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Tag Archives: Control

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.


Decisions and Choices

As my feet hit the sidewalk at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and I arrange my backpack on my shoulder, I breathe deeply the smells of car exhaust, tired people, and residual smoke hanging in the air from all the forest fires in Canada; and then it happens, that thing that always happens to me: the smile on my face is unstoppable, my shoulders settle down, my chin comes up, and if there is a feeling that goes along with having a sparkle in one’s eye, this would be it. I am at the airport, on my way!


I often marvel at this change that comes over me while traveling. It isn’t rational or logical; it is simply reflexive in the best way at a basic physical level. I am brilliantly happy at an airport.


As a trainer, I have to ask myself why. Why am I so happy at an airport? I never made a conscious choice to be happy in this situation. For many years it wasn’t even my choice to go to the airport. Why the joy? I have a strong theory, and this theory is part of what educates all the training I do with horses as well.


Contrast in the environment is a far better teacher than conscious effort ever will be.

We have been designed to seek comfort as a species for as long as we have been in existence. Extrinsically motivated: if the fire feels too hot, move away; if the snow feels too cold, move closer to the fire. That is how we all think it works, but I think there is something more powerful at work and that is the less obvious intrinsic motivation. Contrast in the environment causes a shift in how we feel intrinsically, and this intrinsic feeling is what will truly affect how we feel about the situation in an ongoing way.


We all seek to feel better, but feeling better has more to do with our prior conditioning, than with our present circumstances.


How we expect we are going to feel has everything to do with the timing of environmental contrast that we have experienced.


For me, my habits of expecting happiness began way before airports, it started with travel.


My parents divorced when I was very young, and some of my earliest memories were of driving in a car in Connecticut on the way to some midpoint meeting place. The first parent I was with would be sad and quiet, maybe because they were about to say goodbye to me, and we would travel in a quiet tense silence. After the hand-off I would climb into the car with my other parent, and the laughter and singing and stories would begin. The second parent was always overjoyed to see me and the fun was limitless. I believe it is this contrast and my reinforced expectation of joy that conditions how I feel about airports now.


Later, when I was older, my mother moved to the West Coast of the United States and my father stayed on the East Coast, so several times a year I would fly back and forth between the coasts and between my parents, each time strengthening my expectations of joy and travel.


Now, at the age of almost forty, I am not sure there is anything you could do to me to change my mind about airports. I am sure they are the happiest places on earth, because my expectation has been so thoroughly reinforced. I am sure that joy is waiting for me at my destination, and therefor, travel itself has become an immutable source of joy.

Why do I have such a joy of traveling when I know many people who love being someplace new, but hate the task of getting there? I think it has to do with the timing – not too much too soon. The strength of my conviction had to grow at a pace with the challenges presented to me. I started with short car rides between parents, and then progressed to half-flight jumps across the country where a family friend would meet me in Minnesota and escort me from one plane to another, so excited to see me and hear about my trip, and then I was off to the eventual destination. Then, at some point I started taking coast-to-coast flights. Now, as an adult, the longer the flight the happier I am.


The patterning of joy I talk about didn’t happen overnight; it happened slowly and gradually over time. It was a natural evolution supported by my environment. I don’t feel like my parents “trained” me to be happy traveling. In fact, if I did feel like they had trained me with any sort of purpose, I think the results would be quite different and not as positive.


This leads me to the title of this blog: Decisions and choices.


We often think that our decisions and choices have to effect an immediate change in the circumstance in front of us. With Freedom Based Training I want to challenge that idea.


What if, instead of immediately affecting the world in front of us, our decisions and choices were about fostering habitual positivity? What if we fostered that positivity in our horses, our friends, and everyone around us?

When one thing happens… what is likely to happen next; has your experience led you to believe you are going to feel better or worse?


The more we gravitate toward what makes us feel good, the better our life seems. The more we pull away from what feels bad, the worse life feels. Both sides are always going to exist, but if we can learn, and we can teach our horses to focus on and lean toward the good feelings, the quality of life goes up!


