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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.

 

 

Developing Forward

First rides at the canter this week! I had no idea how long it would take to get this far. Our progress, if measured against more normal training, might be considered inordinately slow. However, if measured against all the possible difficulties Myrnah could throw at me, I think we actually are developing forward at lightning speed.

While I do believe people have trained horses without tools before, this is the first time in history anyone has recorded the process: writing, photographs, and video, week by week, noticing the landmarks and breakthroughs along the way, and charting the previously uncharted path.

I am not sure people realize how challenging it is to train a horse when they are free to leave you at any time. So many times it has been tempting to cut Myrnah off, step in front of her when she is trapped between me and a fence, make it clear to her I am in charge; or even step behind her and send her forward with energy because she knows she has nowhere to go but forward. I could show her I am smart enough with my positioning and fences to intimidate her. That is not this project though: time and again I take a deep breath and get between her and the fence, making sure that when I push her, she has a choice to stay with me or move away into wide-open space, leaving me behind.

When I ride Myrnah I need permission to climb up on top, and, if she wants me off, both of us know it wouldn’t take much of a run and a buck to convince me I didn’t want to be up there any more. In everything we do together, Myrnah knows she can say no; and what’s more to the point, she often does. So when I say she carried me at the canter this week, I am beyond thrilled she felt comfortable enough to offer that.

Training horses is always a balance between motivating them to move, while at the same time keeping them focused enough on the trainer or the job at hand to keep everything under control. The faster a horse moves, the more exciting everything gets, and the harder it becomes for the horse to stay focused in the moment. The leaping, bucking, and bolting in excitement that can occur when a young horse is learning to maintain forward motion is something that may require a bridle to help refocus horse and rider together. Myrnah and I have no such luxury.

The solution to the above potential problems is: Myrnah and I trained the stop first and we practice it constantly. However, riding a horse at a stand still is not really what riding is all about. We want to move with our horses, that is where it gets fun. For safety, Myrnah and I have to maintain stopping as the number one importance in our training routines. Number two in importance, however, needs to be all about moving.

This week Myrnah and I had some brilliant new fun with movement. Our jumping that I talked about last week grew into a love of running and playing together in our groundwork. For the first time ever, Myrnah had a day where I could sprint off across the pasture, and she would come galloping after me, bucking and leaping and squealing with glee. Sometimes I wasn’t fast enough, and she would have to make a loop around me to play the air with her exuberance before coming in gently to touch my hand and take a grazing break, both of us panting as we lounged in the lush grass.

The bold confidence Myrnah had to play with me like that, instead of running away, felt like the biggest gift. Though after awhile the game changed for her from fun to overwhelming, and, as soon as that happened, she chose to run back to her herd instead of to me. That is when I knew I had taken the game too far, or too long, and it was time to slow things down to baby steps again. I love that she had the freedom to choose, and she could tell me when she enjoyed the energy and when she felt it became too much for her.

Riding and developing forward movement is a constant challenge for us. Myrnah would really rather just meander around and graze while I am riding. I would like to travel places. So we stop and start, and stop and start, walk and trot, and stop, and back up over and over, until Myrnah takes a deep breath and commits to moving forward until told otherwise; then I take a deep breath and ask her to bend around to a stop, touching my toe to connect in with me before I tell her it is okay to take a grazing break.

Day by day our trots get longer and more relaxed in committed forward movement, and, each time we stop to graze, I choose a spot we haven’t stopped before so she becomes eager to travel new places with me.

The first time we cantered, it was by accident. I had forgotten to put the cavaletti down to its lowest setting when I was riding; so, when Myrnah carried me over at the trot, her big pregnant belly made her clumsy and her back legs got tangled, flipping the jump up in the air and scaring her forward into a couple of strides of canter. The wonderful part was that she didn’t take off bucking, or get scared into a bolt. Myrnah simply and quietly cantered two steps away, stopped, and reached around to touch me with her nose, checking in to see if we were all okay. I reassured her, and then we continued our ride as though nothing had happened. She is a little more cautious going over the jump now, but, other than that, we were all fine after our small adventure.

Thursday this week, our trotting was taking us both up and down gradual hills in the paddock. I am impressed with how balanced Myrnah is trotting down hill, and credit that partly to how many stops and backups she has spontaneously offered in the process of learning how to maintain her trot the last few weeks. All those transitions she needed to do for her confidence also developed her physical balance. While I knew that was the case, I also have to admit it was frustrating for me to have her stop and start so much while she was developing forward movement. In hindsight though, the pay off of an incredibly balanced, easy-to-ride trot, both up and down hills, was very much worth the time and effort it took to get there.

That balanced easy-to-ride trot is also what made it so effortless to add a little leg going up a hill on Thursday and rock gently into a canter. Four strides of lovely, easy, flowing canter and I vaulted off to lavish Myrnah with praise, finishing the ride then and there. Riding Myrnah at the canter on purpose and having it be that easy felt like a huge breakthrough to me. Ending the ride there hopefully helped Myrnah see how much I value her effort to do something new with me, just because I asked.

Developing forward movement without a bridle or a round pen to contain the results takes perhaps a little more patience and quiet perseverance. So far, the results seem to be completely worth the extra time. I really had no idea Myrnah would be willing to canter with me quietly and easily this early in the game. Interesting how our progress can seem so slow and so fast all at the same time.

Hmmmm, I wonder how close we are to developing forward into riding the gallop?

I will keep you posted, and yes, I promise I won’t hurry. Developing forward is too fun to be rushed.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

10 Comments

  1. Very impressive. Your patience and persistance is truly amazing. I admire your grace and soft heart of knowing the true aspects of life are desire, and love. You have so much of both and your training shows every part of the beautiful woman you are Elsa.
    Great break through this week. Well deserved.
    Christopher Gough

  2. Elsa, that is so exciting. I love the 4th photo of you and Myrnah, you are both looking in the same direction, totally together.

  3. You all are great!

  4. You are still under a year in your original time-line, and as any relationship sets it’s own rate, you may be right where you both should be… the Random Universe has clicked into place for both of you. 😉 M

  5. Good on you for having patience, Elsa. As a parent to young kids it is one of the most important characteristics I’ve had to develop and I see it’s use when being with my horses too. I love that you are constantly making the choice to put yours and Myrnah’s relationship first, not breaking the trust but building it. Thanks for sharing.
    Miriam (in pre-conditioning of FT)

  6. Well done the both of you. I can really appreciate you patience, Elsa. It’s such an important quality. I’ve learned it a little more raising two young children and have also found it very useful being with my horses. I always look forward to your next adventure:)
    Miriam
    Pre-conditioning FT

  7. Oh, how exciting and amazing this development is Elsa!
    I love the photos of you two trotting; Myrnah is totally 100% ‘under you’, very nicely balanced! Great, great, great!

  8. Elsa,

    WOW! I just read your latest blog! How incredibly proud you must be; both of Myrnah and of yourself for “taking the time it takes”.
    Nothing can ever be the same for you ay longer! You have been blessed(because of your perseverance) to have been somewhere where the rest of us haven’t. Certainly that will change your outlook on some things when it comes to developing relationships with horses(and people as well!)
    And once again I am EXTREMELY grateful that the rest of us are also reaping your gifts. THANK YOU!
    Love,
    Maggie

  9. wonderfull job 🙂 You have great mind and heart to do it. congratulations!!
    Iwona

  10. I really enjoy your blog. I hope you don’t mind but I have nominated you for the Sunshine Blog Award. Please see my recent post for details.


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