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Monthly Archives: August 2015

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train

_E0A2182The Goal:

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

Front_Of_Card_ELSABefore this week’s blog begins, I want to THANK EVERYONE who backed the kickstarter for the Documentary project over the last two months. If you have not joined us yet, click the link below, we have one last day of fundraising to go! Take a look at the trailer here! I am so excited we have such an amazing and strong group of people behind this film. The funds we have raised beyond the original budget are allowing us to complete the film in ways I had only dreamed possible. Thank you for helping this dream come into reality in the best ways!


The heart and soul of this project with Myrnah is really all about collaboration. What does it take to work together? What happens when she wants to do different things from me? What is force or coercion, and, if I stray into that territory, is it still collaboration or something else altogether? If I want to stay within the bounds of persuasion, what is persuasion, and how do I do it? How do I present myself as a leader she can trust? What actions would prove my worth as a good leader?

And then, importantly, once I address all these questions in my own mind, how do I communicate them to her using body language? I might believe telepathy is possible, and I might believe horses do learn to understand at least some of the words we speak, but this is a nuts-and-bolts physical process for me. How do I step into this relationship speaking Myrnah’s language?

Movement is the equivalent of words in this Horse/ Human relationship. A good conversation contains a back and forth flow of ideas with our movements being our words. Movements might be subtle: looking towards each other, looking away from each other. Or they might be more obvious: walking toward or away, forwards or backwards, reaching out to each other, pulling back from each other, body carriage high and tight or low and soft. Everything means something, everything says something, and then is understood as something by our partner.


How do we make this conversation a collaborative one? I believe it is all about where we take our rests, our pauses, our quiet moments. The message we convey, or understand, in the moment before a pause is the one that sticks with us and becomes the predominant feeling of the conversation. In the beginning we may need to stop everything completely and just breathe when we feel connection and collaboration. Later, as we get better at this, we may be able to simply match movements, stride for stride, breath for breath, existing together in movement as that quiet emphasis of collaboration.

What happens when my horse wants to do something different than I do? We talk about it, we move around the subject, and we keep conversing without fail until we find another point of agreement.

Points of agreement are the only moments that deserve a pause of quiet time. That is how we foster collaboration instead of dissidence in a relationship. That is how we prove the worth of our leadership.

A good leader has a goal and then adapts the goal to what his follower or followers are capable of doing, letting each success build on the strength of the previous successes. We hear it said, it’s all about the journey, not the destination; but what does that really mean? We may need a destination to lend us focus and purpose and clarity of conversation. Perhaps though, seeing the journey as a million small destinations along the path allows the journey to be as important than the destination.


When might a leader use force, or coercion? When might it be appropriate? Like I see most things, I see this on scale with persuasion on one end and force or coercion on the other end where we fall on the scale comes down to time limit. When we use persuasion we develop collaboration and that can take some time. When we use force or coercion we get varying degrees of cooperation or servitude, depending on the intensity. If there is an imminent physical danger threatening my horse (speeding cars, protective mother bears, cliffs or impending physical injury of any sort), it becomes important to me as a leader to step in with whatever means I have from violence to bribery – whatever it takes to avoid serious danger.

On the other hand, if my goal is simply to walk together from one side of the field to the other, what kind of hurry are we really in? There is clearly no need to invoke force, so what tools do we have to build collaboration.

We break the task down: Together, Walking, Field, Point A to Point B. Each of those elements is an opportunity to build collaboration, and to take pauses to appreciate the collaborative feeling. Collaboration is all about seeking out success. What CAN we do well together. Depending on the partnership, we may have to break that task down even smaller, either in time or in distance. We just have to remember, even if we break the time segments down, we can only rest on success, collaboration, and togetherness. If we can’t find those feelings, we have to simplify tasks further until we are able to find success.


So what happens if we don’t want to break this down any more, or take more time to develop it? What if we need to do this thing together today! Well, then it is going to come down to incentives, positive or negative; the clearer we are, the faster it goes.

Here is how I break it down: if the incentive for doing something is just the way WE FEEL GOOD TOGETHER agreeing on a course of action – that is persuasion.

If the incentive for doing something is based on avoiding a threat or seeking a reward to find a good feeling, that starts to stray into the territory of force or coercion in the relationship.

How much force or coercion we use has to do with how much time we have to get where we are going. How much are we willing to break it down and enjoy the journey with all its detours and meanderings? As leaders, how consistent and clear are we at only resting on success, never resting on disconnection?

