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Monthly Archives: March 2016

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.

Step for Step, Breath for Breath


This is my favorite part of being with horses, that time when we move as one being. Time and space enveloping and embracing us like a single being instead of two. This is the time I feel least alone in my life, and I find I crave this like nothing else.


Honestly, the faster we can go in this unity, the happier I am. The more energy I can feel flowing through us the better. At one point I thought it would be so much fun to be an exercise jockey for race horses. When I spoke about this in a dreamy youthful way to my trainer at the time, she asked me if I liked the shape of my nose? Hmmmm, yes? Why? Because, she explained, jockeys have a tendency to have their noses broken by young horses throwing their heads up and smashing their riders in the face with the tops of their heads.


And then my dream came crashing down to reality. Those young racehorses were not doing something they were comfortable doing, those young horses were being pushed to the point that they hurt people in their anxiety. That was a world I wanted no part of.


I crave unity. I crave the feeling of moving in harmony, step for step, breath for breath, to whatever degree of intensity I can find that still allows everyone to feel safe and comfortable.


I think horses crave this too.


When intensity comes at the cost of someone’s comfort though, that’s when beings start hurting each other. A line gets crossed from fun into anxiety, and how do anyone of us set a boundary before someone gets hurt? What is OK and what is not OK?


Here is where the subject becomes touchy.


Leadership vs Friendship.


We all want to be our horse’s best friend. Those of us who want to work positively with our horses cringe a little at what we know gets done to horses in the name of “Leadership”.


This I believe was actually my biggest failure in my ongoing project with Myrnah. Yes the project was a huge success on the whole, but moving forward, this is the piece I would do better.


I don’t like asking for anything that might be answered “no”. The vulnerability of that position makes me feel the separateness of our beings in a painful way, when all I want is unity and harmony.


If you give me the right tool – bridle, whip, spur, carrot or grain pan – I can set the situation up so I am much more confident in getting a “yes” answer from my horse and unity stays intact.


If you take away all my tools (including food rewards), The probability of my horse saying “no” when I want to do something gets really high and actually frightening for me.


Here is the thing I do when I am frightened: I stop taking risks. Instead of asking for things, I just exist in whatever harmony I can find. If Myrnah wants to stand still, we stand still together for hours; if Myrnah wants to walk around, we walk around together; if she wants to drink water, we splash in the water trough together; if she wants to eat grass, I move with her from bite to bite in harmony and ease. If she wants to move faster than I am comfortable with, I get off and give her space. All of this is beautiful friendship, but it is not leadership.


I find, after long days of working to be a good leader for my students and their horses, all I want from Myrnah is friendship. Step for step, breath for breath. I don’t want to be vulnerable anymore; I don’t want to practice being a leader; I don’t want to risk asking for things that she might say “no” to.


A great deal of time spent building friendship means Myrnah and I love being around each other; I think that time might be some of the best moments of our day. We crave each other’s company, and that is good!


I also find, when I don’t practice leadership with her, she becomes much less steady.


A leader is someone you trust. A friend is someone you like being with. The two, being a good friend and being a good leader, are separate skills.


When you have a leader and you have trust, you can do more things; you can step out of your comfort zone more. You find random events in life don’t frighten you as much because you have someone you can trust at your side.


I believe I have spent much more time with Myrnah building friendship than I have leadership, particularly in the years since filming the movie. The downfall of too much friendship and not enough leadership is over emotionality and sharp boundaries.


During the times I have been practicing being a better leader, I find Myrnah is more willing to try things and be positive about new experiences. I find she is less afraid of strange noises and shapes moving in the distance.


When I am a better leader I find she is more relaxed and adaptable.


So what does practicing leadership look like? It looks like setting goals that require you to take actions that might get “no” answers.


Good leaders find the space between failure and success, the space between yes and no answers, and take the risk to ask.


Good friends spend time enjoying each other’s company without asking much at all.


Bad leaders ask a lot of questions with “no” answers. Bad leaders ask for too much too soon.


Good leaders don’t ask for too much, but they do dare to ask. Asking for things is what creates a leader. Asking for things builds trust. Asking for things builds stronger bonds and makes everyone feel safer.


I may crave step for step and breath for breath, I may crave harmony and unity and I may get all those things in friendship with Myrnah.


When intensity finds Myrnah and me, like the night a coyote appeared all of a sudden on the dark path in front of us and we found our hearts pounding in unison, flooding us with adrenaline, and putting us on edge, that was a moment I was glad for every bit of leadership I had ever practiced. We could face it calmly and wait for it to go on its way, even though we were out of our comfort zone.


Our boundary with the coyote was adaptable; there was no need to turn and bolt into the darkness away from it, but I could feel Myrnah wanting to. I could trust her to hold her ground and wait out the discomfort, but only barely. Those are the moments I vow to spend a little more of my time asking for things and being a good leader, and maybe a little less time just being with her as a good friend.


