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Tag Archives: Boundaries

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.

 

It Takes Time

 

I stood at Kypo’s shoulder, watching him pull dense strand after dense strand of vine out of the cacti to eat it with relish. Under his right front hoof was a sharp rock, and I watched him picking up and putting down his foot repeatedly. It was clearly uncomfortable, but he was so absorbed in his acquisition of tasty vines, the rock was just a small irritant, not painful enough to consider in the face of all that blissful vine eating.

 

On this Saturday in November I had set out to do a full day of passive leadership with one horse to see what happened. Ten hours together was my goal. Ten hours with no agenda other than to see what I could learn from him about passive leadership. Usually I have some sort of a goal with horses and while passive leadership is the basis from which I start, I quickly move forward to assertive leadership simply because it works and development of relationship is clear and beautiful.

 

What I wanted to know was, if I had more time and less agenda, could I do more with less?

 

Passive leadership is about proving my worth as a leader and earning trust with my partner simply by the choices I make about my own body in space around them.

 

Assertive leadership is about proving my worth as a leader and earning trust with my partner by causing them to move.

 

Dominant leadership (which is not the goal here) is about causing my partner to move and developing unpleasant consequences if they do not. (I personally include food rewards in this category, because I feel it is unpleasant for a horse when they know there is something they really want and the only way they can get it is to perform a task – the unpleasant consequence of not moving is subtle but quite clear.)

 

Here we were, halfway through the day of our training experiment and for the most part I had followed through with my idea of predominantly working in the area of Passive Leadership. Now there was this sharp rock under Kypo’s right front hoof, and he was too distracted by vine eating to do anything about it other than pick his foot up and put it down repeatedly.

 

As a passive leader there is nothing I can do about that, as an assertive leader I can help. So I gave up my passive leadership goal for a moment, rested my hand on his shoulder and nudged him over to his left a step so he could stand with all his hooves on flat ground. The instant relief Kypo felt was perceptible as yawning and licking and chewing with big deep sighs. The vine eating happily continued, and I returned to my lookout post.

 

A leader is someone who is willing to step in where no one else wants to, or thinks to. Leaders create trust in the partnership and they create this trust by proving again and again that they can make everyone’s lives better by stepping up and leading the way.

 

On this particular day in the upcountry pastures of Kula, Maui, I was in the middle of deep and profound experiential learning – learning that was more for me than for the horses, but powerful for all of us involved I believe.

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In the first hour I found Kypo to be entitled, pushy and impatient, and I felt stretched emotionally by his company. This was going to be a long day.

 

The second hour Kypo led me out on a merry walk, just the two of us with no other horses in sight. I was surprised and intrigued. Was he that comfortable with only my company? Or would he have done that all by himself if I had not been there?

 

The third hour, Kypo walked by a boulder I was standing on and invited me to go for a ride, which surprised and intrigued me even more. That had not been in the plan for the day. I swung a leg over his back, scratched him all over under his mane, which he loved, and then got off and back to my passive leadership roll. He then took me over the hill to join his mother and two other horses sleeping under a tree.

 

The fourth hour we spent in a field strewn with boulders, so my lookout points around Kypo often involved standing up high. I was blown away by how many times he sauntered over and lined his back up underneath me to let me sit on him.

 

The fifth hour found us under a shady copse of trees with Kypo and his mother, Spirit, flat out on their sides deep asleep, Ebe lying down softly asleep and Coco and me standing watch.

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The sixth hour I had to leave them and walk up to the house to charge my phone battery and get some water, which was actually a good opportunity for me to clear my head and think about everything that had happened so far.

 

The seventh hour found Kypo and me trekking up and down a rocky hillside, during which he gave me our longest ride yet. It wasn’t long, maybe five minutes, however I was doing my best to be passive and set us up for success so I was thrilled and elated I had gotten to ride as much as I did!

 

The eighth hour I held myself in check and simply scratched him all over when he would come over to stand under my current boulder perch. This day wasn’t about riding or how much I could get Kypo to do for me. This day was about sharing the day together and seeing how many different things we could do together passively enjoying each others company.

 

The ninth hour everyone headed back in the direction of the water troughs, and I followed along. First we walked, then we jogged, then they picked up speed to a canter and I tried to keep up, but I couldn’t. I settled to a walk and figured I would see them back at the water. I have to say, it was the sweetest surprise when I discovered them waiting for me around the next corner as if to say, “Come on slowpoke, what kept you?” They started off at a walk, then a jog, then a trot. I tried to keep up, but by the time we could see the water troughs, they were off at a gallop and I walked the last bit in.

