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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

Curiosity and Interest  

It has been over a week now of immersing myself in this new way of being with Atlas. A week of walking together.

My mind is challenged in a good way as it is confronted with the use of a methodology I always knew I had “Walking a horse down” but didn’t want to use.

If you missed the last blog post about my turning point, you can find it here: https://equineclarity.org/2019/03/03/walking-a-horse-down/

When I started this project, my goal was to prove that a damaged, abused, and traumatized horse could be nurtured into health using exactly the same methods I used to bring Myrnah into the domestic world in the first Taming Wild film.

I was high on life with the success Myrnah and I had found together and then shared with thousands of people and horses around the world. I wanted to take those same methods and apply them to bring about miraculous change and beauty in a horse that everyone had given up on.

I have always told my students that Freedom Based Training® is the slowest possible way to train a horse, and it is a method that perhaps benefits the learning of the human far more dramatically than it benefits the horse. This week my pride is feeling the trueness of that statement and while my ego is bruised, my understanding of how everything works is growing profoundly.

I still believe in the idea that a damaged, abused, and traumatized horse could be nurtured into health using exactly the same methods I used to bring Myrnah into the domestic world in the first Taming Wild film, but in reality, I might not currently have the time to do so.

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A horse with a healthy mind meets me on a level playing field and every good or bad choice I make around them is judged at face value. A horse with extreme trauma judges me from a perspective of extreme bias. Every good choice I make is judged with a perspective that it might have been an accidental occurrence, and the momentary good feeling cannot be counted on. While every bad choice I make by accident or bad feeling that happens in association with me, is judged as proof that I am indeed untrustworthy.

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Five months of attempting to prove to Atlas that I am worthy of trust simply by my own actions around him, has led down a winding road of beauty and heartbreak. I see glimpses of the horse he might become, for a day or a week here and there, and then some random occurrence in the environment will tip the scales the wrong way and we backslide again, returning again to fear, and anger, and catatonia.

We have been fully successful establishing a relationship where outright physical aggression is no longer Atlas’s first choice and for that firm success I am grateful. Beyond that point, all our relationship successes have appeared to be a momentary exploration of what might be possible for him sometime in the future, but cannot hold steady against the internal angst that life seems to trigger for Atlas.

I keep thinking, if I can just sense that moment when his inner worry is building too much, if I can see what happens before Atlas implodes or explodes. If I can glimpse what is happening before it all goes wrong, then I can take the right action around him to show him I understand, that we can become a united force to develop a better life for him.

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Instead, again and again and again I seem to miss the cues (if they are even in existence to read) and I am in the wrong place at the wrong time when the anxiety overflows for Atlas. He feels terrible, and I am blamed yet again in association with whatever caused his life to unravel into chaos once more. The trust I thought we had built between us crumbles to dust yet again.

If only I knew how to be in the right place at the right time for Atlas more consistently.

This past week has been about admitting, I do not currently have the skill in Freedom Based Training® it would take to nurture Atlas into the kind of mental health I need him to have, living in this domestic world with me.

We needed more tools and more support.

“Walking a horse down” is a concept I used before I ever knew it had a name. When I was ten years old, I was given an uncatchable pony named Chocolate to catch every day from a hundred-acre pasture. That pony taught me a lot and walking a horse down became a way of life for me.

(You can see Chocolate and I together here in the blog “Why Freedom Based Training®?”) https://equineclarity.org/2016/09/12/why-freedom-based-training/

It was only later I learned that Native American people had been using the technique to gentle horses far before I was even born.

Five months into this project of filming “Taming Wild: Evolution”, it was time for me to put my original goal aside and reach for a training method I knew would help Atlas find his trust in me in a more consistent way. I needed to be associated with more good feelings than bad, and I needed to do it in a way that allowed me to make those mistakes of being in the wrong place at the wrong time without eroding the trust that was so very fragile between Atlas and me.

In the past, uncontrollable events with bad outcomes made Atlas the victim of circumstance. Humans were present when he felt terrible, so humans became a thing to be defended against.

Powerless to control bad outcomes, the best a horse can do is to minimize them through self-defense.

Self-defense and the bad side of stress comes in three forms, fight, flight, and freeze.

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The more fight, flight, and freeze are perpetuated, the more curiosity and interest are killed.

The brain chemistry can feel overwhelming to study, but this short video has a very clear and simple way of explaining it:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=267957677203615

I believe curiosity and interest are the factors that will heal a traumatized mind, but a traumatized mind will not want to risk letting down any of their self-defense patterns that have kept them alive so far.

So, what do we do?

If we have the skill, we can simply be present and meditate our way through the layers of self-defense with a horse. Being present, being aware, being in the right place at the right time to prove that curiosity and interest pay dividends of good experiences and that that self-defense is a pale and weak choice in comparison.

If we do not have the skill to meditate our way into finding interest and curiosity, then we must use the horse’s movement to affect the body in a way that allows the horse to lower its defenses. Only then will the mind start to soften, allowing interest and curiosity the room they need to grow.

Atlas and I walk together, because the ways to find curiosity and interest again are through meditation and exercise. Without a herd of horses to provide the exercise support, my skills in working Atlas through the Freedom Based Training® meditation have not been sufficient in my five months of attempting it, so now we walk.

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Walking Atlas down lets the gentle exercise coach him into finding the next better feeling.

Feelings go through:

  • Anger (fight)
  • Fear (flight)
  • Catatonia (freeze)

And then as the horse walks, it starts to find moments of:

  • Brace (fight in refusing to move, threatening the mover)
  • Distraction (flight of the mind)
  • Disinterest (freeze)

And then with more walking, we start to see moments appear from the good sides of the stress spectrum.

  • Curiosity (the good side of fight, the beginning of play, “what happens if I do…?”)
  • Yield (the good side of flight, making room for a partner)
  • Interest (the good side of freeze, ears start moving, eyes start looking, thinking is beginning)

 

Chart

 

When the good side of the spectrum starts to happen, friends want to spend time with you, and when friends want to spend time with you, life starts to open up in its potential for enjoyment.

How do we know what is being felt? How do we know if the feeling falls on the good or the bad side of the stress spectrum?

It is fight if you just want something to stop happening, it is curiosity or play if you are interested about how you can shape the thing that is happening and enjoy it.

It is flight if you just want to get away from what is happening, it is yield if you can make room for what is happening and shape the event in a way that brings enjoyment.

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It is freeze, if you just want to pretend what is happening is not happening. It is thinking and interest if you can be in harmony with what is happening and engaged in seeing the outcome.

A good life doesn’t necessarily have to include friends, there are stallions out in the wild who choose to walk away from the herds and live solo, and there are humans who choose to live in solitude, but for most of us, friends make life better.

I believe the reason this is true is because good friends foster the mental and emotional skills that allow us to experience the good side of the stress spectrum. Thinking, yielding and playing, and these are the same mental and emotional skills that make life enjoyable.

It all starts with curiosity and interest.

Walking a horse down is one way to find those. Once we have found that glimmer of curiosity, then we can foster it with meditation, being present, and learning to be in the right place at the right time for each other in a greater and greater variety of situations.

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I have posted a video this week about Atlas and myself in our first week of using this theory. Join us in the Patreon group to see it and new videos each week in the ongoing development of “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

I hope this blog has piqued your curiosity and interest. If it hasn’t, don’t worry, I will keep writing and helping you walk your stress levels down with a continuing cascade of words, until you too are curious enough to want more.

Here is to curiosity and interest making life worth living.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

  1. Thank you!

    • You are most welcome!

  2. We humans are pretty much addicted to using our intellects to categorize everything, to give ourselves a feeling of control over what might otherwise seem like a kaleidoscope of random experiences.

    Our intellects create different “methods” of horse training which we subsequently label with some name or other but when this belief system (for that is what it is) doesn’t answer ALL the questions that arise with our horses we can’t help but feel a bit deflated that our chosen method isn’t quite what we hoped it would be. At the same time others proclaim “You don’t want to do it like that, our method works much better, try doing this instead.” (Well that’s a case for them to conduct their own experiment to test the validity of their statement.)

