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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.

The Fear of Losing Control

The beautiful thing about training Myrnah as I am, using no tools of force, is my illusions of control are limited right from the start. I recognize that I cannot control her any more than I do at any given moment because I have no tools to force her to obedience. Whatever leadership I have in this partnership I have to earn. If she is not willing to give me control of her direction or speed, I have to break the training down to the simplest pieces, developing her trust enough that she feels content to have me in the leadership role.

If I walk through this relationship knowing she has full right to take back control of her speed and direction at any time two things happen: One, I take care to develop strong habitual patterns of her following my leadership, never challenging her so much that she loses trust. Two, I am less likely to be scared of losing control when I accept I only deserve whatever control she feels safe enough to give me. I can’t be afraid of losing something I know is only on loan so long as she trusts me.

Without tools to force Myrnah into situations she would choose to avoid, I believe we will ultimately feel more reliably and consistently safe than the usual horse and rider partnership. Before we take that walk out into the woods, both of us have to agree it is a good idea. Once we have agreed, there is less likelihood that fear will interrupt our progress.

From my observations, both people and horses get into trouble when they think they deserve to have more control of a situation than they actually have. As a rider I expect to be able to go, stop and turn my horse, at any time. A horse often thinks pretty much the same thing about their rider. The art of training a horse, develops the horses desire to be part of a team. Horses need to learn to give up their control without fear of being unsafe. People need to learn to develop control of the horse without causing fear in either their horse or themselves.

As soon as fear steps into the game rationality starts fading away. If I give up my control of a situation, will I still be safe? Will I get hurt? Can I trust someone else to make the decisions for me in this situation? If I think anything bad might happen, there is no way I want to give up my control of speed and direction, neither does the horse. We are at an impasse, using more and more force to try to gain enough control in the partnership to feel safe.

So last week I wrote about what Myrnah and I do when we reach an impasse. I am happy to report it is going beautifully. Little by little she is allowing me more and more control of speed and direction on our walks through the woods. She is once again willing to put up with the boredom of having her feet handled and trimmed, trusting me to get through it and move on to something more fun soon. That trust is something we have to keep building and honing to a useful point.

Myrnah has to trust me that boredom and claustrophobia don’t last forever, she has to trust me that I will have more interesting things to do with her after tasks that are tedious, she has to trust me to take her away from food and know I will bring her back to food again soon. That last one is probably the hardest lesson we have together. Coming from a place of being pregnant where food was scarce it is hard for her to trust me there will always be enough even if she can’t consume it right away. Yet proving that to her again and again I feel is a powerful tool to bond us together.

Myrnah and I are making such simple slow and steady progress I find I am amazed to think we may be ready to ride sometime in the next few weeks. Her back is starting to look more muscled, and she trusts me enough to let me jump up with my arms braced on the other side of her withers, holding myself there, feet hanging a foot off the ground for a few seconds before I slide back down to earth.

I dream of galloping flat out with Myrnah through the pastures, baby alongside us, her trust in me allowing enough control that we both feel safe. I don’t know how long it will take to build that sort of relationship, but I do know I want to find out.

One Horse, One Trainer, One Year, No Tools, how far can we get? Is it possible for us to train together without fear of losing control?

Here’s to finding out.

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Interestingly enough, I have forwarded this to a friend who wants to share it with a group of mother’s who are using attachment parenting theories as the fundamental basis behind rearing their children. This posting about the dynamics of Control/Fear are equally applicable to Children as they are to your work.

    • Penny, I am thrilled this work I am doing reads valuable in many walks of life. I do find it all correlates beautifully. Thank you so much for passing it on!

  2. Your post gave me goosebumps Elsa. Your insights are so clear and it’s great to see them all work out so wonderfully. The photo of you hanging over Myrnah’s back while she just keeps on grazing is a great proof of your mutual trust!

  3. Trust…is part of the Deal…the Promise. Go for it! 😉 M

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