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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.


Fall is here in the Pacific Northwest and we are blessed with bouts of rain and sprinkles of sunshine intermixed. The leaves are starting to drop from the trees in a torrent of color, and Atlas and I watch all the changes from our safe little spot on the hillside.


It is good there are so many changes around us to watch because within the relationship it seems there are no changes at all.


I can step as close as half a horse length from Atlas, but it is always in the range of tolerance for him, accompanied by tight muscles, a wary eye and indecision, does he pin his ears and threaten me, or run away?


For the most part, I am able to read likely outcomes and adjust my position for the best possible development of feeling. Neither, the fight nor the flight materializes, and I adjust back out to a more comfortable distance on the best feeling/thinking moment possible.


We repeat this dance over and over and over. Investing hours in our plateau of progress.


When I teach students, I explain that plateaus are so very important. We need them to build reliability and stability in new skills. Yet when I am living this one with Atlas I find myself wondering, is this it? What if this plateau lasts the entire year? What if I can’t get closer to him than half a horse length for the entire filming of Taming Wild Evolution?


It is important though to trust the process and simply do the work. Count my breaths, pay attention, and respond, respond, respond. This is how we build the foundation for everything in our future.


Day after day I walk out, and we spend hours practicing the fact that one and two horse lengths apart is completely comfortable now. We invest in living it, feeling it, enjoying it.


I school myself to revel in the success of this, instead of longing for the next variation of connection.


If Atlas were comfortable with me touching him already, that is what I would want to practice most. Instead, we have work to do still before I am allowed that next exciting step of progress. This plateau we are on currently allows me to fully invest and enjoy the distances of the one or two horse lengths we are good at now, that we were not good at when he first came. Every upward step of progress we make is going to need its plateau where we are not doing anything new, we are simply practicing what is recently new to us.


I counsel myself to count my blessings and believe in the power and importance of the plateau, and I am also human, so I worry this plateau is forever!


This week I was granted a little respite from the yearning for progress as it was time to go pick out the second horse for the project. A Mustang, as fresh from the wild as I could find. The travel and the excitement of possibilities thrilled me and yet, as I walked into the adoption facility with thousands of horses to choose from my heart broke and I braced myself against the waves of sadness that came over me.


Why would I do this to myself? The majority of horse owners never set foot in a place like this. They never go look at the masses in need. Out of sight out of mind it isn’t their problem, it is someone else’s problem.


I found myself wishing I was home again peacefully standing with Atlas on our comfortable place of seemingly no progress. Yet here I was, at the Mustang corrals facing the fact I couldn’t do it all, I could only reach for the piece within my grasp, I could only help one of these horses in front of me.


If every horse owner in the United States adopted one mustang, there wouldn’t be enough mustangs to go around and I wouldn’t have this luxury of choice this week as I search for my perfect partner for this particular project.


As it stands, I have a luxury of choice and so I stood on the edge of the corral with a pair of binoculars looking through this group of 70-80 stallions for the one that might come home with me. They all must go somewhere, which one goes somewhere with me?


The Mustangs I was looking at this week had been brought in off the range out of hardship. If they continued in freedom, lack of food and water would lead to starvation and death in numbers unacceptable to us. So, the government rounds them up and brings them into facilities like this. Here they wait for someone to adopt them or they get shipped off to spend the rest of their lives in long term holding.


If one is coming home with me, I have to choose it first. While every horse is as deserving as the next, I do have criteria that will help me find the right horse for my particular situation.


Eyes squinting through my binoculars I look for ease of movement, a horse that is basically comfortable in its body. Natural rhythm in movement is a sign of confidence. I want a horse that has that kind of confidence in their body.


Then I look at height, because I have already chosen the other horse, Atlas, for the film and he happens to be tall, I would like this one to be relatively tall also.


Then I watch the interactions between individuals. Some of them make friends easily and seem to be loyal, always with the same small group. Others have many friends, others are loners and others have many enemies, though honestly I see very little fighting in the group. These horses came from hardship, and now here where they have plenty of food and plenty of water, their priority is to eat, drink and get healthy, fighting amongst each other is not a priority. I am looking for a horse that has many friends and seems to have some skill in relating to others.

Once I have spent hours weighing these factors I find I have written down a list of six numbers that I bring back to the office for more information on age. When the horses are run through the chute for branding, worming and vaccination they also have their teeth checked and approximate age written down.


The six horses I have chosen range from two to twelve years old, and I go back to the pen to watch some more. The two younger horses are out of the running, I need a horse I can potentially ride in the next year and I won’t put weight on the back of a horse still growing. Also, the younger horses still have the potential of being adopted by other people, beautiful horses with so much life ahead of them.


It is the older horses I am drawn to. In the eyes of most adopters these horses know too much, and they will fight training with much more determination and strength than the younger ones. That doesn’t bother me, I want a horse I will learn from as much as anything else.


Two of the older horses are hard to see, they hide behind the masses of their friends and shy away from the camera. These two do not want to be movie stars.


My list is down to a buckskin horse and a brown horse. As I point my camera in through the rails of the arena the brown horse walks over to the hay feeder right next to me, pausing to look at me, look at the horizon, and then back to me. Picture perfect poses against a backdrop of painted hills. He eats a little food, turns to inspect me again, and then goes back to filling his belly and finding his health and strength for whatever comes next. Unconcerned even though he has only been in captivity for a couple of weeks, it becomes clear this is the horse that needs to come home with me. This is my partner without a doubt.


This eight-year-old, brown horse with rhythm and confidence to his movements, this is the horse that will teach me more about connection.


This horse probably isn’t the easiest horse to train. There are plenty of equally good Mustangs in front of me with more natural fear of humans. Those horses would be an easier choice, perhaps even a smarter choice for me.


There is something about this brown stallion though that reminds me of Myrnah, and how grateful I am for everything she taught me. So, I choose him for the fact that I think he will teach me more than I teach him and that is point of the project.


Atlas, whom I already have at home, this new brown stallion and I will discover each other, and along the way we will also discover new ways to develop together. Then I get to pass all I learn on to you.


For now, I am back at home with Atlas enjoying the views from our lovely plateau of progress and dreaming of the day soon ahead when the new stallion arrives to joins us.


Once both horses are here I have this foolish idea that the two stallions are going to take turns having plateaus of progress and I will always get to have the excitement of the upward surge of skill with one or the other… I know that is likely not how it will work in reality, but a girl can dream.


I do hope you join us on Patreon for weekly update videos and an interactive group where questions and answers are pondered.


It is going to be exciting as we get rolling into the full project in the weeks ahead with both stallions home at Sanctuary Lane!


Hooves and Heartbeats,









One Comment

  1. Dear Elsa,

    If we (that is to say all of us reading this blog) learn nothing else (thankfully, unlikely as you are such a great communicator) we must surely learn what it is to be patient! Honestly, I don’t know how you do it and when we see the edited film the reality of those countless hours slowing down your metabolism and resisting any temptation to push too soon will inevitably be lost to some degree. Rather like meditation, it is something we can read about and talk about forever but there is no substitute for actually doing it, no way of knowing on an intellectual level what it feels like.

    I am glad that I will see the condensed version of this process but then I will have to ask myself very honestly “Can I follow this path? Do I have the time and the inherent patience?” Of course patience can be learned (patiently over time!) but to find the required time in an already busy life? That, I guess, is the question only each horse owner can answer for themselves.There is no “hack” to shorten the time, no “FBT short cut, easy method” to replicate the results of the long route travelled for the horses go at their own pace, not ours. I take my hat off to you and go back to questioning just what it is that I wish to achieve in my relationship with our own horses.

    Kindest Regards

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