Here is to finding the balance – friendship and leadership.


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.


Progress Isn’t Linear


It was nighttime, I was out riding the trails, maybe ten o’ clock, very dark, the evening was still and deep and my horse and I felt wrapped up in a cocoon of quiet and peace. All that was were the rhythms of existence, breath for breath, swinging movement matching the clip clop of bare hooves and frogs and the breeze singing softly to Cleo and me.


In a sudden moment I realized the air smelled sweet and fragrant and in all honesty my first thought was perhaps I was losing touch with reality – this must be a moment of madness; what smells sweet in the end of February? Scanning the darkness for some reasonable explanation, there it was: a cherry tree in full blossom on the bank of the river. If this was a momentary flood of madness, the physical world was in full accord and here we were with springtime bursting upon us in all its glory, unexpected and so very welcome.


Life is like that; we don’t really ever know what is right around the corner and, however well we plan and prepare, we ultimately must trust that whatever happens is an important part of the process whether it is good, bad, planned or unexpected.


As we started into 2016 I was so very full of ambition. I had a book to finish, a movie to promote, days scheduled full of clients to teach and horses to train, and a discovery that on top of a full day of work, nighttime in the dark was actually an amazingly beautiful time to ride my own horses out on the trails. A sacred quiet time where I could return to my roots and the core reason I do all this work in the first place. A girl and a horse moving together through time and space in consideration of how can we do this better?


Life was heady and full of possibility.


In my plans, life was a perpetual motion machine of experience leading to understanding, leading to teaching and sharing what I was learning, leading to writing of blog and book. I had envisioned this in a very linear fashion: mornings to train and ride, daytimes to teach and travel, nighttimes to meditate out on the trails to the rhythmic pulse of heartbeat and hooves, and early morning hours to write about it all.


And then life happened: for a month, every time my alarm would go off in the wee hours of the morning, I would hit it blindly and fall deeply back asleep. My plans called for writing, and no writing was happening!


I tried writing the first few lines of ideas down before I went to sleep, hoping that would prime me to fall into action on waking. All that left me with was a whole list to things I want to write about…. And still have not yet…


I tried taking time for writing in the middle of the day, and found myself answering emails and shipping boxes of movies off around the world instead.


I tried sitting on the mounting block, computer on my lap in the paddock amidst the horses to write, and found Myrnah’s invitations to play with her irresistible.


I tried carrying my computer with me everywhere in the car, thinking perhaps I could write a few minutes at a time between lessons in a stray quiet moment here and there. I don’t think the computer ever made it out of the case in any one of those moments.


I have to admit, I was frustrated with my seeming inability to pull myself out of my writer’s block.


I think there is an art to navigating our personal roadblocks and stuck places. Because progress is never as linear as we think it will be, perhaps it would be good for us to have some game plan for these times too?


As is my habit, I took this problem to my horses and laid it out to look at it closely. What do we do with frustration and a seeming inability to move forward? I remembered all those months with Myrnah when I wanted to get on and ride and she wasn’t ready. What did I do?


First, we kept developing our other skills and partnership that seemingly had nothing to do with riding. Secondly, we showed up to that thing we couldn’t seem to get past and waited every day for a while. To look at frustration, breath into it, and simply exist with it, waiting to feel a little more comfortable where we are.


There! That was it! There was the piece I seemed to be missing in all of February. Getting more comfortable with where I was, and then when I felt better, BE STILL!


The mistake I was making was that, the moment I started to feel a little more comfortable, I would push myself hard to start writing, and then find myself in active rebellion doing anything other than writing!


What I needed was to spend time every day just existing, me and a blank page, or me and the few words of ideas waiting to be developed. Then when I felt almost ready, stay a little longer, get a little more comfortable, dream and plan and wait. Take a deep breath and wait.


Show up and wait; there will be a moment when action becomes irresistible. Wait longer than that, because after irresistible comes more frustration and more breathing, and then after that you have the moment it feels right.


We have to show up; that part is important. I needed to try all those things to get myself to write. I just think, if I had taken the time to get comfortable in any one of those situations, without pushing myself harder, it might not have taken a whole month for me to get back into the action I was aiming for.


Then again, if I didn’t get myself stuck every once in a while, how would I learn to get myself unstuck?

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These imperfections and backslides of progress – that is what makes this interesting.


I may be riding down the trail in the dark waiting for that feeling of my horse’s back stretching out a little more, muscles letting go, stride lengthening, thinking how do I get better at this? How do we get more feeling of flow, more release, more energy? I may be pondering how we get more intrinsically at ease so we both don’t jump out of our skin every time a duck lands in the dark river unexpectedly with an almighty splash!


Through all this, no matter how many obstacles and challenges I find to pit myself against, there is always going to be the unexpected cherry tree in full bloom to remind us, that life gets better right around the corner. Just keep showing up and breathing.


Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair