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Monthly Archives: September 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

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The Goal:

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



Take a moment to put your self in someone else’s shoes (or hooves) and notice…


What might they be seeing?


What might they be feeling?


What might they be hearing?


What might they be smelling?


What might they be tasting?


And then step into your own shoes, if you are at all like me, this is more of a challenge than noticing what is happening for others.

Notice five things you can see….


Notice four things you can feel…


Notice three things you can hear…


Notice two things you can smell…


Notice one thing you can taste…


Then do it again. What’s new? What’s different? What’s interesting?










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

Photo Sep 11, 8 55 48 AM

The Goal:

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


A Question Of Slavery

I spent some time last week in Nevada following wild bands of horses around, watching their interactions, and immersing myself in what it might be like as a horse to have freedom of choice.

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It is different than the feel I get from our horses and beautiful in its own way; yet I still found myself questioning how free they are. How free are any of us?


I do believe we ALL have this hierarchy of needs I have been talking about in previous blogs. For a horse, there is some trade-off necessary to have one’s needs met. Depending on how they feel about their safety, they are more or less slaves to their herd even if people are not part of the picture. Their herd provides some security in many minds working together to find food and water, safety in numbers from predators, community, appreciation from community as self-esteem is built. On the simplest level self-esteem is just the appreciation we each can be good at something and valuable in our own right. I feel like I see all these values play out even in wild horse bands.


And, it seems to me I also see trade-offs. This life is not lived alone for most of us, horses included. It seems we each accept the slavery that fills our needs as best we can.


In the wild bands there were some stallions who behaved aggressively and seemed to keep everyone in a state of agitated tension as they moved through the terrain, perhaps because I was there watching (I do realize I may have been the problem); and there were other bands who seemed to wander through life with a calm, accepting demeanor. All these bands were in the same general area; why would the mares not just walk away from the demanding, aggressive Stallions and join up with an easier-going herd?

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I am sure I can’t know all the intricacies of the decisions and choices a wild horse makes, but it did cause me to think about why. Why choose a life where everyone around you is covered in marks from bites and kicks, versus a life where everyone is glossy and sleek and seems to live with ease? These horses seem free in the sense that they are not entrapped by fences or halters or threatened with isolation, yet they are still enslaved to their sense of safety and where they think they can best get their needs met.

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Perhaps we all are enslaved to our sense of safety: at a base level, none of us have figured out how to go without food or water for very long, and so we are enslaved to whatever our personal timetable is to fill that need, and then whatever means we have to beg, borrow, steal, or trade for it. If we are lucky, we find ourselves in relationships that are reasonable where we can cooperate with those around us so everyone gets what they need. If we are really fortunate, we find ourselves in situations where everyone’s needs are readily met and we can collaborate to build better and better lives.

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Yet, this subject of slavery cannot be ignored. This week I went from following wild bands of horses around to spending time at the Palomino Valley facility where there were about twelve hundred wild horses held in pens up for adoption. While there is much controversy about this, there are some basic needs that are being filled, such as horses brought in from Idaho where the fires had burnt all their rangeland. When they have no food…. Do we just leave them out there to starve? Do we bring them food? Do we wait until they are skin and bones to help, or do we work proactively? Does it make more sense to gather them into one area like Palomino Valley where they can be fed and watered and made available for adoption by people who could fill their needs more consistently? I don’t have the answers to all these big questions. I can only ask myself, what can I do to help.


I know I can’t personally make myself a slave to all the horses everywhere, nor can I pay to have someone else do it. On a personal level, I can consider taking on one or two here or there. They would feel like they were enslaved and trapped by me for awhile, but I believe I have the skill to develop relationship with them and help them develop the skills to have positive cooperative relationships with people where everyone gets what they need.


Yet, I still find my heart breaking every time I am confronted with all that is needed and my small ability to contribute.


With all I have going on in my life, I am not sure I am ready to take on another horse yet. I would be fascinated by building relationship with any one of the twelve hundred horses I saw up for adoption, and every one of them is just looking for a way to have their needs met, in the wild or adjusting to domesticity. I will leave you with a couple of images that haunt me. Maybe you can help.

Photo Sep 12, 7 28 00 AMThis five-year-old Stallion from Hard Trigger HMA was gathered in the last couple weeks due to fires. He was in a pen of other stallions and walked though all of them in a bubble of calm. It was like he was the only horse there, untouchable in his self assurance.

Photo Sep 12, 6 46 32 AMThis eight-year-old mare was gathered when she was three from the Silver King HMA. She spent five years up for adoption, heading to long term holding shortly.

