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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



  1. Hi Elsa, you wrote: “If for some reason we give up that defense of feeling safe, that is where the hopeless unbearable crushing depression is born. Life begins to feel pointless.”
    (Unfortunately) I could call myself an ‘expert’ on feeling unsafe and I had my share of depressions. However in my experience it works differently. Most of my life I was quite defensive when I felt my safety was threatened (and I felt like that all the time!), and as long as I was like that, I suffered from depressions. But the more I let go of that defensive attitude (a huge learning curve – still learning!), or in other words, the more I showed my honest feelings of unsafety and hence my vulnerability, the more other people (and I) started seeing, accepting and loving the REAL me, and hence the less depressed I felt. I believe that depression often starts with suppressing ourselves, our feelings, our vulnerability (and this is what i.m.o. often results in defensive behaviour) and at the same time expecting others to accept and respect us for who we are. Which obviously doesn’t happen as long as we don’t accept ourselves… There’s that mirror again ;-).

    Congratulations on meeting your funding goal, that is terrific news :-)!

    • Marja, I think you and I are trying to say the same thing… you just may have hit it more completely in your description. I wrote: “If for some reason we give up that defense of feeling safe, that is where the hopeless unbearable crushing depression is born. Life begins to feel pointless.” I meant give up in a hopeless way, not in a positive way. I think your wordage is better, I should have used “Suppress” instead of “give up”… it really is more what I was trying to say. Do you mind if I take your advice and make the word change now? I believe if you can truly acknowledge how you feel, it begins to help you let go of defensiveness in a true way moving you into feeling safe. Most of us struggle with that though, so I am glad to hear it has been working for you. Yay for evolution! We all get better all the time, a little at a time. 😉

      • Somehow I already had the feeling that you meant the same as I did ;-). I certainly don’t mind if you want to change the way you put it!

  2. Hi Elsa,
    First and foremost congratulations on reaching your target, I am so pleased for you that the film is really going to get made and therefore pleased for me too as I, along with all other contributors and blog followers get to see it – yippee! I can hardly wait.

    Thank you for a thought provoking blog which got me thinking all about ego. One definition of ego is that it is the sum total of our body and mind and the thoughts we believe about ourselves and the emotions we consequently feel …. this great big bundle that adds up to who we believe ourselves to be. If we believe that we are our egos then yes it is quite likely that we see ourselves as living in a hostile universe where we don’t feel safe and secure and that we may therefore sometimes fall into negative thoughts and actions in order to move up the scale – believing all the time that we are just defending ourselves and have every right to do so. But what if we believe ourselves to be spiritual energies, eternal souls, inhabiting these bodies and having a human experience in this physical dimension? Realizing we are eternal beings we can feel safe and secure, free from fear. Indeed history has many examples of people who have not enjoyed steps one, two and three in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and by having a completely different, spiritual perspective on step four have been able to fulfil step five – purpose, personal growth, development of potential – perhaps even because of the hardships caused by the lack of support on a physical level in the preceding levels. But of course I acknowledge such people are rare.

    However, the ability to live life like that, in that realization, in the moment – just BEING – instead of intellectualizing and therefore abstracting every life experience and thereby making it less real is something we humans crave. Perhaps it is that “being in the moment” that we see so clearly in horses that attracts us to them so strongly? We want to able to BE like them in living in the moment but with the human dimension of having conscious awareness that we ARE in the moment. To experience life in the moment directly without that experience being described in words (thoughts) and therefore reduced once again to something less real. We humans and horses come from the same source of consciousness and when we connect on that profoundly deep level perhaps it is then that we can truly feel safe in the world and also in the company of horses?

    Best wishes

    • Gary,
      Yes, often we get glimpses of that spiritual state and can feel profoundly and deeply safe regardless of the physical world around us. I totally agree. This blog however was as you said, more on the thought provoking realm of what it is to be physical and of the ego, and the radical acceptance of the many human states we experience. There are as you say, a rare and beautiful subset of people who seem to live in spiritual awareness and can bypass any such scale as Maslow’s. However, for most of us in the day to day living, Maslow’s scale can be a very useful touch stone. 😉

      Thank you for the excitement and encouragement about the film. It really is so exciting the wonderful people this project is bringing together!
      I am thrilled to be in the middle of this movement!
      Cheers, Elsa

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  1. […] for motivation! In order to build this basis, let’s touch back to the blog from two weeks ago, “Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe”. I brought up the idea that there is a FEELING of safety that horses and humans alike will […]

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