Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: June 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.


Extended Family

From the people who come to visit every day, to the herd of thirteen horses they live within, Myrnah and Errai are surrounded always by a devoted extended family.

This week marks the start of something special when it comes to family. On Wednesday, when Myrnah and I rode through the field, past the blackberry hedge through the open gate and across the next field, it was the farthest away from the herd we have traveled since the foal joined us. For the first time ever, there was no foal jumping up and down around us. Instead of following us wherever we went, he chose to stay in the herd standing close to his Uncle Theo, watching us walk away without even a whinny to mark the change. Even when Myrnah and I rode back from the far pasture, past the herd to the bottom of the field, Errai chose to stay with his extended family. A trot along the bottom fence line and then a canter up the hill to the water troughs- only then did Errai choose to leave the herd to gallop over and join our little burst of speed.

Errai and Myrnah are both growing up.

In last week’s blog I wrote about riding the perimeter of the herd or the field with Myrnah. This week marks a breakthrough, as we were able to stretch the perimeter to include the next field away from the herd as well.

As for Errai, his confidence is increasing in leaps and bounds also. This week he is following me around so well we too are able to walk the perimeter of the herd. No sooner do we make it all the way around and back to our starting place, than he whinnies and gallops off back to his Mum in the center of the group. He is still little and so I suppose that is to be expected from time to time regardless of how good he gets at following me. Little by little we will stretch the time and the distance, and he will grow into his independence. The process is inevitable and beautiful to watch develop.

I am grateful to the larger herd and the extended family of people that are there for Myrnah and Errai when I cannot be. When I have to be away from the island for work, it is wonderful knowing they are loved and adored and cared for. Getting photos like this from a student when I am away makes my day. Errai, helping Robin bring Yahzi in from the pasture, is one of those small moments that bring joy to everyone.

Because of the brilliant family that is here at Plumb Pond, I have the most incredible support system of people and horses throughout this process. My premise may be: One horse, One trainer, One year, No tools, Just body language. However, there is a richness to the environment that Myrnah and Errai enjoy when I am not there as the one trainer. I feel blessed to be able to offer that.

That richness of family brings joy and diversity to life that I could not provide Myrnah all on my own. When I sit in the grass and watch the herd take a gallop just for fun across the pastures, or, when riding, Myrnah and I play to develop our turning skills, circling around one horse, then figure eights around two horses, then circling around a cluster of three, weaving our way back and forth through the maze of extended family, I know there is so much more happening here than what is obvious. Our extended family all around gives us a vivid backdrop for learning that brings life into focus.

So this blog is a thank-you to all the extended family here at Plumb Pond, and also to all the extended family that reads this blog from afar, sending me comments and encouragement throughout. In six weeks we will have reached our goal- One year, One horse, One trainer, No tools, Just body language. Thank-you to all my extended family of friends! You have added color and light and brilliance to this project. I may be the one trainer, but I am forever grateful I didn’t have to do this alone.

So here is to family and friends- invaluable as the extended family we are blessed to live within.

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.

Myrnah, Errai, and I  

This week’s blog is a photo blog, and a story of what our life looks like together- Myrnah, Errai and I- in the green pastures of Plumb Pond.

Once or twice in each day I head out into the pasture, brushes in hand, a bounce to my step, and a smile on my lips. Before I get too far Errai will notice and give out a shrill little whinny to let me know he knows I am there and we are going to meet up.

We play games where he follows my leading hand, and earns himself more grooming with the gentle game of tag, a touch of his nose against my palm.

Myrnah checks in too at some point, trading soft nuzzles for grooming from me.

Errai, ever the center of attention, begs for more and more grooming, so we up the stakes of the game. Now we play the game of tag where I run and dodge left and right and he plays right along with me, keeping me firmly in his sights until I offer him a hand to touch, nose against palm, ever so gently, earning him more of the grooming he loves.

Sometimes the things around us become far more interesting than our games of tag- a coat on the ground to be investigated, or a grooming kit be knocked over. Sometimes the toys are irresistible.

Sooner or later it is time for Myrnah and I to play, leaving Errai to entertain himself. After a circle left and a circle right, we check in with each other, and, if all feels well, I swing up to ride high.