These are skills to be honed and thoughts to be pondered. Horses give us an amazing workspace to develop our awareness, and then that awareness slowly spreads into everything we do and everywhere we go.


Force and coercion are part of our lives every day, and are not inherently bad. Collaboration is just better, when we can take the time to nurture it.

Most of us work for a pay check and that could be seen as a bribe. Most of us fear lacking food to eat if we don’t have money; that could be coercion to work. Seeking reward, avoiding threat, these are facts of life and functional ways to live a good life if they are reasonable. Some of us may even feel we still need them as motivational forces shaping our lives for the better.

Just imagine, though, those moments when you go to work just because it feels good and you would do it even if you didn’t get paid. That is collaboration.

Imagine if you knew you didn’t ever have to do anything you didn’t want to do: you would always be fed and housed and loved and appreciated and have anything you needed, yet you still wanted to work for and with others just because it felt good. That is collaboration.

So as you go through your days this week, notice when life can be a conversation and a journey with a million small successes along the way -where the motivation is just about how good it feels to live. Also notice where there is something important that needs to get done, and the motivation of avoiding threat or seeking reward is useful to get that job completed in a timely manner.

It’s your life, you choose how you want to live it!

Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students

Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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

First, thank you all for your support on the Documentary, this amazing week we met our funding Front_Of_Card_ELSAgoal! Take a look at the trailer here, and join us as a backer to make the best movie ever! Any further funds that get donated allow us to invest in filming the Mustangs in the wild. That is really where this journey started and the better we can illustrate that, the more completely we can tell this beautiful story.

Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe

It was only a matter of time before this Blog needed to be written; though perhaps it really should have been one of the first blogs I ever wrote. You may think you know what I am going to write, but you may be surprised to find that my view on safety digs a little deeper than what is usually talked about.


We talk about safety a lot in the world of horses, saying things like: wear your helmet; walk carefully behind a horse; coil your rope in your hand correctly so it doesn’t get caught; wear correct foot protection; don’t do this, always do that… the list goes on and on.


I don’t disagree with those checklist points; we can do many physical things IMG_3294to help in the efforts of safety. I would like to dig a little deeper though and think about what underlies all that. What does it take to really FEEL safe.


This FEELING of safety, I believe, is crucial and central to the issue, because as the saying goes: “hurt people, hurt people” and I think it can be extrapolated farther: hurt horses, hurt horses…. Or people, or dogs…. Or…. The list goes on. We hurt others when we are hurting, because feeling safe is an instinctual need.


Feeling safe is a core and universal concept that each and every one of us feels we have to defend, and sometimes defending ourselves seems to require hurting someone else. If for some reason we suppress that defense of feeling safe, that is where the hopeless unbearable crushing depression is born. Life begins to feel pointless.


Look around you; think about the people and animals you know with a sparkle in their eye and spring to their step. Somehow they are anchored in that feeling of safety. Their life is firm and sure because they FEEL SAFE.


_E0A0242So for those of us who struggle with depression or anger management or panic attacks or anxiety disorders or social frustration, how do we find a feeling of safety again? I think every one of us has felt that insecurity at some point, and every one of us can see it at times in the people and animals we love. As a society though, we often lack the tools to move past it ourselves or help the ones we love in moving forward to a sense of safety.


The spiral of insecurity can feel like a death trap because, when I feel unsafe, the instinct is to protect myself and defend against anyone threatening my safety. In that defense I in turn threaten someone else’s safety, and they feel the need to defend as well; so they lash out and the cycle is born into a cascading downward spiral.


Why does this happen? Why can’t we support each other instead of always defending ourselves? I believe it is instinctual and not actually within our control, until we understand it more.


So let us touch in with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as they give us a good understanding of how this all fits together.


  1. Body/Physiological needs- air, food, sleep, stimulation, activity.
  2. Security/Safety Needs- security, protections from threats.
  3. Social/love and belonging needs- love, friends, comradeship.
  4. Ego/Self-Esteem- Self-respect, personal worth, autonomy
  5. Self-actualization/Fulfillment needs- purpose, personal growth, development of potential.


We FEEL completely safe, to the degree we have all these things. It isn’t black and white, all or nothing. It is only greater or lesser. The negative spiral begins when we start sacrificing ourselves, or others in fundamental ways in order to move up the scale.


Yes, that is a big statement, read it again.


I am saying, for example, if we lose track of the basic body needs – air, food, sleep and exercise – to gain security or protection from threats… it can’t work. Sooner or later that security or protection from threats is going to fail, because its base of body needs was neglected. This continues up the chart; our next step is only as secure as the one before it.