Now, I am not talking about affirmations in the mirror, or exaggerated praise and recognition, or perpetual treats out of a treat bag. That is obvious extrinsic training that can sometimes go well and can sometimes backfire on you. What I am talking about is a subtlety of feel and timing: where to be, when to be, how to be in a way that sets everyone up to feel increasingly good about the things we do in life. When we practice this over time life feels better and better and we are able to support our friends and companions in ways they don’t even need to know about. This is Freedom Based Training.


When I show up to teach a Freedom Based Training Workshop, my goal is to give you the tools to make choices and decisions that are right for you. To some degree you might choose to train passively like I do, which will gently nudge your horse toward experiencing more and more joy in life. Also, to some degree you may choose to train more dominantly with treats or tools to build skills in a shorter time frame. There is a time and place for everything, and the beauty of what I teach can be threaded through the work you do with your horses no matter what choices and decisions you decide are best for you.


Choices and decisions are not always easy. When do we push forward? When do we hang back? When do we help? When do we allow events to simply unfold? For me, in these few days before I head off to my next teaching tour, I am brimming with adoration for my fifteen-year-old daughter Cameron. She is heading to her first big three-day-eventing clinic with David O’Connor. Then, the following week she heads to Oregon to adopt a four-year-old wild mustang from the BLM with the help of her Dad.

For the next several weeks, I will be in Europe teaching and doing the work I love, which is the right choice for me. While there is a big piece of me that wants to hover over Cameron with her new mustang, pulling environmental strings wherever I can to foster success, this time it’s all up to her. Cameron gets to foster her own success and make her own choices about when to be passive, when to be dominant, when to take action and when to wait. If you are as curious as I am about how it all turns out, check out her blog at

We all get to choose our next actions in life, so my challenge to you is to think about your decisions and ask: This action I am taking – how might it effect future expectations of joy?


If you can affect the environment in subtle ways around yourself, around your friends, companions, and animals, so that joy becomes the likely outcome, while leaving everyone free to make their own decisions, this is the true depth of Passive Leadership and Freedom Based Training.


If you want to know more about this fostering of subtle development, join me for a workshop or an online course. I would love to get to know you more as you work through your decisions and choices. 2017/2018 is looking to be an amazing year of airports for me as I travel between teaching and home in the sweet evolution of development with my own horses and all my students.


Hooves and Heartbeats,


August 19th & 20th, 2017 – Workshop – New Egypt, New Jersey, USA

August 26th & 27th, 2017 – Clinic, Mullingar Co., Westmeath, Ireland
September 2nd – 5th, 2017 – Clinic, Buckinghamshire, UK
September 6th -10th, 2017 – Clinic, Ittre, Belgium
September 11th – October 29th, 2017, Fall Online Course
September 12th – 14th, 2017 – Workshop & Clinic, Odemira, Portugal
October 7th & 8th, 2017 – Workshop, Bend, Oregon, USA
October 21st, 2017 – Clinic, North Bend, WA, USA
October 28th, 2017 – Taming Wild Benefit Screening for NCEFT, Woodside, CA, USA
November 8th – 12th, 2017 – Taming Wild Screenings, Napa Valley Film Festival, USA
November 26th – Jan 28th, 2017 – Winter Online Course
December 1st, 2017 – Taming Wild Screening, University of Minnesota, MN, USA
December 2nd, 2017 – Workshop, University of Minnesota, MN, USA
January 30th – February 20th, 2018 – Filming “Taming Wild – Pura Vida”
February 19th – 24th, 2018 – Workshop, Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
March 1st -14th, 2018 – Australia, locations and dates to be announced
March 15th & 16th, 2018 – Workshop, Christchurch, New Zealand
March 17th & 18th, 2018 – Clinic, Christchurch, New Zealand
March 25th – May 13th, 2018 – Spring Online Course
May 19th – 22nd, 2018 – Clinic, Gifhorn, Germany
May 23rd – June 15th, 2018 – Workshops in Europe, locations and dates to be announced
June 24th – August 8th, 2018 – Summer Online Course
August 15th, 2018 – Filming Starts for “Taming Wild – Evolution”

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Hooves and Heartbeats,


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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

The Cost of Freedom


Green grass, knee-high, in meadows of scattered ponderosa leading to rocky hillsides and scablands, leading to more meadows and then down into wet valleys with babbling brooks, and then up again.