 

The tenth hour with the whole herd reunited at the water, Kypo was determined that a new horse, Gems, was not to be tolerated in the group, and he was going to chase her off aggressively over and over. I decided it was time to put my passive leadership goals aside for a little while and step up to assertive to help smooth the group dynamic. I was quite blown away by how light and easy Kypo was to move. I chose a position near his shoulder and each time I would see his eyes wander over to the intruder, Gems, I would softly touch his chest and back him up a step, or touch his neck and move him over enough to redirect his attention to something less upsetting. I was amazed how easy he was with my redirection and how peaceful everyone in the herd became with my simple persistent help to one member.

 

As the sun set and the light started to fade, Kypo and I found ourselves next to an old fallen tree where I swung a leg over his back and let him carry me around for the last half hour.

 

All those troubling impressions from our morning were gone. This horse wasn’t entitled at all; if anyone was entitled, perhaps it was me. Kypo was in fact one of the most kind, generous and authentic horses I have had the pleasure of spending time with.

 

This is a day I will not forget and the things Kypo taught me were valuable beyond words.

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I believe my biggest takeaway was that there is a time and a place for different kinds of leadership, and there are times to simply follow. If you give yourself time, you don’t need force; and if you don’t need to force things to happen, life gets increasingly more pleasant for everyone involved.

 

Here is to a good life!

Sending you all a gift of time from Maui,

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

  1. Here are the hourly update videos from the day of experimental training in passive leadership. If you are reading this blog by email, click on the title at the top and it will take you to the webpage where the videos are viewable.

 

Intro Video:

 

Hour One:

 

Hour Two:

 

Hour Three:

 

Hour Four:

 

Hour Five:

 

Hour Six:

 

Hour Seven:

 

Hour Eight:

 

Hour Nine:

 

Hour Ten:

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.

 

Joy and Pain

 

Throughout this blog I have a tendency to make life look like a bed of roses, because joy is what we live for.

 

Is life worth living if we don’t perpetually reach for joy?

 

Don’t answer that question, it is meant to be left as a quandary.

 

The part I sometimes leave out of my writing is how hard life is as well, for me at least …

 

Wherever there is joy, there is also the contrast of pain and sorrow. I want with all my being for growth to be easy; I want to evolve and grow and develop so sweetly and gently that life is all about joy.

 

There it is, there is my mission statement:

 

Freedom Based Training™ is about learning to have more joy in every moment, horses and humans alike.

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There does not need to be as much pain as there is in the world. Anything I can do to alleviate any of the pain that might happen in the future, that is my job. Even if it means diving into my own internal dark nights of the soul to do it, I will struggle so others can have more roses and maybe fewer thorns.

 

Helios brought one of those mixed moments of joy and pain for me. I felt myself magnetically drawn to do whatever I needed to do for him. I didn’t need another horse to take care of. I didn’t need the drama and chaos of building fences for a stallion enclosure, or ordering gravel and spreading it in the last moments before a possible record-breaking rain storm hit. It didn’t matter what I didn’t need though. The possible pain I might experience in doing what needed to be done was far outweighed by the possible joy Helios might bring to the world.

 

I have never regretted it. Helios has brought more joy to the world than I had any way of knowing when I did my mad-dash drive across Washington to pull him out of the jaws of the slaughter truck.

 

For all my lost sleep and corresponding emotional pain of feeling like I can never do enough, no matter how hard I try because there always seems to be more pain in the world than I can possibly beat back with the joy I know is possible.

 

It is all worth it when I step into Helios’ paddock and I feel him close to me. Like his namesake the sun god, being in his presence warms me to my core in an inexplicable way. Any pain either of us has is suddenly drowned out by joy that feels exponential.

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Too many 3AM mornings jumping out of bed to write before sleep and dreams claim all my good ideas. Too many 1AM mornings where I am still awake editing video and photographs. Too much caffeine and sugar used artfully to propel me into the next moment of learning. This hurts and the body cannot do it forever, and yet I live to learn, and every time I learn a little more and I share that to bring a little joy to someone else’s life, all the pain of getting there is washed away.

 

Taming Wild is a movie about joy and connection, however, it also has its dark underbelly of pain and frustration. Taming Wild was more about learning to tame the wild impatient impulses I have as a human being than it was about taming a horse. I can’t tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep thinking I had set myself a project that was unachievable. Who trains a horse without some sort of pressure device, or some sort of withheld reward? There were too many nights I was mired in frustration that Myrnah didn’t want to do the things I wanted to do, and making a movie about joyful connection with no means of force seemed simply an effort in emotional pain caused by perpetually pitting myself against the gut wrenching pain of disappointment.

 

We all want what we want when we want it! How do you build joyful connection from that selfish place?

 

What I have found is, the only way I know to get through that selfish place is to start with admitting it is there. That frustration, those tears, that anger are there because life didn’t shape itself to your desires fast enough.

 

Sit with that, feel the pain, and then do the work it takes to get where you want to go. What if “fast enough” wasn’t the operating principle anymore?

