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Monthly Archives: February 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.


This Baby is a Dancer…

Sunset… Some of our best rides are at sunset. Work for the day is done; the light in the sky is fading fast. Osgar Lopez’s guitar sets the tone from a red, mud-spattered, boom box beside the arena. Myrnah and I travel together, step for step, stride for stride, side by side; and that baby dances right along with us. Myrnah is solid and seemingly unaffected by the fact that her belly jumps and dances to the left and right completely independently of the movements she and I make together. This baby is a dancer and will not be denied.

I don’t remember this kind of movement from any of the other unborn foals I have spent time with, perhaps though, I have never spent so much time with my other mares as I am now with Myrnah: my arm draped across her back, my ribs pressed against hers, our steps and our timing moving as one… and that baby, clearly moving independently from either of us. The movements under Myrnah’s ribs and beside mine don’t feel aggressive or constrained; it just feels like a dance that cannot be contained.

This baby seems to only dance at sunset though. When Myrnah and I ride in the mornings, the baby sleeps quietly though everything. While our morning rides tend to be focused and productive, our evening rides are a wonder as this third character dances amidst our practice.

Myrnah has indeed decided she likes having me ride more than she likes the incessant moving I like to do with her when I am not riding. She likes the peacefulness of putting me up on the mounting block; she likes my still, reverent patience as I let her adjust to and understand carrying weight on her back. She doesn’t seem to mind carrying her dancing baby and me all at the same time- though it is still very new to her, every step a consideration and a thoughtful undertaking.

Myrnah will walk a few steps and then stop to think about it. A careful lean one way and then the other, as though getting the feel for what happens to the weight on her back when she moves, a back up for a step or two, a rest, and then forward again followed by stillness. I am, for the most part, a devoted passenger. I cue gently with my hands and my legs in any direction she chooses, letting her match the feel of my body with the direction of her choice. When Myrnah takes a few steps with more confidence or gives a sigh of relaxation, I jump off and let her contemplate us from a more familiar standpoint.

For most of the week, that was our pattern of practice, our rides lasting for up to five minutes before I would dismount. Today Myrnah felt more confident, allowing me to ask for movement forward, backward, left and right. It is a thrill though me as I ask for a move or a turn with my fingers on her neck and my ankle at her girth… knowing we have practiced this for months from the ground, and yet also knowing I can’t make her do anything she doesn’t choose to do. If I pushed too hard, I think she would escalate her movement until she got me off her back. I am there as a guest; I make no demands, only requests. If I don’t like where she takes me, I am free to get off. Myrnah is not a slave, she is my partner, and this is a discussion between us. Someday, when she trusts me enough, she may allow me to dictate her movement; but for now she reserves the right to ask me to get off, so I had best be polite in my requests for movement.

This baby, however, doesn’t need to be polite at all. He may dance however he chooses, tumbling Myrnah’s belly this way and that while she patiently allows him be the dancer he is. There will be plenty of time to teach him to be polite later on. For now she has her work cut out keeping me in line.

So as the light fades from the sky each night and the silky strains of guitar music fill the air, you can know Myrnah and I will be riding and building our skills together, while this baby does his best to distract us from the seriousness of our endeavors, because this baby is a dancer and will not be denied.

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 Beauty of Adrenaline


It was a classic Pacific Northwest day: a light and steady rain all morning followed by a pervasive mist falling from the sky for the rest of the daylight hours- a damp, yet beautiful, February day. On this particular day, Myrnah and I had an adventure planned. Sometimes, stepping outside the normal patterns can change the way you look at everything. Step too far and the change feels stressful; step just far enough and the thrill of energy that courses through your veins is intoxicating. Myrnah and I needed something new; we needed to feel the beauty of adrenaline.


Without tools to push development on a faster track, we have found ourselves practicing the same tasks over and over for months. Go, stop, turn, back up, walk together, trot together, get on, get off- rinse and repeat. We have often changed the location of practice in areas around our home, but have been cautious about straying into unfamiliar territory. More specifically, strange dogs and random cars in our neighborhood have been seen from a distance and that has been fun- a moment of intensity as I wonder what Myrnah will do about the stress, and she wonders if she needs to do anything at all. Then the moment passes leaving just a little extra energy in its wake.


This week Myrnah and I were going somewhere different: a trip in the horse trailer, her first since traveling from southern Oregon with Cleo as wild horses. Myrnah has breakfast in the trailer most days of the week (she has local hay available all the time, it is just the richer eastern Washington timothy hay that gets doled out in smaller quantities in specific locations), so getting in the trailer is nothing out of the ordinary. Driving away and leaving all her friends behind was a completely new experience however.


