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Tag Archives: Connection

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.

 

Focus

This is a big and beautiful world we live in and there are so many paths to choose from as we meander or race our way through it. The questions are, what are we running from? Or what are we running to? Or are we just living the current moment?

 

What might be important along the way?

 

Horses and humans teamed up throughout history as travel partners, sometimes running towards something and sometimes running away from something; but regardless of the motivation, we discovered it was better to have a partner shoulder to shoulder with us as we went.

 

Over time we discover that some partners are easier to travel with than others and we start to distill the details down to discover what makes for an easier companion? What makes for a better travel experience, and how do we achieve that with different horses, or help others achieve that with their partner.

 

Each horse trainer has their own theories about what the key points are and over the years I have come up with a few ideas of my own as well. When I stumble upon an idea that seems to improve life for me and my equine partners, I share it with a few intrepid students. If I see theses ideas are indeed helpful, then they make it onto the blog and create a post like this.

 

Because I teach Freedom Based Training®, Freedom is always the idea that comes up first. Can we be free and also be partners? How would we do that? What does it look like to build a partnership between two free beings?

The second idea that comes up is Safety. How do we develop a feeling of Safety with partners who are free to make their own decisions? What does that look like?

 

It is only after we have tackled the ideas of Freedom and Safety that I am interested in delving deeper into what makes all this better, and for that we move onto the idea of Focus.

 

All of us, horses and humans alike, get better at what we pay attention to.

 

In this world of training horses what that idea has boiled down to is teaching horses to hold focus without wavering. Sometimes it is focus on the leader we want, so the horse understands what the leader is asking. Sometimes it is the obstacle in front of us that we want the horse to focus on, whether it is the jump or the raging river we are about to cross.

 

Regardless of where we want the focus to hold and what we want the horse and human to get better at together, I want to ask the pertinent question: Why is holding focus difficult to achieve with horses? Why do they fight us on holding a focus where we would like them to hold it?

 

I think that circles back to the first two ideas, Freedom and Safety.

 

All of us need to feel safe. All of us have some baseline of how much safety we are entitled to and how much we are willing to fight for that security in life. Only after a horse feels reasonably safe will it choose to do anything a partner asks.

 

We all, horses and humans alike, only give up our Freedom to the degree we feel we gain safety in return.

When we build a partnership with another being, it is this balance of freedom and safety that is always in flux. In Freedom Based Training® I aim to build as much of both as I possibly can – Freedom and Safety together!

 

Let’s talk more about focus.

 

While the end goal might be to hold the focus on one specific thing we want to get better at, what are the steps that might help us do this in a way that builds more and more trust between horse and human along the way?

 

I think it breaks down into five stages of learning.

  1. Change of Focus
  2. Using Drive to change focus
  3. Clearer focus changes
  4. Using Draw to change focus
  5. Holding focus

 

  1. Change of Focus

In the beginning of a relationship the horse still feels they are responsible for their own safety and they have not built enough trust to hand that job over to the human. Every time the horse notices a different thing (they change focus), they assess their relative safety. The wind in the tree, the dog moving across the yard, the bird that just flew by, the truck backfiring in the distance. All these things matter to a horse and in the beginning they are not going to be willing to give up any of their focus changes because their assessment is important to their future safety and comfort. I believe we honor this stage of the relationship in two ways. The first is to show them we are paying attention also! If we can change focus more often than the horse does, we are clearly keeping tabs on everything around us even better than the horse is. The second way is to acknowledge and appreciate each focus change the horse makes. This conversation of movements is key in building a horse’s trust. I find, the more consistent, rhythmic and diverse a horse’s focus changes are, the less likely they are to be afraid of anything. They have seen for themselves there is nothing to be afraid of. This is the first building block for a good relationship.

  1. Using drive to change focus

As we work through the first step of the process where we appreciate and reinforce a horse’s development of consistent, rhythmic and diverse focus changes, we will notice every horse has strengths and weaknesses in where they choose to focus. This is where we start the second step of the process by using drive. Drive is the use of pressure to move one thing away from another. I can “drive” the horse in a movement away from me, or I can “drive” myself in a movement away from the horse. To “drive” is to create some degree of distance for a moment. Hypothetically, if we have a horse whose strength is staring off over the horizon, then that is the thing they will choose to do more than anything else. If diversity of focus is the thing that brings confidence to a horse, each time this horse gets stuck staring over the horizon, I am going to introduce some drive until we get any other focus than the horizon; and then I am going to appreciate and reinforce the new focus. Changes are still the goal; the horse doesn’t need to hold focus where they are weak yet, only try it out when I ask them to. My job is to ask them to try a change, and then acknowledge and appreciate their effort. I find that focus changes lower stress in the horse, as long as they are not required to hold the focus longer than they would choose. As the horse learns to respond to my “drive” that helps them change their focus and incidentally will make them feel better, then the trust between us starts to grow.

 

 

  1. Clearer focus changes

In the beginning of this process, I am acknowledging and reinforcing every effort at focus change, awareness and mindfulness of the present from my horse. That means each flick of the ear, or wrinkle of the nose, or rotation of the eyeball in the socket is appreciated. By the time we get to the third stage the horse understands that focus changes make them feel better, but learning to be more aware with mindfulness and presence requires the building of new neural passageways in the brain. This building is a developmental process, and just like lifting weights development sometimes feels like work. When the horse is strong enough to make the small changes easily, we are going to start expecting the horse to try harder, rewarding only the bigger focus category changes. There are five categories we need to keep in mind:

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

As a student pointed out to me this week, the acronym would be SHELL and I think that is fitting, since awareness of all the categories does create a sort of shell of safety around the horse as it lends a moment of focus to each aspect of the horse’s life.

 

 

 

  1. Using Draw to change focus

This fourth stage is where focus work starts to get really fun for me as a horse trainer. Does my horse trust me enough to think my ideas are good ideas? Have I proven my decisions make my horse feel better enough times, that my horse is more interested in being a partner than they are in being free and independent? When I change focus, does my horse act in harmony with me? At this stage of the game I am expecting my horse to make choices that are either in harmony with me or complementary to me. If I look at the ENVIRONMENT, my horse does also – both of us in harmony. If I look at my horse and ask them to do something, that makes them my HERD focus, and my horse can be complementary in their focus by looking at me as the LEADER. Now… if they are not acting in a complementary or harmonious way with my focus changes, we know we have more work to do in the first three steps of the focus development stages.