So many horses… Each one of them valuable in their own right.

Does that value make them potential slaves? Or a partners? Or somewhere between the two? How free are any of us?

I leave you with that question to ponder.

Elsa Sinclair,

Photo Sep 10, 11 44 12 AM

The Project:

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

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

IMG_5810The Goal:

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

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivators

Last week we talked about the basis for motivation, that essential building block of FEELING safe that we all seek, horses and humans alike.

This week I want to talk about Motivators, and the difference between Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

An Extrinsic motivator is just like it sounds, motivation that exists externally to ourselves. We get something in exchange for doing something. This system of motivation can be a good and beautiful thing and leads often to wonderful cooperation between individuals and groups.

Intrinsic Motivators are all about how we feel. We believe we already have everything we need, the only thing that would make life better is Self Actualization. We feel motivated to do something purely because of the way we feel doing it, regardless of what anyone else says or does in response. When individuals or groups are inspired to do things together because of intrinsic motivators, that is when real collaboration happens.

I wish that I could claim to live and work purely with intrinsic motivation, but like any of us, I operate due to a number of different motivators. Being aware of patterns and cause and effect is the thing that fascinates me though, because I know understanding allows me to tailor my life, slowly adapting things so I get more of what I love.

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I know that intrinsic motivation is the best feeling in the world, and, knowing that, I want to know how to get more of it – so what are the factors that get me there?

Primarily, do I believe my basic first four needs are met?

  1. Physical needs.
  2. Security needs.
  3. Connection needs.
  4. Self-Esteem needs.

If not, I will find I instantly have extrinsic motivation to action. Faced with my basic needs, I have two choices: One – figure out what I need to do so that others cooperate with me to help me get what I need. Two – change my perspective so my perception of what I have feels like enough, instead of having to go get more. Either one works, option one is just usually easier that option two.

Once I have the first four needs met, then I am free to reach for self-actualization, and that is where Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s chart comes in handy.


Any skill I have wants to be challenged; that is how I grow, and that growth is craved when it comes in just the right amounts. That feeling of getting better at something is internal to me; no one else can give me that. However, others can help set up the environment so that growth in the right amount is likely. When you have two or more individuals coming together to set the stage for optimal growth at comfortable speed, that is collaboration!

There is the ideal! All basic safety needs believed to be met, followed by seeking a state of flow and that feeling of being in the zone that comes when skill and challenge are matched for optimal growth. Intrinsic motivation – where what we do is its own reward.

And then we have the rest of life….

Real life is filled with variety and contrast and many arrows that hit shy of the bulls-eye as we develop our focus. Those arrows off the bulls-eye are important and valuable; they are how we figure out what is needed to get closer to the target. What I am saying is extrinsic motivators and cooperation are important in our development of intrinsic motivation and that beacon that often flickers just out of reach, collaboration.

In the training project with Myrnah, there was a lot of it that hit square on the bulls-eye for me. My skill in understanding horses, was challenged just enough that time sped by in flashes of intoxicating satisfaction that had nothing to do with the outcome of the project, just moment to moment appreciation of how it felt to be rising to each challenge.

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I also was wise enough to know more often than not that I was going to need external motivation to get up and get the job done every day. On those days I had to link the project to my safety.

  1. Physical safety- my project and blog and understanding of horses documented and growing allowed me to earn client’s trust which meant I got paid and could put food on the table.
  1. Security- I knew the harder I worked to understand this horse and know how she functioned and what she needed, the less likely I was to get physically hurt. Everything I didn’t know was a potential danger, and, if I got caught standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could be hurt badly in a very real physical way. I was in a sense working against the clock to learn enough to stay physically safe, and that was external motivation to show up every day and try harder.
  1. Connection- As much as anyone, and perhaps more than most, I crave connection. I want to feel that I am not in this world alone. The better Myrnah and I got at reaching out to each other the safer I felt about my connection needs being met. Spending time with Myrnah working on the project was obvious external motivation to show up every day.
  1. Self-Esteem- Blogging about the project and putting it out there on a weekly basis was a large part of what kept me motivated through good times and bad. No matter how things were going, I knew I was going to need to write about it and put it out to the world -supreme external motivation to show up and do the work no matter how I felt.
  1. Self-Actualization- There is the target hit head on! All the external motivators could be there or not… the feeling of being in the moment with Myrnah was more than enough to make it worth showing up and that is internal motivation.

Being in the Zone.

Working in a state of flow.

Being defined by what I love.

Living in the now.

