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Tag Archives: Confidence

The Project:

Mustangs directly off the range, 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.


Confidence and Learned Helplessness

Yesterday I found myself sitting on an airplane on the way to a screening in New York City simply brimming with joy. My pondering, wondering mind couldn’t help but wonder why? Are emotions rational? Are emotions explainable?


I know I have a similar joy when I am able to help a horse, or a student, or a horse and student together work through the solution to a knotty problem. My pondering, wondering mind has to ask again, why is that? What even constitutes a problem in a relationship?


I truly believe it all comes down to confidence and learned helplessness. We all have things we do that are in our comfort zone, horses and people alike. These are the things we have confidence in. Somewhere in our history we learned we had a good chance at feeling OK in this situation. On the flip side, when we feel there is no hope of feeling better in a situation, this is learned helplessness. When things are too far out of our comfort zone, then our only hope becomes survival.


This confidence in a situation, the idea that a particular situation is well within our comfort zone, is simply a neural passageway in our brain that has been used often enough in such a way as to cause comfort, maybe even joy.

I believe this feeling is effective passive leadership.


Passive leadership is the ability to take personal action towards your goals in confidence, without falling into the patterns of fight, flight or freeze.


The art of applying passive leadership with a thousand-pound prey animal is more intriguing to me every day, particularly when I realize that what I learn with the horses, has a ripple effect of understanding in every situation I can imagine.


How do you simultaneously encourage horses to find their own comfort and also work with you?


How do you foster collaboration and confidence in partnership?


I named the movie Taming Wild, not because it was about taming a wild mustang. The title leads us to think more deeply about our own nature: that wild part in each of us that is willing to fight to the death for what we think we need, or run away from the things we cannot control, or even freeze and admit defeat when we have no other options. This is not just a horse problem; this is a problem with being alive that we all face together.

Is it possible to maintain our individuality in any relationship and also foster collaboration? Or does someone always have to lose out and give up some part of themselves in order to fit the relationship at hand?


That is what Taming Wild is about. Are any of us willing to tame the wild impulses of fight, flight or freeze, or do we think we need them for survival?


The answer is both. We do need them for survival, and also, we don’t collaborate well with others when we are in survival mode. The taming of those instincts is what has to happen first in order to collaborate well.


When a horse is expressing fight, flight or freeze, they are in survival mode and doing the reactionary thing they think they need to do in order to survive. This survival mode is, I believe, simply a lack of confidence in their own passive leadership.


How do we teach passive leadership in horses? How do we teach this concept of taking personal action toward a goal without fight, flight or freeze?


We lead by example.


Do you know how to work in relationship toward a goal without fighting, running away, or freezing and giving up some of yourself in order to capitulate?

Some situations are easier than others for sure. The challenge I am laying out for the world is this. Be conscious, be aware, and notice when anyone in a partnership is falling into reactionary behavior and lack of confidence.


When your horse fights with you, can you take personal action toward your goal of being in partnership – without fighting back, or running away, or giving up?


When your horse tries to run from you, can you take personal action toward a goal, without reacting to him in a survival sort of way?


And most importantly, when your horse has learned helplessness –freeze as a day to day survival skill – and no longer takes any action towards feeling better, can you still take personal action toward your goal of being in partnership without taking advantage of the helplessness in front of you?


We teach by example and our partners in any endeavor become products of their environment.


We can only truly work together when someone steps up to make the environment one of collaboration and confidence.

Be that person, and watch your horse in turn become that horse.


We are all in this together,

Hooves and Heartbeats,


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, 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.

Attention and Confidence


The last blog I wrote set off a wonderful train of events and brought up so many corresponding questions. There is always going to be something new ahead, the world is rich and full and we will never get it all done. However, there is something powerfully alive in being on the cutting edge of what we understand and watching it grow.


Leadership and Friendship I believe are two sides of the same coin and really we want both in balance and ever increasing detail with our horses. Both Leadership and Friendship have taken on some negative connotations in horse training. Some feel that, in an effort to be a leader, cruelty becomes condoned. Some feel, if you are a friend to your horses, they become spoiled and difficult and can never really trust or be trusted.


Perhaps in an effort toward positivity in this work we might rename these goals or attributes Trust and Companionship.


I want to build ever more Leadership with my horses, and I believe that is the same thing as building ever more Trust with my horses.


I want to build ever more Friendship with my horses and I believe that is the same thing as building deeper and more bonding Companionship with my horses.


So how do we do that?


In my last blog “step for step, breath for breath,” I explored the idea of being willing to ask questions that might have “No” answers. Leadership comes from the ability to work through those “No” answers and turn them into “Yes.”


Moving from discord into harmony is a skill. When we can prove our ability to move the relationship from difficulty to peace, we prove our trustworthiness.


Unfortunately we have to touch that discord in order to prove we can be trusted to help life get better. We have to be willing to let life get a little messy in order to prove we can be trusted to bring the relationship back to comfort.


This takes some wisdom because there are some situations that are beyond our control. If we try to turn a “No” answer from our horse into a “Yes” and we fail, that doesn’t make us seem very trustworthy. That just turns into an unwinnable fight.


We have to have some wisdom about when to be a friend and offer companionship and understanding without changing anything; sometimes emotions are running too hot and too fast to be easily changed.


Sometimes we can step in with some pressure because we know a little change of perspective will make everything feel better and prove we can be trusted to lead the way out of discord into harmony.


Both of these have equal value and I believe are two sides of the same coin.


Like a coin however, I think there are some other dimensions also.


There are five confidences I aim to continuously build in my relationships with horses. (Thank you to the Parelli organization for bringing these to my attention years ago)


  1. Confidence in Self
  2. Confidence in Leader
  3. Confidence in Herd
  4. Confidence in Environment
  5. Confidence in Learning


You can see these building by watching where the horse is looking; what are they thinking about?


We get better at what we pay attention to, and like most of us, horses tend to like paying attention to what they are already good at. Or, they pay attention to the thing they desperately need more skill with. The first builds confidence; the latter tends to be a day late and a dollar short. We can help them with that by encouraging them to pay attention to their weak skills in calm moments, in times of ease, when stress levels are low and emotions are running smoothly.


We know what it looks like when a horse is totally self-absorbed, ears relaxed and attention turned inward. As a skill, this is self-confidence.


We know what it looks like when a horse is interested in their leader. Ears and eyes following every movement the leader makes. This skill is confidence in the leader.


We know what it looks like when the horse is watching the group, scanning from one individual to the next. This is herd confidence.


We know what it looks like when the horse is watching and wanting to focus on and investigate all the objects and environmental variations around him. This is environmental confidence.


We all know what it looks like when a horse is trying different things to get comfortable, The head coming up and down a little, the body adjusting left and right, the figuring out where in time and space one needs to be to get this right. That is confidence in learning.


Sometimes one confidence is so strong it makes up for others that are weak, like a blind person having greater perception in other ways to make up for lack of sight.


I believe though, the more we can build and encourage these skills in balance, the better quality of life a horse has.


We need to build the skill of leadership, because leadership is synonymous with trust. Our horses have to trust us if we are going to help them strengthen their weaknesses and become the best versions of themselves.


Asking our horses to pay attention to us and build confidence in us as a leader requires a sensitivity of timing.


Sometimes we need to just be a friend and companion, allowing them to pay attention to the confidence that feels most important to them in the moment.


Sometimes we need to put pressure on them to pay attention to something they would rather not, so they become stronger where they were once weak.


Here is where it gets interesting. This is a partnership – horses help us as much as we help them.


How do we set it up so we notice where our attention is? We notice where their attention is, and together we strive to become stronger in a balanced way.


How do we learn when to push each other to try a little harder and when to just be good companions letting things be just as they are?


Here is to attention and confidence!


Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students,

Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train

IMG_5810The Goal:

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

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivators

Last week we talked about the basis for motivation, that essential building block of FEELING safe that we all seek, horses and humans alike.

