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Monthly Archives: May 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.


The Perfect Now

What if every time we went out to play with our horses we began with the premise that they were already perfect. There was nothing they needed to be or do to make us happy, just their existence did that. If our starting premise was to be completely pleased in the moment, reaching forward from there to develop the potential in the next perfect moment, and the next, and the next, can you imagine what a fun time our horses would have with us then? At the Horse and Soul tour stop last weekend Pat Parelli reminded me, “Be pleased, and never satisfied”. By the time you say now, the moment has passed, so you might as well accept that it was indeed “the perfect now” and be pleased. Then reach forward and look for the potential just waiting to be developed and train from that perspective.

I find that getting the balance between pleased in the moment and striving for perfection is an interesting challenge. When I get it right there is nothing that feels so brilliant, and at the end of a training session both my horse and I look like we have won the lottery.

Every once in a while I find myself nothing but pleased with no inspiration to perfect or improve anything. Those days are nice, but a little flat feeling by comparison. More of the time I am a driven sort of person, with a list a mile long of all the things my horse needs to learn and a feeling that they just are not quite what I want them to be until they master the tasks I have laid out. Being driven like that, I sometimes can get a great deal done… but the question comes up, what was the cost? Usually I find the cost was my horse’s desire to learn more the next day.

With Myrnah my training continues to go incredibly slowly, yet again and again and again I find the pay off is huge. Her desire to work with me and learn new things seems to increase every day.

With little Errai around, Myrnah’s attention is of course divided, though not nearly to the detriment I had expected. Myrnah seems happy to see me every time I come to visit, and this week we began riding again. The first day I rode, I got on and off a bunch of times to make sure she was comfortable with the idea, then by the time I was ready to stay mounted, little Errai had lain down for a nap, so I just sat on Myrnah while she grazed around him.

The second time I rode, Errai was up and about, galloping laps around us, jumping up and down and being the entertaining, energetic colt he is. He thinks it is very exciting to have his mum go for a walk around the pasture.

The third time I rode, we did a little bit of trotting, and rode some continuous loops on the hill around the central bushes. I am amazed how calm and willing and easy Myrnah is, working with me while her colt creates chaos all around us. I actually can’t imagine any of my other horses being so steady and consistent and reliable in that sort of situation. Is it just Myrnah’s temperament? Or is it the care and appreciation we have put into our development together? A little of both I imagine.

Because I have no tools to force her to learn things any faster than she wants to learn them, the balance between pleased and striving for perfection is easier to find with Myrnah.

With my other horses I find myself sometimes trapped in an egoic state of wanting to do everything faster, smoother, easier, lighter, and more beautifully TODAY- unfortunately willing to sacrifice my horses joy in the process to satisfy my personal ambition, driving us ever faster toward perfection.


“The master endlessly seeks perfection, but only the fool expects to achieve it.”


I am grateful to Myrnah as she presents me with the proof every day that  it is indeed OK to take training this slowly. Development on Myrnah’s time frame is something we can both take pride in- both of us looking forward to any moments we can spend together and anything new we can learn together.

Errai is going to be an interesting contrast to Myrnah in this training process. Extroverted, and social, and always looking to bite or paw at something, he has none of his mother’s quiet reserve. Building a bond with him is going to have to take into account his youthful, short, attention span, and I will have to have plenty of persistent focus while developing him into the best of himself. He is perfect in the moment and doesn’t need to change a thing, yet it is important that we continually strive to help him develop his potential to be even more brilliant every day.

That is the balance I seek. The consistent appreciation of “the perfect now” and the constant striving to develop into the best of ourselves.

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.


Bringing up Baby

I find I am writing this post with some trepidation. It’s one thing to take a mustang out of hundreds needing homes and try out an experimental training process with her. Whatever happens it’s better than the life most mustangs off the range have to look forward to. However, a small foal brings out the most protective instincts in people. All sorts of opinions crop up: foals should be imprinted; foals should be left alone; foals should be haltered right away; foals should be exposed to as much stimulus as possible; foals should be kept quiet and peaceful… Whatever the opinions are, right or wrong, I am going to make my own choices and most likely do things a little differently. Myrnah and I will be bringing up baby with the same ideals we used to develop our partnership. For better or worse he too is part of the experiment.

