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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.

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


  1. Oh, Elsa. It takes so much courage to have and acknowledge this kind of response to these kinds of situations, and to be able to process it as entirely as you have….. wow. This was, above all else, a heart-warming read.

  2. I am on my fourth real session with my 9 year old Kiger mustang stallion. Because the round pen is muddy and your tool free training got me thinking I have been giving it a go without tools or pen. I hit a wall with him and decided that some nice green hay might be an ice breaker, and it was. He will feed from my lap and stand next to me without moving off. But the wall of touching is still there. The odd touch be it slight and brief has not been enough to help him through. As the weather is drying out I had decided to go back to the pen until I came in and read your blog. He is relaxed with soft eye when next to me and I will continue to work from that. I will continue with the fine hay as that is not really a tool. ( hee hee)

  3. Thanks for this post. I recently hit the wall and had a bit of a mental breakdown regarding my horsemanship after my horse told me in no uncertain terms what she thought of the person I had become. I’m now clawing my way back up with the help of my fabulously supportive friends and doing a lot of soul searching to get back on the right path and improve the quality of life for both myself and my horse again. I am awed and inspired by your work with Myrnah and appreciate your sharing your journey in such an honest and humble way.

  4. In my next life, can I be your horse?

  5. Being in that clinic wasn’t easy! Thankfully our horses usually don’t hold a grudge, so I’m sure you went back to your harmonious interactions as soon as you got home.
    It isn’t all bad to experience things like this, because I believe it is as valuable to find out what you want, as it is to find out what you DON’T want. It will give you more confidence in knowing that you’re on the right track with Myrnah. She’s telling you all the time by staying with you!

  6. There are those who are in it in order to accomplish something and those who are in it for the horse, and those who are in between. I don’t compete in anything. I had the opportunity once to take part in a clinic with a well known Vaquero. WIsh I never had. He had me being forceful and demanding with the horse I need to cajole the most. I did nothing to hurt the horse but that evening I swore to myself I would never let someone else compromise my relationship with my horses. I may never accomplish as much as some others but I feel a lot better about it. And, thank God, as Marja says, our horses are forgiving souls…

  7. I agree with Marja. It all goes back to the bad must exist in order to appreciate and recognize the good. Finding the training methodology that works best with your psyche, requires the knowledge of those methodologies that don’t fit. Your horse lives in the present, and will forgive you.

  8. Elsa, Perhaps you just pushed the envelope—the trainer’s envelope—and the Gypsy gelding stayed with you, though not enjoying the process.
    Another successful partnering—you, the Gypsy— is enhanced by stumbling onto (or back INTO) your own movements, rather than an outsider’s.
    And that works for you, right? 😉 Michael

  9. I am so sorry you had a bad experience – but I know that what comes natural to you everyday with your horses will soon wipe that whole thing from both your memories – miss u tons 🙂

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