This week I want to talk about Motivators, and the difference between Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

An Extrinsic motivator is just like it sounds, motivation that exists externally to ourselves. We get something in exchange for doing something. This system of motivation can be a good and beautiful thing and leads often to wonderful cooperation between individuals and groups.

Intrinsic Motivators are all about how we feel. We believe we already have everything we need, the only thing that would make life better is Self Actualization. We feel motivated to do something purely because of the way we feel doing it, regardless of what anyone else says or does in response. When individuals or groups are inspired to do things together because of intrinsic motivators, that is when real collaboration happens.

I wish that I could claim to live and work purely with intrinsic motivation, but like any of us, I operate due to a number of different motivators. Being aware of patterns and cause and effect is the thing that fascinates me though, because I know understanding allows me to tailor my life, slowly adapting things so I get more of what I love.

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I know that intrinsic motivation is the best feeling in the world, and, knowing that, I want to know how to get more of it – so what are the factors that get me there?

Primarily, do I believe my basic first four needs are met?

  1. Physical needs.
  2. Security needs.
  3. Connection needs.
  4. Self-Esteem needs.

If not, I will find I instantly have extrinsic motivation to action. Faced with my basic needs, I have two choices: One – figure out what I need to do so that others cooperate with me to help me get what I need. Two – change my perspective so my perception of what I have feels like enough, instead of having to go get more. Either one works, option one is just usually easier that option two.

Once I have the first four needs met, then I am free to reach for self-actualization, and that is where Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s chart comes in handy.


Any skill I have wants to be challenged; that is how I grow, and that growth is craved when it comes in just the right amounts. That feeling of getting better at something is internal to me; no one else can give me that. However, others can help set up the environment so that growth in the right amount is likely. When you have two or more individuals coming together to set the stage for optimal growth at comfortable speed, that is collaboration!

There is the ideal! All basic safety needs believed to be met, followed by seeking a state of flow and that feeling of being in the zone that comes when skill and challenge are matched for optimal growth. Intrinsic motivation – where what we do is its own reward.

And then we have the rest of life….

Real life is filled with variety and contrast and many arrows that hit shy of the bulls-eye as we develop our focus. Those arrows off the bulls-eye are important and valuable; they are how we figure out what is needed to get closer to the target. What I am saying is extrinsic motivators and cooperation are important in our development of intrinsic motivation and that beacon that often flickers just out of reach, collaboration.

In the training project with Myrnah, there was a lot of it that hit square on the bulls-eye for me. My skill in understanding horses, was challenged just enough that time sped by in flashes of intoxicating satisfaction that had nothing to do with the outcome of the project, just moment to moment appreciation of how it felt to be rising to each challenge.

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I also was wise enough to know more often than not that I was going to need external motivation to get up and get the job done every day. On those days I had to link the project to my safety.

  1. Physical safety- my project and blog and understanding of horses documented and growing allowed me to earn client’s trust which meant I got paid and could put food on the table.
  1. Security- I knew the harder I worked to understand this horse and know how she functioned and what she needed, the less likely I was to get physically hurt. Everything I didn’t know was a potential danger, and, if I got caught standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could be hurt badly in a very real physical way. I was in a sense working against the clock to learn enough to stay physically safe, and that was external motivation to show up every day and try harder.
  1. Connection- As much as anyone, and perhaps more than most, I crave connection. I want to feel that I am not in this world alone. The better Myrnah and I got at reaching out to each other the safer I felt about my connection needs being met. Spending time with Myrnah working on the project was obvious external motivation to show up every day.
  1. Self-Esteem- Blogging about the project and putting it out there on a weekly basis was a large part of what kept me motivated through good times and bad. No matter how things were going, I knew I was going to need to write about it and put it out to the world -supreme external motivation to show up and do the work no matter how I felt.
  1. Self-Actualization- There is the target hit head on! All the external motivators could be there or not… the feeling of being in the moment with Myrnah was more than enough to make it worth showing up and that is internal motivation.