Rules of Engagement:

1. The foal always has an exit route open.

2. Anytime the foal wants a rest, all he has to do is reach out and touch you with his nose.

3. Only touch the foal after he has touched you.

4. Respect the foal’s personal space; if he tenses when approached, back off.

5. Teach him polite manners of always yielding space to people. He is little, so it doesn’t take much of a push to gently move him away when he gets too playful or close.

6. The bond between mare and foal is sacred: if they think it is time to nurse, snuggle, or talk to each other, wait for them to finish before interjecting an outside idea.

Six simple rules to follow bringing up this baby. Will this foal become too pushy without being taught to lead and give to pressure right away? Will he become afraid and unconfident about the world without imprinting to set him up for confidence? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I am guessing the results of raising the foal this way will be no less beautiful than the results of taming a mustang have been so far.

As for Myrnah and me, our training schedule has been put on sabbatical temporarily. My observation is, for the first while with a new foal, the mare is completely devoted to following him around. She does not expect him to follow her until later, after their bond has had a chance to develop. Myrnah’s attention has been committed to following the foal, eating as much as she can when he is sleeping or staying close of his own choice. When he nurses, she stops everything to be still and present with him; when he plays, she watches him with a quiet awareness, there if he needs her to accompany him in his adventures.

When I visited them May 14th at two in the morning, shortly after the foal was born, Myrnah was grazing, and the foal was walking around close to her, trying out his new long legs. I could see them dimly in the glow coming from my phone, but put it away and sat quietly in the dark, close to them without interfering. Within moments Myrnah took the few steps over to me to say hi and give me a nuzzle. A few minutes later the foal stumbled right into me in his explorations, and I held him a moment while he found his balance again. I sat with them for an hour and a half, and during that time both of them came over to see me often. Before I left I stood next to the foal, just off the left side of his haunches; Myrnah took the right side of his haunches and together we gently nudged him to lead us into the smaller paddock farther from the herd, with better fences to keep him from going too far astray from Myrnah in his explorations, at least for the first few days.

Day one, I groomed Myrnah and washed her tail with buckets of water I brought to her so she could remain at her post watching over her new little one. I marveled at how calm and easy she was about everything. I spent time with them, hand on Myrnah’s withers, moving wherever they did; or laid out in the grass a few feet from the little one, both of us sleeping, Myrnah watching over us. Whenever the foal woke up he give a little whinny, and three or four horses in the field whinnied back; this little guy has a whole family who can’t wait to meet him.

Day two, I asked her to follow me just a few steps to the fence where her supplement feed was hanging in a bucket. With great hesitation and many glances back she did; both of us were relieved when the little one followed too. That evening I asked her to follow me across the paddock, but the foal staked his claim and began to nurse, so we waited;

then, as we walked across the paddock, he stopped to pee. I reassured Myrnah that he would catch up in a moment, and she hesitantly kept moving with me. Sure enough, when he was done, he whinnied at the top of his lungs and galloped after us at full speed. Funny thing was later, when I said goodnight and walked away from them, I got only half way across the paddock before he had galloped after me, his mum in tow behind him. All that following him around (like a very gentle drive) on day one had created an incredible draw in him on day two.

Day three, the little one got a name, Errai- named after a star that will eventually move into position to take over the role of the North Star in our skies. It is derived from an Arabic word and means “The Shepherd” I have to say I also like the similarity in pronunciation to the word awry, meaning “away from the appropriate, planned or expected course”. I am sure Errai will teach me a lot as he deviates from the course I thought I had planned. Life is sometimes the most fun when you don’t know exactly what to expect. Day three, Myrnah and Errai got to stretch out into the larger orchard. There are fences he can get under that his Mum can’t, but his draw is strong enough now he always comes right back to her; and there is only more orchard space for him to explore on the other side of those fences. The herd is in view, but too distant to reach.

Errai continues to be more and more inquisitive and interested in everything. Myrnah continues to be the best Mom I have ever seen a mare be. It will be interesting to see how it all develops from here.