Cleo and I, along with Cam and Antheia were traveling the mountain sides of Ochoco National Forest helping with the wild-horse survey. We had been riding for a couple of hours, following a rough circle through our designated area. We were seeing stud piles of manure with fresh leavings on the top and we knew there were horses somewhere around us, but the area is vast and we were only two. It felt like a band of horses could easily be hiding on the hillside above us and watching us pass by without us knowing at all.


The countryside was beautiful and the horse I was riding, Cleo, felt spectacular. She is a mountain horse like nothing I have ever ridden. Up hills, down hills, over logs and scrambling over loose rocks. We covered some of the steepest territory I have ever traveled on a horse and Cleo made it all feel as easy as flat ground.


Here we were, back in Oregon wild horse country for the first time since Cleo had been rounded up six years ago. She had spent two years in the corrals in Burns, OR and then four years with me learning to be a domestic horse. I had no idea how she was going to feel about being out here again.


Because of a substantial scar on her coronet band and corresponding sizable quarter crack that her hoof grows out with, Cleo is not a good candidate for the freedom of a wild horse. Without the proper trimming and protection she has a tendency to tear a quarter of her hoof off at times and then spend three months in rehab before she can walk comfortably again. Out in the wild where a herd needs to travel for miles to find food and water, a weakness like that leads to a very short life.


I know all this in my logical mind, yet heading out across the land on our first day I could feel Cleo pulling for the wild. She was alive and alert like I have never felt her before and the group of horses we were riding with had no draw for her, nor did the camp or trailer or the base we had set up for our temporary home. She asked me again and again to let her head out away from the others, away from camp and into the wild. Each time I corrected her path and brought her attention back to the group and back to our chosen route, my heart broke a little for her. The cost of freedom would be too high for her. Here was I, this human, making the decisions for her, keeping her safe and trapped in domestic life, yet who was I to make that decision for her?


Quality of life, length of life, how do we weigh these as priorities, or problem solve to allow for some of both? How do I take it upon myself to decide Cleo has a better life at my beck and call than as her own master, making her own life decisions?


I find myself faced with these dilemmas every time I spend time around horses that get to live wild and free. Their freedom seems so idyllic, yet I know I am seeing them in summer season when food and water are easy.


I know I am seeing them in numbers managed by people to adapt to the fact that cows and sheep graze this land along with the horses and all the other wildlife. The ones that are too many are brought in for adoption, like Cleo was, and there are far more horses that need homes than there are people looking to bring them into domestication.


The cost of freedom is complicated.


Cam and Antheia were riding ahead when I heard Cam say, “Look, horses!” Our horses have clearly spotted them, necks arched, ears pricked. Cam sees them and I am searching. “Look straight-ahead between the two tall trees, you can see a brown rump with a short tail.” And then finally, with such direct help from my daughter, I can see them.


“Three, no four, no look – there are six!” And then we spot the seventh. One looks young, yearling maybe? Boys? Girls?


They move away from us down the dirt track through the woods and we cautiously follow. Cleo, who was so eager to get out in the wild, seems all of a sudden not sure we should get any closer to this band. Antheia on the other hand is so excited wanting to go introduce herself, Cam has her hands full stopping her and waiting every time the herd stops and turns around to watch us.


From what we can see, at least four of them are stallions, and we figure it must be a band of bachelors. Here we are on our two mares – how safe is this?


The two younger looking colts start walking toward us, and then change their minds and run after the older ones walking off into the meadow. I feel better about watching them now.



I can’t help looking at Cleo, this magnificent horse I get to ride, and wondering what her life might have been like. She could have had a family of her own and an intricate social life I can only begin to imagine.


She could have… but the risk was too high for her. There were too many reasons that freedom was denied her from her personal hoof injury, to the fact that someone decided that her herd area didn’t have enough food for her and all the others that needed it too, to the fact that I think I needed her help in my life.


Cleo is my rock and my steady place. When emotions crash like storms around me I can lean on her, and interestingly she asks the same of me. We make each other’s lives better; we both give up a little of our personal freedom to take care of each other.


Is that fair to ask of a horse? I struggle with that every time I am out in the wilderness watching horses who only give up personal freedoms for other horses. What we ask of them as people – is it worth enough to give up the lives they might have without us?


The question is more complicated than I can fully answer, but I guess that is what makes it worth asking and pondering.