  1. Holding focus

This is where most horse trainers start. When we ask a horse to hold focus, we are asking them to trust our assessment that nothing else is important. We are asking the horse to trust our leadership decisions so completely that they don’t need to question our judgment. That is a great deal of trust indeed. Given the right tools to train and prove leadership, some trainers and horses can indeed jump right to this fifth step and this holding focus together builds a beautiful bond. However, if you take away all the fences, all the halters and ropes and flags and sticks and food rewards, that is when you find you have to break down your building blocks to smaller steps and build it up one solid layer of trust at a time.

 

The work I do in Freedom Based Training® is not to negate any other forms of training; it is simply to ask these questions:

 

How would we build partnerships with horses if we took away all the physical tools?

 

If we can understand how training without tools is possible, can we use that knowledge to make our training and partnership building even better when we do use the right tools?

 

This January I am going to be asking those questions in the process of filming a second movie “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” 

 

In this second movie I will be teaming up with Andrea Wady who has run the business “Discovery Horse Tours” in Costa Rica for the last thirteen years and together we are going to rescue two horses who have been discarded by humans as worthless and train them towards a second chance at a meaningful life.

 

All of this training will be done in constant motion as we take an incredible trek across the country of Costa Rica from the west coast to the east coast.

Andrea and I will be using movement and leadership to build feelings of safety and comfort on our trek. We will be using whatever simple tools we need to keep everyone safe and putting to use all the knowledge we have to develop partnership along the way. I believe this movie will take the ideas that were pioneered in the first Taming Wild movie and put them in a framework that will be even more useful and inspiring to horse enthusiasts everywhere.

 

I am asking all of you to take just a moment and stop by our Kickstarter page and join our community around this movie. I will be working on a lot of different financial avenues to get this movie made. What I need from all of you is a showing of the number of people who are behind us.

 

Will you join us through “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” on this adventure of developing relationship between horses and humans?

 

Together I believe we can continue to inspire everyone to find their own personal adventures of beautiful partnership.

Here is to Freedom and Safety and Focus helping us all have better partnerships!

 

Elsa Sinclair

TamingWild.com

 

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.

 

Positive Stress

Sitting on a train on my way to the Brussels airport where I will fly to Portugal for the next workshop, I have a few moments to write down some thoughts.

This teaching trip has been an amazing opportunity to see the work I do in Freedom Based Training through different eyes yet again. Though I am teaching the same ideas I learned with Myrnah while filming the movie Taming Wild, every place I go and every group I share with asks questions that help me see things from a different angle. The more teaching I do, the better I get at explaining the ideas. I always joke that by the time I am ninety-years old I will be very, very good at this!

For now I will share what I know. I will share the things that have worked for me, and all the while I will watch my students carefully and take note of the things that work for them.

The students in New Jersey are different from the students in Ireland, and different from the students in the UK, and different from Belgium and Portugal. Yet, even with all the variation, there are more commonalities than differences, and those commonalities let me know I am on the right path teaching what I am teaching in Freedom Based Training. We all simply see things from slightly different angles.

If you had told me six years ago this life of international travel and worldwide friends would be my way of life, I would have laughed. Six years ago I was a small-town single parent with a small-town horse habit that I supported with a small-town business of teaching and training horses and people to the best of my ability. I had no plans or thoughts of ever building a life that was bigger in any significant way.

Even when a student asked me those pivotal questions that became the birth of Taming Wild and everything that was to become Freedom Based Training… even then I had no thoughts beyond my small quiet and personal experience. I started writing a blog that I thought a few people might read, and then I made a movie that I thought a few people might enjoy.

Even when the movie picked up momentum and I started to teach a few people the things I had done in the movie… even then I had no real understanding that this all was becoming so much bigger than anything I had ever imagined or anticipated.

Here I am six years later finally embracing the reality that all this is so much bigger than just me and my simple quiet life tucked in the northwest corner of the United States. And so, as life gets bigger and more complicated for me, I am finding myself considering the role that stress plays for all of us. For horses and humans alike, life sometimes gets bigger and more full of events than we had ever anticipated.

Sitting in a pub, late in the evening with Nicole in the UK, we were talking about stress and the positives and negatives, and how that is unique to different individuals. Why is that? What is it that makes stress a good or a bad thing?

I believe stress is a continuum and some stress is the vitality of life. Stress is the thing that causes us to be interested, to seek answers, to play. Life without any stress would become stagnant and uninteresting. Some people would simply call the positive side of the spectrum “interesting” instead of stress; however, something interesting to one person (or horse) is terrifying to another person (or horse). So I think, if we can call the complete spectrum by the same name, we gain understanding of how others feel when it is different from how we feel.

I believe we can see the level of stress a person or a horse is feeling by how they exhibit Fight, Flight or Freeze: Depending on where for them this stress is on the spectrum, they will be more or less functional in relationship with others.

All of us have a moving target of how much stress might be a positive factor in our lives, and how much stress might begin to feel like too much – threatening injury and destruction instead of the growth and development we all hope for.

I believe this is a very simple equation.

  1. Too much stress will drive us apart from others and cause us to feel alone.
  2. The right amount of stress will foster and support bonding and relationships.
  3. Not enough stress will eventually become stressful in it’s own way as growth is what helps us connect to others.

Like almost everything I teach and believe in, the essential concepts are simple, but the depth of understanding is profound.

The right amount of stress for any individual is going to depend on more factors than we will ever be able to control, so, as any good horse trainer does, I look for the controllable factors.

  1. Any experience outside of the comfort zone is going to increase stress.
  2. Leadership and movement decrease stress.
  3. Harmony, Flow, Matching, and Mirroring make the most of the bonding opportunities, building relationships with our horses when stress is at a functional level.

So that brings us to the question, how do we read our horses stress levels and see what is developing so we can take appropriate action with appropriate feel and timing?

These coping mechanisms are familiar to almost everyone: Fight, Flight and Freeze.

What I think are not talked about enough are the positive and beneficial sides of Fight, Flight and Freeze.

Flight can be displayed functionally when a horse simply and easily moves away from pressure or discomfort. It can also be displayed in a dysfunctional way in the form of bolting at high speed with no thought of what obstacles lie in the path of travel.

Fight can be displayed functionally when a horse is playful. It can also be displayed in a dysfunctional way as an attack of hooves and teeth.