    That’s one of the inherent problems with categorizing experiences into methods – the intellect turns them into belief systems and straightaway we’ve closed our minds to other possibilities. So I wholeheartedly applaud you Elsa for being open-minded and courageous enough to recognize when it is time to step outside of the self-imposed box of FBT and use something else from your knowledge. For in the end the question is not to agonize over whether your choice is the most “right” it can be in FBT terms but whether it is useful – useful in this particular case, for Atlas.

    Those with purist leanings may see that it is a weakness in your method but from my perspective it is absolutely a strength. This project is not all about Elsa Sinclair “proving” that Freedom Based Training is the best way to train a horse – it is a ground-breaking project, an experiment, a voyage of discovery and the question that was being asked by Atlas warranted a selfless questioning on your part of “what is most useful in this situation” rather than seeing it as an opportunity for Elsa’s ego to demonstrate the strengths of FBT. You’ve already shown that with Myrnah and Taming Wild and there is nothing to prove. Atlas needs for you to be open-minded and flexible in your thinking and to not expect him to bend to your (albeit very patient!) will. You have put his feelings first which is so commendable. One could say you have allowed your heart to take charge of your intellect and you have followed your intuition and although it is still early days you are being rewarded by a positive change in Atlas’s demeanour.

    And as a footnote question, just because it is an “old way” used by Native American people probably for centuries (and perhaps called “leading from behind” these days?) why can’t this approach simply be incorporated under the broader Freedom Based Training banner anyway? You are still using body language and the only tool (sometimes) involved is a fence which I would suggest comes within your mission statement at the start of every post.

    Kindest Regards
    Gary

    • Gary, I am realizing that walking a horse down could indeed be part of Freedom Based Training, but perhaps only if the space we are in is big enough for that particular horse. Once we start pushing a horse against the fences for moments, as I needed to with Atlas in the first couple of days of walking, then it becomes a form of dominance using the fence as the tool to shape behavior. Not a bad thing, but not based in freedom any more. I looked back though my blogs and realized I did use moments of walking Myrnah down in her first days with me. The difference was it took positive effect within minutes and she never felt the need to try and get away to the point where the fences became part the the pressure system. Atlas is simply a bigger challenge for me and indeed I have had to follow my heart and expand my thought processes to develop some complementary theories to help him, with safety for all as the driving inspiration. I am learning SO much. I am not sure there are clear or strongly set boundaries between freedom based training ending and some more dominant training style beginning. There is a whole lot of grey area between the two and Altas is helping me explore some of that.

  3. We humans are pretty much addicted to using our intellects to categorize everything, to give ourselves a feeling of control over what might otherwise seem like a kaleidoscope of random experiences.

    Our intellects create different “methods” of horse training which we subsequently label with some name or other but when this belief system (for that is what it is) doesn’t answer ALL the questions that arise with our horses we can’t help but feel a bit deflated that our chosen method isn’t quite what we hoped it would be. At the same time others proclaim “You don’t want to do it like that, our method works much better, try doing this instead.” (Well that’s a case for them to conduct their own experiment to test the validity of their statement.)

    That’s one of the inherent problems with categorizing experiences into methods – the intellect turns them into belief systems and straightaway we’ve closed our minds to other possibilities. So I wholeheartedly applaud you Elsa for being open-minded and courageous enough to recognize when it is time to step outside of the self-imposed box of FBT and use something else from your knowledge. For in the end the question is not to agonize over whether your choice is the most “right” it can be in FBT terms but whether it is useful – useful in this particular case, for Atlas.

