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Monthly Archives: January 2012

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 Great Affair is to Move”

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”

This week for Myrnah and me has been about just that. The love affair between us is what makes it possible for us to work and grow and learn together without any bonds of force. The ever analytical part of me wants to know how and why that works. Everyone else I know needs a halter and a rope and a round pen to build that bond between horse and rider… why is it that Myrnah and I get to skip those forceful steps and jump right into the voluntary love affair?

I believe the answer lies in movement and how we choose to use it. Our movement through space is the greatest love affair there is. If you have ever watched a talented dancer entrance a crowd with the twitch of a finger, or a brilliant comedian cause the audience to burst into uproarious laughter with the well-timed raise of an eyebrow… you know what I mean.

Everything means something, nothing means nothing… learning to place value in every movement, and reverence in traveling through space is an art and the best part about art is you can’t do it wrong. The trick is to enjoy it completely as you figure out the cause and affect your movement creates and learn from the ripples of change around you.

Because I have no tools to hold Myrnah close to me, my job from day one was to make movements that would cause curiosity, interest, joy, peace, and connection between us. I courted her with movement and strove to build a love between us.

Movement is what bonds Myrnah and I together. The more we move together, the stronger our connection. And so the quote seems quite fitting. “The great affair is to move”

I read a quote from a Natural Horsemanship trainer today that made me sad for a moment. “Remember the rules of Horsemanship: Whoever moves first, loses.” Perhaps it is true, but I wish to challenge the customary understanding of this statement. Is this relationship with my horse one where I want her to lose? I don’t know about you, but my answer is a definite no. I want my horse to feel like she has won every moment of every day with me. I want my horse to feel like she is in the best love affair ever and has won the lottery to be my partner. To achieve this I will, in the beginning, voluntarily assume the so-called losing position. I will move through space using advance and retreat and timing a balance of action and inaction to woo my horse into becoming my partner. Once those beginning phases of the relationship are formed then the real fun begins. Moving together is when the whole of our partnership starts becoming so much more than the sum of it’s parts. There is an energy and a lightness of being that can’t be bought or sold, it can only be earned through the devotion of movement.

During the snow this last week, Myrnah and I climbed a hill together with my daughter who took pictures for all to see. The next day we walked out through the woods in a different direction for almost two hours with my brother who videoed the journey for us. I question… would I be able to walk through the woods for two hours with any of my other horses? I have good liberty skills with many of them, but two hours out in the woods is a long time to stay connected and focused. No carrots, or sticks, or ropes. I don’t actually know the answer to that question, yet with Myrnah there was very little doubt.  

I attribute that confidence and that bond between Myrnah and me to our practice of movement together. The hours we have spent traveling in silence side by side, matched step for step, is the glue that binds us together. It isn’t my ability to make her turn, or stop, or go, it isn’t the things I have taught her, or the things she has taught me, it is simply the in between times. It is the times when we move through space with no change or directing necessary. Our ability to communicate left, right, stop or go is vital to our comfort with each other, however it’s our ability to simply move, in quiet harmony without communication, that connects us together like nothing else can.

Placing value in movement together is what allows this experimental training process to succeed.

So what of the riding part of the equation? Myrnah and I are in the courting stage of our relationship when it comes to riding. I do the movement, and she still is deciding if she wants to partner with me. Advance and retreat, a timed balance of action and inaction- the game is marvelous fun for me; and, while Myrnah still seems a little puzzled and unsure about it, I have no doubt that one of these days she will fall in love with the idea of carrying me higher and faster than my own feet can carry me. Our traveling through space together continually evolves and is an endless love affair of movement.

So I put this out to all of you. Value your movements, and observe the ripples they create through time and space around you. If you are looking for a partner and you want that brilliant feeling of connection, find a way to move together, step for step, breath for breath- more time spent existing in movement, less time talking, debating, and communicating about exactly what or how or when. Take the time to just be- in movement together.

Communication brings comfort and trust to the relationship- that is a necessary piece; however the inexplicably beautiful bond and connection between you comes from the time spent when communication isn’t necessary, moving in harmony together. It’s that simple.

“The great affair is to move.” Life is your canvas and movement your paint brush. Paint a landscape your horse can’t resist and revel in the great affair.

Elsa Sinclair

Myrnah thinks that looks like a very big hill to climb…

“Are we really walking up that?”

Almost half way up…

Pine branches are yummy!

Snow is yummy too!

We reached the top!

Cold and windy at the summit.

Headed back down.

Have to stop to make a snow angel, Myrnah’s not so sure about this game.

Stopping for a snow snack.

Elsa likes the snow, Myrnah likes some branches in her snow…

Down the hill through the dark woods…

Almost home.

Not so sure about the snow monster guarding the driveway… luckily monster turns out to be friendly.