Every day she feels more confident, traveling a little straighter and a little more boldly, even when we are outside her comfort zone.

Depending on Myrnah’s confidence level, we sometimes ride the perimeter of the central area within the herd. Surrounded on all sides by the other horses is the easiest. Sometimes we are bold explorers and ride the outside perimeter of the herd, or even the outside perimeter of the field, leaving the safe confines of the herd behind us. Sometimes we are confident enough to strike out into canter; sometimes we prefer to build that confidence up one brick at a time with long meandering walks that explore what perimeter ride is comfortable for us that day.

Regardless of how long or short the ride was, Myrnah always seems happy to relax and spend time with me after I jump down to rest and sit in the green, green grass of Plumb Pond.

We have a pretty idyllic life, Myrnah, Errai and I. The evolution of speed and distance, riding the perimeters of herd and field all seem perfect right now. Every time I jump off from a ride I marvel at the twists and turns this journey has led us through to get us where we are today- Myrnah, Errai, and I….

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.


Pay Attention

As the quote at the top of my blog reads: Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

This week I found myself at times wanting more from Myrnah, and then catching myself and realizing how vague and perhaps inappropriate this restless seeking mode was, realizing I didn’t always know specifically what more I wanted.

It was time to pay attention. What we have now in any given moment is the basis for all we will develop in the future. I can only really know what I want in the future if I have a clear sense of what I have in the present.

In a relationship, if we are displeased with what we have and seek more, everyone ends up frustrated feeling the lack. The growth process becomes a battle. Lucky for me, there is no room for any sort of a battle between Myrnah and me. If I become too combative or aggressive in my requests of her she has nothing holding her to me. She has every freedom to say no and walk away.

So, when I find myself wanting more from Myrnah, I have to follow Mary Oliver’s instructions first. Pay attention. Be astonished. Then, from that place of appreciation, I can dream up all sorts of developmental paths we can take together. We are always developing and achieving more together; it is just the way life works. The only constant in life is change. I do not have to create that change, it is inevitable; my job is to pay attention so I can encourage the changes in directions beneficial to everyone.

This week I spent a great deal of time reeling myself in from a glass half empty point of view. While I understand logically that frustration is not a useful basis from which to develop relationship, emotionally I still find myself there sometimes.

When I go out in the field to see Myrnah and Errai, Errai will come right over to see me, sometimes even at a gallop. It is a beautiful thing, his enthusiasm and joy.

In contrast I sometimes find myself frustrated by Myrnah’s slow peaceful roundabout course to come see me. Then I have to catch myself. Here is a mustang, only ten months in from the wild. Not only is she happy to see me, she is happy to share her foal with me, and she is even happy to put aside her perhaps constant hunger and low energy from taking care of that foal all day, every day. She will stop grazing and come to see me because she wants to be with me that much. Even though she knows I will want to swing up and have her take me for a ride around the field, she still will put aside low energy and constant hunger in favor of being with me.

Instead of feeling frustrated by her lack of enthusiasm coming to greet me, I need to appreciate how much she gives and how far we have come in a very short time. From there I can consider how best to shape our relationship so she might show more enthusiasm coming to greet me.

Perhaps it would be helpful for me to start giving her some more concentrated feed to help her with the demands of her nursing foal. Even though she is on lusher pasture than she has ever had in her life, and she isn’t underweight anymore, I can see her top line muscles starting to waste away under the demands motherhood is placing on her. While that is perhaps a natural cycle, I can see how it also contributes toward a more lackadaisical attitude toward everything in life. From that point of view I can appreciate how much effort Myrnah does put in to come see me. It looks different from Errai, but Errai has nothing but support from everyone right now, while Myrnah is the one doing all the supporting.

So, as per Mary Oliver’s instructions, once I pay attention and choose to be astonished by what I do have, the reflex frustration I felt can melt away and be replaced by enthusiasm to try some different courses of action that might develop us in ways that feel good.