What do we give up in terms of freedom in order to fill our lives with relationships?


What qualities of life do relationships bring us that we couldn’t find on our own?


What do we give up in terms of relationships in order to feel free?


How much can we have of both?


Of the horses I saw and heard about this weekend, why do sixty-nine of them choose to all be close together in the lush valley, a complicated mix of stallions and mares and babies, while the seven stallions we saw choose each other and stay higher up on the hill side? Why does one horse decide to shun the company of other horses and live with the herd of cows instead, or one stallion decide to separate out a filly seemingly far too young and keep her away from the others until she is old enough and then they become a family – mare, stallion and foal.


How much actual choice is involved in these life decisions, and how much freedom do any of these horses actually feel? They are more free than Cleo living in domestic life with me, but they don’t have the security she has.


I don’t have the answers, only the questions.


What I find most interesting are the feelings underlying the questions. How much freedom can any one of us feel while enjoying the quality of life that comes with community, relationship and partnership.


Every day I thank my horses, Cleo and Myrnah and Zohari, for helping me think about it. They make my life better, and I hope I do the same for them.


Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair



The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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

Step for Step, Breath for Breath


This is my favorite part of being with horses, that time when we move as one being. Time and space enveloping and embracing us like a single being instead of two. This is the time I feel least alone in my life, and I find I crave this like nothing else.


Honestly, the faster we can go in this unity, the happier I am. The more energy I can feel flowing through us the better. At one point I thought it would be so much fun to be an exercise jockey for race horses. When I spoke about this in a dreamy youthful way to my trainer at the time, she asked me if I liked the shape of my nose? Hmmmm, yes? Why? Because, she explained, jockeys have a tendency to have their noses broken by young horses throwing their heads up and smashing their riders in the face with the tops of their heads.


And then my dream came crashing down to reality. Those young racehorses were not doing something they were comfortable doing, those young horses were being pushed to the point that they hurt people in their anxiety. That was a world I wanted no part of.


I crave unity. I crave the feeling of moving in harmony, step for step, breath for breath, to whatever degree of intensity I can find that still allows everyone to feel safe and comfortable.


I think horses crave this too.


When intensity comes at the cost of someone’s comfort though, that’s when beings start hurting each other. A line gets crossed from fun into anxiety, and how do anyone of us set a boundary before someone gets hurt? What is OK and what is not OK?


Here is where the subject becomes touchy.


Leadership vs Friendship.


We all want to be our horse’s best friend. Those of us who want to work positively with our horses cringe a little at what we know gets done to horses in the name of “Leadership”.


This I believe was actually my biggest failure in my ongoing project with Myrnah. Yes the project was a huge success on the whole, but moving forward, this is the piece I would do better.


I don’t like asking for anything that might be answered “no”. The vulnerability of that position makes me feel the separateness of our beings in a painful way, when all I want is unity and harmony.


If you give me the right tool – bridle, whip, spur, carrot or grain pan – I can set the situation up so I am much more confident in getting a “yes” answer from my horse and unity stays intact.


If you take away all my tools (including food rewards), The probability of my horse saying “no” when I want to do something gets really high and actually frightening for me.


Here is the thing I do when I am frightened: I stop taking risks. Instead of asking for things, I just exist in whatever harmony I can find. If Myrnah wants to stand still, we stand still together for hours; if Myrnah wants to walk around, we walk around together; if she wants to drink water, we splash in the water trough together; if she wants to eat grass, I move with her from bite to bite in harmony and ease. If she wants to move faster than I am comfortable with, I get off and give her space. All of this is beautiful friendship, but it is not leadership.


I find, after long days of working to be a good leader for my students and their horses, all I want from Myrnah is friendship. Step for step, breath for breath. I don’t want to be vulnerable anymore; I don’t want to practice being a leader; I don’t want to risk asking for things that she might say “no” to.


A great deal of time spent building friendship means Myrnah and I love being around each other; I think that time might be some of the best moments of our day. We crave each other’s company, and that is good!


I also find, when I don’t practice leadership with her, she becomes much less steady.


A leader is someone you trust. A friend is someone you like being with. The two, being a good friend and being a good leader, are separate skills.