Thank-you Cameron for building a fabulous snow monster, and for talking these amazing pictures!

Elsa Sinclair

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.

Five things I can count on

It snowed this week, beautiful white mounds of fluffy snow adorning every surface around my house- the landscape brilliantly beautiful, and yet for me, not as much fun as one might think. Unfortunately emotions and logic don’t always dance in the sane and controllable fashion we would like them to. I can logically appreciate the beauty, yet at the same time find my emotions beating me to a pulp underneath all that beautiful sane logic. Snow and cold send me into panic attacks of vertigo and nausea, blinding anxiety, and difficulty breathing. I am however far too stubborn to let that stop me, so for the most part everything proceeds normally. I have found there are five things I can count on to help. No matter how good, or how bad I feel, these five things will always improve the situation.

Thank-you Sally Swift for creating the five basics of Centered Riding. Thank-you Stephanie Mosely for introducing me to the existence of Centered Riding; and thank-you to all the brilliant Centered Riding instructors who have helped me understand those five basics in deeper and more profound ways.

I have been exposed to, and devoted to many different models of horse training. Each model and idea has created a facet of who I am and how I train today. I would have to say though, Centered Riding remains at the core of everything I do. The principles reach far beyond riding a horse. They apply to every action in life, and within these five simple ideas lies a power to improve any moment.

  1. Grounding – The feeling of having your feet rooted down through the Earth. Sally Swift added this to her original four basics when she wrote her second book. No matter which training idea I am currently working with, taking a moment to wiggle my toes in my boots and feel my feet become grounded always lends a solid and reliable feel to whatever I am doing.
  2. Centering – The feeling of your weight down low in the core of your body, the idea of chi or qi that martial arts talks of, all action originating from the center of your body. This idea always gives me a sense of connection with my horse and that legendary “feel” between horse and rider that instructors are always saying is so essential and so hard to teach.
  3. Breathing – Deeply, using the diaphragm and letting the air fill every part of your body like a professional singer would. This is perhaps the most challenging for me, yet I know how important it is. Horses are herd creatures and are constantly assessing the well-being of those around them. My ability to breath allows me to work at my best and signals my horse that I am feeling ok- there is nothing to worry about in our herd. Constantly I remind myself and my students, when your horse does something you like, just take one deep breath before you do anything else. That deep breath and the resulting positive feeling it brings to you and your horse is the simplest and best reward you can give.
  4. Soft eyes – Using a soft balance of focus and peripheral vision. In an ideal scenario we are using our muscles in a state of release contracting muscles or extender muscles used to the degree we need them. When we use both the contractors and the extenders at the same time an unnecessary tension and stress is present. We tend to create a great deal of stress in the small muscles around our eyes… the relaxation of those muscles allows us to use our peripheral vision as well as our focus.
  5. Building Blocks – The feeling of each part of the skeleton stacked in balance on top of the piece below- using only the essential muscular effort needed to stand, sit or move, nothing extra.

All these five principles can be evolved and developed, pondered and meditated on, however they work best for me in their simplicity. They are just five words to remember, each with a profound impact on positivity in any given moment.




Soft Eyes

Building Blocks

So when Myrnah and I are walking through the woods in the snow, my mind tells me this should be a marvelous novelty of fun, while unfortunately, my emotions batter my skull, blur my vision, lay lead weight on my lungs and make me want to cry or throw up. I reach for those five words, because I know they are five things I can count on no matter what to make everything better.

Grounding, I can feel my toes wiggle in my socks, I can feel the snow crunch underfoot, I can feel my weight roll from heel to toe, step by step in harmony with Myrnah. I can imagine that she feels grounded too as we walk together. Centering- Every movement of mine originating from the core of my body, every movement of Myrnah’s felt and followed from my core. Breathing- It’s not easy for me out in the cold and the snow, but if I think about it I can feel Myrnah breath, and I can match her rhythm, let her breath through me, an underlying rhythm to every movement we make together. Soft eyes can feel impossible when for me the world is spinning and everything looks blurry from vertigo, so this is where having practiced on a good day is invaluable. I remember what it feels like to release the muscles around my eyes, I remember what it feels like inside my eyes when I soften them and allow all my peripheral vision to become part of what I see. As I do these things it helps the world become still and more clear. It helps the stress dissolve and the beauty of the day become apparent again. Building Blocks- a nod of the head up yes and then no, smaller and smaller until the center resting point is found, a shrug and circle of the shoulders around until they too find the central balance, the ribs, the hips the knees and the ankles, all have their central resting point, in fluid balance with all the other parts.

Each one of these five ideas has benefit without need for perfection. Simply walking through them with whatever awareness I have on any give day has a power I would not want to live without.

We all have our highs and our lows, as do our horses. We hope that when one of us is low, the other in the partnership can step in and support, building the bond of connection stronger and deeper.