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What if the amount of joy in every moment was the measuring stick we held our progress to?

 

That wild frustration and the pain that goes along with it, that is part of being alive. We are not always going to know what to do to move forward toward our goals.

 

I am not going to tell you to just let it go. You get to feel however you feel, and sometimes that hurts. What I am going to do is put all my own past pain to good use by writing down the steps I took, making sign posts and markers along the path to joy, so maybe you don’t have to take the detours I took into dark places.

 

The last eight weeks of sharing Freedom Based Training™ in a systematic step-by-step way through the online course has been awesome.

 

I had ten of the best students do the course with me this first session, and, whether they knew it or not, they asked me some of the most perfect questions throughout our study together. Every question that was asked became a ray of light illuminating some idea that I knew was going to be unbelievably useful for others going forward.

 

That is what I live for – more light, more joy, and more positive connection in life.

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We can all do that for each other!

 

Pain is still going to be there, sometimes it is unavoidable; but, with a little help from our friends the way out of darkness just might be signposted, so just keep moving and joy will find you soon enough again.

 

This is where my joy and my sadness get all wrapped up and I don’t know which is which. I have the honor and joy of telling you Helios, who came through my life in such a powerful way recently, has found his person, and no, it isn’t me.

 

I will be honest, it hurts to let him go; but it hurts less when I see the joy emanating from him and Shelby when they are together. Helios gets to continue living at my barn, and I will still be part of his herd and be allowed to soak up some of his sunshine every day. I also get to be part of the joy Shelby and Helios emanate when they are together. That is priceless.

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I think Helios is an example for me of what could be. I have never met a horse so clear about his interest in being with you, and paying attention, and being part of a relationship, while still maintaining VERY clearly what he is and is not yet comfortable with.

 

None of my other wild horses have ever been this slow or this perpetually positive and joyful. It was a full ten days before Helios considered putting a foot back in the horse trailer. He got minimal hay meals twice a day in the doorway, and tons of hay available just a little farther in, if he would step in, but nope, he waited until he was fully ready and comfortable before stepping in to eat his fill. All my other mustangs were in and out a million times in the first few days (even Myrnah who had unlimited hay outside the trailer as well). My other mustangs may not have been comfortable yet, but they were willing to try.

 

Helios waited until he was comfortable and then proceeded to step in and out easily and regularly like he had been doing it his whole life.

 

Same thing with being touched. It was almost three weeks before Helios permitted anyone to touch him. He would touch us, but any hand outstretched to him past his nose was promptly and decisively evaded. My other mustangs were interested in the fact that I wanted to touch them within the first couple of days, even if they were unsure or apprehensive. Helios knows what he is ready for, knows what is too much, and throughout it all continues to be a beam of light in his positive attention and interest. He loves people!

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Perhaps I have something to learn about the timing of progress, respecting personal boundaries, and how that affects positivity, interest and joy.

 

I will leave you with that idea to ponder.

 

Here is to pain, and here is to the joy that makes it all worth it, and sometimes even replaces it completely.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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

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.

 

How Much is Too Much?

 

I think all the time about how training horses is less about what we do than it is about when we do it. It is less about the actions we take than it is about the emotion we feel while we take them. It is the intangible pieces that make horse training challenging to teach.

 

I like the tangible, I like the understandable, I like the logical, I like the teachable. I refuse to give in to the classic natural horsemanship jargon that gets thrown around of “your energy needs to be right” whatever that means. Or, “it’s all in the intention; when you have the right intention, the horse will be with you”. How am I supposed to know what the right intention is?

 

Those two statements, and many like them, are absolutely true; and also I believe, very challenging to learn from.

 

I want to create physical step by step processes that we can walk through that let us experience what it feels like, on a personal level, to have the “right energy” or know what the “right intention” might be.

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I think Myrnah has had the greatest impact on my learning, helping me through processes that allowed me to feel those “right feelings”.

 

Horses don’t have words, horses have movements; so we need to move with them to have a conversation. They will tell us when it is right and when it is less right; what they won’t tell us is what to do until we find those perfect moments.

 

The project with Myrnah was about finding out some of the things I could do on the way to better partnership.

 

There is a book in the works that will spell it out in a more linear fashion, and an online course I will teach starting this fall where we can walk together through bonding with our horses, and another movie plan on the horizon.

 

For now, enjoy the blog and the pieces of inspiration these ideas might light up in you. The movie “Taming Wild” will also be for sale shortly on the website TamingWild.com.

 

Today I want to talk about how much is too much. We think so much about what to do, we often forget how important it is to not do anything. We are determined communicators as humans, either with others, or lost in our own thoughts with ourselves. There is an art to being with someone else in quiet. There is an art to being mindful of when to talk and when to listen, and when to simply exist.

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Here is how we know what to do when, and when to be quiet.