Our destination was a three-acre lot at the San Juan Country Fairgrounds. Used for parking during the fair, it remains empty for the rest of the year. A beautiful combination of woods and grass, well-fenced so encounters with cars and dogs would be limited to what we saw through the fence, it was a perfect first destination. A big thank-you goes out to the caretakers who allowed us to come use the space.


Margaret came up from the city to film the event, my daughter, Cameron, walked up from town after her swim lessons to see how it was all evolving, Myrnah and I were there for as long as it took to get home again- that was the thrilling part of the adventure. I really didn’t know how soon Myrnah would be willing to get back in the trailer to go home after the trip to town. I didn’t know how much this adventure would push the edges of her comfort zone. I had a feeling we were ready though.


Eleven-thirty on Thursday morning, Margaret pulled in the driveway, set up the video equipment, and we were ready to roll. Myrnah hopped right in the trailer for breakfast. Cleo knew something was up when I brought over one of the school horses to be in the paddock next to her for the day, and we were off.

Traveling, Myrnah did nothing but impress me as usual. She stood loose in the three-horse stock trailer with the relaxed grace I have come to appreciate so much about her. I felt her turn around a couple of times when we were stopped at a stop sign, but, other than that, she seemed to just stand quietly observing the world go by.

Once at the fairgrounds, I let her be in the trailer for a few moments while we got gates closed and the space organized. Myrnah seemed still and patient with a soft eye, licking and chewing as she watched and digested all the changes. I opened the door and she came out gently, yet so beautifully alert. There really is a beauty to adrenaline.


For the next hour and a half Myrnah and I alternated traveling and exploring the space together and letting her graze the grass that was far lusher and greener than anything we currently have at home. My favorite moment of the day was when I discovered she would follow me, with ears pricked forward, at the trot when I started to run. The added energy of the new location made speed feel fun for Myrnah instead of the disliked task it usually presents as at home. So we weaved through trees and ran across meadows, played with circles and stops, back-ups and the best part- grazing the green, green grass everywhere underfoot.

The interesting part of the day was when a group of children came out to play in the school yard on the other side of the fence. They were far away, yet the racket they made put Myrnah on high alert; and then, to my dismay, she took control of the situation and trotted off with me running behind until Myrnah had gotten us as far away as she could from the disturbing chaos. I have to admit I was glad for the fence that stopped her; I am not sure I am fit enough to have run as far away as she would have wanted to go. Once she felt safe enough, she reconnected to me, and, little by little, we made our way back to the center of our play area. Our bond felt tenuous after that, as though Myrnah wasn’t sure she could trust my decisions as a leader; but she didn’t distrust me either, she just held tight to her right to leave if the children or the basketball players across the field scared her too much.

For the most part we worked well together with lots of breaks to watch the players across the fence. Every once in a while though Myrnah would lead me in a fast run across the lot to the far side where she felt safer. She didn’t leave me, because I was right there with her, but it was clear she wouldn’t have stopped if I had asked, she took control of the situation and led us to safer ground.


After an hour and a half, the people playing in the neighboring field were not so worrisome anymore, and I decided it was time to load up and go home. Myrnah had other ideas.


We could approach the trailer and stand at the open door for a brief period of time, and then Myrnah would take definitive action, turning away to go somewhere else. I can stop her, and turn her and ask her to go forward, but I cannot make her do something she doesn’t want to do. She and I both know that.


Early on I wrote a blog: “For Every No, There Is a Yes Nearby”. Thursday, loading in the trailer, I definitely leaned on those ideas. For months I have been telling myself I would really like to spend more time walking with Myrnah. It is something horses do together and I feel we both benefit from it- traveling side by side, stride for stride, traveling miles, not just a few minutes, the rhythm and distance building the bond between us. Well, here was my chance. Walking together was the yes Myrnah was offering me; trailer loading was a no until she decided otherwise. Grazing was over for the day; there was hay and water in the trailer and until she decided to head in there, we were moving together.

So we moved. Sometimes, when Myrnah wanted to emphasize how much she didn’t want to get in the trailer, we ran away from it together. I want to practice trotting with her anyway, so it was a win-win situation. Whenever Myrnah wanted to look at the trailer, standing fairly close to it, we could rest. For an hour and a half we traveled together with only brief rests at the trailer. When we were standing there I would move forward a test step towards the trailer to see if I could walk in first to play with the hay and splash in the water bucket, but every time she would turn her head away and tell me she would rather go somewhere else than watch me walk toward the trailer. So that is what we would do, move together some more.