Bringing up Baby is the title I chose for this blog (after the old movie) in an effort to remember life is full of comedy and we don’t have to take everything so seriously. We take our job as stewards for the young with an eye to making no mistakes and setting them up for a perfect life, as it should be. Yet sometimes we just need to sit back and laugh at it all and enjoy the moments as they come. Perhaps Errai is here to teach me it can all go awry and still be perfect.

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.

It’s a Boy!!!

Born sometimes between 11 and 2 in the morning Mother’s day (or the day after)

Sunday night I checked in with Myrnah after I got off the ferry from a weekend working away. She seemed calm and easy. I went home for a few hours sleep and when I returned at two in the morning, there was a happy healthy colt tottering quietly around. Alternating between nursing and exploring the world this colt was secure knowing his mother Myrnah was attentive and completely relaxed.

I spent an hour and half with them in the dark, a quiet observer. Both foal and mare coming over to say hello from time to time. Peace and quiet and an exciting new beginning under the stars.

A few hours home for sleep and then back first thing in the morning to spend time getting to know our new addition.

By  mid day, the foal was now 12 hours old and looking stronger and brighter in every moment.

Myrnah is the most amazing mother. More peaceful and loving than any mare I have ever watched with a foal.

The first day out in the world can be exhausting!





























A carpet of daisies is a perfect spot for a nap.

Life is good when you have someone shoulder to shoulder with you ready to take on the world.

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.


Riding in Company

As Myrnah carries this foal in its ever increasing size, our day to day activities seem a little slower, a little more thoughtful, and each day a little more awkward in execution. Every moment we spend together is precious nonetheless, and we are doing our best to stay creative in our pursuits of excellence. The most fun this week was our first experience riding in company.

We have waited as long as we have to ride in company because group dynamics require an ability to steer and be in the right place at the right time. The last few weeks Myrnah and I have come to a much clearer understanding of left, right and appropriate response time. So this week was the perfect time to dive into the group and ride alongside our friends.

On Wednesday, Myrnah and I joined Zoe and Shelah, Cameron and Maharrah, Stella and Shahan, and Thea and KC in playing around the field together. Myrnah and I take things slowly; tasks like standing on the platform box while watching the kids and their horses warm up is just our speed.

Myrnah seems to love spending time with me even in the simplest of pursuits.

This week we also set up the Dressage arena. Let me tell you, stopping exactly at each lettered cone, and traveling in a specific straight line from one to the next is a lot harder than it looks. Myrnah has been a good sport as she tries to figure out what I want from her around all these white cones.

I love how often she checks in with me to see if we are still together mentally, emotionally and physically.

I think what I love most though, is how calm and effortless each step of this process seems to be for Myrnah and me. Every new thing I do with her seems a little easier than I had anticipated. I was apprehensive about riding in the big field, the herd loose around us and the kids each on their own agenda. I wondered, Would Myrnah still listen to me and act like my partner as the kids went riding their horses hither and yon with the abandon that kids so naturally have. Myrnah proved my concerns groundless on Wednesday, rising to the challenge of the new riding environment like she had been doing it all her life. Even when two of the loose horses went galloping by us at full speed, she just watched thoughtfully and then turned her head to check in with me. Myrnah and I were a team; what the other horses did was merely an interesting backdrop to our partnership.

So here is looking forward to next week. Will we have a foal to play with? Will the next few months with the baby around to distract us be more challenging, or just be the calm and effortless step by step progression Myrnah keeps showing me she is capable of, despite my occasional apprehensions.

I am sure we will do more riding in company in the months to come. Actually, once this foal arrives, we will always be riding in company. I guess I had better enjoy our solo ride tomorrow, just Myrnah and me, traveling in peace though the countryside. Who knows, it may be our last chance to revel in each other’s company without the constant amusement of a cavorting foal underfoot.

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.


Patient Persistence 

Yes, we are still waiting for this foal and Myrnah just keeps getting bigger. There is little new to report about Myrnah and me. It is simply patient persistence through the hours spending time together, developing small skills while we wait. We ride out for meandering, walking treks around the paddocks; we practice small precision tasks of steering and stopping at specific points; and we make the best of the beautiful spring weather, napping stretched out in the grass side by side.