When you have a leader and you have trust, you can do more things; you can step out of your comfort zone more. You find random events in life don’t frighten you as much because you have someone you can trust at your side.


I believe I have spent much more time with Myrnah building friendship than I have leadership, particularly in the years since filming the movie. The downfall of too much friendship and not enough leadership is over emotionality and sharp boundaries.


During the times I have been practicing being a better leader, I find Myrnah is more willing to try things and be positive about new experiences. I find she is less afraid of strange noises and shapes moving in the distance.


When I am a better leader I find she is more relaxed and adaptable.


So what does practicing leadership look like? It looks like setting goals that require you to take actions that might get “no” answers.


Good leaders find the space between failure and success, the space between yes and no answers, and take the risk to ask.


Good friends spend time enjoying each other’s company without asking much at all.


Bad leaders ask a lot of questions with “no” answers. Bad leaders ask for too much too soon.


Good leaders don’t ask for too much, but they do dare to ask. Asking for things is what creates a leader. Asking for things builds trust. Asking for things builds stronger bonds and makes everyone feel safer.


I may crave step for step and breath for breath, I may crave harmony and unity and I may get all those things in friendship with Myrnah.


When intensity finds Myrnah and me, like the night a coyote appeared all of a sudden on the dark path in front of us and we found our hearts pounding in unison, flooding us with adrenaline, and putting us on edge, that was a moment I was glad for every bit of leadership I had ever practiced. We could face it calmly and wait for it to go on its way, even though we were out of our comfort zone.


Our boundary with the coyote was adaptable; there was no need to turn and bolt into the darkness away from it, but I could feel Myrnah wanting to. I could trust her to hold her ground and wait out the discomfort, but only barely. Those are the moments I vow to spend a little more of my time asking for things and being a good leader, and maybe a little less time just being with her as a good friend.


Here is to finding the balance – friendship and leadership.


Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train

IMG_1708 (1)

The Goal:

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

Far from Perfection

Since the movie came out and I have been working on the book, I am realizing a personal trend that needs some course correcting. The temptation to focus on the positive lures me, as though filling my mind with all that is good, can completely drown out the bad days, the hard moments, and the places where I get everything wrong. I want to set the story straight here, I am a very flawed as a human being!
Being flawed is part of what drives me to be better, and perhaps it is high time I wrote about that more of the time.

We all tend to think our less than stellar moments are something to be covered up and hidden, as if people won’t like us because we screwed up. That is true to a point; no one likes a friend who treats the world with negativity and does nothing to make things right. We all mess up, get it wrong, and then the important part is we do our best to make it right.

I have spent years working on and writing about the peaceful possibilities when working with horses. The building of relationship and the pieces it might take to have a relationship with a horse that is voluntary and cooperative. No force, no bribes, just a shared language where we find a harmony together, where we want to do the same things.

Let me assure you though, on the path of all these methods and patterns of working positively there are many many moments that are not so positive. In those not so positive moments I have to bow my head and consider, how do I make this right?

Perhaps I should admit that to my readers more of the time. It’s not all perfect at my barn.


Tonight, carrying a bucket of grain across the paddock for my skinny older warmblood, everyone crowded around me wanting some. It was raining and dark and I had had a long day and I thought, they SHOULD have more respect for my personal space! Before I had a chance to get out the gate with the bucket, someone jostled me and the bucket fell to the ground spilling all its contents. An anger filled me in that moment and before I knew what was happening I was yelling and waving my arms and throwing the bucket across the paddock. It was embarrassingly inappropriate, and, if my neighbors had been outside – unlikely in the rain and the dark –  I am sure I was a spectacle to behold.

The horses scattered a little ways away and watched me, remarkably undisturbed by my temper tantrum – was I going to relent and let them come over to clean the grain up from the ground? I was furious, irrational, and the tantrum continued, “ Everyone out!” With very little grace I chased them all into the far paddock and closed them off so I could clean up all the grain and throw it in the bushes; they would get none of it!!!

A new batch of grain retrieved from the barn, and safely placed in a separate space, I stormed out to the paddock and beckoned my warmblood with a twitch of a finger – yes, I am still furious and not taking to the others. My mustangs of course assumed I meant them and started sauntering over, and I threw another fit, -yelling, jumping up and down – “If I wanted your company, I would have looked at you and I didn’t!” (of course that is confusing, because now I am looking at them, and not in a good way.) “Go away! I am not talking to you!” It wasn’t pretty.