I have to say, about an hour into this trailer project I found myself considering all the contingency ideas: calling someone to come pick up Cameron and take her home for the night. Saying goodbye to Margret and letting go of the filming aspect of the day, bundling up in all my coats and putting on my head lamp so Myrnah and I could just keep traveling together through the dark until she was ready to load into trailer. I was there for the long haul. If Myrnah needed me to jog a marathon with her before she was ready to get in the trailer, that is what we would do. Lucky for me, just after I had figured out all my contingency plans, Myrnah decided she was ready to go home. We were standing resting, looking at the trailer, and this time, when I began to walk forward into it, she kept looking at me. I walked in and splashed in the water bucket and she quietly followed after me. She wasn’t thirsty, but did munch on a little hay. I walked out and closed the big door, reentering by the side door to sit with her, relaxing and listening to her chew before we headed home.


The drive home was as uneventful as the drive out had been. Myrnah was happy and relaxed as she stepped out of the trailer, perhaps just a little more alert than usual with the beauty of adrenaline still coursing through us both. Another challenge conquered, the stress proving energizing and fun, the day bonding us together just a little more.


Elsa Sinclair 


PS The next day, Friday, Myrnah jumped right in the trailer without hesitation. Completely unscarred from the previous day’s adventure, the beauty of adrenaline seemingly all positive this time around. May we always be so lucky as we push forward into the unknown.

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.




Progress with Myrnah is a meandering path of smelling the roses. We have plenty of goals we would like to reach; however, the journey is entirely more important than any destination. As you all know, I sat on Myrnah a couple of times back in October while she was eating hay, and she was completely at ease about it. Then abruptly she decided she didn’t like weight on her back, and we embarked on what seemed like an endless discussion developing her tolerance of my getting on and off. Our training in that area largely seemed to plateau, and every time I broke the process down, it seemed I needed to break it down some more, take it slower, wait with more quiet understanding, and enjoy the moments with her regardless. I am pleased to say yesterday we had a breakthrough!


Every day Myrnah and I practice moving together: walking trotting, turning, and generally traveling through space side by side with as much grace as we can muster. The fun part is, she continually asks me if we can stop at the mounting block and play that game instead. Even though she can’t tolerate my sitting on her back for more than a moment, she seems to trust me to respect her apprehensions and is drawn to the process of learning about weight on her back as much as I am. For months now all she could tolerate was a moment of my sitting on her. I would slide on, feel every muscle tense up for a reactive explosion, and I would slide off. If I wasn’t quick enough, I would be sliding off as she scooted forward or backward. Myrnah’s tension was instantly high enough in response to weight on her back there wasn’t any chance of asking her to bend her neck around to look at me, or really to ask anything at all of her. All we could do was quietly and patiently play advance and retreat, allowing her to realize the weight was only temporary.

This week on Tuesday and Wednesday came the breakthrough in riding. Myrnah and I had begun pushing the envelope a little in terms of trotting together side by side: another exercise which she was brilliantly relaxed about back in October, yet became averse to shortly thereafter. So each day we patiently played advance and retreat with the movements, enjoying the time together regardless of the apparent progress.


On Tuesday when we began to advance to trot more frequently (yet briefly) Myrnah became more and more insistent that the game at the mounting block was the one she would rather play. Once there I would take my time to settle with her and then slide on where, to my surprise, on this day, her tension would come up only slowly giving me a few more seconds to sit there each time before I slid back to the ground. It may not seem like much to the outside observer, but after months of approach and retreat the change felt dramatic and exciting to me.


Wednesday we played more of the same and were even able to start asking for a bend around, Myrnah’s nose coming over to investigate my hand or my foot any time I asked. And then we began to move together. The first few times it was a pure offer from Myrnah: a few hesitant steps forward followed by her reaching around to touch me as if to ask if we were still all right. Pretty soon I was able to ask for those few steps, my leg just behind her elbow asking her to move, just like we have been practicing using hand pressure when we walk side by side. We traveled no more than perhaps six steps each time I sat on her, and sometimes we just stood and didn’t travel at all. The breakthrough in interest between Myrnah and me about riding together felt amazing.

It really has been interesting to train Myrnah without any recourse of action when she says no. When I have tools I have all sorts of games of distraction I can play to get around a no. With Myrnah, all we can do is sit with it, play with it, let it be, and let her say no as many times as she needs to before she decides she is ready to say yes.