It often feels perhaps I should not train when I am low or stressed. I become afraid of spreading the horror of what I feel like a menacing rain cloud darkening everyone’s day. If I can allow myself simply to be as imperfect as I am and just show up anyway, I find very often my horses seem to enjoy stepping up to the plate to take care of me for a change. We can walk through the simplest of our movements together, my job being to remember my five basics and attend to them with whatever skill I have that day. I can let my horse take care of the rest of the details.

The five things I can count on will always be there for me. High or low, rain, snow, sun or wind. Life isn’t always easy, but with a partner like Myrnah traveling alongside me, it is pretty wonderful regardless.

Elsa Sinclair

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 Plausibility of Positivity


Five thirty in the morning, Thursday: the sky was dark, the moon was bright, the air crisp and dry, the world cold and frozen in a quiet stillness. In the sand arena, with its puddle of deceptively warm golden light emanating from the lamp under the walnut tree, stood Myrnah, Cleo, and I. The end of the week was rapidly approaching and I felt at a loss for words. What do I write about this week? In those quiet moments with the mustangs, building our skills one small action at a time, life feels positively perfect. So today I want to suggest the plausibility of positivity being perhaps the best feeling on earth.


The interesting twist: positivity needs negativity in order to exist. There is no black without white, and no up without down. We are all raised from childhood with the stories of good winning over evil. As we mature we discover nothing is that simple and perspective plays a large part of any story. We learn that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and a moment can feel perfect or hopeless with the simple twist of emotion and perspective.


Horses have a simpler outlook on life, as they don’t make things as complicated as people do, none the less the shades of grey in perspective exist for them too. They can feel good or bad, just like we can, and it is a plausible argument that positivity feels just as good to them as it does to us.


Positivity- Consisting in or characterized by the presence or possession of features or qualities rather than their absence.


Negativity- Consisting in the absence rather than the presence of distinguishing features.


When you break down the definitions, it becomes “a glass is half full” versus “the glass is half empty” point of view. If we become mired in either viewpoint, life becomes half of what it could be. When we see the whole picture, then and only then can the experience of life reach into its full potential.

Last week I wrote about waiting for the emotional change: the art of choosing a task slightly beyond our skill level and sitting with the negative feeling or lack of skill/lack of comfort that goes along with learning- sitting with it long enough that the emotion changes, and the feelings start to become positive as we begin to believe perhaps we do have the skill for this task after all.


Positivity and Negativity are intertwined in a dance. With training horses we (as a partnership- horse and rider) need to feel just enough lack or negativity to motivate us to grow and develop, and to give us the contrast that makes positivity ever more sweet. For the most part though, we all do better in life if we feel good. Positivity is what makes life feel worthwhile.


In a perfect world the majority of our training is spent in a state of flow where we can see the whole picture, negativity and positivity in balance, the emotional outlook on what we have and what we don’t have, equivalent in weight, the challenge and the skill evenly matched and evolving as we work together.


In the world I live in, life is sometimes more dramatic than that as I am torn between the negative understanding of what I want and don’t have yet, and the bliss of what I do have that might just be perfect without ever changing anything.

So it is a dance of positivity and negativity with Myrnah and me: the quiet perfect moments where I lie in the grass as she nibbles the blades around me, a blissful moment in the sun perfect in it’s simplicity, the moments of flow where we practice together, skill and challenge in balance, gently evolving our navigation of the world around us. And the moments of negativity where I want more than we have and I can feel the lack keenly. If I get the dance right, I can feel that lack and negativity and then back off from it into our state of flow… that would be the development I spoke of in development versus training. If I feel the need to wrestle with negativity instead, I can always push harder and see what happens. The thing about this project is, with no halter, or rope or fences to trap Myrnah in, pushing harder doesn’t usually go so well.


Midweek Myrnah and I took our long walk out through the woods. The stream where we sometimes stop for a drink was rushing faster than usual. I wanted to go play in the stream; Myrnah wanted to eat the ferns growing along the path. We had a lack of consensus in direction and plan, and that lack bothered me, so I pushed Myrnah to do what I wanted to do. There are lots of ways I could have seen the lack of harmony between us and used the knowledge to guide our progress together. Instead, I got stubborn and pushed her to stay specifically beside me, regardless of what she wanted. The good news is we are bonded enough she tried her best to see my side of the argument, there was some give and take as we moved forward and and back and left and right next to the bubbling brook. However, on that particular day I couldn’t quite find the positivity we needed to both feel good about the situation, and so, for the first time, Myrnah left me out in the big woods. Whoops. She didn’t go far, five hundred feet trotting back up the trail with me running after her, and then she turned back to me with an expression as if to say, “Are you willing to be more reasonable now?”