Zohari walked slowly over to me, head low, every movement cautious. I was still too mad to be appropriate, all my moments rough and too fast. I told him to come with me. He has known me for twenty years now and was surprisingly patient and gentle with me about my outburst.

Crying, I sat next to Zohari as he art his grain… I blew it again. All this work I do to have a peaceful existence with my horses and tonight I totally lose my cool. Where did I go wrong?

First it occurs to me, emotions happen. It has to be OK to feel angry or sad or happy or elated… However there is an appropriate space to be kept between our emotions and our actions.

Feeling things is the richness in life and I would never want any less emotion. However, I would like to set my life up so my emotions have space to exist without flooding into everyone else’s experience.


So on a night when it’s raining and dark and I am tired, perhaps I could plan ahead for the frustration I know might be a hair trigger away. I could have walked the long way around to the private paddock with the grain pan, instead of taking the short cut through the herd. I could have picked up a rope or a stick to make it clear I am not to be messed with tonight. I could have just taken a few extra minutes before I went and got the grain, to check in with each member of the herd and establish today’s relationships before I challenged them with temptation.

I am thinking about the lessons I taught to students this week. Perhaps if I had applied the same concepts to my herd at home, everything might have been different tonight.

This week has found me talking a great deal about drive and draw. You see, once we have some draw with our horses, where we can call them to us or walk together or stop or turn or back up TOGETHER, it feels so good we tend to do less and less of the drive that created the draw in the first place.


I walk people through 5 steps with their horses:
First- we follow the horse.
Second- the horse follows us.
Third- the horse touches us.
Fourth- we touch the horse.
Fifth- we mix and interchange the first four steps.

That first step is the most important, and tends to get forgotten as we develop farther into our relationships. You see, if the horse won’t let us follow, we have to use a little bit of drive to motivate some motion for us to follow.

With people I see it all the time; we like the draw so much we drop the drive as soon as possible. I am as guilty of this as anyone else. I would much rather draw the horse to me and do things with them, than push them away and follow. The yin and the yang balance each other though; we need the drive and the follow to balance the draw and be followed.

Here is something I read that might cause us all to think a little: “True leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders”.

I tell people that true leaders are simply the last one of the group to make a decision. True leaders hand leadership over to the others all the time; however, they always have the last word. By making the last decision before a time of harmony or rest, a true leader gets associated with all things good, and chosen as the leader time and again. True leaders also know how to use some drive to ask someone else to lead for a while.

If I had taken a little more time to practice this with my herd this week, perhaps things would have been different when I asked for space around carrying the grain pan through the paddock. Perhaps I need to practice what I preach and spend more time asking horses to do things for me to follow, instead of always having them follow me.

I did my best to end my evening right. Each horse got a little time in the private paddock with me, and each one got a bite of something yummy – I do share after all – and then I sat in the hay while they all gathered around me nibbling away.

I promised them all I would try to do better at knowing when my emotions are close to boiling over and act in ways that would safeguard our relationship better than I had tonight. I also know, that just isn’t possible all the time, so, I will pour my heart into continuing to develop our bond in ways that give them a sense of safety, even when I fall apart and make a mistake or two.


Here is to owning our mistakes, our bad days, and times when emotions get hot.
Here is to making amends.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


How Much is Too Much?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


We need to realize when too much is too much.


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


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


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


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


Here is where I come back to my original points:


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


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


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


Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


Stairs to a goal


The other night, at a small informal gathering for a screening of the movie, I realized a great deal of my success with Myrnah and this project of “Taming Wild” is thanks to my mother. I was remembering growing up riding horses with all my friends and the community of us horses and humans, fostered and cared for by my mother.


The conglomerate of rescued and adopted horses we had led to a large variety in experiences. No matter the challenge at hand my mother always seemed to have the utmost confidence that we would find a solution.


Being thrown off on the trail and having to walk home yet again, or not being able to catch your horse to begin with, or having to ask all your friends to please only gallop on the steepest hills so stopping might actually be possible at the end, in hind sight these kind of challenges day after day, horse after horse, for all of us kids, seem a daunting prospect. I can’t even begin to understand how my mother did it, and I can only thank her for the gift I now see it to be and the fortitude it gave me going forward.