Being in the Zone.

Working in a state of flow.

Being defined by what I love.

Living in the now.

The challenge? Walking through those steps of safety myself, and at the same time, setting up the environment to walk Myrnah though her process and belief in her own safety factors. We all use our external motivators to develop the ability to feel that perfection of internal motivation. When we find two or more individuals who can truly collaborate on a task and work from a place of internal motivation…. That is both magical, and entirely possible!

Reach for that feeling because it is worth everything you can pour into it.

Elsa Sinclair


IMG_2176The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range,

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.


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


Focus, Persistence, and Confidence


I saw a beautiful quote this week from John Lyons.

There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle; one is a sense of humor, and the other is patience.”


I got to thinking about emotion, and, while we may strive for humor and patience when we are with the horses, what do we actually need to DO to feel those things?

Emotion is an end result of the thoughts we consider and the actions we take. Trying to control the emotions when they are already happening is a very difficult proposition. So what can we actually DO to find ourselves in that place where what we feel is patience and a sense of humor.

We need a plan and some keys to focus our thoughts and our actions so that what we end up feeling is good.

Key number one: Focus.

IMG_2202 1This is all about the thoughts we think. We observe where we are, we have an idea of where we want to go and we think about the possible steps it takes to get from one to the other.

Our focus is the encompassing of thoughts around where we are, where we want to be, and what might happen between.

Focus is the ability to stay with those thoughts instead of the myriad of other things we might think. Focus is the ability to see many different options of what might happen between point A and point B. Focus is our mental plasticity and flexibility without distraction.

To take us back to an earlier blog, The Three Keys, focus is the movements we make as we work our way from where we are to where we want to be.

Key number two: Persistence.

If focus is about thoughts and movement, persistence is all about action and connection.

When we work with a horse the important word is WITH. Any meaningful action is all about Connection!

The action of connecting is all about persistence!

Don’t give up until you feel that connection, stay with it, keep moving, keep trying things, keep thinking, keep working, keep playing, keep on and on and on with unfailing persistence…. Until you feel connection.

Then be quiet!

Key number three: Confidence.


Confidence is the quiet where you revel in that phenomenal experience of connection.

The only movement associated with confidence is the rhythm of being alive, the in-breath following the out-breath with inexorable reliability – the metronome feeling of foot falls and breathing, of heart beat and pulse.

In being quietly alive, in a feeling of connection, we experience the confidence that is perhaps the most important part of horse training.

I say that confidence is the most important part of horse training because horses respond to confidence more than anything else! I can say with all my heart, regardless of anything else you do or don’t do, BE CONFIDENT!

Confidence is followed like the strongest magnet. Confidence is revered and pursued. Confidence is yours for the creating! Confidence is your birthright, your superpower, the ultimate key to anything and everything.

So, no matter what the world throws at you, find your confidence again and again and again.

These three keys are just stepping stones for finding that important confidence, because as Ray Hunt once said,

“Confidence is knowing you are prepared”IMG_1226

I am saying, the thing you most need to be prepared for is finding your confidence, and here is how you do that.

The steps for finding our confidence are:

The thoughts that become movements taking us from where we are to where we want to be, one step at a time – FOCUS.

The actions we take definitively that cause us to feel connected in body, heart and soul, because we were designed to thrive in connection. Don’t give up until you feel it – PERSISTENCE.

The quiet where we simply exist in the rhythm of being alive, breathing out, breathing in as we appreciate the moment and the journey we took to get here. That quiet appreciation is – CONFIDENCE.

I can give you the keys; now your job is to go live them because as Bill Dorrance said:

“You can’t teach feel, you have to experience it!IMG_2163

Focus, Persistence, Confidence

Movement, Connection, Quiet.

Take these keys, try them out, and I bet you will find the emotions John Lyons is encouraging you to seek:

There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle; one is a sense of humor, and the other is patience.”

Just remember, it all comes down to confidence in the end, and that is yours to create.


Elsa Sinclair

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