The challenge? Walking through those steps of safety myself, and at the same time, setting up the environment to walk Myrnah though her process and belief in her own safety factors. We all use our external motivators to develop the ability to feel that perfection of internal motivation. When we find two or more individuals who can truly collaborate on a task and work from a place of internal motivation…. That is both magical, and entirely possible!

Reach for that feeling because it is worth everything you can pour into 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.


Be Defined By What You Love

When I started this project with Myrnah it was an abstract idea, a simple question of, is this thing possible?


When we take away the round pens and ropes and halters and bridles, bribes and obvious incentives, what is left?


It wasn’t long before I realized this project was much bigger and broadly reaching than I had anticipated. I had thought it would be just a year of experimental training with a horse, an interesting period of time that would come and go as a chapter of my life. Instead I found it reached into me and changed who I was.


Myrnah taught me more about horses and life in one year than I think I have learned in all my previous years combined.


Now I do need to take a moment and thank all the trainers who poured themselves into me for all the years prior to Myrnah. Without you I would never have had the basis of understanding to even begin this experimental type of training. Thank-you from the depths of my soul for preparing me as well as you did. If you are reading this, you know who you are. Believe me, I remember each and every one of you with profound gratitude!


Throughout the process with Myrnah _E0A2131I have found I have needed to draw on both horse-training principles developed over centuries, and ALSO principles of human development.


With animal training throughout history the motivation factors have been extrinsic. Do this to get that, or do this to avoid that. There isn’t much developed in terms of training using intrinsic motivation factors. Do this just because it feels good. So when it came to searching for ways to develop intrinsic motivation, I had to dig into human-development theory and see if we could apply it to horses. Hang on though, I am getting ahead of myself; next week we will dig deeper into the ideas of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.


This week is about building the basis 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 instinctively defend as if it were an intrinsic right. That feeling is built with five stages of belief.


  1. Physical needs met.
  2. Security needs met.
  3. Connection needs met.
  4. Self-Esteem needs met.
  5. Self-Actualization needs met.


I am suggesting that, to the degree those five needs are believed to be satisfied, there is a FEELING of safety. It gets interesting when one considers we all are individuals and somewhat unique, so the physical reality of meeting each need varies somewhat from person to person and from horse to horse. The constant is: To the degree they BELIEVE the needs have been met, they will FEEL safe.


How do we know how safe someone feels? I propose we can know by how they define themselves. And that defining of one’s self goes through three stages. As life ebbs and flows though various situations, we will all revisit the three stages again and again. When we can meet each stage with understanding, life evolves with a beautiful rhythm.


Stage 1. Tolerating

Or not tolerating as the case may be; this is where we don’t feel safe yet and we will defend our rights to feel safe. Emotions run rampant, or depression takes over. We become defined by everything we don’t want, or don’t like, or can’t handle.


Stage 2. Accepting

This is where we can see what makes us feel unsafe, but, instead of defending ourselves from it so strongly, we can acknowledge it and look for its opposite, using the contrast to define what we prefer and letting the lack of safety propel us. We become defined by both what we hate AND what we love.


Stage 3. Enjoying

This is where we feel safe enough to keep reaching for more of what feels good. We believe our basic needs have been met and there is no pull to be defensive. That leaves us free to define ourselves by what we love, what we want, what we enjoy, and the best of everything life has to offer in that moment.


We all will experience all of the above, we are designed for a broad and diverse experience in life. I am merely suggesting that with some understanding and appreciation, we might move through the first two stages with more grace, and be able to look ahead to how good life gets when we feel safe enough to define ourselves by what we love instead of what we don’t.



So here are a few keys to help us move through the stages smoothly, horse or human, it works the same way.


Tolerance – Marked by high emotionality, defensiveness, and defining one’s self by everything one does not like. Key- break it down, take life in smaller bite-sized pieces, rest often, move forward and back away, advancing and retreating gently until you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Acceptance – Marked by a more steady nature, defensive and also searching for what is needed to let go of that defense. Defining one’s self by both what one likes and what one does not like. Key – stick with moving forward toward what you need, keep at it, keep thinking about it, keep working until there is more attention on what is wanted than on what is not wanted.


Enjoyment – There is no mistaking this stage. When you define yourself by what you love, there is nothing better.


Enjoyment is the encompassing FEELING of safety when all our needs are met.


Enjoyment is the magical feeling of being in the “zone” or the state of “flow”


Enjoyment is our birthright.


So here is the challenge: In our horses and in ourselves, can we see and support the stages of tolerance and acceptance? The more we pay attention, the better we get at it, and the better we get at it, the more time we get to spend enjoying life.


Be Defined By What You Love,


Elsa Sinclair