I have to laugh; this is a cooperative process, and Myrnah gets a vote. The fact that she has never worn a halter and is still willing to leave her herd and walk out in the woods with me at all is amazingly beautiful in itself. The fact that she will go close to the stream when she doesn’t feel like it just because I asked is awesome. The fact that she can say no when I am being unreasonably pushy is a fabulous learning curve for me.


The plausibility of positivity being the best feeling in the world is perhaps the most vital piece to Myrnah’s development with me as her partner. If I stray from positivity for too long there is nothing stopping her from walking away from me. This is a dance where negativity is useful as a contrast, but I have to be careful to leave it at that. This is a partnership built on positivity. It is far from black and white, with variations of positivity and negativity to give it scope and vivid fullness. However the basis of this relationship with Myrnah is pure and clearly positive. Without tools of force, we have nothing but the positivity that unites us. I like it that way.

Elsa Sinclair

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.

Waiting for the Emotional Change

Every one of us- Horses, People, and every other sentient being out there- wants just one thing. We all want to feel better than we did a moment before. Some of us build up varied amounts of discipline for delayed gratification, trading in our current better feeling on the promise of something far greater waiting ahead. Some of us have less forethought and just grab whatever better feeling we can find regardless of the cost. Most of us know it is in our best interest to hold out for feeling the best we possibly can, even if we have to wait for it, but how do we develop the discipline it takes? Waiting for the Emotional Change is one of the best ways I know to go about it.

Myrnah and I have been working on a current sticking place in the project together. She just isn’t fully comfortable with my sitting on her (unless she is too busy eating to notice); I want her full and absolute approval before we start to ride together.

Myrnah’s needs are simple- she just wants to feel better. I know how much fun riding is going to be for us; she doesn’t know that yet. So how do I build up her discipline to a point that allows her to get through the insecurity of something new and into finding more fun with me as a result?

The answer is: break it down just like any other task, and develop it one step at a time. I believe the strongest support for developing a new skill is waiting for the emotion to change for the better, and then rewarding that emotional change with quiet companionship.

In the beginning I taught Myrnah to pay attention to me. Full attention on her was pressure; then, when she gave me her full attention, I would look away, take a deep breath, and relax as reward. This was good- a game of advance and retreat to develop our relationship. However, I didn’t quit there at the simple accurate physical response. The discipline of the action really began to develop when Myrnah could reward herself. That reward was the emotional change.

In people we can see an emotional change for the better in a smile, or a deep relaxing breath, in the shoulders settling, or a yawn and a stretch. In horses the changes are there to be observed as well- the ears coming forward, the muscles relaxing, the jaw loosening to lick and chew or yawn, sometimes a soft nuzzle to a friend.

Associations are strong. If we can stay in a new and possibly uncomfortable pattern long enough for the emotions to relax, changing for the better, all of a sudden we begin to associate the new pattern with feeling better.

Sometimes emotions change for the worse- anger, fear, or shutdown- and that is when we must retreat. We don’t want to reward the behavior that can come from negative emotion, (so we may play a continual game of advance and retreat until the physical behavior changes) yet we must remember pushing (with no retreat) through negative actions can often have negative side affects that will have to be addressed later. So we advance and retreat, working in and out of patterns that the horse can sustain long enough to find the positive emotional change.

We are looking for the sense of flow where challenge and skill are both within range, the challenge at hand pushing the skill to evolve. If the challenge at hand is too difficult for the available skill, the horse will try to evade and get away seek a better feeling. The only way to build the discipline that consistently bridges the gap between challenge and skill is to wait for and reward the positive emotional changes.

If we can teach the horse to reach for a good feeling, relaxing and letting go of tension even in a new or uncomfortable exercise, then we have a horse who is building the discipline to learn. If we can push them just far enough out of their comfort zone that they develop, but not so far that they want to evade, that is good. Better, however, is staying there long enough, waiting for the emotional change that rewards the horse internally.

When the horse can feel an internal reward for something he thought was going to be difficult, uncomfortable, and not at all better, then he begins to build faith in the developmental process.

Our job as friends and trainers to our horses is to help them wait for the emotional changes that make them feel better. Our job is to challenge them just enough to cause life to be interesting and full of development, perceiving and breaking down the tasks that cause them to evade, escape or fight back. Allowing them to learn a piece at a time, while we wait for the emotional changes that will reward the horse from the core of who they are.

Pressure motivates; Release teaches. What I most want to teach my horses is how to feel better, even when they are challenged. So, when they are challenged (feeling pressure), and I see them take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy it, I know all the practice we put in waiting for the emotional change has been well worth it.

Here is to feeling better, each and every moment, regardless of the challenges we may face.

Elsa Sinclair

















(Thank you John Sinclair for the beautiful photographs in this weeks blog.)