Freeze can be displayed functionally when a horse pauses for a long moment to think before taking action. It can also be displayed in a dysfunctional way when a horse becomes catatonic or rigid or unresponsive to all outside stimuli.

Stress-coping mechanisms exist on a range and what is functional for one horse or human is not for another. These ideas will need to be adapted to the uniqueness of any partnership.

When we see the physical manifestations of stress, we need to ask ourselves, on a spectrum is this stress getting better or is this stress getting worse? For this unique relationship that I am in, does this amount of stress foster and support our relationship?

As we assess this from moment to moment it gives us a gauge of what we might do to help develop a better relationship with our horses.

Quite simply, if the stress is positive and enhancing the relationship, we need to offer the horse more harmony, flow, matching, and mirroring behaviors.

If the stress is becoming less functional for the relationship at hand, we need to offer more leadership and more movement.

This need for leadership causes us to ask what is leadership?

I believe leadership is the ability to make decisions that result in more harmony in a relationship.

Most horse training is done in a dominant way to some degree, where there is a building of pressure of some sort until a horse finds harmony with the human. When this is done well it is the fastest way to lower stress and find common ground in the relationship.

Freedom Based Training is about coming at the relationship from the other side: Passive leadership. This concept of Passive leadership is where we make decisions for our own body until we find ways to develop harmony with the horse, without needing anything from the horse. This is the slowest way to develop leadership and lower stress, however, the benefit in going slow is we have a better chance of having good feel and timing and being successful, even if it takes longer.

The higher the stress level a horse has, the better feel and timing a trainer must have to be successful at lowering stress to a place where bonding and connection are possible. If you choose dominant leadership, your skill might need to be very good indeed to be successful. If you choose Passive Leadership, it is the slower path, and all you need is mindful persistence of when to make decisions and when to flow with your horse.

In Freedom Based Training we learn how to read our horse, matching and mirroring them any time they are making efforts to lower their stress and connect with us more deeply, and offering them more good decisions any time they need help moving their stress in a better direction.

I believe relationships are all about feel and timing: when to be a leader and when to be a partner; and, regardless of which we choose, the overarching goal is always to have a positive level of stress and a better relationship as a result.

The better our relationship gets and the more functional the stress habits become, the more we can operate in a give and take easy back and forth of partnership and decisions. Those are the moments I live for with horses.

And then, at the end of the day, when I am sitting on a plane or a train and sorting out all the differing stresses in my own life, I have to consider perhaps this is not just about horse training… Overall in my life is this a functional stress level for me? Or am I starting to feel more alone and isolated in my stress? No matter what the answer is, I just spelled out the solutions.

Too stressed and isolated? Start making more and better decisions…

When I feel just the right amount of Fight (playfulness) Flight (adaptability to pressure) and Freeze (thoughtfulness), then my job is to roll with it, Harmonize and Flow with my life….

But honestly, training horses is so much easier than managing my own life. 😉

Hopefully this is good food for thought as you build your own relationships.

After Portugal I know I can’t wait to be back home, feet in the dirt, feeling fur in my fingers and the breath of horses on my neck again.

Hooves and Heartbeats,
Elsa

TamingWild.com

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.

 

Safety Before Comfort

 

In Freedom Based Training the thing we learn most about is Feel and Timing. This elusive Feel and Timing concept is talked about throughout ALL horse training, and its value applies universally to any training system regardless of how brutally fast you choose to train or how peacefully and slowly you choose to nurture evolution.

 

When we take away all the small spaces and all the tools (including food rewards), what we have left is a relationship with a horse where they are willing to be fully honest with you, as their partner, about how good your Feel and Timing is… and how much personal development you need to invest in.

 

Freedom Based Training slows down the horse training process in a way that allows us to read the horse and see clearly what we did right, and what we did wrong, and make the personal changes to our actions. Learning Where to be, When to be and How to be to make life better for horse and human together!

 

The better your Feel and your Timing, the faster you will be able to train a horse quickly, and the deeper a relationship you will be able to build slowly. I am more interested in the latter.

 

The question I think I get asked most often is:

“Where can I practice Freedom Based Training?”

In the pasture in the middle of the herd?

In a separate paddock?

In the round pen where my horse can’t see anyone else?

While they are eating grass?

When they are on sand or gravel with no grass around?

Or in the woods…

Or in the field…

Or with my dogs playing underfoot…

Or quietly alone?

 

The varieties of locations we can be with our horses will always have an effect on how things go. Depending on the challenge we feel in the location, our feel and timing is going to need to be adequately on point to accommodate any anxiety that is produced by where we are together. The challenge that is posed by any particular location is going to be the sum of what the horse feels and what the human feels because that is the partnership in development.

 

If I am very confident, then I can support a horse that is less confident, and that also goes the other way around. A horse that is very confident can support me if I am feeling unconfident.

Confidence usually leads to good Feel and Timing, and that understanding of where to be, when to be, and how to be together is what relationship depends on.

 

So where do we practice? Where do we work? Where do we train? The answer to those questions is always, where you are most confident. You in this case refers to the collective confidence of both you and your horse combined.

 

Start there, because confidence is safety, and safety always comes first.

 

Later, test out your Feel and your Timing by going together to places that hold more tension or anxiety for you to work through together. Choosing where to work or train is the first question of Feel and Timing. Knowing WHERE to be.

 

This week Myrnah and I discovered a location we hadn’t considered before, and I have to admit that it stretched my comfort and confidence in an uncomfortable way, but I am going to share the story with you.

 

When I read a horse, I can see lack of confidence in clear ways (if I am paying attention). This lack of confidence, a feeling of being unsafe, or emotional unstable, is always going to show up as either fight, flight or freeze.

 

Fight can be as subtle as the ears pinning for a moment or the tail angrily swishing… or it can be outright dangerous as in a strike, bite, kick, or attack.

 

Flight can be as subtle as a horse that continues to turn or shift abruptly so they have the last word on position relative to their partner… or it can be as obvious as an outright bolt.

 

Freeze can be as subtle as a fixation on any particular point of attention… or it can be as obvious as a horse unable to breathe or move until they faint or fall over.

 

This week I discovered that Myrnah and I work well in amongst the other horses, and we work well as soon as we are far away from them. However, there is a “WHERE” that we have always chosen to push through without addressing – that in-between place where you have begun to walk away from the herd but you haven’t left completely yet.