 

Check in with the emotional intensity and ask yourself, is this level of feeling, useful in this situation?

 

Is the thing you are doing right now causing the intensity of feeling?

 

If it is too much, break it down so you take a little action, and then take some time to just be. Then take a little action and then take some time to just be… and so on.

 

Once the feeling is of an appropriate intensity for the situation then we can do the action for longer and longer periods of time. As we come into this phase of training we look for the moments when it feels better and take some time to just BE on that mark.

 

In partnership with a horse, BEING together is being matched in movement or energy.

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Here is where I see the common mistake: We like communicating and often are challenged by the neutral BEING time with our horses, so it is tempting to ask for things all the time.

 

We need to realize when too much is too much.

 

Can we be happy being with our horses? Or are they never quite good enough?

 

Ask for something, and then take time to enjoy it with them.

 

Or, if you didn’t get what you asked for, retreat a little and ask again.

 

If it is clear you are not going to get what you asked for without emotional upheaval, then ask for something more reasonable so you can enjoy what you and your horse CAN do together.

 

Here is where I come back to my original points:

 

It isn’t so much what you ask for as when you ask. Did you take some time to enjoy being with your horse exactly as they are first?

 

There are only six directions a horse can move – forward, backward, left, right, up and down. What you ask for can be any one of the six, it doesn’t matter, however, it does matter a great deal when you ask and when you are quiet.

 

It is less about the actions we take than it is about the emotion at play while we take them. If emotions are running too hot in either you or your horse, it is too much too soon. Break it down. If it feels great to both of you, you can do anything.

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Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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.

 

The Weight of Choices

 

Myrnah has been and continues to be my greatest teacher when it comes to making choices.

 

When we moved from our Island lifestyle with all its rural freedoms, life changed somewhat. Our home in Redmond, WA is beautifully situated up on a hill overlooking a busy set of soccer fields and a high traffic trail system. Myrnah and I like to head out on the trail fairly often and I find this a meditation on choices.

 

The interesting thing about Myrnah and my relationship is she has a great deal more freedom of choice than in most horse/human relationships and that always brings me food for thought.

 

With the traffic on the trail I do, out of consideration to all our fellow travelers, put a few more limits on Myrnah. A rope looped around the base of her neck, there mostly for show, but also requiring a little more consistent closeness from both of us. Occasionally, if I ask too much without any tools to back up my leadership, the rope puts a limit on how far away she can walk from me when she says no.

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Myrnah, like any horse given her full free choices, would find the nearest patch of grass, graze until she had her fill, and then head home to her friends in the pasture. Partnered together with me there develops a weight to our choices.

 

The things Myrnah and I choose together need to weigh lightly on our natural inclinations. If I ask too much too soon, the burden of those requests becomes a heavy weight on our bond and I quickly find out Myrnah remembers how to say no.

 

If there are too many “no” answers in a row, I start losing credibility as a leader. A leader knows how to ask questions that have “yes” answers naturally. This is the weight I feel of choices.

 

What can I ask for? How much do I need to ask Myrnah to do the things she wants to do already? How often can I push or stretch us to do more of what I want and put her wants on hold for a moment.

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In our initial year together Myrnah and I did all the filming for the movie and lived firmly together in our framework of freedom based training. I learned more in that year with her than I have in any year of my life. The following year I gave Myrnah time off to play with her friends in the pasture while I buckled down to work. Our third year together I introduced conventional tack and more normal horse human interaction rules, and I was amazed at how smoothly and easily Myrnah accepted bridle and saddle and rules after so much freedom.

 

I feel strongly that I want my horses to be educated enough to be able to make their way in the world, finding good homes and lives even if I were to die and leave them unexpectedly. That third year of our time together felt important for Myrnah’s education; I needed to know she could have a happy life even if it was less freedom-based.

 

Now, though, I find I want the life lessons Myrnah brings me when she has the freedom to express herself. The weight of my choices are endlessly interesting to me. Can I tread lightly enough on our bond that the answers stay predominantly yes? Can I strengthen our bond to a place where I can ask for more things outside of her comfort zone and we are strong enough together to carry that weight of choice?

 

Time – how much time we spend together – this is the biggest factor in strengthening our bond. So, I am going to keep this blog short so I can get back out to the barn.

 

I leave you with this one thought to ponder this week. How much can you ask from anyone with confidence they will say yes? Then ask yourself, how heavy does that question and answer and choice of action weigh on your bond?

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Weight builds strength when it’s used consciously in the right intervals. Not enough weight and the bond between you will lack strength, too much weight too soon and life feels too hard with too much fight and push-back driving individuals apart instead of bonding them together.

 

Food for thought.

Enjoy!

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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.

 

Taking the Challenge

 

I want to give you something a little different for the blog this week.

