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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 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


  1. “This is a dance where negativity is useful as a contrast, but I have to be careful to leave it at that.”
    Wow, that is very profound and absolutely true…
    I believe it’s a great thing what happened in the woods, with Myrnah leaving you, and I really admire your ability to see the value of that. I think you have reached a stage in this whole process where cues, requests, signals are becoming smaller and smaller and hence it becomes much more ‘brain-breaking’ to figure out how to proceed in very small steps without breaking the connection. I can so relate to all you have written here and to be honest, I often catch myself resorting to doing nothing with my horses for weeks, because I’m plain scared of losing what we have developed so far, when I proceed… Afraid of the negativity, necessary to find the positivity on an even higher level…
    Well, this one’s really food for thought to me, so thanks for these insights!

  2. Reblogged this on Shiny Bright and Yellow and commented:
    I love this!!!

  3. Elsa, I think that most instructors, trainers and therapists look to fulfill an informational or personal need/want.
    Finding that want filled, there is often much left over that can be shared, turning to instructing, training or treating others.
    Did Myrnah show her need to be fulfilled…being momentarily in personal control by using your advance/retreat technique?
    I read that most instructors are learning right with their pupil, the instructor/trainer’s learning curve being slightly ahead of that pupil to gently pull them. You had me laughing right before you said you had to laugh, so you have me right there as a reader. Thanks. 😉 Michael

  4. And then there is independence, the ying that goes with the yang. I was leading one mare and left the other loose in the William O. Douglas Wilderness. After all what could possibly go wrong as I had mom under lead. And then off she went leaving the two of us behind. Its a helpless feeling watching them run off to oblivion ! And a positive one when they come back.

  5. Great to read, thanks for these mighty big yet little lessons.

  6. You are amazingly skilled at breaking things down into the smallest possible steps during these sessions with Myrnah. This takes such acute awareness of her and your emotional responses. And we have the benefit of sharing the process through your honest and beautiful writing.
    I have two questions:
    Is Myrnah able to watch the different style of training you do with Cleo? If so, how do you think it affects her?
    Do you ever use visual images with the intent to show Myrnah what you see is possible for your relationship? (ala Temple Grandin’s belief that animals ‘think’ in pictures) Perhaps this would not be included in your original goal to use ‘only body language’ (?)

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