I noticed this is where “fight” comes up for Myrnah, which tells me, she doesn’t feel entirely safe walking away from the herd with me. It’s not terrible, I can go out there without any tools, without any food rewards, and ask her to come with me and she will, but the pinned ears as we walk through that in-between no-man’s land leaving the herd is unpleasant for her until we get far enough away to feel confident again.

 

That place of leaving the herd is our challenging location – the WHERE that will help us grow together.

 

I hate to admit that something as simple as this is tripping me up as a trainer. Clearly this is where my Feel and Timing need to be more on point so that Myrnah learns to feel safe here, to trust me in this situation, and eventually to enjoy walking away from the herd as my partner.

 

Safety comes first, comfort second, because a horse can only be as comfortable as they feel safe.

 

How do we make a horse feel safe? By acting like a leader. Passive leader, assertive leader, dominant leader, take your pick and choose your time frame. The horse doesn’t mind which you choose, but they do need to feel they have a leader they can trust in order to build a sense of safety.

 

With Myrnah, my biggest fascination is the passive and assertive conversations. Those are the leadership roles I want to be best at. A passive leader develops trust so slowly you can barely see it happening, but the end result is something so deep there is nothing quite like the connection that comes from it.

 

The assertive leader can only come into play when both partners are reasonably stable emotionally. If there is too much fight, flight or freeze, the choices must become more passive or more dominant to help a horse feel safe.

 

Being assertive is asking for things in a way where when you accept the “yes” answer from the horse that means you are the leader and the “no” answer from the horse means you are now the follower. If a horse is unstable emotionally, they do not want a follower, they want a leader to make them feel safer. So every time you ask them for something assertively and they say “no”… you have just made them feel less safe. How does a horse say no? By showing you some degree of, Fight, Flight or Freeze.

 

So here Myrnah and I were, walking away from the herd together and I finally confronted the fact that I was not addressing her ears-back demeanor. She was showing me a small degree of fight, and I was not willing to become more passive or more dominant. I just kept pushing through it assertively every time I asked her to leave the herd, and every time we walked away from the herd, she told me she felt unsafe doing it.

 

I needed to hone my Feel and Timing in this situation!

Where to be, When to be and How to be.

 

So I worked on being a passive leader and making decisions around her that caused her to feel better. I waited for the right moment when her confidence was highest, and I had appropriately rewarded that good feeling in her. Only then did I ask her to take a step away from the herd, and if it was a confident step, I made sure to reward it with partnership in the best ways I knew how.

 

I would love to tell you my feel and timing was so perfect that I only asked at the right times and we accomplished this task of walking away from the herd in complete and full confidence, but that is not true. I am learning, and sometimes I asked at the wrong time, and Myrnah told me about it with ears back showing me how she felt. So, I would back her up a step closer to the herd and ask her how she felt now. If she still felt unsafe, we would back another step closer to the herd, continuing on one step at a time until she felt better. Then I would work on strengthening my passive leadership until I felt it was strong enough for me to ask for a step away from the herd.

 

I spent three hours working on this project this afternoon, and I am thrilled to say that slowly, gently and surely we made it from the far pasture through the blackberry bushes all the way up to the water troughs away from the herd, and then walked back to the herd again together, and all our steps forward were confident and positive. If they were not, we backed up closer to the herd until it felt better and then tried forward again at a better time.

 

I believe, by taking the time to hone my Feel and my Timing like this, I become a better horse trainer. At some other time, if speed is essential and I need to step into a dominant conversation with a horse, I will be able to do it better because I took the time to learn where to be, when to be and how to be with horses.

 

I encourage you to take the time to learn when you can. Use your understanding of location to challenge the skills you have built in places of confidence, and let those challenges perpetually strengthen the bond you have with your horse.

 

Feel and Timing is what relationship is all about.

 

Using your feel and timing correctly builds a sense of safety.

 

Safety is the foundation that comfort and enjoyment grow from.

 

Enjoy all the moments you spend developing with your horse, and regardless of whether you choose to train faster or slower, hone your feel and timing of where to be, when to be, and how to be, so that everyone feels safe. That is what I wish for everyone.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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.

 

Stretching the Comfort Zone

 

Pontipool, Canada; Marlow, England; Odemira, Portugal and Ittre, Belgium have been the Freedom Based Training travel itinerary in May.

 

Let me be honest though… It’s personal too. It isn’t just Freedom Based Training making its way around the world; it’s me, Elsa Sinclair, navigating trains, planes, and maps and meeting hundreds of new people in a moment-to-moment existence that seems almost too good to be true. Travel is indeed my second home and it feels so VERY good to be home.

 

While I do certainly miss Myrnah, Cleo, and Zohari, and the rest of my family. What I know as I travel is that when I get back home to my first home where my family lives, I will be a better version of myself.

This is all about stretching my comfort zone and doing things I have not thought about doing before. This is about teaching horses and people I have never met and being open to their being uniquely different from anyone I have known before. This is about paying attention and valuing the differences I see from moment to moment and learning the next pieces of the puzzle that fall into place as I step into a student’s perspective for a few minutes and I share with them my understanding and let it become a part of theirs.

 

When I began this journey in the beginning of May in Toronto, Canada it was cold and I was warned to be ready for rain. My trip out to Pontipool was beautiful and Lindsey and her family were lovely hosts as we geared up for a day of demos and a clinic day following.

 

Let me first tell you though, cold is my Achilles’ heel, and I wasn’t sure if my comfort zone would stretch or if I would break into a million unfixable pieces during those two bone-chilling days. The only thing to do was to live what I teach and live from moment to moment with the best feel and timing I could find.

 

That is what this life is all about when you do it right… Feel and Timing.

 

The weather might still be cold, the rain, and snow may show up unexpectedly, and you find wrestling three pieces of luggage through the airport and on and off several trains is much harder than you ever imagined it would be. Especially when you clumsily drop one large suitcase at the top of an almost empty escalator and watch it bump end-over-end down as you yell to the people at the bottom, “WATCH OUT!”, and breathe a sigh of relief as a nimble man jumps out of the way just in time.

 

That’s the trick isn’t it – just in time; and how to FEEL what just in time is for the next move in the next moment, regardless of how embarrassing or challenging your previous moment was. You take them as they come and reach for the next best choice in the moment ahead of you. Because here is the thing to remember, the next moment always has the potential to be golden. You do not have a crystal ball or any real way to predict the future, but when you pay attention and learn how to be in the right place at the right time, life starts gifting you with better events than you had any way of knowing before they happened.

