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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

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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,

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  1. I have noticed that the personality of the stallion directs where he will fit in with the herd structure. Some have what it takes to be the leader of a band or group of bands. Those are the stallions that are capable of exploding with violence when needed to keep that top spot in the structure. They will sit back and watch everyone until the time is needed. Since they have the largest band they will also have a lieutenant with them. His job is to watch the perimeter and keep the younger studs away and in line. As the bands young studs get older the LT will do the relentless work of kicking them out of the band. This can sometimes take a while and requires lots of stamina. He is willing to take this position rather then the top position. A soldier if your like. Other stallions will stay clear of the larger bands and groups and go out on their own with the mares. Solitude is what they set as their path. There are also stallions that spend their lives with just one mare , they will latch onto a larger band to keep them safe from the roaming bachelor stallions and follow the safety in numbers game plan. The lead band stallion will let them in close knowing they are not a threat. Each one of these positions requires what I believe is a personality that each stallion has and this personality will direct which place they will find in the bands. Some have it and some don’t.

    • Lee, you are a wealth of knowledge! Someday I would love to spend some time with you watching the wild horses and learn from you, even a little bit of what they have shared with you.

  2. Yes, all in life can be so very bittersweet!
    Beautifully written once again, Miss Elsa! Perhaps you have been the angel messenger for a few of these horses by posting what you did! We should never underestimate the power we have by loving and the ripple affect it can have.

  3. Aways feeks like there are more questions than answers..yet finding ways to ask ourselves better questions does lead to solutions that have a higher quality of life…thank you for all of your insights and sharing these amazing images…. My best to you– Connie

  4. Dear Elsa,
    Just wanted to let you know that I’m still reading your brilliant blogs, each and every one of them. They make people think, they make ME think. You have a talent for keeping questions open, which makes people realize that we humans don’t ‘know it all’ and that we probably never will. That’s what keeps us humble, with our feet on the ground; a mind that ‘knows it all’, is a closed and arrogant mind. I believe we need to stay open to the miracle of life to realize it is in fact just that: a MIRACLE!
    Keep your blogs coming :-)!

  5. Just a note. The mare 2467, was sent to long term holding in Idaho the day after we saw her (and another mare I am willing to bet owns the ears peeking over the dark mares hips). We called and pestered for several weeks before finally finding someone to really help. It took months, but the girls were sent back and we adopted them both. She and her buddy now live in the California foothills, learning to trust, learning skills needed (picking up feet, ect…) and enjoying the oak trees here. She is now Zaheera and loves a good scratch with fingernails. The website is for the bay mare Rose – however they spend much time together.

    • Alice! Wow! I am was speechless when I read your comment! So beautiful to know there was a happy continuation for those two! I would love to know more. You said there is a website? Where do I find it? Thank you so much. Hooves and Heartbeats – Elsa and Myrnah

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