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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.

Wherever there is a No, there has to be a Yes nearby


This week Myrnah got confident. Confident enough to say no to me. That makes me smile, and also check my watch. These dialogs take time. When a horse tells me no in response to a request, I can do one of three things: I can make their life uncomfortable until I get a yes, or I can just look for where the yes naturally is, working gracefully back to my original request from a better perspective, or some combination of those ideas.

Myrnah and I started the week taking walks together outside the paddock. Beyond the high fenced area is a larger woods paddock fenced only by a single strand of dark green electric fence. The feeling of freedom is enhanced by the lack of visual fencing. Yet I have enough confidence in Myrnah’s respect for that electric line to know we will not wander too far astray in these first forays outside.

Myrnah hesitated at the narrow gate. Once outside, I put my hand on her withers and shadowed her movements, the two of us exploring the world together, side by side. There were little bits of grass to nibble and terrain to be investigated. The only limits I set were about the grass directly under the hot wire. She needed to adjust to my directing her at least a small amount of the time, and because I didn’t want her getting shocked by accident, those seemed like good spots to put off limits. When we got close to the fence I would use my hand on the side of her neck to turn her around as much as it took to head her away from the fence again. Interestingly, once there were a few spots off limits, those were the only places she wanted to go.

When I had her faced away from the fence, she would say no, she didn’t want to walk in that direction. So I looked for the yes. In this case, the yes was standing quietly, my arm draped over her back, my ribs against hers breathing softly together. It could be seen as a standoff; it could also be seen as an opportunity to practice being together, being still, being patient.
There are many times I would like my horse to be still and patient while I talk to a friend, or teach a lesson, or fix a piece of broken fence. If Myrnah wanted to practice that in this particular moment, I was prepared revel in the yes, while thinking about how to change the no gracefully in the future.

The next time out, Myrnah was slightly more exploratory, but after forty-five minutes got stuck in a battle of wills with me about the grass under the electric fence again. If I wasn’t going to let her eat under the fence, she wasn’t going to take me exploring around the woods anymore either. We again took the opportunity to practice stillness and patience for a while, finishing our time together by letting her follow me back into the main paddock and into the trailer for her breakfast hay. The following day I put a bucket with a few bites of timothy hay out in the woods for her to find in her explorations and I stuck a few brushes in my pocket. The bucket was fun for her to find as she was worried about it being in a strange place, and then she was happy finding she liked eating what was inside. When we would reach an impasse where she didn’t want to explore, and I wouldn’t let her graze the spot she wanted, the yes we could agree on was being still together, only this time I added grooming to our still times.

It was a great session… except for the end when I thought I would ask her to take me back into the paddock with me at her withers instead of me walking ahead of her. Myrnah said no, she liked being the one to pick the direction of travel when I was walking at her side. I can tell her where she is NOT going, letting her decide where she IS going from the array of other choices. However, our relationship is not evolved enough for me to tell her where we are going specifically, unless I am actually in front. So in this particular instance I settled for being able to tell her which direction to face, then, after an appropriate amount of time being still and enjoying each other’s company, I took the lead and let her follow me back into the paddock. It’s nice to know we have skills to fall back on, when the new skills are still in their developmental infancy.

So Myrnah decided all these exploratory walks were the new fun game. When I went to trim her hooves on Tuesday she again said no. Every time I ran a hand down her leg she started walking away, taking me to the gate, patiently letting me know she didn’t want to do hooves anymore- she just wanted to go out walking. Again I looked for the yes. If she wanted to walk, me too, walking together is an excellent game to practice. We didn’t take it out the gate, just in random patterns through the paddock- practicing turning and walking over and over until she offered a stop. When she did I would run my hand down her leg and we were off again. Forty-five minutes later she heaved a sigh and stood still and patient for me to trim all four feet. It takes time, but it’s worth it when I feel her make the decision to work with me, not because she has to, just because she has decided life is better this way. Luckily I still had time to take her outside the paddock after her hoof trim to end our session with the explorations she seems to be enjoying so.

Interestingly, Cleo is also letting me trim her front hooves with no halter or lead on, much more readily and quietly than Myrnah this week. It’s kind of nice to have them switch roles, with Cleo being easy and Myrnah making me work for the relationship this week.

They keep me thinking and I like that. Wherever there is a No, there has to be a Yes nearby.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

6 Comments

  1. Great post this week, thanks. Something about this one seems to ring true for parenting too… And my goodness, do I ever have a crush on Cleo now. She is so appealing – all that confidence. Love the second to last photo. Totally my kind of horse.

    • Thanks Molly, This all really is applicable to lots of relationships I think. Cleo is irresistible! I am going to be so sad when she goes home to her owner. Not thinking about it though, just enjoying the time we do have together. I love that my sister reads my blog! Love you!

  2. I like how you are looking for the yes when you get a no at first, Elsa. I can relate to what you say about a yes always being nearby. It’s also my experience that through looking for that yes, I can usually gradually get to the ‘no’ place again, to find out the no has suddenly turned into a yes after all.
    Or like one of Carolyn Resnick’s other students once said: “I learned that when my horse says ‘no, thanks’, I can always ask another question to get a ‘yes’, and it’s that ‘yes’ I’m looking for now, instead of the goal I had in mind when I woke up this morning.”

  3. Oh a big lesson for me and my horsies also. I got lots of no’s this week. So looking for what we can do is always a helpful tool. Thank you for this lovely lesson.

    • Yay! Sometimes I think of that bumper sticker I see around “kids need encouragement every day” and I think to myself, yes, and horses too 😉

  4. Good blog! I truly love how it is easy on my eyes and the data are well written.

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3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] last week I wrote about what Myrnah and I do when we reach an impasse. I am happy to report it is going […]

  2. […] on I wrote a blog: “For Every No, There Is a Yes Nearby”. Thursday, loading in the trailer, I definitely leaned on those ideas. For months I have been […]

  3. […] to convince me I didn’t want to be up there any more. In everything we do together, Myrnah knows she can say no; and what’s more to the point, she often does. So when I say she carried me at the canter this […]

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