Standing up on the mounting block that day in Canada, I was in awe of all the people who gathered in their coats and hats and mittens to listen to me and watch the horses and students as they walked through the process of understanding Freedom Based Training. Thank-you to the kind and generous souls who handed me their extra coats and mittens and hand warmers; your timing was perfect and your help was invaluable to stretching my comfort zone and confirming for me that being cold for a little while isn’t the end of the world. Some incredible moments came out of the experience and I am so glad I was there.

 

From Toronto, Canada, I got on a plane and slept my journey all the way to London, England. Hedgerows and cottages, cobblestone streets and horse yards, and everything lined up with a sweet English feel. I am in love and also feel so very brash and American as every time I open my mouth to speak I worry about being coarse and different among my refined English companions. Nicole and Sienna took amazing care of me that week and seven-year-old Sienna took every opportunity to enjoy and appreciate my brash American way of speaking, explaining to me what the British version was of what I was trying to say as we played games of I spy from the car on our way to and from the horse yard, school, and the clinic I was there to teach.

By the time I stepped in front of some sixty people to teach for the weekend, I felt loved and confident in who I was and what I was there to share, brash American accent and all. Thank-you, Sienna for your feel and timing in helping me grow my comfort zone.

 

What I teach is this idea of starting wherever we are and taking stock of what is felt and where the comfort zone is in that moment, on that day, in that location. From there, and only from there, can we start to stretch our comfort zone a little and become, one moment at a time, better versions of ourselves. I find the best way to do that is in connection with others. Our connection to others is what helps us stretch beyond what we know to discover comfort in things we didn’t know we could enjoy.

 

One of the standout, stretch-the-comfort-zone moments of the Marlow clinic was with a Thoroughbred named Lawrence and his person, Lucy. Lawrence was upset, really upset! His friends were out of sight and he was in a round pen next to other horses and people he did not know. He felt so very alone, and all he could think to do was run, and call, and pace in desperation to feel better. How can we help someone who is so sure they are all alone? My heart tore apart a little every time I saw Lawrence spin around, trapped in his own angst. So I did the only thing I could think of to help him as quickly as possible – I asked for help. With Lucy safely on the outside of the round pen mirroring him as best she could, I asked all fifty auditors to help us by walking with as much rhythm and confidence they could to be like Lawrence – move when he moves, stop when he stops, change direction when he changes direction. Without buying into his distress, be there for him, and let him know he is not alone. Every move he made was heard, and understood, and responded to by the entire herd of people.

Now while I have done this before with three or four people, I have never done it with fifty, and the results were astonishing. I have so much gratitude to Lawrence for gifting us that moment. In appreciating him exactly as he was, Lawrence quickly calmed down, and the unbearable emotions he was feeling settled faster than I would have ever guessed possible. While his horse friends were out of sight, he suddenly realized he had a whole herd around him who cared and would keep him safe. Once he understood that, then he was ready to delve into the work with Lucy and develop their pair bond in a location that previously had been just way too far out of his comfort zone.

 

Comfort zones grow; that’s how they are designed. With a little help from our friends our comfort zones get bigger, and then we find we have more in life to enjoy.

 

From London I hopped a quick plane ride to Lisbon where Francine picked me up and drove me out to Odemira. I had known Francine from before I started filming the movie; we have exchanged emails about the blog for years and finally here we were together in person! The rolling grass hills, the cork trees, the sun, and the blue skies, and then the horses meandering among the buildings of the farm, free to come and go as they pleased. Freedom exemplified!

So beautiful, and then I discovered that internet access was very limited out on the land here. Oh no! How does Elsa exist without constant contact with the outside world? There will be emails that go unanswered and so much guilt as I worry I am letting people down! There is that comfort zone stretching again! So I walked the land, and breathed in the sweet scent of mint under my feet as I picked oranges off the trees, and reveled in the sweet, sticky, deliciousness of simply being with myself.

 

The workshop in Odemira was my favorite setup for learning. Instead of working a pair at a time with people and their own horses, we instead had herds to work with. Creating pair bonds from moment-to-moment within the herd in natural ways, I could present the ideas we were going to consider for the day, and then, a few at a time, we could step into the herd to practice. The goal was timing and feel, starting where the horse was and, through partnership, developing connection that ever so gently started to stretch the horse’s comfort zone and help them become better versions of themselves. At a moment of peak enjoyment we would step out of the arena and leave the horse to think about it for a moment before another student stepped in to make their connection with the horse and work the process all over again.

I find horses love this work and do not ever get tired of it. Body language is their first language and connection is something they thrive on. However, people get fatigued doing this work that is new to them, so the format of working in and out of a herd gives people a chance to alternate between working and watching others work as they process what they have learned.

From Odemira I caught the train back to Lisbon and followed instructions to get on the train, the one headed to the left, and get off after the big bridge in Lisbon… What? That’s it? What if I do it wrong? I don’t speak Portuguese… Take a deep breath – that’s my comfort zone stretching again. There is a beautiful little stray dog making the rounds at the train station greeting everyone like it’s his job. If he can figure out where to be, when to be, how to be… then so can I. I heard an English couple confirm with someone which direction the train to Lisbon came from and where to get on. I think to myself, I can do this and it is all going to work out. After the big bridge, I got off the train and Sandi met me at the station taking me to a beautiful apartment in Lisbon with fast working internet so I could Skype to Idaho in the middle of the night for a Q&A with a gathering of people at a screening of Taming Wild. Who knew I could be on two sides of the world at the same time?

 

From Portugal I flew to Belgium to meet with Florentine and get ready for the last clinic of the European tour. We dropped my bags at the house, had a quick hello with the horses, and then were off to a conference and a screening of Taming Wild. It was then that I remembered, we are in Belgium and everything is in French. While I love French, I have to admit, I understand none of it. Florentine and Fabrice were there for me every step of the way as I listened and nodded and paid deep attention to everyone who spoke to me, understanding nothing of what they were saying until my fabulous translators stepped to help me out. So here again, with a little help from my friends, my comfort zone was growing and life was getting more enjoyable every day.

There is a different rhythm to teaching one sentence at a time and listening to its translation before you speak the next one. There is time to think and weigh your next comment before you speak it. The feel and the timing slow down and let you see the nuances of choice in every moment.

 

The work I teach with horses is much the same and it differs from most training where the horse is taught to conform to our wants, and needs, with each moment happening almost faster than we can prepare for it. Freedom Based Training, instead, slows everything down and endeavors to understand the world from the horse’s perspective first. Then, a movement at a time, we connect with the horse and learn slowly, a sentence at a time, the feel and the timing of developing the relationship together.