    Those with purist leanings may see that it is a weakness in your method but from my perspective it is absolutely a strength. This project is not all about Elsa Sinclair “proving” that Freedom Based Training is the best way to train a horse – it is a ground-breaking project, a voyage of discovery and the question that was being asked by Atlas warranted a selfless questioning on your part of “what is most useful in this situation” rather than seeing it as an opportunity for Elsa’s ego to demonstrate the strengths of FBT. You’ve already shown that with Myrnah and Taming Wild and there is nothing to prove. Atlas needs for you to be open-minded and flexible in your thinking and to not expect him to bend to your (albeit very patient!) will. And you have put his feelings first which is so commendable.

    And as a footnote question, just because it is an “old way” used by Native American people probably for centuries (and perhaps called “leading from behind” these days?) why can’t this approach simply be incorporated under the broader Freedom Based Training banner anyway? You are still using body language and the only tool (sometimes) involved is a fence which I would suggest comes within your mission statement at the start of every post.

    Kindest Regards
    Gary

    • Sophia Strang Steel
    • Posted March 10, 2019 at 12:27 pm
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Beautiful words both of you, Elsa and Gary. Atlas comes first. Thank you for your insights and inspiration.

    • Thank you Sophia. I agree. What Atlas needs comes first, and that in its self is deeply interesting 🙂

  4. Well the concept of FBT is already compromised at the get go because Atlas is captured in a corral. He is fully aware of that I’m sure. So going forward from there is a degree of freedom not unlike Alexander Nevzorov, Klaus F Hempfling, and pressure/release of NH and positive reinforcement with Alexander Kurland which you have artfully incorporated into a minimalist and gentle approach without tools other than your body. I like what you are doing and it is working! Like you have said…are you willing to take the time commitment to continue within your FBT constructs…or can those constructs evolve. Would you call Atlas a RBE in the NH model? Borrowing from what I know of that personality I would be tempted to cause more movement and more fluttering around ..not stopping until he looks at you or slows down his reactiveness. Still at liberty, “free” using body language and timing only. Borrowing techniques, concepts, from other trainers still staying with your theme might be useful for the end desire of a civilized partnership with Atlas. He needs to learn commotion, movement around him by a human… doesn’t mean pain and suffering. So to break that association could be done by jumping around like a clown (gently at first😊) and then serving a grain treat. Give him every opportunity to get new associations. Food is highly motivating and a great communicator of association. I had a highly reactive RBE mustang who was afraid of everything!!! Big rocks in the road, mailboxes, garbage cans….anything!!! Every time he looked in the direction of a new thing I gave him a treat until after time he started seeking new things !!😊 I knew my work was getting complete when I saw him approach a yellow toy truck one of the kids at the barn had left on the ground… He moved it around with his nose looking for his treat 😊. And of course you could incorporate just the quiet harmony time as the treat which you’re so skillful at. I hope you don’t mind my musings… couldn’t help it.

    • Patrice, Yes, that is why I call it Freedom Based Training, instead of freedom training. The horses do know they have been captured and brought into corrals, I can’t change that, but I can base my choices from there on forward from a foundation of what freedom we have left. Atlas is most certainly a RBI in the NH model. He does need to learn (eventually) that commotion and movement around him doesn’t mean pain and suffering, but the RBI horses are driven deep into shut down with unexpected explosions if you try to force that teaching on them too fast. I agree food is a great motivator and I am glad to hear it worked so well for your mustang. The experiment here is to develop my feel and timing to a degree that I can use the harmony of our bodies in space instead of a food reward. SO much slower, but fascinating to learn from 🙂

  5. THANK YOU for such a meaty blog post. I really appreciate the careful dot connection you’re laying out and it sure makes sense as I think about the differing personalities in my herd. Watching my Atlas like Koa freeze today in the face of a large industrial wood chipper noise, I knew that asking him for more was unrealistic, and in fact honoring his choice to not go further was the right thing to do. Allowing Lily to find her way through her emotions successfully, and being there to flow when the moments allow is joyful. Walking Lily down is changing us for the better. Thanks.

    • Yay! I love that Lily and Koa are letting you explore different sides of the spectrum of possibility in how you can be a force of good in their lives. I will keep connecting the dots and sharing what I find. I am so glad it helps you too!


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