 

When I started this project with Myrnah I believed it was something truly different than anything that had been done before. I still believe that is true because I have not found anyone willing to train horses without the added incentive of food rewarding behavior, or the added pressure of a whip or rope or fence to push them against. If any of you know it exists, please let me know. I would be so curious to know more.

 

What I HAVE found, though, is many people pushing limits and taking on challenges all over the world:

 

How can we exist with horses in a better way?

 

I find that so very beautiful, worth paying attention to. I encourage each and every one of us everyday to explore what is possible:

 

How can we live our own lives in better ways?

 

For now, I leave you with a little inspiration.

 

Here is Emma Massingale with “The Island Project”:

 

And here is Honza Bláha with “Open Borders”:

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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.

 

Freedom

 

October finds us taking a week away to the beach. Sand, Salt, Surf and the freedom that comes from wide-open spaces. Myrnah and I needed this time to just be with each other.

 

Living in the city, navigating traffic for hours on end each day, too many hours spent in front of a computer attending to the many details the movie demands, and chasing a schedule to pay the bills….. Sometimes the beauty of simply living gets lost in such business.

 

Long Beach, WA and the sweet cabin Naytura Haus nestled in the dunes was the spot Myrnah and I finished up filming the project in our first year together. Now it seems fitting to be here again as the movie is reaching its final editing stages.

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I find myself reflecting on freedom this week and the balance we all seek as we notice there is a certain amount of commitment and focus and determination required to develop something new. All that intensity of focus can feel like the opposite of freedom sometimes. What happens when you let go?

 

Out on the beach, away from home, I keep a rope on Myrnah when we are out walking together, a reminder for both of us to stay connected. We mostly don’t test the limits of that connection; it’s just there to make me feel safer. However, the other day I found myself tired of carrying the rope around all the time, so off it came.

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All went well for a time, walking, exploring, watching the world go by, Myrnah and I soaking up our freedom together. Then we found ourselves playing in the waves, and I pushed a little too hard, asking Myrnah for one turn too many too soon, and Myrnah’s independence overrode her desire to stay with me. With a head toss and a spin she ran off.

 

Here we are on twenty-six miles of wide-open beach, dunes, and woods stretching behind and my horse is trotting full speed away, and then stretching out into a gallop along down the beach.

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Is this how our story ends? I took her out of the wild, brought her into my world and my story with all its corresponding focus and intensity. I may have always pushed her away from fences and used big spaces, encouraging her to feel free, but its different when you know the fences are there.

 

Here we were, real freedom, and I was watching the tail of my horse disappearing at a gallop in a straight line away from me. What happens now?

 

And then miraculously, she turned.

 

Galloping back to me, Myrnah ran head thrown up, nostrils flared, hooves pounding, and then circling around me just as fast as she had run away, all her power and speed and freedom coming back into my world.

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I found myself remembering, “If they never run away, how can they ever run back?” Having a horse gallop straight toward you and watching all of their power and grace is one of the most beautiful experiences. When you know its just because they want to be with you…. There really is nothing quite like that feeling in that moment.

 

In THIS experimental training process with Myrnah my goal was to use only my body and presence as pressure or reward. I found it is possible, and it does forge a bond and understanding that is incomparable. It also leaves one wondering in moments, is that bond and connection enough?

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In normal training, if I have a little more pressure available to me with a whip or rope to push my horse, or a little more reward, paying them for learning and working with grain or cookies or carrots, then doing things like running away and running back or working together at distance, all feel more reliable. I hold power over what my horse wants, and with practice, my horse finds herself wanting to work with me more than being free and independent.

 

In training a horse, you get out what you put in. I think that sometimes the more you bring to the relationship in terms of food or intensity pays back and you feel more connected.

 

In training Myrnah, this is more about how much of myself I can bring. I get out of this relationship what I put into it. If all I have is myself to give, can that be enough?

 

I believe it can be.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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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.

Thank you all for your support on the Front_Of_Card_ELSADocumentary. Take a look at the trailer here, and donate to the completion of the project.

https://www.kickstarter.com

All in a Range

 

I attended a lecture a while back – one that spoke to the very core of my work with horses, and as often happens, also the core of my life’s principles. That is how it is for me – this work with horses – it addresses much of what I have yet to understand about life, and becomes a testing ground for new solutions.

As Myrnah and I work through an idea, traveling through space and time, testing the merit of a concept, it also percolates into my life as a whole. This is horse training, but also it is so much more about living and understanding what it is to be alive, day in and day out.

This particular idea is based on a cycle we all tend to run.

Tension or Stress – leads to…

Injury – leads to…

Pain – leads to…

Bad Behavior – leads to…

Tension …and so on.

Hang in there with me – before we brace ourselves against the negativity of this theory, lets think about tension or stress for a moment and explore the possibilities.

