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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Here is to finding the balance – friendship and leadership.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

20 Comments

  1. Dearest Elsa

    These are such amazing thoughts and funny enough exactly what I am playing with. In fact sometimes I am so scared of “no” that I stay away from my horses altogether. And it is the same with people.

    So much to think about.

    Lots of love to you, Katarina (from New Zealand) On 17/03/2016 5:29 pm, “Meditations on Equestrian Art” wrote:

    > quietinmotion posted: “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 langu” >

    • Katarina,
      I love your honesty! Yes, I have been known to do that same thing when I am feeling particularly unsure of myself. When I am feeling stressed, I do a great deal of walking with and around my horses, that helps me build enough friendship I at least cease the avoiding behaviors. I do feel like I am on the cutting edge of progress here in the leadership area and what does leadership really mean… I am sure it will come clear, a little at a time 😉

  2. This is such a great posting Elsa. it is a subject that I have mentally struggled with for years and I am sure you have voiced the thoughts of so many horse owners out there. We all want that perfect balance but it is one of those things that sounds great as a concept and is so, so difficult to implement in practice. Not that we shouldn’t try!

    One particular well known horse trainer whose teachings I tried to follow advocates that leadership is everything and his own success in dealing with all kinds of difficult horses cannot be denied. But for the average person judging that level of leadership and truly understanding what it means in horse-language, is a very difficult line to walk and it can so easily spill over into dominance and all the bad tings that go hand in hand with our human ego fears.

    I look forward to reading more about how your own work on the leadership side of the equation develops. Every horse is different and the relationships we have with them are always fluid and changing in the moment and so I am sure there is no formula that can be rigidly followed. Nevertheless, I am also sure that certain principles of horse language that you have acquired over the years are a good foundation for where to start. Undoubtedly, your deep friendship bond with Myrnah is one of those foundation stones – if you figure out the others on the leadership side and how they co-exist with the friendship bond, please let us know!

    Thank you once again for a wonderfully written posting.

    Kind Regards
    Gary

    • Gary,
      Thank you so much for being such a great dialog partner for me as I work these things through. There will be much more to explore on this subject I am sure!

  3. Thank you so much for this post! It speaks directly to an issue I’m dealing with at the moment with my 6-year-old half-mustang mare. She was “broke to ride” when she was two, right after I acquired her (I didn’t know any better at the time), but I never rode her much. She’s grown up into a sweet, loving, and generally willing companion. We have worked for the last three years entirely with liberty methods, and have made wonderful progress.

    Now that she’s old enough and our relationship is good, I want to train her again for riding. The problem is that she’s uncomfortable with the process–she is clearly nervous about it and would prefer not to do the whole saddle thing. If I were ten years younger, I’d ride her bareback, but I no longer bounce when I hit the ground….

    So you can see that I’m at the point you describe–this process requires leadership as well as friendship, and that’s much less comfortable for both of us.

    I so appreciate your thoughtful article!

    • What a perfect example of that balancing of friendship and leadership. I agree, it sounds like this is the moment when some more leadership is really going to be the thing that builds trust in the saddle experience. Good luck!!!!! I would love to hear what works for you as you work it out!

  4. I always enjoy your posts but this one particularly spoke to me. Over the time I’ve had my horse (12 years), we’ve become bonded in our friendship but it’s the leadership piece that’s missing….and it’s missing in me. I’m the one that’s afraid and I think that’s partly or maybe even mainly because I’m not an experienced horse person. The disadvantages to that are pretty obvious but the advantage is that I could see (I think) more objectively that the way a lot of trainers carried out their leadership was not for me…and I didn’t want it for my horse either. The result is that because of my own fears, I’m not sure how to help her through hers. I look forward to your future posts about this subject but I also wonder what you might advise to a friendly relatively inexperienced and not so leaderly person like me. Thanks for all your good work!

    • Molly, Love hearing your reflections on all this! Yes, more to come on the subject for sure. It is something that seems to call out for some more study, for many of us!

  5. Elsa,

    This is a “from the bowels” kinda blog! What a gifted writer you are! And how much the rest of us are given because you so lovingly share that gift.
    As long as we are alive, we will ALWAYS have to walk that road of leadership and friendship. It’s a good thing! Painful but good.
    THANK YOU! And Happy Easter to you and Cameron!

    • Maggie! I love your words, you are so real also always seem to make me laugh! And Happy Easter to you too!

  6. Yet again Elsa, you are not only so perceptive and accurate in your observations, but you have the talent to write gently and beautifully about the ‘topic’ at hand. It is a richer world for having your writings grace it. Thank you

  7. Elsa that was a simply beautiful article and so well expressed. I would like to share it on my Facebook page Jenny Pearce – Happiness and Healing with Horses if you’re comfortable with that? I would love our students to read such a beautifully expressed, different way of talking about the leadership/friendship/co-operation circle.

    • Jenny,
      Thank you! I am so glad you enjoyed the blog! Yes, please do share any of my blogs on to others! I am so glad when these resonate with people and do their small part to make the horse world better!

  8. Thanks Elsa, for pointing out this crucial issue in interacting with horses – friendship versus leadership. I feel the balance between the two is the core principle of good horsemanship.

    One of my horses, my mare Kría, is particularly skilled in educating me on this subject. Whenever I ‘forget’ to be a leader to her she will sooner or later start to ‘challenge me into challenging her’. I don’t know how she does it exactly, and of all my horses she is actually the only one doing it that way, but at some point she will push all the necessary buttons to get me to stand my ground and to have me insist on her giving me what I want from her. Which will then initially cause her to throw a temper tantrum at me, but after that she is clearly SO relieved and our connection is much better than before. As if she says: “thank god, I can trust you again, you’re here again for me!” If I try to get to this point with her solely through the ‘harmonious friendship model’, she will just trigger me long enough for me to feel my blood starting to boil just enough to become the annoying ‘bully’ she sometimes wants me to be. I truly believe that sometimes she just craves to be bullied. Because I always do this at liberty, she is always free to say ‘No!’ as loud as she wants to, but then right after her big NO she starts to stick to me like glue. She’s such a funny horse :-)!

    • Marja,

      I love this story! I feel there is a whole world of things we are just beginning to understand about friendship and leadership. Stories like this help me continue to think through it all.
      My love to you and your herd!
      Elsa

  9. thank you so much– Connie

    • Connie! You are most welcome! I keep hoping the dust will settle here in the aftermath of the movie and I will be able to take a few minutes to come visit you soon. I feel like you and I would have a great many things to talk about and ideas to revel in. Until then, I send my appreciation, Elsa

  10. Dear Elsa,

    I have very much enjoyed your weekly newsletters and am anticipating your movie with great excitement. As I understand it, I will receive a download of it one of these days (for my $25 donation). I’m wondering if it’s possible to buy the DVD, depending on the cost? Might it be possible to add to my donation to do that?

    You are bringing an important message to the world with your endeavors. Thank you!

    Warmly, Avis Burnett

    On Thu, Mar 17, 2016 at 12:29 AM, Meditations on Equestrian Art wrote:

    > quietinmotion posted: “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 langu” >

    • Avis,

      So glad you enjoy the newsletters and I am excited for you to see the film. We have already sent out the digital downloads of the movie to the kickstarter backers. If you didn’t get yours please email me at Elsa.Sinclair@mac.com and we will get that sorted out and a DVD as well if you like. If you have any friends who are interested in buying a DVD they are for sale on the web page TamingWild.com

      I look forward to hearing from you and getting you your copy of the movie.

      Best,
      Elsa


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