This pay attention idea is something that applies to Myrnah as well as myself. One of my challenges with her is the development of control, specifically direction and speed while riding. When I point her in a direction she would rather not travel, I find she is no longer willing to let me direct her speed. She needs time to stop and pay attention to that direction, consider it, appreciate it, decide it is safe, and then she will consider my request for faster travel. If I had a rope I could bully her into doing as I asked, even before she had a chance to pay attention to this new direction, deciding for herself if it felt safe. However, I have no rope, and Myrnah has a full fifty-percent say in our relationship. I can ask for speed or direction, but not both, until she has had a chance to think it over, weigh her options and decide it if works for her too.

Yes, this frustrates me, even though I understand the logic behind it. Traveling the direction she would rather not through the field, our progress is three steps and stop, Myrnah’s ears pricked, neck arched, every fiber of her being watching and paying attention. All I can do is wait until she relaxes and decides we are OK to move on. Three steps more and we repeat the process. Again and again and again- what is that joke about training horses? All you need are three things: patience, patience, and more patience. Yes I have tried to push her though it, and all I get is a determined spin back in the other direction. I give her time to work it out and wrap her mind around traveling this direction, or we don’t go that way at all.

So while Myrnah pays attention to her direction and figures out how to appreciate it and move forward, I am left paying attention to what Myrnah and I do have, appreciating all we have accomplished up to this point.

Myrnah is only four years old. Most four-year-old horses get spooked by the occasional bush, or deer, or rustle in the grass. Really it is amazing, this horse who has never had a single rope or halter used on her: here she is, considering traveling a direction she would rather not, dealing with fears she would rather ignore, just because I asked. It is a testament to the relationship we have built up to this point that she will do this much for me.

Sometimes I worry we will never get through these difficult moments. What if it isn’t possible to train a horse without the tools to push them through the things they would rather not do? That question haunted me through the months it took for Myrnah to allow me to get on. Yet, having faith in the concepts allowed me to persevere and here we are, riding through the fields every day. Not only do we ride through the fields every day, Myrnah comes to get me so that we can do that together. I have to find that amazing and wonderful, no matter what challenges still lie ahead of us.

So here I will persevere through the conversation of speed and direction with Myrnah, allowing her time to pay attention to all she is concerned about until she isn’t anymore.

I will allow her whatever time she needs to pay attention, and, while she takes the time she needs, I will take the time to bask in the warm glow of all we have done together so far. The challenges in front of us are insignificant in comparison to the ones we have left behind us. While frustration in the glass half empty is always an option, I will always reach for the satisfaction of the glass half full with all the plans of what more to fill it up with.

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.


Life in Questions

Myrnah and Errai are out in the big pasture with all their friends now, and exceedingly happy to be there. Over the last week, watching the dynamics of herd life has made me think about questions. It seems to me there is a vitality and harmony and life in questions. The workings of a herd are all about grace in developing relationship, I believe a horse’s skill in asking questions is what makes for their ease or lack thereof in a herd.

When we ask questions and then listen for the answer it will tend to fall into either a yes category or a no category. If a question asked has a yes answer, you have a developing bond and friendship between individuals. If a question asked has a no answer, you end up with a discussion of boundaries, as I explored in last weeks blog. All questions are valid and develop society as a working whole. However, I have observed that the more questions asked receiving yes answers, the greater the peace and feeling of well being within a herd.

Horses ask very simple questions: Can I stand close to you? Can I ask you to move? Can I itch shoulders with you? Can I ask you to go away? Can I ask you to come with me? Some horses ask these questions with tact and build stronger and stronger connections with everyone around them. Some horses have still to develop that tact and get angry responses that lead to boundary disputes. There is every variation of skill in those discussions in a herd and it can be fascinating to watch.

Myrnah, as always, continues to impress me. She absolutely sets some boundaries about Errai with the other horses, yet every day she softens and settles and relaxes the ferocity of enforcing them allowing Errai more and more contact with his new, enlarged family. Myrnah asks questions of the other horses with a mixture of results. Sometimes she gets a no, sometimes she gets a yes; but what impresses me is how, for the most part, she stays in the conversation with an easygoing attitude, regardless of the answers she gets. She has very little emotional angst or upset about the ebb and flow of questions and answers within a herd, and so, you will almost always see her and Errai right in the middle of everyone, part of the group and looking like they are right where they belong.

There are two chestnut Arabian mares that have decided they are the handmaidens of mare and foal. Maharrah and Savannah seem to flank Myrnah and Errai wherever they go. Myrnah doesn’t seem to mind them at all, and they seem completely devoted to their newfound job.

There are two chestnut geldings who vie for leadership in the field just now. Ram is the established dominant gelding: big, powerful and a little insecure about perhaps receiving no for an answer, his questions are more like demands with a dominant push to always get a yes. Theo is new in the herd: alternately very persistent about wanting to be close, and then hyper reactive, galloping to the farthest reaches of the field when Ram says no and draws a boundary. I am sure the two of them will work it out over time. Questions and answers create a conversation: the only way to create skill in that conversation is to keep having it until ease is developed.

This morning I took Myrnah for a ride around the herd. She felt unbelievably happy and relaxed about working with me. Savannah saw our intention to take a ride around and led the way. Myrnah and I followed her along the mown track at the edge of the field; little Errai came along behind us. Part way around we passed near Theo, and he came toward us with a demand to be close. Myrnah pinned her ears to say no and drew a boundary, but Theo would not take no for an answer, Ram overreacted to the dispute and came charging over to chase Theo off. While I was impressed that I never felt unsafe riding Myrnah through all this, I also knew when I needed to get off and ask my own questions (or in this case, make my demands) of everyone. Given the intensity of the situation I yelled at the feuding boys, sending Rom and a very reluctant Theo off in separate directions. Equilibrium restored in the herd, I found Myrnah and Errai again, swung up, and we continued our ride around the field.

I can’t begin to express how impressed and thrilled I am with Myrnah’s development. With foal at her side and the chaos of herd life all around her, she still looks forward to seeing me, she still is happy to take me for rides, and every day she and I get better at asking each other questions in ways that get yeses instead of noes.

Little by little Myrnah and I will push each other’s boundaries. As we feel more and more connected and bonded to each other, we will become more and more comfortable saying yes instead of no. Those lines we drew in the sand to keep ourselves comfortable will be washed away by the trust we develop.

Errai is part of all this too. This evening he cantered to me as I approached, leaving his mother behind.

His questions to me: Can I be close? Will you scratch my back? Can we play? Over the last week my answer has been: Touch my hand gently with your nose and you can be close, and I will scratch your back. Errai’s idea of playing is all about biting and pushing, so I have drawn a boundary there. However, tonight our communication had developed to a point where we could start to play a little. I could run away from him, and he would gallop after me. When I stopped I would turn so he could run past me. Reaching my hand out for him and drawing it softly away in front of his nose as he circled me, gave him the chance to think it through and choose to touch softly with his nose letting us end the game with the closeness and the back scratches he loves best. Sometimes he still gets too excited and wants to bite me or run into me, leaving me no choice but to push him away and create a boundary again. That happens less and less often, though, as Errai learns the patterns, and I get better at asking questions in ways that get a yes instead of a no.

The life in questions is vivid and bright and inspires us to develop our skills of communication. We all want to have friends, feel loved, and feel safe in our community.  I believe questions and answers are the tools that ever deepen that bond with the world around us.

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.



Little Errai seems to be as precocious as he is adorable. Myrnah continues to be the perfect mother and the picture of unconditional love and adoration toward her little one. This week is all about boundaries- recognizing them, expanding them, and laying down new ones.

As we live in community, the boundaries we create are all about the comfort of the individuals within the group. If the individuals are comfortable, then the group is comfortable. However, coming to some decision among individuals about where those boundaries stand can be a work in process and change from day to day.

Because Errai is so precocious and social, we hope to move him and Myrnah out into the herd sooner rather than later. It seems like he is just dancing with excitement over the idea of thirteen aunts and uncles to bounce off of in his process of growing up. In preparation we have been putting horses in with Myrnah and Errai in small groups of ones, twos, and threes, allowing Myrnah to get used to the idea of sharing her colt with the larger group and allowing her to set whatever boundaries she needs to feel comfortable.

For the most part Errai is so excited to go visit with the new horses and Myrnah chases them away, making it clear she is not ready for him to socialize with the equine herd just yet. She lays the boundary close around her foal with people and herself the only approved playmates for Errai. When Errai is asleep, the other horses are allowed to graze quite close to him and Myrnah seems completely relaxed about it; she has set the boundary and is confident they will respect it, not touching him even if they come close. When Errai is up and about, though, Myrnah has less control of the situation and sends the horses farther away to make it clear to Errai they are not for him yet. Myrnah expresses unconditional love and appreciation for her foal with a fierce control of the outside world, setting it up in Errai’s best interest.

Interestingly, on Tuesday this week, Myrnah started to let those boundaries stretch. Errai, wanted so much to go talk to Saavedra and Theo, so he would give a little whinny and take a few steps toward them, and then pause and do it again over and over until he got within a couple of feet. Myrnah grazed calmly a little ways away not interrupting this time. However, when he got there, Saavedra pinned her ears and shook her nose at him, and he spun around galloping back to his Mum, boundaries remaining intact.

Later that afternoon the big gelding, Ram, was in with mare and foal, and finally Errai was allowed some outside contact. Nosing at Ram’s tail and back legs in his ever curious way, Errai was allowed to stretch his boundaries a little farther this time. Ram, however, seemed to recognize the boundary being stretched and wanted nothing more than to get away from Errai and out of that paddock. I guess a protective mother is something to be respected, and, even if she looks calm and allowing, the other horses recognize they are in delicate territory talking to her precious little one. Little by little and day by day I am sure they will come to an understanding of boundaries that is comfortable for everyone.

The boundary that has focused my attention most this week is the one between Errai and his devoted following of people. Everyone loves and adores him, Myrnah is completely at ease sharing him with people, and Errai is thrilled to have people around to amuse him, showing it in so many ways. The conversations he and I have back and forth when I show up are so much fun! A whinny from him, a greeting from me, another whinny from him, another greeting from me, and so on for sometimes five or six repetitions. When Errai sees someone enter his small pasture, he will leave his mother at a gallop to come visit. That sight of a horse galloping straight at you with no hesitation, just pure joy that you are finally there to see him, is quite something.

Once Errai gets close though, there is a boundary to be set. Biting and striking, while natural, fun, playful actions between colts, have no place in the horse-human relationship I aim to foster. So no matter how adorable his draw to people is, Errai must be pushed away if any of those dominant behaviors come into play. The question is: How to set a boundary without using fear to get respect for this boundary? Right now I aim not to startle or strike, just to simply and firmly push Errai away to make it clear he crossed a line. The theory is “backing cures biting”. If I can find ways to cause Errai to back off if he crosses the line without threatening or startling him, that is my preference. Then I just hope we develop good habits and patterns before he gets too big to affect this simply.

The most fun and effective application of this boundary, however, was set between a visitor, David, and little Errai the other day. David and Errai met at the fence to greet each other. I asked David to walk away if Errai started to bite, allowing the fence to be the clear boundary. The inevitable happened, and David walked away to re-approach farther down the fence line. Little Errai figured out after only a few repetitions that he only got to keep visiting with this fabulous person if he kept his teeth to himself. David’s timing must have been just right for Errai to understand that day because Errai became instantly smitten with this new person, following him along the fence line, attention riveted, and so quiet and respectful whenever David did come close. A beautiful demonstration of reward (having your new best friend stay close when you treat him well) can work ever so much better than punishment or negative reinforcement.

The other boundary that has been stretched this week was that of territory Myrnah and I ride in. Stepping outside the gates of the orchard nursery into the larger field to ride was wonderful. The chance to stretch legs and move in longer straight lines was appreciated by Myrnah and Errai and myself. While a walk and trot and a little canter is plenty to keep Myrnah and me happy at this juncture, Errai was thrilled to stretch his legs to their fastest speeds. It will be wonderful to see him out with the larger herd in the larger pastures all the time soon.

So here is to boundaries- set, stretched, enforced, and discussed among individuals. Ever evolving, they keep us comfortable, living together in community.

Elsa Sinclair