 

While Freedom Based Training is the majority of my life and what I do with horses, for most people I share it with it will be simply a part of what they do with their horses. What I am finding as I share this work is that taking even a little time to slow down and understand the relationship deeply builds a stability that lets you enjoy life so much more, even when it speeds up again.

The more connected we feel to each other, the easier it becomes to stretch and grow. This is what I teach.

 

Canada and Europe have been amazing, and I can’t wait for Colorado, and California in the next few weeks.

 

I have decided to postpone the filming of the big movie until August of 2018, leaving me room to travel and teach and finish my book between now and then. There are plans in the works for a short movie to be filmed this February, I promise to keep everyone posted as things develop.

 

A huge thank-you to all of you who hosted me and made me feel welcome everywhere I traveled. My comfort zone is a little bigger because of you. I do hope I have passed that gift forward and helped people and horses grow and develop together everywhere I went.

 

We are all in this together, becoming better versions of ourselves a day at a time with a little help from our friends. I know the horses won’t be reading this blog, but for those of you who shared your horses with me on this trip, go out and thank them for me. I am better because of all of you.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Travel

(This Blog Post was also a newsletter in May of 2017, re posted as a blog in June after an amazing tour of teaching Clinics and Workshops.)

I said something recently and it has been echoing around my mind ever since as a thing perhaps more profound than it first sounds.

 

“Travel is my second home”

 

This is the basis for my existence on a much deeper level than it sounds on first read.

 

We are all traveling through time, every moment of every day, how at home we feel in that journey has a great deal to do with our quality of life.

 

What I teach in my courses and I perpetually hone in my own life are the skills of feel and timing. Where to be. When to be. How to be.

 

This river of time that we are all traveling together is going to flow onward regardless of what we do, no one I know has mastered how to stop time, or go back and change the past. All we can do is find our FLOW, our harmony and, our places where we can effect change in future events.

Where to be. When to be. How to be.

 

I believe that all of us, horses and humans alike, are perpetually migrating though three states as we consider anything in life. Tolerance, Acceptance and Enjoyment. To have a truly great life we want to travel through the first two as efficiently as possible and dwell in the third for as much time as much as we know how.

 

Tolerance may look more like lack of tolerance sometimes, but that just means we are at the beginning of the migration. The key to traveling through tolerance is “Where to be” The question to ask is: Where in physical space can I locate myself in relation to this thing I am considering so it is tolerable – this is feel!

 

Acceptance is all about the ability to stay with something we are considering without having to change our relationship to it. The key to traveling through acceptance is “When to be” Even through acceptance is about the ability to stay with something, the wisdom of acceptance is knowing WHEN to change something. The skill of knowing when to do something more challenging and knowing when to do something easier is what puts you on the path to enjoyment. The question to ask is: Is it feeling better or is it feeling worse? Aim to retreat to something easier on the best feelings possible -this is timing!

Enjoyment is all about “How to be” with anything we are considering. Having passed through tolerance with an understanding of feel, and passed through acceptance with an understanding of timing, now we put feel and timing together to understand the degree of energy for the current moment. The question to ask is: What degree of energy would make this moment the most enjoyable?

 

To the degree we know how to use our feel and our timing is the degree we can feel at home traveling this journey of life.

 

Personally, I may be at my happiest when stepping onto an airplane, or traveling through the countryside with a horse, but the travel goes so much deeper than that. The travel that is important to me is the migration through my own feelings and the grace with which I make myself at home in the process.

If you want to know more about any of this, come join us at one of the tour stops coming up, or consider being part of a Freedom Based Training online course. The course runs four times a year, Summer, Fall, Spring, and Winter on an ongoing basis.

 

I look forward to seeing many of you on tour in the next couple of months. This world of collaboration and community with horses just keeps getting better and better, thank you for traveling this journey with me!

 

Hooves & Heartbeats,

Elsa

May 6th – Demo at the Natural Horsemanship trade show Pontypool, Ontario, Canada

May 7th  Clinic – Partridge Horse Hill, Pontypool, Ontario, Canada

May 13 & 14 Clinic – Buckinghamshire, UK

May 18th – 21st Workshop – São Luís, Odemira, Portugal

May 25th – 28th Clinic – Ittre, Belgium

June 2nd Taming Wild Screening – Delta, CO, USA

June 3rd & 4th Workshop – Eckert, CO, USA

June 8th Workshop – Agoura Hills, CA, USA

June 10th Taming Wild Screening – Santa Rosa, CA, USA

July 1st & 2nd Workshop – Bend, OR, USA

August 5th & 6th Workshop – Victor, ID, USA

Aug. 26th & 27 Clinic – Mullingar, Ireland

Sept. 2nd-5th Clinic – Buckinghamshire, UK

Sept. 6th-10th Clinic – Ittre, Belgium

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,

Elsa

 

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

The Project:

Mustangs 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’s all in the Timing

 

I just returned from a teaching trip to San Diego and then Costa Rica, and yes, the joke could be that my timing was perfect to escape the abnormally frigid temperatures that hit the Pacific Northwest during those two weeks. Thank you a million times over to my dearest friends who stayed home and took care of all my animals through the cold. I really didn’t time it this way on purpose; this particular timing was just lucky.

 

What is interesting though is how much of my trip was about honing and developing timing as a conversational tool with horses.

 

It is said in horse training that the hardest things to teach are feel and timing. So what have I done? It seems I have made that my mission in life, to teach the un-teachable and to train what is most difficult to train. There are a million brilliant horse trainers who might help you with everything else, and everything you learn with horses will lead you to some understanding of feel and timing because the interesting fact is, all those training methods are only as good as your personal feel and timing as you apply them.

 

Feel and timing are often considered sort of magical qualities that one has or does not have. That may be to some extent true, however, I also believe if you don’t have them yet, they are very learnable skills.

 

What Freedom Based Training does is slow everything down to a natural horse’s voluntary speed of conversation.

 

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Conversation with a horse is made up of movements, and when we slow those movements down we can really start to see, hone and develop our timing and feel.

 

Feel is knowing where and how to be around a horse to direct the conversation to what you had in mind.

 

Timing is knowing when to move and when to be still. Timing is knowing when to harmonize with the horse and when to let your movements be in a counterpoint or in disharmony with them.

