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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.


I am a Research Trainer

As I step toward the trail with Ari for the hundredth time I am laughing at myself. For weeks I have wanted to take him out of his paddock on the loop trail around the meadow. The area including the loop trail is all fenced so there is no fear of losing him, but so far success in leaving the home paddock in any way has eluded us.


We walk a little side-by-side, arcing left and right in the kind of gentle turns a horse naturally likes to make.


I think of aiming for the trail as a wide road, where so long as he is headed generally the direction I would like I leave him to choose the arcs and turns that feel comfortable to him.


We stop every five or ten steps to watch the world, because this watching of the world together is a thing we easily agree on. A moment we can share contentedly.


I am learning where the intersections are between Ari’s desires and my desires. How many different things can we share and enjoy together that we both might choose?


This is my field of research.


Freedom Based Training®


No tools, no obvious extrinsic rewards, just me and the horse and the environments we are traveling through. When we simplify the relationship to this degree what is still possible?


I have found that taking a few minutes to ask these questions deepens a horse human relationship dramatically in beautiful ways. I love to teach courses in this and help my students know their horses more deeply, improving the quality of life for everyone.


My job as a research trainer is to put myself on the cutting edge of difficult with a horse, learn from it, and share it so my students can take what I have learned and use it in simple ways with their horses, in their lives.


Freedom Based Training® is not so much a way of training a horse as it is a way of living that delves deeply into understanding who we are in relationship with someone else.


It is a journey that seeks to find out what is possible through freedom of choice, and how many ways a horse might choose to say yes instead of no, to being together.


What if my horse keeps saying “no” to me? What if my horse does not want to be with me in the ways I want to be together with them?


Well, then you are on the cutting edge of your own research.


The space between the yes and the no is where the work is done.


If you give me a small fenced space, halter and a rope, or a pocket full of food rewards I can dramatically alter the scope of things my horse might choose to do with me in a positive way. This is interesting too, but it is not my current field of research.


I have plans for developing that side of my horse training also. “Coherence and Clarity” as a way of being, training and developing horses and humans together is in the planning stages. I am excited to develop that side of my research training as well, because honestly it is fun to think of all the ways I might set the horse up better to say yes.


Atlas has forced me into exploring some of the ideas that might be part of “Coherence and Clarity” because part way through the current project it became clear that safety and quality of life for him were not good enough when we approached our relationship purely from the Freedom Based Training® perspective.


Quality of life comes first in my priorities, before freedom of choice and the two are not always compatible.


What I am finding is freedom of choice is an awesome field of research that has brought me more personal growth and development than anything I have ever studied. That is exciting and well worth my time as I explore what is possible between the yes and the no a horse might offer.


When a horse says no to me, I have asked for too much too soon and I missed my mark to explore what is possible in the realm of yes answers.


With a horse like Atlas I had to admit that his previous life of abuse had led him to a place where his yes answers to humans (and other horses) was so limited it affected his quality of life in sad and profound ways. Atlas’s determination to say no and defend himself from relationship in general was so ingrained that freedom of choice was giving him the choice to destroy his quality of life at every turn.


When I realized my research in this area of being together was setting Atlas up to feel worse perpetually and spiral his physical health downward in a bad way I changed plans and stepped tentatively into my next field of research.


I had planned to explore “Coherence and Clarity” in a few years, after the filming of “Taming Wild: Evolution” was complete with Ari and Atlas and my exploration of the cutting edge of Freedom Based Training® had been satisfied a little more.


However, as they say: Man plans and God laughs.


So now I have two possibly complementary projects running at the same time.


Ari and I are researching Freedom Based Training® in purity. Developing my understanding of what it means to nurture and foster Ari’s yes answer to an ever-expanding realm of things we can do together.


Atlas and I are learning to assess where and when freedom of choice is a healthy thing for him and our relationship. We are also exploring how this idea of “Coherence and Clarity”, using tools of fences, ropes and food in kind and gentle ways, can improve Atlas’ quality of life dramatically in the here and now.


I will be honest, I am challenged in big ways by both of the stallions and I am grateful everyday for the generosity of Myrnah and how kind she was to me in those early days exploring Freedom Based Training®, while we were making the first film.


There are days I wish I could just take out my clicker and my pouch of food rewards and train systematically to teach the horses to say yes to more things.


There are days I wish I could use the roundpen like I did in my past life of a results based trainer and teach the horse to say yes consistently like I did before.


However, that is not my job anymore. There are many very good trainers out there filling that need and helping humans with horses in those ways.


My job is different. My job is to research the intersection of free will and collaborative evolution between horses and humans.


What is the scope of opportunity between the natural answers of yes and no?


How do I shape my personal behavior to develop more yeses than noes in the relationship?