Tension and stress at low levels are a beautiful adaptive process that creates learning and growth. When we work a muscle to make it stronger we must stress it a small amount, drawing the body’s attention to it to build something stronger; then, as the strength is increased, the tension or stress fades away leaving in its wake a new and improved version of what once was.

Tension and stress at increasing intensities can also be beautiful when we give them the support and time to heal IMG_1224and recover and build for the better. Tension and stress could be considered the fuel for building; we just need to remember fuel is often combustible, and if not handled with respect can ignite, leaving us burned instead of fed.

The only inevitability in life is change – with every moment of every day we are changing and nothing is ever truly static. Our only power here is to direct those changes into the creation of a better life – to be fed by our tension or stress, not hurt by it.

Yet we often find ourselves black and blue and exhausted as we fight hard against change, throwing ourselves against a wall of inevitability.

So coming back to the cycle I mentioned earlier.

Tension or Stress – leads to…

Injury – leads to…

Pain – leads to…

Bad Behavior – leads to…

Tension …and so on.

It sounds terrible, but let’s put the words on a range of intensity and see what happens:

Awareness / Tension / Stress – leads to…

Change / Remodeling / Injury – leads to…

Feeling / Emotion / Pain – leads to…

Motion /Action / Bad Behavior – leads to…

Awareness / Tension / Stress… and so on.

You can change the words to suit your experience, because each situation has its own unique attributes and we each experience life uniquely. Regardless of the exact words, the awareness of this cycle is a powerful tool for shaping our lives with perhaps a little less bruising.

In horse training the range and cycle is a very measurable, observable thing. We usually start with some sort of AWARENESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – which causes CHANGE in our thoughts which leads to FEELING something as we head into MOTION – which leads to AWARENESS in the horse, causing it to CHANGE, which causes it to feel and that FEELING motivates MOTION which leads to AWARENESS – and so on…. I wrote about this years ago in the blog post ‘Emotion in Motion’.

The key here is the range of intensity, how much intensity can any one individual handle positively?

If the range of intensity ends up too high it looks like this:

We might start with some sort of STRESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – which causes INJURY in our thoughts (this idiot horse is going to kill me if I let this continue!) which leads to PAIN as we brace every muscle against impending doom, Heading into BAD BEHAVIOR where we abuse the horse in the hopes of bringing AWARENESS… only awareness is on the other side of the range, the easy side… and it takes one wise and gentle soul of a horse to transmute our stress and pain into something positive. More likely our BAD BEHAVIOR will just cause more STRESS, leading the horse to INJURE itself or others, and when it feels the PAIN of that injury it cascades into more varieties of BAD BEHAVIOR …..

Intensity is where we have power, actions speak louder than words. IMG_1216Every time we take an action we must ask, does this lead to a manageable amount of tension? Do we have the wisdom to develop awareness from a terrible situation, or must we first lower the stress so we can coax understanding from this fight to the death.

Each situation and partnership has its own unique answer to that question. With Myrnah I am choosing to train without any fence, or halter, or bribe to hold her close to me. So for us, if tension becomes too high, she will simply walk away. Myrnah has a release valve on the intensity she feels is functional for her.

If I am training with a halter, I have a means of trapping the horse to stay with me even if the tension gets uncomfortable. The connection of a rope gives me the power to say, you are stronger and more adaptable than you think, trust me, stay here and watch the feeling and the change as it unfolds for us. That is why training with tools is faster than training at liberty.

Training with tools though, if we are not careful, often can cause a great deal of what we consider bad behavior in horses. When we cause too much stress and the horse cannot get away, it will fight back: Biting, kicking, bolting, pushing into pressure, refusing to yield… all these things are last resort efforts to avoid pain (emotional or physical) Yet these actions one might call bad behavior are usually not controllable by the one doing them; they are just gut reactions striking out in self defense! Sadly, too often the more we fight, the more we feel we have to fight, and the cycle only intensifies into an unmanageable range of suffering.

So what do we do to change the intensity of the cycle? We lower stress, and we take actions that coax us into less and less tension. IMG_1239With horses I find the simplest answer is walking. We even hear it referred to often in our common speech. “Walk me through that so I understand” and “Walk it off! Walk off the pain!” and “Walk with me?”. Meaning – spend time with me so we get to know each other better.

It is said horses in the wild walk fifteen to twenty miles a day sometimes to find food and water. I believe that walking together is often what facilitates the bonding of a herd into their functional family unit.

I often find bonding and feeling like we are not alone is the key for easing tension and stress. Whether it is a walk together, or a massage, or an easy conversation, we all crave the bonding and the peace it brings us.

