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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.

 

Breakthrough!

 

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

EquineClarity.com

11 Comments

  1. Congratulations to both of you!

  2. wohoo Els, that’s big!

  3. I am so excited for you…. I think I get it.. Advance..retreat….over and over….simple yet effective.

  4. Elsa,

    Your “patience of a saint” is paying off. All the time of wondering if you are getting anywhere at all at some times is now paying off big time! The ultimate reward is seeing the times where Myrna is actually “asking” YOU to do things. What incredible trust! And what an ultimate compliment to YOU! You are on a journey most of us can’t even imagine travelling!
    Thanks for letting us come along. It is a most humbleing trip!
    Maggie

  5. Elsa,
    Wonderful! I am so happy for you. I can feel your excitement and joy over this change, change that happed due to your listening, listening, waiting ever so patiently. It’s something isn’t it, how something that we take for granted with so many horses becomes the ultimate gift when worked for this way.
    Kate

  6. Congratulations. Your infinite patience has been worth it. Bravo.

  7. Elsa, this is more than a blog about your training Mrynah.
    By stating back in Jan. 2011, that you proposed to do just this, HOW you would accomplish this project, the exact plans for the project, step-by-step recording/documentation of your project along prescribed lines (by you), within the time-line you allowed (You are barely over a year into the project), getting the EXACT results you predicted by your efforts, you have qualified this as a Doctoral Thesis in Equine Behavioral Science.
    If you care to have it.
    You have wildly exceeded your expectations…but not MINE.
    Knowing you, I saw this idea as completely viable from the beginning. But you still surprised even me.
    MYRNAH AKSED YOU TO GET UP!? This is awesome, in the true meaning…sometimes you awe me. CONGRATULATIONS! 😉 Michael

  8. What a thrilling breakthrough, congratulations Elsa and Myrnah :-)!
    I especially loved these two parts of this weeks post:
    “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. “
    How wonderful that Myrnah chooses her own learning points and is allowed to do so.
    “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.”
    To me this is exactly what creates the necessary trust.
    Amazing progress! I can totally imagine your ‘high feelings’ :-).

  9. Sorry, forgot to check the ‘notify me’ box…

  10. OMG..totally get it…I spent so many moments..hours days patiently waiting for mrdarcy to decide that he was ok with all kinds of things..u were there 4 some of it…it totally paid off as he is a big love and a nice boy for me …I don’t always do it but I can ride him bareback and bridleless in the open he actually responds better to rope halter & loop. Reins…the satisfaction I have from working with him is uncomparable…good work…enjoy the process:) would love to talk to u some time..I’ve had abit of an epiphany myself about all of this..when r u at hutchs.?

  11. I LOVE THIS BLOG <3 Seriously, I just read this like a novel! I have to admit I was choked up many times with emotions. I love the connection that you have created with Myrnah and Cleo. A trust and bond that I am determined will be mine as well with my horses. This has given me such a new perspective on relationships and life in general. I will be one of the first to read and/or view any documentation you are able to publish. I am already dreading the year to be up with…


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