It gets complicated at step three. We all deserve love, friends, comradeship; however, if I reach for those without taking care of steps one and two, I can never really feel safe enough in being loved. If I don’t feel safe, I am going to get defensive, because it is my right to feel safe. If I don’t get defensive, I am going to get depressed, because what’s the point of living if I don’t even get to feel safe.


Spelled out like that, it is simple right? We just build incrementally and everything will work out perfectly; and I believe that is absolutely true to the degree we have the patience and perseverance and fortitude to live it.


With horses we build a relationship that is usually centered on OUR needs. Let’s just say my day is going beautifully, my body is well taken care of, I feel pretty safe from obvious threats, I have good friends and am loved, I feel good about who I am and my personal worth, and now I am ready to tackle fulfillment and purpose. So I tack up my horse to go start training because I want to feel that development of potential.


Sticking point – did I ask my horse how safe they felt today?


Often we may know their physical needs are taken care of… but then the horse is jumping out of their skin every time the wind blows because they don’t feel secure. When that happens, we find it really gets in the way of the dressage pattern/jump course/ trail ride, etc. that we want for our fulfillment needs!


Dang it! Get over it, it’s just the wind!

(Or whatever it is that is bothering your horse that day)


That puts your horse in a predicament. If they give up their need for overall safety (in this case the specific step of security) so you can pursue your goals of purpose and development, they end up depressed or angry. It is their right to feel safe. It is everyone’s right to feel safe.


So when does my right trump yours?


Check the list, Body needs first, then security, then social, then self esteem, then purpose and development.


Our work with horses is a good place to practice this awareness, but we will find it inevitably present in all our relationships. The feeling of safety comes from our entire hierarchy of needs being addressed, one step at a time. Every day a layer at a time as we understand and develop and become who we are.


It isn’t always easy to be patient and clear and take life one step at a time, but it is simple.


Here is to everyone’s right to feel safe.


Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students

Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


When In Doubt, Breath Out


It has been a stressful week. Wonderful stress, but stress none the less, and this body is feeling the effects. The Kickstarter has hit eighty percent funded for getting the documentary done! The end of the fund raising is in fourteen days and the excitement is palpable in the last push. Front_Of_Card_ELSAThis movie is really getting made. Please click here to see the trailer and help us hit the goal in the next two weeks.


The art of balancing my every-day work with students, my work at the computer connecting with an ever-expanding community about the movie, the physical work of keeping my barn running, and the juggling work of scheduling all the right people to all the right places at all the right times is exhausting. Some days it comes easily, and some days I wonder how long the body can function correctly on a sleep deficit with this degree of challenge and stress.


I sit down to write this blog and wonder if it is fair to write at this moment when I am perhaps not at my best. This is my 100th blog after all! Then I have to rethink that judgment – what if this is my best? And who am I to truly judge? Sure, stress isn’t comfortable, but it has its time, its place, and its uses.


A student brought up that same question recently; she said to me, “I feel like my anxiety and stress are making my horse uncomfortable, and I shouldn’t even be here”. In that moment my heart beat a little faster, and I felt for her in her moment of pain. None of us wants to spread that feeling around. So the real question becomes: How do I make this stress functional- For me, for my horse, for anyone who has to share space with me as I live through this._E0A0231The answer is not isolation or segregation. We are community; we need to reach out and bond with each other; that is how stress is eased and comfort is renewed.


We know that stress creates growth, and we know if we feed and nurture ourselves in times of stress it is a beautiful force of development, sculpting our life into the art it wants to become.


In a discussion with a teacher of mine a few weeks ago, she gave me this phrase that has been immensely helpful in recent events.


“When in doubt, breath out”


I have always known breathing is one of the keys and doing it better helps everything, but how do we do that when it feels impossible?


In the middle of an acute panic attack, or in the simpler moments of running late for a meeting, or riding an unpredictable horse, I will often hear the advice: Breath deep, breath again, keep breathing. And I try, fighting for breath after breath and feeling like I am failing, with every breath seeming more shallow than the last no matter how hard I try!


Here is why: when we are stressed, we feel as if we can’t get enough air into our lungs. So we inhale rapidly, forgetting to exhale fully.


We forget, breathing is something that happens naturally; it isn’t something we have to control. The body wants to breath!


So… When in doubt, breath out.


Try it: breath out as far as you can and then a little more and a little more – every last bit of air you can squeeze out of your lungs until you really can’t get any more out – and then just let go. You don’t have to try to breath in; it just happens. And with that inhalation we didn’t have to reach for, or try harder for, comes a wave of relief and relaxation.


