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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.

Positivity in Community

The wet Northwest weather has finally driven us to the wintertime necessity of pulling the horses off the pastures and into paddocks of drier footing. Our summertime pastures are about a mile down the road from my house. The winter paddocks are close, tucked up all around my home, so with this move came a whole new learning opportunity for Myrnah and Cleo: positivity in community.

Myrnah and Cleo still have their own paddock, at least for the moment. The biggest change for them is the level of chaos around. Five of the most exuberant, gleeful, and energetic kids (my daily students) are now part of the Mustang’s regular environment. As the girls run, jump, laugh, and play in and amongst their five very patient horses, Cleo and Myrnah watch on in what seems like fascination and disbelief. The girls adore the mustangs and are good at being quiet when interacting directly with them. However, when the girls are with their own horses being loud and fun, I think it is just wonderful for Myrnah and Cleo to see all that commotion quietly accepted to by the other horses.

The first day the additional horses had made their home at Sanctuary Lane, I took Myrnah out for a walk. Interestingly, she did not want to go see the other horses at all. We played advance and retreat, walking back and forth to and fro, until she worked up the courage to get just a little curious- just curious enough to stand and stare at them where they were resting in the woods at the end of our short driveway. In between long rests for Myrnah’s courage to build, we would weave left and right slowly making our way down the drive two steps at a time. When we got to where the horses were grouped under the trees we just stood across the fence from them, everyone looking at everyone. Turning around to retreat toward the home paddock seemed a great relief for Myrnah that day. I am continually amazed that Myrnah and I can do all this with no halter or rope, no stick, and no treats- only the body language between us necessary.

Myrnah is only three, and when I watched her with her wild herd in Oregon she seemed fairly low in the hierarchy. Obviously a new herd is a little intimidating for her and is something we will work up to slowly.

Cleo is definitely the higher strung of the two Mustangs, and had all the same hesitations walking out to where the new herd was gathered. With her energy, much higher than Myrnah’s, rippling around her her like a force field, I find I am reassured by the halter and rope connection between us. When we got to the other horses, Cleo lost all her reserve showing how much more social she is. She wanted to plunge right over to the new horses and say hi nose to nose. There was an electric wire between us and them, so I kept her a little ways away in spite of her positivity. I was glad to see it none the less.

The following day after lessons were over, the kids and the chaos gone for the day, I gathered my beautiful black Mustang mare, Saavedra, from her paddock and brought her over to meet Myrnah and Cleo. The wonderful thing about Saavedra is her complete trust in my leadership around other horses. When I am with her, there is never an ear laid back, or any sort of threat. She is quiet and easy and relaxed no matter what other horses we encounter. My goal is to impress upon Myrnah and Cleo that this is the kind of behavior expected around humans. They may play whatever dominance games they choose out in the far reaches of the field, however, when humans are close, all dominance games and aggression must be put aside allowing the humans to take leadership.

Saavedra was perfectly wonderful as Cleo came right up to sniff noses, then spun for a kick.. I stepped in with a yell before she had a chance, and off she ran. Myrnah came and said hi and then pinned her ears and went for a charge, teeth bared. I stepped in again and sent her away. Saavedra played her part perfectly: interested, friendly, and simply moving quietly out of the way as the other mares figured out the rules with me.

We then followed them walking around the paddock for a while, allowing them to lead us where they would, Saavedra and I taking a submissive following role and asking to be accepted into their herd. When they stood still, we just stood with them, close enough to be part of the herd, quiet enough they didn’t feel like we were trying to drive them. Eventually Myrnah came over and very positively and gently sniffed noses with Saavedra. Then she stood with us for a moment before she wandered off to eat some hay. Cleo was not so brave; she had been yelled at by me once and wasn’t going to risk it again. We could rest somewhat close to her, but it is going to take some time before she gets brave enough to come over to Saavedra and me again. I am OK with that; I would rather she be more hesitant than aggressive if I have to pick one side of the spectrum.

This process of developing positivity in community is one that takes some time, but is priceless when it comes to ease of coexisting- horses and people together. Saavedra and I will continue to visit with Myrnah and Cleo often. Over time they will understand how socializing around people works, and then I will introduce someone else to them- perhaps a horse more abrasive in nature, more of a challenge to be easy around. For now, Saavedra is the best partner I could possibly have in this process.

By spring when they all go out in the big pastures together, new Mustangs included, I hope to have everyone socialized and positive in community. I do this for me, and for the safety of all the people who spend time with my horses. A part of me also hopes it influences their behavior with eachother: maybe, just maybe if the horses spend time being kind and quiet and gentle with each other around me, their need for dominance games of kicking and biting out in the field will ease and quiet.

All I want is the best for my horses, and I intend to continue learning all I can as we strive to be the best of ourselves together.

Elsa Sinclair


  1. Thanks Elsa, for giving me a new perspective on how to show a herd how to behave around humans. I already spend much time on herd behaviour around feeding time. They all (seven Icelandic horses) have to wait patiently and politely for their buckets, and their behaviour dictates the order in which I hand them their bucket. So when one of them will for instance chase another one off aggressively, the aggressive one gets their bucket last. This has improved their behaviour towards each other a lot!
    However, I usually don’t interfere in the way you just described, by sending the aggressive horse off myself. I can see how this can improve their behaviour even more, when I’m around. Sounds good, going to give it a try :)!

  2. Elsa, this has gotten very technical, yet subtle. Your gradual easing the two new mustangs away from their captive herd, short-term enclosure in a rattling trailer, then released into increasing larger areas of freedom is working, all without tools (for Myrnah).
    I am intrigued by your report of Cleo being hesitant to repeat her aggressiveness with Saavedre just from one verbal cue from you. Quick, solid communicaton, already!
    You are right on schedule with your original, stated plan from the start of this project…so soon.
    Subtle, yet very technical. 😉 Michael

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