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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.


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


  1. wish I could be so mellow and patient >8)

  2. It seems everything I encounter and read this week is so timely for me, and so is this wonderful post of yours, Elsa. I’m dealing with the same things you describe; not so much with horses at the moment but with life in general. This quote struck me specifically: “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.” That is so true…
    A few days ago I came across this phrase: “Acceptance is building a relationship with what is”. It has stayed with me ever since and has made me realize that I usually accept the things I like, but reject the things I don’t like. I guess that goes for most of us, but it just suddenly struck me, so I started trying to build a connection with the ‘negative’ things these past few days and I can already feel how this is making a difference in how I feel.
    Thank you for putting words to my feelings, you seem to do that all the time, and you are so good at it!


  3. wow… such a great patience and understanding… I’m amazed 🙂 good luck with future achievments!!! 🙂

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