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Tag Archives: breakthrough

Today Myrnah and I took our longest walk yet: Twenty minutes out though the wide open woods with John and Cameron keeping us company . Thank you John for the brilliant photographs. Christmas time is shaping up beautifully this year!

Two weeks after Myrnah and I began our project, a crew from the BLM came up to San Juan Island and spent some time putting together a story about us. Just posted this week! I love looking back at the beautiful simplicity of those first weeks.

Video is here:

The article is here:

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language


The Goal:

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




No Boundaries – Just Trust

Myrnah and I walked out the gate and past all the fences yesterday; we have reached that point of trust in each other, and it feels amazing. We walked out of the paddock, through the front yard, and down the drive to the edge of the property: no fences between us and the rest of the world, no boundaries – just trust. Myrnah could have run away, but she didn’t. At the end of our driveway she looked longingly down the road, but acquiesced when I told her it was time to head home again- that was far enough for our fist venture beyond the fences.

Trust has to be earned. All of us intrinsically need to feel safe. When Myrnah and Cleo first came home with me, trust was built between us in small incremental steps. As a human I am a natural predator; horses are natural prey animals and as such we have very different instincts. Prey animals have a tendency to run from fear; predators have a tendency to attack and control when faced with fear. If we are going to work together, we have to build trust in a way that allows us to act like partners instead of predators and prey.

Boundaries such as ropes or fences help us predators feel in control of prey animals; the lack of boundaries makes a horse feel safer, because they can run if they need to.

Living as I do in a small island community where horses would not be welcome wandering free wherever they chose, I have to use fences to control them. It is a very predator-type thing to do, so I have done my best to make the paddock as big as possible and always give them room to run away from me when we are working together.

In the beginning we had six-foot-high fences. Once the trust between us had built to a point that lowered the intensity of their desire to flee, we moved things around and the fences are closer to four feet now. A little while later the horses trusted us enough to stay in enclosures of a single electric line.

If the fear is high enough, horses will jump or run through almost anything. If a human’s fear is high enough, we will enclose and abuse horses in an effort to feel safe around them. Written like that it seems rather obvious neither tactic is in the best interest of a functioning partnership. Yet going against our natural instincts is a constant challenge.

Trust is built with time and understanding. The ability to make requests of each other and have those requests honored is what builds trust.

Simple things illustrate this well. Humans like to pet animals. Horses don’t naturally like being petted (though domestic horses often do because they have been taught). A wild mustang enjoys being groomed by a partner, but being petted by a not entirely trusted predator is different.

For a partnership to develop, the human can request permission to pet the horse and, if allowed, respect when the horse requests the petting action to stop. Now if the horse reaches out with their nose and asks the person to stop and the request is ignored, the horse resorts to instinct and walks away. This is a very quiet example of distrust instead of partnership. In order for trust to build, requests have to be heard and honored between partners.

That is a great deal harder than it sounds. As people we like petting and it is hard for us to remember horses may be asking for something different. The next time a horse moves away from you, ask yourself what might the horse have wanted? What was he asking for that you didn’t hear? Sometimes the horse is asking that you follow when they walk away, because being together like a herd feels safe. Usually though, I find they are first asking us to be quiet. Just exist and be quiet together. As the saying goes, “be a human being, not a human doing”.

As a human, when a horse walks away we want to control it with a rope, or trap it with a fence, or chase it so it knows that is “wrong” or stand back and take it personally that the horse doesn’t want to be with us. If we can think like a horse though and follow, playing with advance and retreat as a game like a horse would, until the trust is built on understanding the horse’s request for a herd in that moment, then we are back on track to building a strong mutual trust, and it’s our turn to make a request. Asking the horse to move, or asking him to let us pet him, the important part is to listen for when he thinks it is his turn to ask us for something.

Mutual respect of requests is the basis for mutual trust.

So when Myrnah and I began to go out walking, we started with a boundary of high fences. If the fledgling trust between us should have plummeted in its first flights, the boundary fence would have kept us together somewhat. I aimed for a balance: fences intact to keep my predator instinct feeling safe, fences far enough away to allow Myrnah her prey animal instinct to flee should she need it.