 

This is what I teach.

 

This is what I am perpetually learning more about!

 

The thing that I really was able to focus on deeply on this trip was in looking at the three different versions of conversation we tend to have with a horse.

 

In San Diego (Bonsall), at Horse Spirit Ranch I was given the most wonderful diverse set of students and horses to work with. Everyone seemed fascinated with Freedom Based Training from beautifully unique points of view. Every time I get to walk in someone else’s footsteps for a moment and see things from their point of view, I see this work in new light.

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When we talk with a horse on the passive scale, it is slow, it is quiet and I believe this is the majority of what normal conversations are between horses who live together in a natural calm environment. On the passive scale of communication, connection is not readily apparent, it is instead build deeply, gently and so gradually you almost can’t see it happening.          `

 

When we talk with a horse on the assertive scale, it is about asking for things – they ask us, we ask them, and it is a back and forth discussion of movements. Assertive is the middle ground between Passive and Dominant and leads to a more quickly apparent connection between conversationalists.

 

When we talk with a horse on the dominant scale, it is about asking for things and setting a consequence if we don’t get what we asked for. This is the scale most people are familiar with in horse training. It is also the most obvious connection-building and potentially the quickest.

 

Now just to be clear here, the dominant scale does include R+ training. If I have all the cookies, the horse knows that and wants them. Then when I ask for some movement, the consequence for the horse not performing the movement is they don’t get the reward. It may be a kind and positive way of training, but it is still dominant, and based on consequences associated with resource guarding.

 

So if you are in conversation with a horse and there are consequences set when movements are not made as asked, congratulations, you are on the fastest track to feeling connected with your horse. You are also on the most challenging path in terms of feel and timing. Do you have it?

 

Having feel and timing when you are talking with a horse on the dominant scale is important, because if you are even the littlest bit off on your feel or timing, your horse will set consequences for you. They will push on you, they will startle you, they will intimidate you. When you see the bottom of both hind feet in the air in front of our face, yes, they might be playing, but they are playing a Dominance game in which that threat of a kick in your direction is telling you your feel and timing of movements are off, and the ball is in your court. Do you then set a counter-consequence for them? Or do you switch to a different scale of communication?

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It all depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to feel as connected to your horse as possible, as soon as possible, then playing the game of consequences with them with good feel and timing is the way to go.

 

If your goal is more like mine, to develop better feel and timing while taking the slow and deeply profound road to connection, take a step down on the intensity scale and develop your passive conversation. You will never regret the things you learn in the slower passive conversation, even if you choose to step back up to the dominant scale at some later date.

 

What I teach in Freedom Based Training is about Passive and Assertive leadership, simply because Dominant leadership usually requires tools. As human beings we lack the strength and power to dominate well without a tool to help us.

 

I have found that a horse developed through Passive leadership is usually fairly kind and gentle as you struggle through your learning process of feel and timing. Even if you get it wrong, your horse tends to tell you gently.

 

When you work with a horse accustomed to conversation on the dominant scale, you may find they set harsh consequences for you when you get your feel or timing wrong.

 

I don’t know about you, but I know I want a horse that is going to fill in for me a little when I am having an off day. I want a horse who is going to be kind and gentle with me as they help me develop better feel and timing.

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Here is where this blog gets interesting, because in the second part of my trip I got to step into the student role for a little while, unlike my normal way of working with horses.

 

I was invited to the Leaves and Lizards Retreat in the Arenal region of Costa Rica. If you ever get a chance to go, do! The jungle experience is phenomenal and the retreat is breathtakingly beautiful.

 

While I was there I put on a very well-received screening of Taming Wild for mostly Costa Rican locals. (Thank-you to all of you who helped me get the Spanish subtitles done in time.) And I was able to help with an up-and-coming documentary about the connections between horses and humans. Check out the trailer for the film “Sans Attache”; it looks like it is going to be beautiful! Thank you Audrey Pages for inviting me to come up and interview with you for the film. I felt honored to be included in the project.

 

On a side note, I was invited to show some of what I do with Freedom Based Training while exchanging ideas with Debbie Legg and Sally Nilsson about the similarities and differences in the EFL work they do at Leaves and Lizards.

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Now this is really interesting to me, because I believe as a professional in the horse world it is best if I keep learning and stretching myself, stepping outside of what I know and being open to learning new things. If you have any interest in EFL work with horses, I think Sally and Debbie do a brilliant job of it and I would encourage you to take a trip there and experience one of their workshops for yourself.

 

In the EFL work we did together I was encouraged to work with the horses and look for their feedback, using them as a mirror to see my own emotional blocks and hindrances to communication both in the moment and in the rippling ramifications through my life outside that moment. Really interesting work and truly a whole blog of its own for another time. It is deep and powerful for those interested in personal development.

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What spoke to me most though was again this issue of timing. When do we move, and when do we choose to be still, and how does that affect the direction of our relationship? Why do we make the choices we make, and what are the pros and cons of any choice?

 

In EFL work, if a horse pins their ears at you, that is information that can point to a place to stop and talk about. What was the feeling you had in that moment – was it the emotion in you hidden under the surface that the horse was pinning his ears at? EFL is about delving into that information and learning from it. I found this fascinating and different from what I do.

 

Freedom Based Training on the other hand is about learning the timing. How do we on a very physical level learn where to step, where to stand, how to ask so that we don’t get pinned ears? In Freedom Based Training I would never choose to stop on the note of a horse pinning their ears at me because I am aiming for harmony in the relationship.

 

The places we pause reinforce the last thing that happened between us.

 

In Freedom Based Training I am perpetually looking to hone the timing and find pauses on harmony and positive feedback from my horse.

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In Freedom Based Training I encourage my horses to train me with positive feed back, yes, do more of that – that feel and timing was right. Those are the moments we pause and rest. When negative feedback happens from my horse we just keep moving through it. I hear them express that I got my feel and my timing wrong (or perhaps from an EFL point of view my emotion and energy was off) but we do not dwell on it. We keep moving past it to something better.

 

I want to believe that the powerful learning and work we can do in EFL is somehow combinative with what I do with Freedom Based Training, but for now I have to admit, I don’t know enough to know if it can be combined well. It will absolutely be something I consider more as I move forward through this work.

 

From Leaves and Lizards I moved on to do a week’s workshop with Discovery Horse Tours near Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.- stunningly beautiful and a very different jungle from what we had experienced up in the Arenal area.

