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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.

 

Breathe Like your Life Depends on It!

Standing in the evening sun on a beautiful spring day next to Atlas, I watch out over the meadow, counting my breaths. A bald eagle swoops down to pick up a stick from the field for his nest building. A hawk darts through the deeper trees to my left on errands I can only guess at. The frogs start their evening serenade.

I breathe, I count, I wait.

Atlas’ muzzle jumps and twitches and shivers and quivers like the end of his nose has been taken over by a crazy spirit. I watch these physical developments Atlas is experiencing from my peripheral vision as I more directly study the valley in front of us and breathe.

Taming Wild isn’t about taming a wild horse, though on the surface it can seem to mean that. Taming Wild is about taming the wild in myself of wanting too much, too soon. Before I met Atlas, I thought I had developed a profound degree of patience and I was proud of that. Now Atlas is helping develop a whole deeper level of patience in me that is exposing pockets of wild impatience and calling on me to find better ways to tame them.

We spent the last few weeks in a process of walking Atlas down off his stress every day. I have observed some days I am good at this and other days I don’t seem able to help Atlas nearly as much.

I have spent countless sleepless nights staring at the moon and listening to Atlas walk around the paddock below my window. I know we had a good day when his steps are measured and rhythmic as he walks from his water to his hay, and out to the arena and back. I know we had a less successful day when I hear a night full of spooking and stumbling and erratic movements from one place to the next, punctuated with loud, abrupt, exhalations of breath.

I want to fix this for Atlas right now! This is the wild in me. I don’t want him to have to experience such chaos and upset as part of his life anymore! There is nothing here that will hurt him, and I want him to know that, believe that, and feel it in a way that lets him live a normal life.

Selfishly, I also want to touch him. I have never had a horse as a companion for so many hours without touching as a huge component of our communication. I know many ways I could coerce Atlas into the touching aspect of the relationship, and sometimes I am tempted to use food more directly as a means to an end, but we are not there yet.

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The reason I set this project as an experimental year is to help me in these moments of wanting to speed up progress. For this year, as long as I can keep both of us safe, our job is to tame the wild of wanting too much too soon, and let the relationship evolve naturally.

That is easier said than done.

What if a horse has everything they need without being pressured to alter themselves to get it? To what degree would they choose to develop a relationship with a human voluntarily? To what degree can I use the power of my personal choices in the spaces around a horse to build trust and a sense of well-being?

These questions put the pressure on me to tame my own wild of wanting too much too soon and wait for what Atlas wants to develop.

So here we are, standing side by side for hours at a time, breathing and waiting.

I teach in all my courses, that rhythm is confidence for a horse. As we develop their sense of rhythm, we develop their comfort and confidence in life.

What I have noticed over the last week is how difficult rhythm is for Atlas, and how some days I am able to support him better than others.

The walking down of his stress worked so well because the rhythm of our steps helped Atlas find the rhythm of his breathing, and it helped me find the rhythm of mine at the same time. This predictable rhythm helped Atlas find his sense of curiosity and interest and once that started to blossom, we didn’t need to walk as much.

However, once we didn’t need to walk as much, I noticed our sense of rhythm grew faulty and then we seemed to get stuck in a rebounding set of emotions. Atlas bounced back and forth between angry and interested and back to angry. He was interested so often I wasn’t sure I should make him walk anymore, but I didn’t want to perpetuate his anger and defensiveness either.

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I tried walking around him in circles when he was angry, hoping the rhythm of my strides would be enough to help him find curiosity again, and it worked… but seemingly this solution was a little less effective every day and I was not sure why.

I tried dancing around Atlas to help him find his way from anger to curiosity. This had worked brilliantly with Apollo in our project trekking across Costa Rica. This week it worked for a few moments with Atlas, but then I did too much too soon, and Atlas spun to kick at me for the first time ever. He didn’t make contact, but it was deliberate, and I saw far too many details of the soles of his hind feet as they paused in the air under my nose.

I decided in that moment that I needed go back to my quiet walking down of the stress for Atlas any time I saw the anger come up in him. While dancing around him might have rhythm for me, the intensity of the movement caused emotional chaos for Atlas instead of the rhythm I was hoping to stimulate. No more messing around with different ways to support him feeling better. I needed to stick to the basic idea of rhythm, for both horse and human.

Rhythm equals confidence.

Atlas and I needed to move in ways that let both him and I feel that consistency of rhythm.

Then I stumbled on these two TED talks and I realized there was another facet of rhythm I had been neglecting that might be all the difference between the better and worse days working with Atlas.

Dr. Alan Watkins is funny and easy to listen to and he has a better way of explaining how all this works than anyone I have ever known. If you have not seen these two talks, I encourage you strongly to take a few minutes to hear him explain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q06YIWCR2Js

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_fFattg8N0

For me the deep take away was the awareness of the rhythm and smooth consistency of my breathing. Perhaps the quality of that determines the quality of support I could give Atlas. I knew his natural rhythm of breathing was erratic most of the time, I also knew that I tend to fall into breathing and acting like my horses. With my mustangs, this tendency to fall into mirroring them has been a value and an asset that bonded us together and gave us strength.

Perhaps when I mirrored Atlas and fell into breathing erratically like him, I only compounded his discomfort in life?