I can remember the pony who galloped under a low hanging branch in the orchard wiping me off painfully for what seemed like the millionth time. I can remember my frustration and anger and being sure I never wanted to ride, ever again! I can also remember my mother calmly persisting that I get on again and walk that pony around the trees until we found a peaceful place to end the day.


It can’t have been easy to be my mother in that moment amidst the tears, and yet, that moment is metaphorical for life in so many ways. We get knocked down, sometimes it stings, sometimes we have no idea how we could possibly succeed where we have failed so many times. Having someone calmly say they are absolutely sure you will figure it out without actually telling you how is a gift.


That is how we learn how to learn.


Life challenges us, and there is something we want just out of reach. We make an attempt and fail, and then take what we learned and try again.


I would like to think in this project with Myrnah I have gotten smarter about navigating the learning curve. That is probably naïve; there is so much more to learn and I am sure I have only begun. However, any small ease I can bring into the process is gratifying.


Here is how I build the stairs to my goals with Myrnah.


We start with knowing what we are good at, the thing that we want that we know how to get.


In the beginning with Myrnah that was just being in the paddock with her, far enough away that she was comfortable moving around and didn’t need to be against the fence to get away from me. Just being in any proximity to her, a recently wild horse, felt amazing!


Then we look at the ultimate goals branching out in front of us.


With Myrnah, my ultimate goal for the year was to ride her at all speeds in the fields, on the trails, and ultimately on the beach, maintaining her sense of freedom and only using our body language to develop our relationship.


Then we look for our first step on the stairs. What is the thing that is a little closer to our ultimate goal, a little challenging for us yet still reachable from where we are?


With Myrnah, being in the paddock together we could do, we were good at that. Getting closer to each other was a challenge. Getting closer with my body was too much of a challenge at first, but getting closer with my eyes was something we could do, so long as it wasn’t all the time.


Here is the formula:


The thing you are consistently good at:

(i.e. being in the paddock together)


The thing that is challenging:

(i.e. getting closer together)


Taking the challenge through its stages.





If the challenge can’t even be tolerated, find the next step closer to you on the stairs. What is the challenge that can be tolerated?


Toleration looks like this:

We do the challenge for a moment, and then go back to what is comfortable before anyone gets too upset. Then try the challenge again. Advance and retreat, over and over.

Slowly tolerance starts to look like acceptance as we realize we can do the challenge for longer and longer without any emotional upheaval.


Acceptance looks like being able to do the challenge for longer and longer without any upset and slowly we realize there is a flicker of interest or enjoyment that happens here and there while doing the challenge.


If we can retreat to what is totally comfortable in the moment of interest or enjoyment of the challenge, then we foster that skill.

(i.e. being in the paddock with Myrnah, looking at her- and then when she becomes interested in me, looking away)


This starting pattern worked on many levels with Myrnah. By moving what was easy into what was challenging, through tolerance, then acceptance, then enjoyment it stepped me toward my goal.


While at the same time it worked on the basic herd principles. Horses seek safety, and, in order to feel safe, someone needs to be watching the environment for danger. If you have a group the leaders watch for danger and the followers watch the leaders. Herd dynamics are often fluid, and leaders and followers switch roles often. Real leaders just have better timing than real followers.


Real leaders know when to get closer and when to move away, when to look to their herd and be a follower for a moment and when to look away and survey the environment. Real leaders know how to walk their herd through challenges and use the stages of tolerance, acceptance and enjoyment to build community.


So here I was with Myrnah in the beginning stages thinking my goal was all about riding… and then realizing my actual goal was to become a real leader for her. I wanted to be the best kind of leader whom she wanted to follow anywhere and share every life experience. I have to admit I am still working on that. We may have a myriad of physical goals and challenges; however, I find they are all just ways we discover more about what it is to work together, be together and be better partners.


Enjoy building your stairs wherever they may lead you.


Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


Freedom-Based Training


In all my years with horses, the year I focused with Myrnah to learn something new and film “Taming Wild” was the most powerful learning I have ever done.


Why you might ask?

Because of the freedom involved.


