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The Project:

Mustangs directly off the range, Stretching the boundaries of training horses without tools

Understanding passive leadership, Learning, Listening, and Leaning into life together


The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.


Wait for it…

The warm breeze of an Indian summer lilts softly through this September day. Almost a year now since my last post on this blog and I would like to think I am a year wiser, a year clearer, and a year better than I was, well worth the wait.

After our intense focus on the Mustang Project, Myrnah and I needed some time- time for her to relax and grow up building the kind of strength only time will grant, time also for me to plunge into the rapids of an ever-changing life and evolve my own path.

A year later finds me living in a new town, building a new style of teaching, and learning from my ever-faithful Mustangs. I find myself building and blending the past, the present, and the future into a sort of primordial soup that feeds the person I want to be.IMG_3114


And the news everyone wants to hear, I also, most beautifully and unexpectedly, find myself in love with and engaged to the most wonderful Man I never expected to meet. Thank you Christopher Gough for being that facet of my life too brilliant to predict or expect.

Myrnah and I began work together again this fall when she made the trip from the tranquil San Juan Islands to my new place in Redmond, WA. While seven acres of rolling pasture may not be the near hundred she had been used to on the island, it’s still a rare find for city horses, with brilliant views of the sixty-acre soccer fields below us, and endless entertainment of cheering fans, model airplanes, bottle rockets, and hot air balloons landing right next door. My four horses seem very happy indeed with their new life as they watch the world go by from their raven’s roost of a red barn on the hill.

Myrnah’s first year with me was all about passive leadership. What is it, how do I do it. How much dominance is too much (when she walks away and refuses to talk to me, I know I have crossed the line). In all horse training today, dominance is part of the process; even in clicker training the area tends to be confined so the horse can’t get away. My first year with Myrnah asked the question: Is it possible to train a horse with only passive leadership? The answer was a resounding YES! The results were above and beyond anything I expected. The horse Myrnah is today is the best partner I could hope to have.


I wish every horse I had was started this way, and I wish I had the fortitude and time to continue purely down this course. Looking deep in the reflecting pool of choices, I find the results from the Mustang Project are everything I want with the exception of efficient.

So looking at the spectrum of dominant leadership to passive leadership as a continuum of choices, I choose to take middle road.

Some days I leave all the gear behind and work from a passive perspective. What will my horses give me of their own volition, no tools to control, no confined spaces to force them into relationship with me, no food to bribe them, just me and them and the spaces we exist in together.

Other days we bring out the ropes and the saddles, the bridles and the confined spaces, asking the question: If I speed up the process of training, do I still feel good about the results? If I lean into the territory of dominant leadership, do I still like the relationship we have from moment to moment? I will let you know how it goes…

So far, of all my horses, Myrnah is the steadiest even when we step into a more dominant leadership context. She is the quickest to adopt a brave attitude out on the trail, she is the softest to adapt to new gear like a bit in her mouth, and she stays in the barn long after the others have left for the far pasture, following me around like she would really like to do more. Those signs confirm for me that first year we took slow was well worth the time and the wait.


So what happens now that passive leadership is part of a spectrum in my work with Myrnah instead of the whole focus?

I still intend to write from the passive leadership perspective. There are many trainers in the world who will help you be more effective, efficient, and dominant. There are far too few who will slow down and ask about the benefits of being more passive, allowing the relationship to evolve and grow naturally.

So I leave you with some teachings from Saavedra, Cleo, Myrnah, and Zohari in their liberty lesson with Sophie and Arianna this week.

To begin, we need to ask for connection as many times and in as many ways as we need to. When the horse reaches out to us, THEN we wait. What are we waiting for? We wait for comfort, for ease, for enjoyment of the moment. Those are the intangibles, the glue that binds us together.IMG_3451

Enjoyment, comfort, ease… you can’t ask for those, you can only wait for them to happen.

We set the relationship up by asking for something the horse craves- connection. Then we must wait for the horse to feel it, love it, bask in it.

Then we ask for a movement- forward, sideways, backwards, up, or down, because movement together and the conversation about movement builds that craved connection. Then we reach out to the horse again. Do they reach back to us? Or do they pull away, showing us that we asked too much too soon, driving them away emotionally? If we want this relationship we have to keep asking for connection again until they reach out to us, and then we WAIT. Wait for them to feel the satisfaction of being together.

That is the process. And this is the blog that will help me evolve and grow the understanding of what passive leadership really is.


If you would like to join me and the horses to learn more, give me a call or send me an email. This liberty work is some of the most powerful learning I have every done with horses, and my door is open to anyone who would like to come learn with us.