I am finding the relationship I have with Myrnah is more unique than anything I have experienced consistently with a horse up to this point. The connection and voluntary partnership she offers me blows me away every day. If Myrnah was the only horse I worked with, I might begin to take it for granted. The standards of relating seem so simple and so obviously functional that I almost begin to believe all horse-human relationships are like this. When I reach out to her, she always reaches out to me too. When I speak to her she pays attention and makes eye contact. When I ask her something she says yes, or she says no, and the conversation continues simply, beautifully, and easily. One wants to think all relationships between horse and human are this clear, yet I am finding that isn’t so.


In the last few weeks I have spent hours in the field working with my other horses in the same way that I work with Myrnah. Through those hours I am beginning to see how truly unique my relationship with Myrnah is. The way I have trained Myrnah is like raising a child. There are no short cuts, just continual patient persistence as we develop an understanding and patterns of communication. The results form a relationship that seems far more functional on a basic level than most you see between horse and rider.


Saavedra, my black mustang mare, and I have been partners for a very long time. I have used Natural Horsemanship Techniques to train her; I have used psychology and phases of pressure, lateral thinking and positive reinforcement. I am finding now that I have also completely relied on dominance to build our relationship. Without that dominance we have almost nothing- even bribery has a limited effect on her. I find myself wondering: How might things be different if I had trained her in the way I am now training Myrnah?


So I tasked myself: one hour playing in the field with Saavedra, just like I do with Myrnah. To my intense frustration I found I couldn’t even get her to follow me more than thirty feet from the herd, and she blew me off and ignored me as much as she possibly could. I knew if I had a rope or a stick she would give me perfect attention and do whatever I asked.  This however was different- a game of patient persistence. The interesting thing was, when we would get brief yet brilliant moments of draw and connection, her whole expression would soften, like all the tension was melting out of her more completely than I had ever seen before.

After an hour of working with it and really not feeling like I had gotten any tangible success, I quit on a good note, tried not to be frustrated, and lay down at her feet in the field. I expected her to walk away. Saavedra is a fairly aloof and independent mare; it’s just her personality. Instead she stood over me like a mother standing over a foal. For twenty minutes she stood over me, reaching down every so often to nuzzle me softly. Then she walked a small distance away and lay down to sleep next to me. These two things are completely out of character, and honestly made my week. My horse who usually acts like she doesn’t care about me unless I make her care… she changed her tune and wanted to be with me just because I had changed mine.

Two days later I tried again. The same frustration and difficulty was played out, and yet, when I gave up and lay down in the grass an hour later, the horse Saavedra chose to be, ever so gently nuzzling me as I lay curled up by her feet, was a different partner from the horse I thought I knew so well. Then, to top off the event, Myrnah sauntered over and wanted to stand over me too. Pinned ears and bared teeth ensued and I had to stand up for a moment to explain to them they both were welcome to be there with me. They seemed to understand and accept that, and I resumed my nap while my two beautiful mares stood watch over me.

When I attempted to do the work with Ram, he played along for about two minutes and then proceeded to gallop to the other side of the field every time I asked him to touch my hand. I know if I had carrots, or a stick, or a rope, he would toe the line and do what I asked in fairly short order. However, to play the game without using the dominance card, or the bribery card, is completely different.

To train horses without using dominance takes so much patient persistence, I honestly would be surprised if anyone follows in my footsteps and attempts to do what I have done with Myrnah. I am not even sure if I have the patience to do it again myself. Yet, having felt what this relationship is like with Myrnah, I am not sure I can settle for less.

Tuesday, I lay down in the field under Saavedra’s nose. I fell asleep and when I woke up a half hour later all nine horses in my herd had lain down in a cluster around me- everyone asleep, without a single horse left standing on watch. Not only did they gather around me to sleep, they also felt safe enough to lie down without anyone watching over them.

I don’t know exactly why they all felt so comfortable gathering around me, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the patient persistent work this week has me studying. This work started with Myrnah, yet it’s effects continue to ripple out through everything I do.

Elsa Sinclair


P.S. My daughter Cameron has started her own blog this week- all about her work with Antheia. Just as she is doing all her own training with Antheia, while I simply stand back and offer suggestions, she is also doing all her own writing, picture choice and layout in the new blog. I just stand back, offer support where I can, and grin when I see she too understands how rewarding this game of patience and persistence can be. Check out the new blog here:

 A Girl and A Mustang