 

I have to say Discovery Horse Tours set up the workshop with a brilliant ease and comfort in everything we did. I also have never met horses so open and interested in the passive leadership conversations as this herd was. Wow they were fun to work with!

 

We started with a demo where I walked through the beginning steps of the foundations in Passive Leadership conversation, and then one at a time each horse seemed to be waiting at the gate for their turn to give this new conversation style a go with their person for the week.

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Session after session after session I was blown away by how fully these horses were interested and engaged in it all.

 

I don’t know if this was a group of students with particularly good feel and timing, or if it was that the horses were particularly open to the ideas of downshifting from the more normal dominant spectrum of conversation to a passive one. I have a feeling it was a healthy dose of both which came together for a spectacular week.

 

Day one everyone worked one on one with their horses in the round pen, and then in the afternoon we rode through the fields and jungle to the waterfall to play.

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Day two we all worked together with the horses as a herd in the pasture, building on the first day’s conversations. In the afternoon we left the horses to play with each other and headed out on the river to watch incredible feel and timing between Costa Rican men and a few special crocodiles they had befriended over the years.

 

 

Day three we took off from the horses and hiked through incredible jungle with hanging bridges and the sort of waterfalls you think only exist in fairy tales.

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Day four we did an intensive day’s work with the horses, the morning spent working one pair at a time in the round pen (again the horses seemed so eager each one of them for their turn) and then the afternoon out in the pasture with all the herd together honing the skills learned in the morning.

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Day five we completed our week of Freedom Based Training work and I believe we left everyone wanting more, as I like to do.

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Day six we started with a zip-line tour through the jungle, and then, once everyone had spent their adrenaline reserves, we headed back to the horses for a long and beautiful exploratory ride through the jungle.

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A huge gratitude to Andrea Wady for setting up this workshop so smoothly and for inviting me to come teach! I am sure this is just the beginning of more Costa Rica fun to be had I am sure in years to come. Definitely keep Discovery Horse Tours in mind if you are ever in the area, or simply escaping the northern chill like I was. You will be entranced.

 

As for me, I am happily home again pondering the merits of various types of conversation with horses, getting ready to finish up my winter online course session with some amazing students, while also in conversation with new students I can’t wait to know better as we gear up for the spring Freedom Based Training online course.

 

As all this comes together and I revel in my own continued learning with my horses, there are great plans on the horizon for an amazing teaching tour in May, and a few fun destinations for workshops and screenings before and after. All the dates are up on the website with links to where you can get more information.

 

I look forward to so many great conversations ahead in 2017. Passive, Assertive, and Dominant – there is a time and place for everything and I am fascinated with every variation.

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

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.

 

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.

 

Why Freedom Based Training™?

 

This perhaps starts as far back as my childhood and that dang pony I couldn’t catch, that pony that no one could catch. There I was, ten years old, sitting in the pasture with a can of grain in one hand and a halter in the other.

 

A crowd of horses gathered around me wanting the sweet taste the rattle of grain promised, and the cute fat little brown pony way down at the bottom of the valley as far away from us as she could be, wanting nothing to do with me or the grain or the other horses.

 

Tears of frustration welling up in my eyes, anger surfacing as I chased the other horses away, determination pulling me up by my boot straps as I trudged after the pony yet again.

 

I spent innumerable uncomfortable hours in that pasture, focused on that pony as a disappearing dot across the expanses of grass blowing in the wind. The emotions ran rampant for me as every obvious failure to catch her slammed me in the gut as a personal accusation that I was unwanted and unliked. At the same time, I was drawn to her expression of freedom like the strongest magnet imaginable.

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Every other horse in the field would hear the rattle of grain or the snap of a carrot and would drop every personal intention they had for a sweet taste. Where is the self-respect in that?

 

My pony, Chocolate, had a sense of personal freedom and choice that the other horses seemed to have given up somewhere along the path of their lives. Or maybe they had never had it…

 

When it came to putting a halter on Chocolate and bringing her in for a ride, it wasn’t the lure of a treat that brought us together; it was instead our coming together on a much different plane. Don’t misunderstand, the carrots or grain was still necessary and helpful in the process, but it wasn’t enough all by itself. I had to dig deeper and relate to that pony as an individual with all her own wants and needs just like I had.

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Two unique and complex individuals coming together, neither one of us willing to give up our sense of self to adjust to the other, and both of us determined – there was no giving up!

 

I have come to realize, years later, it was Chocolate’s sense of freedom that I loved best. There was no chance of my giving up, not because I wanted to take any of that freedom away from her. There was no giving up because I wanted to be close enough to her to feel it too. I wanted to become part of her sense of freedom.

 

This was perhaps some of the beginning of Freedom Based Training.

 

Ultimately it came down to the question that started the project the movie Taming Wild was all about.

 

What if a horse had everything it needed: food, water, companionship, freedom, comfort. What if the only things I had to offer the horse were encased in the body I walked around in – no stick picked off a bush to use as a communication tool, no rope or halter to make myself bigger or stronger than I am, no fence to trap the horse up against, and no special food item that they can’t get without me.

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If I only used the body and intellect I was born with, could that be enough to cause the horse to want to be my partner. Maybe even enough to let me ride?

 

As far as I know, I am the only horse trainer alive who has attempted this.

 

Yes, it is possible.

 

Yes, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

 

Yes, it is worth it.

 

Importantly though, since the project and the movie, I have found that Freedom Based Training doesn’t need to exist to the exclusion of other kinds of training.

 

The work I learned to do with Myrnah I did because I had to. The honoring of your horses freedom, wants and desires, in balance with honoring your own freedom, wants and desires become crystal clear when you have no plan B.

 

What I have found is, when people choose to take a couple of hours a week or more to do some freedom based work with their horses, everything else gets better too.

 

You do not need to choose the all or nothing path. Just take some time to be with your horse in freedom, respecting and beginning to understand your horse’s needs and wants and how they correlate with yours.

 

Whether you take Carolyn Resnick’s chair challenge, or join my course in Freedom Based Training, or develop your own journey with your horse, choose to take a little time to consider freedom. It’s worth it, no matter how you do it.

 

Trudging around the pastures following my pony, Chocolate, at ten years old wasn’t something I consciously chose at the time, Looking back, however, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. That was the only way that pony could help me spend time with her in freedom, and I learned so very much about her and about myself in the process.

 

We all long to be free, and we also long to be together, learning to have both is what life is all about.

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Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com