Elsa Sinclair


    • Ritambhara Tyson
    • Posted September 20, 2013 at 9:06 pm
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    I’m so glad you are back. Sonny and I are ready to move more in this direction. We do a lot of liberty with me on the ground, but I have yet to crawl on his back with no halter on. I’m eating up your words. The connection, the waiting for the ease. Love it.

    What is happening with Myrnah’s colt?

  1. “Welcome back Elsa!” As you know I have loved following your passive leadership process with Myrnah all the way, and I am very happy and intrigued to start following the ongoing process of mixed ways of leadership. It has been my experience that as long as I keep my focus on the connection, tools can be really helpful, to both the horse and myself. Used this way they are a very valuable addition to the training process.

    Will you still publish a DVD and/or book on that first year with Myrnah? I’m a visual learner and it would be so awesome to actually SEE everything you have been doing with Myrnah :-)!

    I can’t wait to see how things will evolve between you and your horses from now on.

    And yes, how and where is Errai?

  2. Great to hear from you again Elsa and congratulation to you and Christopher! I echo the post from Marja van Run and hope that if you have enough material to work with are able to publish a DVD and/or book on your first year with Myrnah. Having said that I am sure there were many moments that happened when you just did not have a camera or video camera with you to capture it and even if you did, to do so would have ruined the magic of the moment. Luckily however, you have a talent with words too to fill in those gaps!

  3. Echoing the comments above, I was only wondering the other day what had happened with you, Myrnah and Errai! Congratulations on the exciting new changes in your life and looking forward to hearing more about you all!

  4. Oh what a treat to have you back, Elsa! Your brave experimental work with Myrnah is unforgettable and incredibly inspiring for those of us who seek an authentic connection with our horses. Your new path excites me as I find myself, like you, adding tack and a more assertive leadership with my two mares because I want to expand their world and test our connection as I take them in a new direction. Rock on!

  5. so glad you are back. I really enjoy your blog. Would love to see a picture of Myrnha’s baby as he is today.

    • Myrnah’s colt is thriving in his new home with his new people. I will try to post pictures in a blog soon.

  6. Elsa,

    First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to you and Christopher! I wish you all the best and much peace and happiness in your future together.
    I am so glad you are back with your blog and occasional lessons with me! I learn so incredibly much with your ways of being with horses. It was a BLAST watching you and Izar the other day and how easily you can connect to him and how easily he does what you ask because of HOW you ask. It’s just such incredibly fun stuff! I can NEVER go back to some of my other ways, for sure!
    Love ya!

  7. I am so happy to have you back!!! 😀 and congratulations!! best of luck on path of love 🙂
    would love to learn from you…

  8. Hi Elsa, it’s lovely to hear from you again😀. I really appreciate your honesty and willingness to adapt to new ways of interaction with horses. I love your description of connection. I have two ponies, one I raised from birth (now 3), and he is confident and asking for connection. The other, (his dam) was “trained” by someone else and really doesn’t want to connect with me. I know patience is the only way forward with her but what I find fascinating is their different starts in life. My pony has always been at liberty and I have touched his body and connected everyday since birth. His dam was ran semi-wild with a herd then was caught and “trained” with lots of dominance. I have started putting a halter and saddle pad on my pony and his only curious. His dam is fearful and flighty. I’m beginning to wonder if she will ever trust humans again😞. Sorry for the long story, I just needed to get that off my chest.

    • Miriam, Your Mare WILL indeed learn to trust again. It just takes time and persistence. The things you two will learn together throughout the process are priceless, and worth every step of the journey. Best wishes to you and your ponies. 😉 Elsa

  9. Wonderful perspective on balancing passive leadership as you call it and more active. It is a balancing act and Elsa, you do this better than anyone!

  10. thinking… how do you deal with unpleasent things like eg injections? or taking care of wounds? have you been with her in situations like this?

    • Katherine Becher
    • Posted September 24, 2013 at 10:47 pm
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    Elsa! I finally snuck in some “me time” and got to read this. I love how you write, love what you write about, love your insights, enthusiasm and passion! Couldn’t be happier for you and Christopher. Much love to you, dear friend! Keep being you, keep up the great work with Myrnah. Xoxo 🙂

  11. Wow, your new posting and the comment-questions answered all of my questions…Wow…..Have a great life as you said to me the very last time.

  12. Elsa, it’s lovely to see you writing again! And I can only agree with all the others. Hope to learn a lot more from you on liberty work and connection. You are a pioneer and really very inspiring!
    Warm regards, francine

  13. Elsa, You have given three important things to me over the years, besides this incredible horse experience.
    At a time of great personal need, you loaned me that book on longevity, bolstered it by introducing me to H2O2, and when I was (in a hospital) at a very low point you sent the ‘Stand By Me’ from the ‘Play for Change’ video (musicians all over the World playing live and then expertly mixed), reminding me of my purpose. Thankyou, Lady. Michael

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