Perhaps that is why it is so much more than horse training for me; it’s all about my personal journey into being healthy. The condition of being bipolar has no cure, and often feels very dysfunctional and isolating. STRESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – causing INJURY in my thoughts where everything about me is wrong and worthless, which leads to PAIN as I brace every muscle and become a searing bundle of nerve endings with no escape from this body, which leads to the BAD BEHAVIOR of addiction, self medication, self abuse… all out of my control at that point, just gut responses to seek some form of relief…

In seeking, sometimes with the help of our friends, or our horses we find ways to change our cycles. Finding our way out of insanity, finding ways to lower stress, and learning tools to bring our range of living into a functional beautiful pattern again.

When I wrote the blog last week, I was touched by how many people reached out to me and seemed to understand. Intensity of emotion and the crippling affects of unmitigated pain is not an experience reserved for people with depressive disorders; this is a very human experience, and perhaps to some degree, an animal one as well. We all live somewhere in the range of intensity, cycling through life to the best of our abilities.

My personal journey, and experience with pain gives me an intense motivation to find actions that lead to living a life with some degree of peace and grace. If I can pass my hard learned lessons on to help others, I will consider this a life well lived!

May your life be filled with just the right amount of tension and growth for you!

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Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

Mustangs directly off the range, Stretching the boundaries of training horses without tools

Understanding passive leadership, Learning, Listening, and Leaning into life together

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The Goal:

To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language.

 

Wait for it…

The warm breeze of an Indian summer lilts softly through this September day. Almost a year now since my last post on this blog and I would like to think I am a year wiser, a year clearer, and a year better than I was, well worth the wait.

After our intense focus on the Mustang Project, Myrnah and I needed some time- time for her to relax and grow up building the kind of strength only time will grant, time also for me to plunge into the rapids of an ever-changing life and evolve my own path.

A year later finds me living in a new town, building a new style of teaching, and learning from my ever-faithful Mustangs. I find myself building and blending the past, the present, and the future into a sort of primordial soup that feeds the person I want to be.IMG_3114

 

And the news everyone wants to hear, I also, most beautifully and unexpectedly, find myself in love with and engaged to the most wonderful Man I never expected to meet. Thank you Christopher Gough for being that facet of my life too brilliant to predict or expect.

Myrnah and I began work together again this fall when she made the trip from the tranquil San Juan Islands to my new place in Redmond, WA. While seven acres of rolling pasture may not be the near hundred she had been used to on the island, it’s still a rare find for city horses, with brilliant views of the sixty-acre soccer fields below us, and endless entertainment of cheering fans, model airplanes, bottle rockets, and hot air balloons landing right next door. My four horses seem very happy indeed with their new life as they watch the world go by from their raven’s roost of a red barn on the hill.

Myrnah’s first year with me was all about passive leadership. What is it, how do I do it. How much dominance is too much (when she walks away and refuses to talk to me, I know I have crossed the line). In all horse training today, dominance is part of the process; even in clicker training the area tends to be confined so the horse can’t get away. My first year with Myrnah asked the question: Is it possible to train a horse with only passive leadership? The answer was a resounding YES! The results were above and beyond anything I expected. The horse Myrnah is today is the best partner I could hope to have.

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I wish every horse I had was started this way, and I wish I had the fortitude and time to continue purely down this course. Looking deep in the reflecting pool of choices, I find the results from the Mustang Project are everything I want with the exception of efficient.

So looking at the spectrum of dominant leadership to passive leadership as a continuum of choices, I choose to take middle road.

Some days I leave all the gear behind and work from a passive perspective. What will my horses give me of their own volition, no tools to control, no confined spaces to force them into relationship with me, no food to bribe them, just me and them and the spaces we exist in together.

Other days we bring out the ropes and the saddles, the bridles and the confined spaces, asking the question: If I speed up the process of training, do I still feel good about the results? If I lean into the territory of dominant leadership, do I still like the relationship we have from moment to moment? I will let you know how it goes…

So far, of all my horses, Myrnah is the steadiest even when we step into a more dominant leadership context. She is the quickest to adopt a brave attitude out on the trail, she is the softest to adapt to new gear like a bit in her mouth, and she stays in the barn long after the others have left for the far pasture, following me around like she would really like to do more. Those signs confirm for me that first year we took slow was well worth the time and the wait.

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So what happens now that passive leadership is part of a spectrum in my work with Myrnah instead of the whole focus?

I still intend to write from the passive leadership perspective. There are many trainers in the world who will help you be more effective, efficient, and dominant. There are far too few who will slow down and ask about the benefits of being more passive, allowing the relationship to evolve and grow naturally.

So I leave you with some teachings from Saavedra, Cleo, Myrnah, and Zohari in their liberty lesson with Sophie and Arianna this week.

To begin, we need to ask for connection as many times and in as many ways as we need to. When the horse reaches out to us, THEN we wait. What are we waiting for? We wait for comfort, for ease, for enjoyment of the moment. Those are the intangibles, the glue that binds us together.IMG_3451

Enjoyment, comfort, ease… you can’t ask for those, you can only wait for them to happen.

