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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 Space Between

Some call it perspective. For some it is the zen state of mind, for some it is the oneness with everything, for some it is non-dualism. Some find it though yoga, some find it through meditation, some find it through art, some study with masters and some stumble upon it by accident. For me, horses bring me to the space between….

Somewhere between disinterest and overwhelming emotion there is a space where life is at its best. We may think we live for emotion, that it is what brings intensity and vibrancy to life… I would argue that perhaps we can only enjoy the intensity of emotions when we have the presence of mind to be confidently one with that feeling, once it becomes too much for us we would rather run away. The space between is this side of overwhelmed and the other side of disinterested.

With horses, far too often they can go from uninvolved to scared or angry in the blink of an eye. The space between feels narrow and unforgiving. Training can feel like walking a tight rope, rapids below, wind buffeting from the sides. If we get it right, the feeling of relationship is exhilarating; if we loose our balance, we feel cold and alone wondering where it went wrong.

My goal with horses is to build that tight rope into a bridge by broadening our focus, our attention, our fascination, and our enjoyment of life.

How we do that links back to one of my first blogs about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s chart and the state of flow.

The sense of play that I was pondering last week also comes into account, as well as the balance between drive and draw.

What if the relationship we had with our horse was always this side of overwhelmed and the other side of disinterested? What if, no matter how quiet and repetitive the practice, we always felt fascinated and interested? What if, no matter how high the intensity of emotion and pressure, we felt we had the space and the perspective to enjoy it?

The emotion feeding us with energy, a sense of space allowing us confidence that no intensity was too high to handle.

Like anything, this usually needs to be built and developed one gradual step at a time.

Myrnah and I began with drive and draw. A direct gaze felt like drive to her; to look away and take in the environment felt like draw to her. My job was to play at this drive and draw over and over until she was fascinated by her part in the game, letting her figure out that focus and attention to me would cause me to take action that felt like draw to her. That draw would cause her to feel curiosity and connection with me.

When she was disinterested, it would cause me to take action that felt like drive. Here is where the tight rope analogy comes in. Drive too hard and what was once a game now feels overwhelming and frightening to her. Drive has to stay in balance with draw in order for that space between to grow in strength, breadth, and depth.

Should I draw away too much with no drive to balance it, disinterest sets in. I am of no interest or use to the horse if I am out of balance.

In the beginning it is a delicate balance- a constant back and forth game of drive and draw stimulating interest, keeping the emotions in check, and, step by step, building the tolerance for both intensity and quiet- developing the sense of self that allows intensity to be fulfilling without fear and quiet to be nurturing without boredom.

At times the horse can feel like a child with a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. All we can do is love them for who they are in that moment and let the play and the games build them into the focused individual we know they can be.

People often attribute to me more patience than I actually have. Patience would imply I am weathering boredom with good humor as we train. In fact I find, when the progress of building focus is slow with a horse, I can feel a sense of exhilaration as I play along the tight rope of keeping the horse in that narrow gap between boredom and the desire to escape. This is my art.

When you have had the pleasure of partnering with a horse who always seems fascinated by working with you, and never seems phased by the challenges the two of you face, you will never be able to get enough of a relationship like that. It is intoxicating and feeds your soul like nothing else can.

Emotions like anger and fear become entertaining, adding depth and richness to experience. Every emotion is one that adds to the beauty of life, and every challenge is one that builds your connection to the world, to yourself, and each other.

This project with Myrnah is enriching and developing my professional understanding with unprecedented speed and clarity. When I hit a stumbling block with one of my other horses, I ask myself: What would I do if this were Myrnah? What would I do if I had no tools to cause an action? Again and again it comes back to building the focus, and the attention, and the connection- building the space between.

May we all have the space to enjoy life to it’s fullest.

Merry Christmas to all,

Elsa Sinclair

(An immense thank you to John Sinclair for the amazing photographs today, best Christmas present ever!)

One Comment

  1. You remind me of our ‘undertow’ discussion so very long ago.
    Letting go in the face of tremendous fears, stress and hopes takes courage, and as you have clearly done this with Myrnah, you clearly have that courage to survive the undertows ahead. M

    Peace, comfort and Joy to you, your family and your herd of lucky horses! Jodi, Copper and Michael 😉 😉 😉

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  1. […] any of us are shut down or overwhelmed, the space between can seem as narrow as a tightrope and balancing in that calm seems beyond any realm of […]

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