundation I have ever seen a horse build with people. The most important thing I feel a horse needs to learn is focus and connection. Once a horse has good focus and connection with a rider, the sky is the limit in what can be done together. Cleo’s tendency to be overwhelmed means she stops me with her nose constantly, sometime holding me still with her touch for three or four minutes at a time- neck bent around, ears twitching, eyes blinking, nostrils softly flaring as she breaths deep trying to understand me and lose her apprehension.


If Cleo can learn to connect more deeply with her rider and focus with every fiber of her being any time she is unsure, she is going to make the most amazing partner. While her fear may cause us to take longer learning simple things, like holding up hooves and confidence with ropes, that same fear may cause her to be more connected and devoted to her rider than any horse I have yet known. Time will tell, but I believe Cleo’s focus and determination to connect and understand me is one of the greatest measures of success there is.


I guess I measure success by all the possibilities I see stretched out in front of what has happened so far. The greater the range of positive outcomes I can see ahead of us, the more successful the current moment feels.


Success is about how you feel in the moment, while looking toward the future. So I think as long as I see good things ahead of me, growing out of the basis I built today, I consider this project completely successful.

Elsa Sinclair


    • Michael Calhoun
    • Posted September 30, 2011 at 11:13 pm
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    Two marks for your success—You look happy, Myrnah looks happy and she is urging you to progress, VASTLY compared to Cleo, who, being trained the ‘Natural’ way is more hesitant.
    Though perhaps this is also the difference in the two horses’ personalities, but even with Cleo, you know you are progressing much faster than the normal training rate.
    For my ‘read’ of this, you are justified in feeling wildly successful, all of you. M

    • Cornelia Schneider
    • Posted October 1, 2011 at 8:08 am
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    From MY perspective, you have already succeeded to a great extent and I believe this growth is destined to continue over time. Geez Elsa, you convinced me when you gave that vaccine injection a couple of weeks ago! Seriously I can sense the internal growth of deep communication between you and Myrnah. You’ve come so far in less than two months! When can any of us call ourselves successful in an endeavor? As moms, when can we pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve been successful in childrearing? It’s a process. It has it’s ups and downs. Faster and slower times. Sometimes we even take a vacation from it! The trajectory of action may not always go up, but the overall pattern will be positive. You’re teaching Myrnah. Myrnah is teaching you. And we (the audience) are learning subtle things from the both of you.

    • Thank you Cornelia, I love hearing how other people see all this. It really does help me have greater perspective on everything. Give Louie a big hug from me. I miss you guys!

  1. Elsa, you wrote: “as long as I see good things ahead of me, growing out of the basis I built today, I consider this project completely successful.”
    I think that’s a great way of determining your success. Now the question is: what are the conditions to reach the place you describe in this quote? To me the answer consists of two factors you already mentioned: focus and connection.

    So for me the answer to your question “how do I measure success with Myrnah?” is: by the presence of focus and connection. 🙂

  2. Elsa to me, this is a huge success, the whole thing. As I read this, I am sooo excited reading this when I see and feel with your words and body language, that without tools you are reaching into yourself and into your mare, forcing yourself to think out of the box, but still following a plan, the nose communicating, and oh, what a thrill to read that Myrnah actually used her tool, her nose, then her lips to communicate to you that hey, its time to stop.

    I believe the same could be said with Cleo, but certainly more of a challenge.

    You have shown us exactly what you set out to do. Train without tools, and I think I am onto this with you, for my Cassie and my Sunna.

    This is an ispiration, and a journey for you and for us. Thank you, Dianne

  3. Adding to this, it would be nteresting to see how this would pan out with Cassie who is not soo trusting, and Sunna who is. Di

    • I agree Dianne, it is incredibly interesting seeing how different horses respond to us. Everyone really is unique.

  4. Success permeates you AND the horses! Just look at how content and trusting they are already in such short time! I am sure there are days that are not so calm but think of how much happier these two equines are now because they have a positive focus(YOU) to help them build their confidence. I agree that once you have that focus and connection “the sky is the limit”. You have already proven that with other horses!
    But the two really wonderful things to me are that not only is this foundation for a horse so much more powerful in how a horse learns/lives out the rest of it’s life, but that NOW WE HAVE THE MOST INCREDIBLE TOOL OF UNDERSTANDING ON HOW TO HAVE THIS RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR OWN HORSES!!!!!!! All thanks to you, Elsa! All who read this will forever be grateful! And being good stewards, we shall pass it on.

    • Thank you Maggie, If I can even help horses and their people a fraction of what you imply I am happy.

  5. I am so loving that you have these two ways you are being with these two mares. I can’t help but think that the use of ropes and sticks have added to Cleo’s fears and the way she responds to you. Was Cleo put in a squeeze chute to get her inoculations before you got her? I just wonder how long these memories last for these horses and keep them from trusting us.

    • Ritzy, I think you may be right that Cleo has had a tougher time in some ways than Myrnah, even since coming to my house. Myrnah is really incredibly lucky to have this year committed to doing things completely at her speed. Few horses really ever get that kind of consideration, even when we try our very best as trainers. Both Mares went through the squeeze chute to get their inoculations and be branded, Myrnah only the once, and Cleo probibly several times over the year she was there to get her hooves trimmed. I am sure those experiences linger and are aspects that will always be part of a horse. I have to say though, the focus and attention that Cleo has as a result of her fear, is amazingly beautiful to work with. Even negative experiences result in positive patterns sometimes.

  6. I am equally amazed & flabergasted at the simple fact that Myrnah is merely two months under domestication. I always smile when I think of you taking her out of her pen, and going for a simple meander. WAAAAY Cool! I would be mortified, personally, but, that’s what makes you so good at what you do! Continue the unbelievable progress!

    • You are the best Zak, thanks for all you have helped me with in this project. My progress is in no small part due to all the help I have gotten from my friends. 🙂

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