It sounds like a contradiction in terms, freedom-based training, and I think it is in the very best way. The contradiction and balance of extremities adds such richness to this life.


Freedom: The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.


Training: The act of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behavior.


With horse training we aim to develop a certain range of skills and responses we can count on in the relationship, so where does freedom come in?


I believe freedom is something we all long for, and relationship is something we all want also. The very basic importance of relationship to each one of us curbs our freedoms. Can we actually fully say or do what we want in relationship without fearing the consequences?


Will the relationship still exist in the way we want after we say or do whatever we wanted in the moment? How can that sense of freedom coexist with living in community in a way that feeds and supports us?


How do we do that?


I believe the more specific our needs of someone else, the less freedom they have to be who they are and do what they need to do. However, if we have no requests at all, the relationship and sense of community suffer.


The more tools we use to train a horse (food rewards, bridles, sticks, ropes, fences etc.), the more specific our pressure gets. Do this and get what you want, or do this and avoid what you don’t want. We use tools to expedite training in the directions we want it to develop. I want to be clear; I don’t think this is wrong because I believe good training builds good partnership and a sense of community that is beautiful.


However, when we add awareness of how essential the need for freedom is in life, that is where our individual natures get to shine within the setting of relationship.


When Myrnah and I took away all the tools that were not our bodies, we greatly limited how fast we could get specific about training. Training still happened and helped us develop a relationship, but in a very gradual way that also honored her basic need for freedom.


Here is how it works.


Body movements are the words that make up conversations between horse and rider. Stillness, quietness and harmony are the punctuation and emphasis. When we move in ways that are different from each other, it is a basic request for change that would create harmony. When we move or are still together, it emphasizes how much we enjoy our togetherness.


Myrnah had the freedom to make her own choices; however, it was important that I be honest with her about which choices I felt comfortable with and which I didn’t.


Wait, but doesn’t that limit her freedom?


Yes, however, she has a whole range of choices she could make with very minor consequence, and that is pretty close to freedom. The only thing she gains by making choices that keep me happy, is my harmony with her.


The real training we are doing together is learning how to harmonize with each other.


Here are the nuts and bolts of the process:


  1. I can always ask Myrnah to move.

(What she does after she moves is up to her.)


  1. If movement results in something that feels connected, we harmonize. If movement leads to disconnection, we simply keep moving until we find connection.


That’s it.


Freedom means, if I ask for something that is too difficult for Myrnah and she can’t find connection, I have to give up that specific idea for the moment and ask for something she is willing to do.


Freedom-based training is very slow. Freedom-based training is very deep. Freedom-based training allows us to be who we are, while slowly adapting to the needs of our environment and our community.


I believe spending a year focused on freedom-based training developed me more than anything else I have ever done, and it was also one of the hardest things I have ever done.


This project was so challenging for me, I have still not chosen to do it again fully with any other horses.


What I have done is incorporate periods of time in all of my other horse relationships where we walk through the same exercises Myrnah and I did together. That in itself has had a profound impact.


Freedom-based training does not need to be one hundred percent of the time, or one hundred percent of your life in order to be incredibly beneficial.


I believe freedom-based training pays dividends you have to experience to believe, and it is worth every moment spent.


I encourage you to consider freedom and training and the beauty and balance of their seeming contradictions.


Elsa Sinclair



This blog aims to be an ongoing weekly inspiration, for all of you readers- long time, occasional and new to the group -welcome!


The book “Taming Wild” is in process and will describe and explain more in detail the process and the work Myrnah and I did together in our first year. We hope to have that finished and available in 2016.


For those of you who might like to be part of a larger community, there will be an on-line course starting in the Fall of 2016 where in I will start with a new horse and walk through the process step by step with you. The course will be designed to be useful as an add-on to the other training and living you do with your horse, or a complete system for those of you who like to dive in the deep end. Any amount of time spent in freedom-based training is beneficial in ways you can only know when you have experienced it. I look forward to sharing the journey with you!

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


The Weight of Choices


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Food for thought.


Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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


Taking the Challenge


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


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


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


How can we exist with horses in a better way?


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


How can we live our own lives in better ways?


For now, I leave you with a little inspiration.


Here is Emma Massingale with “The Island Project”:


And here is Honza Bláha with “Open Borders”:


Elsa Sinclair