I honestly don’t know if this is the best way to train a horse. I don’t know if Myrnah is any happier or better off than any of the other horses I train using more tools of force. I do know, however, this process is teaching me more about horses every day than I ever imagined it would. Myrnah I feel is teaching me every bit as much I am teaching her, and the high of the breakthrough this week, simple as it was, means more to me than most of what I have accomplished with my other horses over the years.


I don’t know how it is that one simple little change can feel so monumental. This breakthrough is worth every moment I have spent patiently approaching and retreating for months. It feels like there are no words to convey the brilliance of this moment for Myrnah and I, but trust me, it’s all worth it.


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.

Quality of Life


Life with horses for me is all about enjoyment. I am not going to the Olympics, nor am I facing life-or-death situations. I ride simply because I love each moment of the experience. Quality of life is what it is all about for me.

Myrnah, I am finding, also has a great deal to say about her quality of life. What she likes and what she dislikes she seemingly tells me without hesitation. Given her freedom to walk away from me any time she may choose, I have no choice but to listen and make sure she enjoys working with me as much as I enjoy working with her. Quality of life must remain high for both of us in order for this relationship to continue functioning. I like that.

This last weekend I attended a workshop all about liberty work with horses. It was taught by a woman who believes in letting go of the stick and ropes and simply using body language to communicate with the horse. I was excited to learn from someone who seemed to have similar ideas to my current mustang project, and though I brought a horse more traditionally trained, I hoped she would be able to shed new light and inspiration onto the work Myrnah and I do together.

Much to my disappointment, over this weekend the walls of the round pen became the tools with which to dominate. The teachings all rested on the concept of being able to push the horse away (using only body language) and ask it to keep running until it was called back to you. While I attempted to remain humble and open minded to ideas different from my own, in the end I feel I utterly failed in this situation.

I walked through the steps of the liberty process to the best of my ability, I let the teacher work me like a marionette: Go, stop, click, pressure, stop, get behind the horse, find the diagonal line, don’t block with your shoulder. I tried to make it work for me because learning comes when you step outside what you think you already know. With every step I watched the outcomes and felt for the connection between my horse and me. I tried to ignore the sinking feelings as I felt my quality of life degrade; I tried to trust the teacher and put aside my judgments; I tried to give her the chance to show me the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to learn something new and beautiful that might in the long run raise my quality of life with horses and their quality of life with me.

The two-year-old Gypsin Gelding who had accompanied me to the clinic had stepped out of the trailer with a feel of joy and connection, and perhaps a little apprehension about the new spaces, however by our third session in the round pen, it broke my heart to feel I was no longer sure if he would come to me at all when I called. After being pushed against the rails of the round pen repeatedly and constantly- told he had not yet gone forward fast enough, or clean enough or long enough, our partnership felt disconnected, unfocused, and frustrated.

The very best feeling I got with my horse all weekend was ironically the part where I did everything wrong. Halfway through a very frustrating second session when I went to put pressure on him, instead of running off like he was supposed to he turned to face me and reared up. I chose that moment to trip over my own toes, fell headlong underneath him, and had to tuck and roll in order to narrowly miss his substantial hooves as they headed back to earth. He was surprised and startled and did his best to avoid me as I avoided him. I rolled to my feet and asked him to move off again, and he did so with the beautiful connected brilliance that is common for us when we play at home. I wanted to cry with relief as he pranced around me, and in those next few moments I wish I had called him in to reward and nurture that bond our moment of excitement had given us. Instead we continued the prescribed program, and the momentary brilliance was once again replaced with dull resistance from both of us as we tried to get the actions correct and follow instructions.

Now I have no doubt of the brilliant artistry of the teacher, and I have no doubt she can train liberty horses better than almost anyone. She may even have a joy and a lightness to her training that I was unable to find following her teaching. What I do know is: if I had to follow the courses of action I learned this weekend to train my horses, I would give it all up. I would sell my horses and do something different with my life. My present quality of life is too dear to me to trade for some eventual future outcome.

I ride and train horses because it brings joy to my life every day. I choose to ride and train in ways that feel good to both my horse and me more of the moments we share than not. I choose to train in a way that increases our quality of life perpetually.

There will be ups and downs, moments that feel better or worse as we push out into new territory to grow and develop. Overall, though, quality of life must remain high because that is why I ride and train. It isn’t about some future result; it is about the past and the present and the future all intertwined in what is my life, shared with those I love.

I aim to value the past, the present, and the future equally because all play a part in creating the life I want to live. If I can keep the quality of life high in the present, soon enough it will become the past, and the future will always be something pulling us forward into becoming the best of ourselves.

Thank-you, Myrnah, for reminding me every day that the quality of life right here in the present is just as important as anything we might be striving for in the future.

Elsa Sinclair