We set the relationship up by asking for something the horse craves- connection. Then we must wait for the horse to feel it, love it, bask in it.

Then we ask for a movement- forward, sideways, backwards, up, or down, because movement together and the conversation about movement builds that craved connection. Then we reach out to the horse again. Do they reach back to us? Or do they pull away, showing us that we asked too much too soon, driving them away emotionally? If we want this relationship we have to keep asking for connection again until they reach out to us, and then we WAIT. Wait for them to feel the satisfaction of being together.

That is the process. And this is the blog that will help me evolve and grow the understanding of what passive leadership really is.

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If you would like to join me and the horses to learn more, give me a call or send me an email. This liberty work is some of the most powerful learning I have every done with horses, and my door is open to anyone who would like to come learn with us.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

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 language.

 

Turning the Tides

Swirling foam and spraying salt water, blowing sand and dancing grasses- time at the beach is time like no other. With the constantly turning tides and weather, adaptability becomes an essential way of life. To begin year number two together, I couldn’t think of a better foray for Myrnah, Errai, and me than the beach. This two weeks at the beach was about much more than a physical destination; it was about turning the tides of focus and emotion. The tides have kept us close to home so far, in our safe cozy valley with all the herd close around us. This tide changed in mid-September and swept us into a horse trailer headed on a ten-hour trip south via ferries, highways, and winding small roads to Longbeach, Washington- twenty six miles of an incredible beach to play on, dream on, and hone our partnership on.

The most beautiful cabin, a six-stall barn with paddocks and play areas, and a five-minute walk through the dunes to the beach- this became home for two weeks of heaven. Thank-you, Maggie Schuler, for creating such a place for us to stay.

And a great thanks for Myrnah and Errai for handling this change in tide all so smoothly. They stepped out of the trailer like it was just another day’s events and have amazed me daily with their calm appreciation of the new world around them.

Every day we walk to the beach a couple of times, munching the dune grasses along the path, Errai galloping over hill and dale, stretching his little legs to take in all the new land he can. Myrnah and I keep the halter on to and from the beach. I think she has only hit the end of the rope and felt pressure from it a handful of times, yet I find myself grateful in those moments to have caught her attention quickly and focused her in partnership again.

The alternative, without a halter altogether is to run with her when she gets startled into flight, possibly getting left behind if her flight is longer than my stamina. At home this is what we do, but here, where cars and unknown civilization pose a danger, we only take the halter off when I am riding and an unexpected moment of flight is something we can weather together, working that emotional tide around again to confidence.

 

Day by day it was fun to see our confidence grow. From small splashes in knee-deep, calm water, to braving the swirling waves, to learning to hold a line running along the ocean where the sand was firm, to resisting the ever-intoxicating draw of the safe dunes where grass is sweet and the wind is softer.The beach requires adaptability and the willingness to face the unknown. That Myrnah and Errai have been able to accomplish all this with me without a rope to hold them to it, without a stick to drive them to it, without a saddle to hold me secure, I find a marvel every day.

The bonds of friendship Myrnah and I have built over the last year have held strong. Even when fear grips her for a moment and I find I have to lie down on her neck, working my fingertip pressure up to a firm slap on the side of her cheek, I find myself amazed and grateful that is all it takes to change the emotional tide, bringing her back to rationality as she bends her neck around to touch my foot with her nose. Even when the wind kicks up so strongly that we can’t hear anything and have to lean into it, she comes back to touch me again and again, leaning on that bond of friendship and trust to help her face blowing sand, swirling waves, and buffeting gales. When I finally tell her we have done enough and head back to the quiet of the dunes, I know she is happy. Yet every day she again heads to the ocean with me to play in the waves, and seems to enjoy the challenges I set in front of her.

I had no idea of what to expect on this journey to the beach. I knew Myrnah and I would do as much or as little as we could. If all we could do was go peek at the waves from the safety of the dunes, then that is all we would do. After only a year together with no tools to force growth to a speed, I had no expectations. Yet, like every little girl, I must admit I dreamed of galloping on the beach, horse and rider as one through whipping wind against a backdrop of crashing waves. About a week into our trip, much to my amazement, Myrnah was there too. Galloping was something we could do together.

It was fun, it was thrilling, and the calm of walking home afterward was the most peaceful feeling on earth.

Sometimes the tide is low and the waves quiet over long-stretching sandbars; sometimes the tide is high with steep, soft sand and crashing waves. Sometimes the sun kisses us, sometimes the wind buffets us, and sometimes the fog wraps us in its quiet glow like a dream. No matter the surroundings, Myrnah and I face the waves and soak it all in, drinking life up for all it is worth. When fear of the unknown presents itself, we work together, turning the tides of emotion until we again can face the waves and soak up the beauty.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com