So, I took this to heart, and I focused with all my power on my breathing consistency. Steady and rhythmic and reliable, starting the count at one again every time I saw a moment of curiosity, every time I saw a lick or a chew or heard a deep breath, or saw that crazy twitching of the muzzle.

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My breathing rhythm was supporting Atlas in finding good feelings and experiencing them for as long as possible.

If I got to the count of four breaths and Atlas seemed stuck, self-obsessed, or angry I would look directly at him, to motivate some change. If he could flick an ear or show me any sign of trying to find a better feeling I could work that circle around him slowly and gently, with the rhythm of my feet helping him feel the stability he was lacking.

If he confronted me with anger as I looked right at him, I would walk directly toward his eye with the kind of intensity I thought might nudge him into rhythmic steps of his own as directly as possible. Our walking together to find that rhythm seems to be the most effective way to help Atlas find a better feeling when he can’t, when he is simply stuck.

Two things happened as I started to intensify my focus on my responsibility to breathe for Atlas.

One, it is an exhausting practice, and over and over I find myself sucked into mimicking Atlas instead of holding my own breathing consistency.

Two, it works. Atlas is developing a soft positivity about life that is a relief to me beyond words. We hardly ever need to walk anymore, and while I am still waiting and breathing more than I ever have with any horse I have ever known, I can see the tensions unraveling in Atlas.

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Even on the days we need to walk more, we can now do this in the presence of Zohari and Atlas does not seem in any way tempted to take his frustrations out on his friend like he did before.

Most exciting for me is seeing the moments when Atlas starts to walk toward me. It is only a step or two sometimes, when his curiosity becomes so strong, that he wants to get closer to me. That step or two is the start to a whole new way for Atlas to be with humans.

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In those moments that I see curiosity win over defensiveness for Atlas, my job is to breathe.

Breathe like my life depends on it, and breathe like his life depends on it.

Steady, rhythmic, smooth, and consistent.

This I can do, and this I will continue to do for Atlas until he can do it for himself. Then maybe someday, Atlas will be able to do this for me when I am having a rough day.

I have posted a video in the Patreon group so you can see the details of this part of the process. If you are curious, join the group and you will have front row seats as this all evolves.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

If you have the inspiration to try this with your horses, this idea of breathing like your life depends on it, let me know how it goes, does it affect your horse and your relationship like it has for me and Atlas?

Rhythm equals confidence.

Confidence makes life comfortable.

Here is to more of that in everyone’s lives!

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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10 Comments

  1. I can feel myself taking deep breaths of relief of tension that I just realised I have had, some of the time following your progress with Atlas as if also I wanted things to happen too fast too soon! What a profound teaching. Thank you!

    • You are most welcome! Breathing is so profound, and so simple all at the same time. 🙂

  2. If you have not already watched Life, Adjusted. Dr Jay Komarek I think you would like it!

    • Thank you for the suggestion, I will look for it!

  3. Thank you for opening up my world Elsa. I am trying the breathing with my crew. I’m wondering if it needs to be very noticeable for them–it doesn’t seem like you are being overly obvious about it in the video however. I really see a change in Atlas and it’s wonderful to have that happen for him. -Kim

    • Kim, I don’t think you have to try to make your breathing noticeable for the horses they read body language at an advanced level and are aware of things beyond our scope of understanding. Think of it as the horse’s mother tongue (body language) Just as we might understand someone mumbling quietly in english, because we have been speaking it all our lives. Where as we might not understand someone speaking another language unless they were loud enough and clear enough for us to focus on. Horses are similar, body language they can understand well even if it is mumbled because it is their first language. If you use voice commands you might need to make them very clear and clean because english is not the horse’s first language. It is a beautiful thing when I see Atlas start to feel my confidence and then feel his own growing too!

  4. 1st, I need to thank Warwick Schiller for mentioning Elsa Sinclair in one of the videos on his website. So, I got here. Now, I want to thank Elsa for including (along with all the information she is sharing with us) the links to Dr. Alan Watkins. Terrific advice in his two TED talks featured at those links. I think possibly life changing in many aspects, working with horses being just one.

    • Thank you Mary, I do also love how Warwick is happy to talk about and appreciate many different trainers and perspectives. We are all richer for that sharing! And Yes! Alan Watkins was quite a find, I appreciate the clarity he has brought into things for me!

  5. This is a great post Elsa, like all of your posts. I have been studying coherence and coherent breathing for several months now. It is something I teach people in my workshops. It is also the single thing that has helped most with my reactive mustang, Te Amo. Alan Watkins wrote a really helpful book on the subject. I also find the use of a heart rate variability monitor, programmed to indicate varying levels of coherence, is an extremely rewarding tool. The first thing I do each morning is spend 30 – 45 minutes in coherence. It has been life changing. It also makes it much more natural to get into a coherent state when I’m out in the world ‘doing’ – somehow it brings a sense of ‘being’ into anything I’m doing. Your journey with these horses continues to be so helpful – with my horses and also in daily life and with people. I appreciate on a daily basis the opportunity to benefit from your creativity, compassion, kindness, and vision.

    • Lucinda, I admire your consistency of spending time every morning to set your coherence first. I am not as disciplined as that unless there is a horse involved, so thank goodness I get to start my mornings with them and they can help me with my coherence 🙂 I am happy my sharing of the journey helps you, and I will continue to keep the stories and ideas coming!


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