There is that idea again – work smarter not harder.


We know breathing better reduces stress, but we also know trying harder to do everything right increases stress. So, when it comes to breathing, just focus on the exhale and let the inhale take care of itself.


In life we often try to do too much, work too hard, and control every aspect we are aware of. This is what makes stress overwhelming and damaging. When we can look at everything like breathing, focusing on the piece we can change and then letting go to let life propel the rest, That is when stress is a beautiful sculptor of our lives.


Our output of energy into the world is like our exhale. We can pour ourselves into life with every ounce of energy we have, and then there is a moment when we must let go to see what comes back in naturally. That letting go allows us to take a moment, sit back and see what is being created. When we can see some changes happening, then the stress starts feeling functional, and we can focus our next effort, guiding life where we might like to go.


There is a rhythm to this confidence in life. Breath in, breath out. Heart beat steady, footsteps sure. When this rhythm starts to feel too difficult, we know the stress – that can be a beautiful force in our lives – is losing functionality. When that happens we have to work smarter not harder. Breath out – fully, and then let go. Work hard – fully and then let it happen.


Here is to breathing being easy, and stress being beautiful! Let it roar! And then let life in!


Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer,                                               Many Students, Communication through body language,

Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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

Thank you all for your support on the Front_Of_Card_ELSADocumentary. Take a look at the trailer here, and please donate to the completion of the project.


Holding Space

Holding the job title I do of Trainer and Teacher, there is an expectation everywhere I go to create change and evoke growth. Last week’s blog – “Focus, Persistence and Confidence” – was all about how that comes to pass for me. This week, however, I find myself thinking more about the basis for that growth and change.


I believe we are only willing to grow and change to the degree we feel safe and stable where we are.


In this culture we are taught, “you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow” and “being uncomfortable is an important part of learning something new.” I do agree with these sentiments if our goal is to change fast; if we aim to get from where we are to where we are going quickly, it might indeed be uncomfortable.


That discomfort, though, tends to lead to students resisting and fighting the very growth and learning they are seeking. Adult humans can rationalize, talking through the uses of discomfort so they learn to tolerate or even seek it. Animals and children, though, tend to fight ever harder when their feelings of core safety are threatened by discomfort.


It is often Animals and Children who teach us to live fully right now!_E0A0233

What if this life is for living and enjoying with the full breadth and depth of who we are NOW… instead of who or what we seek to be.


Change is inevitable, growth happens, whether we seek it or not. We are all constantly evolving because it is simply the nature of being alive.


As a teacher and a trainer I find myself at this balance point: my job is to create growth and foster learning, and yet, I find the best way to do that is to start from the premise that my student, horse or human, is already perfect.


Right now, in this moment, they are exactly what they need to be – not lacking or “less than” in any way!


My first job is to let them feel safe, connected, and supported exactly how they are, because that is how a love for learning and growing is fostered.


Give any of us enough safety and base of support, we learn to love and seek our own evolution.


How do we do that?


We hold space.


This piece written by Heather Plett says it best.

I often feel as Heather does about holding space:


“It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important.”


It is important we know we are really okay however we are right now, because right now is our jumping off place for everything we are about to become. When I teach or I train, I endeavor to build this base of support. It seems a little counter intuitive, my job being to change things for the better, and yet I walk in first saying everything is perfect just as it is. Why would you need me if that was the case?


You don’t need me; that’s the point. I just have the tools to make the inevitable growth and evolution of being alive way more fun. Because I can do that for you, together we discover. The more fun you think learning is, the more you will seek it and reach for it and change, in fact faster than if I had pushed you hard to grow in the first place._E0A0331

So here are the keys to holding space that let a person or an animal feel they have a strong enough base of support to leap into what they are becoming.

  1. Give others permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
  2. Give others only as much information as they can handle.
  3. Don’t take their power away.
  4. Keep your own ego out of it.
  5. Make them feel safe enough to fail.
  6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
  7. Create a container for complex emotions.
  8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.


Heather goes into more details, I encourage you to read her piece.


Growth and learning make us feel alive; I simply question, how far out of our comfort zone must we step in this reaching for life?


How might we instead revel in whatever is felt now, as we support it and build firm ground under our feet so we grow into the delight of tomorrow with grace.


While holding space for people is a concept that is gaining traction in the world, I am now putting a bid in for people to also learn how to hold space for their horses.


Now is all we really have. I am voting in this “now” to foster safety and security and a stable learning base from which to push off into the future fearlessly.


Elsa Sinclair