As time moved on and the trust grew, the boundary fences became smaller and farther way. Yesterday our trust allowed us to let go of the boundary altogether for a short period of time. The freedom of knowing there were no fences to catch Myrnah if she ran was simply exhilarating. Although we are so bonded now, that I never doubted her. I think she and I agree, exploring the world is most fun, with someone you trust.

No boundaries – just trust – is an ever evolving concept. Yesterday was just a milestone along the way. Here is to the many more ahead of us.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One trainer, No tools, Just body language

The Goal:

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

Rest in Movement

It sounds like a contradiction, rest in movement, yet I think it is contradictions like this that make us feel alive. Last week I talked about draw and drive, using those concepts to build a connection between partners. I believe it is the combination of two contrary ideas that is often a powerful force of creation. Draw and drive bond horse and rider to each other in a way that feels magical, yet, when looked at closely, we find it can in fact be understood and built logically one step at a time.

Rest in movement is another one of those apparent contradictions that seem to bring power and grace into life. As of this week Myrnah is not sure she agrees, though I do jest a little here. In reality Myrnah continues to amaze me with how gracefully she moves forward to the next step in our process, time and time again.

In training horses we work with the idea of pressure and release to cause growth and development. When Myrnah and Cleo were first with me, in order for them to feel release, I needed to turn my body away, take my eyes off of them, and maybe even sit down on the ground and be very still- all pressure released in an obvious way. To add pressure all I needed to do was stare directly at them; that seemed to be all it took for them to feel the need to respond. As time went on and they became more confident, I was able to release pressure simply by becoming still and quiet with them, wherever I was already standing. Putting pressure on sometimes required my walking over and causing them to take a step in some direction they wouldn’t have chosen on their own, in order for them to think about me.

Up until this week I have felt I needed to follow Myrnah’s lead letting her dictate how much of any one task she felt ready to do. I wanted her to feel that working with me was easy, with releases of pressure simple to ask for. All she needed to do was reach over and touch me with her nose to ask for a break and it was readily given. Slowly, over time, I was able to ask her to keep moving through a task, past her request for a break, helping her build a stronger work ethic. If I pushed too far I could see her get frustrated; she would start to bite at me and pin her ears, letting me know she needed more release.

This week we had a breakthrough. We went out in the woods for a walk and I had the thought that Myrnah was ready for more. So, instead of letting her just wander from one bite of fern to another, I asked her to keep walking. Every time she tried to stop I asked her to move- anywhere she wanted to go, just continual movement. Interestingly, she didn’t seem to get frustrated, or ask me quit the game by reaching around to touch me; she just kept trying to stop where she wanted, and then patiently walked on when I asked. Occasionally she would take me back to the paddock gate, and I would gently push her away; she would circle round to face it again, and I would gently push her away again. Sometime it would take eight, nine, ten circles before she would take me out into the woods again. We walked for 20 minutes that day, and by the end Myrnah was starting to develop a rhythm and an easy swing to her walk. As long as she kept moving, I was quiet and peaceful, simply walking alongside her, my hand on her withers and my feet in time with hers- no pressure, just the two of us resting in movement.


The next day we took the rest in movement idea out the other side of the paddock into the front yard where there is lots of grass to eat. That indeed proved much more challenging. It is hard to keep moving when there is a buffet underfoot calling Myrnah’s name with every stride. I again was thoroughly impressed that she didn’t get frustrated with me; she simply pitted her perseverance against mine and gently and slowly came around to my way of thinking. When Myrnah finally was brave enough to walk us through the narrow path between the garden and the car, taking us to a new area above the pond, I chose that moment to stop, take the pressure off, and let her graze for awhile. Rest in movement is a new skill for us; rest while grazing is an established release and reward. When a horse offers me a supreme effort of bravery or focus, I do my best to let them know I fully appreciate it.

The interesting side effect to this rest in movement practice is the affection I get afterward, as both Myrnah and Cleo surprise me with the dramatic increase of nuzzling and focused appreciative contact. I don’t know whether they are thanking me for the simple relaxation that movement brings, or the dominant role I take on by moving them that allows them feel safe and part of my herd, or something else all together.

Whatever the reason, rest in movement seems to have fallen into place perfectly as the next obvious step, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.


Elsa Sinclair