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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.

Life is a Game

Every once in a while I find I have become far too serious and I have forgotten life can be whatever I choose to make of it. I may not be able to control the world around me, but I certainly can decide how I want to respond to it. If I act as though life is a game, the results tend toward laughter, enthusiasm, and interest followed by a contented peace. If I think of it as work the resulting emotions tend toward tolerance, resignation, intense effort and exhaustion.

The horses also feel these things. They are horses not people, so it is different I am sure, but they do feel pure emotion of their own variety. How they feel about work versus play is clearly visible on their features and felt in their responses when you know what to look for. I believe most of us would rather be partners with horses who are enthusiastic and interested rather than tolerant and resigned.

So how do we make horse training a game instead of a job?

Myrnah and I are partners. When we work together I hope we bring out the best in each other. On those occasions that we don’t seem to bring out the best in each other, I ask myself: What do I need to do to make our time together more like a game and less like a job? How can I initiate interactions that are playful and fun? What do I need to do to find resting points that are peaceful for both of us together?

Asking questions has become one of the most important parts of this process with Myrnah. We are following a training process together that has no instruction manual. Our course is largely uncharted, so when I find myself adrift and not sure where to turn, I try to figure out what question I need to ask. Then I just wait. Life has a funny way of showing me just the experience I need to find the answer and the next step in our process.

Over the last few weeks Myrnah has learned to be so soft about yielding her hind end, turning towards me with ease when I drop my hand back on her belly to ask. Myrnah also has gotten very good at the specificity of standing next to a mounting block and allowing me to stand over her quietly.

The interesting part of the process now is getting on to ride. I’m not in a hurry- Myrnah is only three and largely pregnant. More weight on her back is probably not a comfortable thought for her. I am, however, very interested in the conversation she and I get to have ABOUT my getting on.

The first couple of times I got on, Myrnah was eating hay. She was unconcerned about my sitting on her back and also unengaged. What I would like to feel is that she actually wants me up there.

Now that she will easily sidle up to the mounting block, I can play with leaning on and off, advancing and retreating while watching her expressions and movements. Some days she is quiet letting me hang on her, and gently reaching around to nuzzle me. Other days she seems more irritated when she reaches around to check in with me and steps away quickly if I leave my weight on her for too long.

I am not sure how to make this more like a game she enjoys and less like a job she tolerates (or not); I just know my intuition is telling me play is the key. Somehow we need to make the process of riding a game she likes playing…..

I like the puzzle. The pieces fit together in a myriad of different ways, yet the end goal is always simply to have everyone as happy as possible.

Here is to life as a game!

Elsa Sinclair


    • Bonnie Beresford
    • Posted December 10, 2011 at 12:09 pm
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    I suspect that life is going to get very interesting for you and Myrnah when the foal arrives. Foals themselves develop a mare’s tolerance for games out of necessity, often including the foal trying to mount the mare, and the foal attempting to hook its forelegs over the mare’s back – not unlike you throwing a leg over her.

    But as for wanting you there – my guess is that this can happen only when the mare understands that she can then carry you somewhere. At least, that seems to have been the motivation in the few cases I have heard of when a horse seemed to invite a human to ride it. If you haven’t read Carolyn Resnick’s “Naked Liberty”, you can find a chapter there in which she was invited to ride the lead mare of a wild herd.

    • Without a doubt Bonnie! That foal is going to add a whole new dimension to everything! It’s hard for me to imagine a wild horse inviting a person to ride, it must have been the most incredible experience for Carolyn at the time. I wish she had had someone there with a video camera at the time to allow us to watch and learn for her experience more directly.

  1. Elsa, Once again, you answered a question before I asked.
    When would you intend to get up on Myrnah’s back? Already!
    Her just letting you on is an invitation, but you continue with this incredible task. You’ve gotten this far, from freshly caught wild captive to willing partner in just 4 months!
    I knew professional mountain wranglers who thought 2 1/2 months was ‘hasty’ to calm an already broken-to-saddle horse, that had wintered in vast mountain meadows well into May, and then brought down to 800 acre pastures rife with predators—bears, mountain cats and worse.
    After THAT the horses spent time in corrals, getting gentled in time to carry tourists by 4th of July.
    You did much better in 4 months. Are you going to use a pad and hackamore or go completely bareback, using touch and mane-flicks for guidance? And would Myrnah need even that in time? Fascinating speculations! 😉 Michael

    • Thanks Michael, Of course I will be completely bareback. No tools… That’s the game. 😉

  2. “On those occasions that we don’t seem to bring out the best in each other, I ask myself: What do I need to do to make our time together more like a game and less like a job?”
    The feeling of getting too serious is very familiar to me! Nowadays I notice it much quicker than I used to, fortunately. I would like to add a part to your quote: “What do I need to do or leave out to make our time together more like a game and less like a job?” Humans are very ‘doing’ creatures, we have a hard time just being, but being is i.m.o. the best entrance to getting more playful. I regularly find myself in a too serious phase with my horses, in which I can’t think of what to do to get out of that. So then I don’t ‘do’ for a while; I just wait and try not to ‘exercise my brain’ to find a solution. Sometimes this means I don’t interact with my horses for a day, a week or even a few weeks, until the playful feeling returns all by itself. And you know what? It always does :-)!

    As for Myrnah’s motivation to want you on her back: have you taught her when she can eat (graze) and when she can’t? That will probably be harder to teach without any tools, but I think it can be done. If that would be ‘installed’ very well in Myrnah, you could use it when you’re on her back, by letting her go where she wants to go, but only graze when you allow her to. That way she’ll probably connect the riding with the nice moments of grazing.

    • Marja, I love your addition to my thought. It has been a perfect piece for me this week. Sometimes doing less leads to playfulness more than doing more. I love having you as a sounding board for all this. I do think Myrnah and I will graze while I am riding at some point, but I feel better having her full attention for a while still. I can absolutely explain when she may and may not graze while I am on the ground, but riding I feel she may have to adjust to the feel of me talking to her from a different place before I can set guidelines around something like food…. I will keep you posted 😉

      • I know exactly what you mean Elsa. After all our communication means are somewhat different, and in some ways less convincing (which they know!), when we’re on their backs.
        By the way: you’re a magnificent sounding board for me as well; I can never hear enough of this stuff :)!

  3. Oh sorry, that was me, Marja van Run ;-).

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