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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.

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.)


  1. I enjoy your blogs. What if you let go of your belief systems around pressure and release? :o)

    • An interesting idea… but what would I replace those ideas with? I like the predictability of pressure and release… the other ideas I have come across tend to feel like simply watered down versions of pressure and release with a different name… So tell me, what system of belief doesn’t include pressure and release?

  2. I am not saying that the belief may not work, but the words coming across the page feel as though there is an allegiance to a belief system for lack of a better word. When I read it, I observe in myself a clinching rather than an opening. I personally do not find pressure to be a path of release and relaxation in my own learning process. Pressure, instead shuts me down a bit. I think I am saying to play with letting your beliefs go and see what happens! Have you read the Four Agreements? Basically it is about becoming aware of our various domestications and belief systems–especially the ones that have become habitual. The concretized belief systems that I have, tie up my energy and limit my perceptions etc. I find being curious and playing with my many beliefs is helpful. One “technique” that shattered some of my horse beliefs was Carolyn Resnick’s things of when your horse walks away, you walk away too. IOW I try to walk away first. Sometimes that works for connecting, but at any rate it kind of blew my mind in a good way! She also talks on an interview about a horse who she was pressuring and pressuring. She totally lost her temper. Then she knew to stop. The next day, she allowed that horse to push her around for hours. The story is on an interview done by Anna Twinney which may still be on the Reach out for Horses website or on Horse Conscious site. It is a mind blowing interview. I don’t mean to push CR as the be all end all but those were two examples that have stayed with me. I use TTEAm and Peggy Cummings work and the waterhole rituals with my guys these days. Love those mustangs! I am glad you are doing your blog in the way that you are doing it!

  3. E, Seeing Cleo in the background, brings the question, is Cleo’s ‘natural’ training being affected by your different technique with Mynah? And have you projected what may happen to her going to another, even more different environment (off-Island) at the end of her training? Are adjustments for this already planned? M

  4. Elsa,

    I LOVE this blog! The photos of Myrnah with you are fab! She is so with you and what you are doing(at least at those moments!) Even with the expression on her face. Love that ear listening!
    I don’t always use the pressure and release methods; especilly with the babies at times. Recently I learned how farther I can get in their training if I can get them in “seeking” mode. Particularly to build confidence. It then becomes their idea(therefore builds confidence) rather than pressure and release and doing it just so they can get comfortable again.
    Having said that, I DO know how very important pressure and release is. I just don’t think it applies ALL the time or that horses(or humans for that matter) are always looking to be comfortable.


  5. (Usually we share your blog and then I write a consensus-comment afterwards. But this time Jodi wanted to add her personal comment. 😉 Michael )

    Your blog has, from the start, been a reflection of who you are and how you work in the world around you. Given your personal sense of honesty, how could it be anything else? Of course, we each see our world with our selves at the center. How we bring other beings into the center of our worlds, how we make space for them, how they make space for us would be part our “belief system”, I suppose. This is right there at the heart of your project. I have a great deal of admiration for this honesty of yours, not to mention your unrelenting tenacity. You have been sharing with us a remarkable journey of giving and discovery. Thanks. Jodi

  6. Reblogged this on Shiny Bright and Yellow and commented:
    This is sooooo wonderful.

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  1. […] 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 […]

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