How broad a range of things can a horse enjoy doing with me, leading us from yes answer to yes answer?


How do I take the no answers I get from a horse and learn from them, without developing a habit in the horse of saying no to the things I suggest?


This way of being with horses is not for everyone, but I am discovering there is a growing number of people in the world like myself that are curious to know.


How can free will be nurtured in a way that supports relationships?


With Ari and I over the last couple of weeks I have been forced to understand him better as an individual. He is not like Myrnah who was naturally very curious and brave. Ari is like Ari and to build a relationship with him I have to know him.


Ari is independent and self-confident. Ari likes comfort and familiarity far more than he likes interesting things.


When I decided the next step of our development together should include exploring a new trail through the woods, my tact in presenting that idea to a horse like Ari is challenged.


Respecting Ari’s free will, the theory is to look at the trail and be interested in it from a safe distance. Then when the emotion attached to that action of looking at the trail is as good as it possibly could be, we retreat to doing something easier together.


The more times we repeat that action together, the more the curiosity grows and with each repetition the feeling of what a safe distance is, will grow closer to the trail and eventually lead us down the trail.


Myrnah taught me this theory is good and works well.


Ari is teaching me a new level of patience and tact, because honestly I keep trying to approach my relationship with Ari with the same feel and timing I learned with Myrnah and they are not the same horse.


Different horses require different feel and timing and that is what makes this all so endlessly interesting.


When I push too hard Ari pushes back because he has the power to say no to me. I ask him for one step too many toward the trail, he feels it is unsafe and turns to run back up the hill to his favorite spot next to the cedar trees.


I run with him because if it is happening anyway, we might as well use the opportunity to get comfortable with running together. There will be a time when we want to trot or canter with me sitting on his back, doing it side by side seems like a good practice step on the way to that. It was not the thing I intended to practice today, but researching freedom of choice in relationship does not lead to doing exactly what you plan all the time.


Ari and I settle to a walk and then a halt at the top of the hill and I again ask him to turn and look in the direction of the trail.


From this safe place it is easy for him to say yes to me, and we flow in harmony together on that easy yes answer.


I ask for a few steps in the direction of the trail and Ari says yes again, because that is easy in this place of safety. We flow and enjoy that success.


The question and the real work come as we get close to the gateway that leads into new territory.


Do I understand Ari enough to know when the best feeling possible has happened?


Do I know when to retreat to something easier as a reward and reinforcement to all the yes answers Ari has given me in the right direction toward learning something new together?


Or do I push just a little too far, causing Ari to feel unsafe and find we are running up the hill again to start at the beginning again?


I always tell my students, if the horse says no to you, then you are learning how to have better feel and timing. Learning is good. If the horse says yes to you, then the horse is learning to enjoy a greater variety of things with you. That learning is good too.


For the sake of building a good relationship with the horses, we need more yes answers than no answers.


For the sake of pushing humans to understand feel and timing better, we need to value those moments the horses say no. We don’t need to rest there or reward or enforce that answer of no because saying no to each other perpetually is not beneficial to a relationship, but we do need to appreciate the growth opportunity in it.


Hundreds and hundreds of growth opportunities later Ari and I are now able to walk the loop trail together around the meadow. He is saying yes more often, and no less often. Not because he was forced to change his answer, but because I got better at knowing how and when to ask.


This is the kind of training I am fascinated by and want to research.


If you want a little more of this in your life with your horses too I encourage you to join us on Patreon. Watch some of the videos I have made about learning to travel the loop trail with Ari and see the updates on all this research from week to week.

In this project there is some Freedom Based Training® where I use no tools at all, and some “Coherence and Clarity” where I use tools to the extent it helps Atlas find a better quality of life with me.


I will always be a research trainer, on the cutting edge of what I understand. The horses will always be pushing me to understand it all better and I will continue to endeavor to share what I learn with all of you.


Thank you for taking the journey with me, and supporting the ongoing research.


Here is to learning how freedom of choice can lead to better relationships and deeper bonds.


Hooves and Heartbeats,




One Comment

  1. Well said Elsa – your willingness to change your perspective and adapt your approach to suit each horse is admirable. It would indeed be pointless to force a square peg into a round hole just to satisfy a human need “to be right”. If Freedom Based Training isn’t the ideal way to go for a particular horse, so be it. Every horse is different and your horses for courses solutions (or should that be courses for horses?) is a reminder to us all to leave our egos at the gate and try to do the right thing by BEING the person that the situation calls for. So easily said and so difficult to do! I admire your endless patience and find myself hoping, most especially for Atlas, that your patience is rewarded by finding the key to his trust. Wishing you all the best in your research training.

    Kind Regards

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