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Tag Archives: curiosity

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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 Big Red Button


It is right there – red, shiny, catches your attention. What would happen if you pushed it? You know you shouldn’t, it doesn’t belong to you, but the curiosity flares every time you see it. Big Red Buttons beg to be pushed!


Now there are some personality types for whom this is not an issue, but for me this is a lifelong dilemma. When there is a button there and you are not sure what it does, don’t you just want to push it and find out?


Or sometimes, even when you do know what that button does… you have to push it anyway, simply because nothing else is happening at the moment and something happening would feel more productive than nothing happening.


I am sure by now you have figured out I am not really talking about a plastic red button on an otherwise empty wall; I am speaking as I often do, metaphorically.


As I work with a horse, I am working to develop our comfort zones so that we will have more and more things we can do together that bring us joy. There are of course the learning stages of tolerance and acceptance that need to be worked through on the way to joy, and that is what I study and teach in Freedom Based Training.

In this blog post I want to talk about Intolerance – those things the horse says NO to. When the horse says I won’t do that, I can’t do that, I don’t feel like doing that. Most of us horse trainers are taught to find those things and then work them out. That is our job!


Most of us who aspire to be horse trainers think this is what horse training is.


The common saying is the comfort zone is only growing when you are uncomfortable.


I would like to challenge that.


A student asked me the other day if she should take it personally that some days her horse didn’t seem at all interested in doing things with her when she came to see him. So I had to turn that question around and ask, should your horse take it personally that you don’t seem interested in hanging out at the hay pile with him while he eats?


Part of being in relationship is the basic premise and fact that we will bring interest and diversity into each other’s lives. Taming Wild is about taming that wild streak we all have within us that wants everything the way we want it right away. When we tame that wild streak, we open the door to being curious about all the things we could enjoy together.


There is a problem though; we get bored with someone else’s desires and we want them to want what we want.

And if the horse does not want what we want, how many times do we need to ask them and make them say “no” to us again and again and again?


I find the horse saying “no” is the biggest irresistible red button for people.


If a horse loves to jump jumps, what do people do? They keep asking it to jump higher and stranger things until it says; “No, I can’t do that.”


If a horse likes to walk through the fields, what do people do? They want to canter or gallop until the horse says; “No, that scares me and I just want to run home where it is safe when you ask me to go that fast.”


This seems to be our human nature; we always want a little too much from our partners.


I am as much to blame on this account as anyone is and so I find myself asking WHY?


Why do I get bored with what the horse finds enjoyable? Why do I find myself wanting to reach for that “NO” answer from the horse and push us right over the edge of the comfort zone? Why is my wild streak so incorrigible sometimes?

Part of me wants to say it is simply my training, because horse trainers are generally paid to work horses through the things they are intolerant of until they accept or enjoy what was once an answer of “no”.


However, I know now for a fact that my best training comes from being curious and gently exploring all the possible fun things I can do with a horse. Why am I always tempted to reach for the red button and make my horse say “no” to me yet again?


I think the answer is in our understanding of stress levels.


Stress is a good thing, it helps us grow and learn and develop, and when it is at a functional level it bonds us together with our partners.


When stress is at a dysfunctional level, all of us will tend to take actions of Fight, Flight or Freeze that alienate us from our friends.


Recently I have been spending some time working with a beautiful grey Arabian mare. As I do my passive leadership work, I get a chance to watch Lily interact with her herd mates. When she is at a functional stress level she has friends, the other horses will flow and find harmony with her, but, when her stress levels increase beyond a certain point, she goes looking for ways to bring them down to a functional level again.


The two things that bring stress down are:

  1. Leadership – Someone who makes decisions that are accepted by others.
  2. Movement – The contraction and extension of muscles in a rhythmic way that moves energy through the body.


So when Lily’s stress levels increase, I watch her reach for that big red button just like I do. She walks around the paddock pushing on the other horses until one of them says “NO” to her in a big enough way she accepts their decision. As soon as that happens, you can see her stress dissipate, and she can fall into flow and harmony with the leader she just found for herself.

As a horse trainer I am a little different. I am not going to accept the answer “no” from a horse because I don’t see that as beneficial for anyone. “Yes” answers grow the comfort zone; “no” answers keep the comfort zone rigidly in place. Yet watching Lily lower her stress levels by pushing on her friends until they set a boundary for her makes me wonder if that is why I reach for the red button also? Am I making horses set a boundary for me to make me feel better? Even if I push through their intolerance to get a “yes” answer of some sort before finding harmony with a horse, did I first have to set them up to give me a boundary so my personal stress levels would go down?


It is a question worth thinking about.


Acting on this premise has led me to a brilliant set of sessions with horses lately. When I am tempted to go push that red button and do something the horse is likely to say “no” to, instead I ask myself the question, what can I do to take personal responsibility for my stress levels.


The two things that bring stress down are:

  1. Leadership – Someone who makes decisions that are accepted by others.
  2. Movement – The contraction and extension of muscles in a rhythmic way that moves energy through the body.


So I apply those principles to myself. Leadership – make a decision for Elsa that will be accepted by the horse I am working with. Movement – walk rhythmically around my horse until I feel better.

Once my stress levels are at more functional levels, I am more likely to ask my horse for things they will say “yes” to.


The same goes for my horses, The more functional level their stress is, the more they will ask their friends for things that might evoke a “yes” answer, leading to harmony and flow.


The less functional the stress levels are, the more likely the boredom/freeze, flight, or fight come into play and the horses go looking for those red buttons, those “no” answers, and those boundaries given by a moment of leadership that bring the stress levels down temporarily.


What we do in Freedom Based Training is work to bring stress to a functional level for everyone involved by taking personal responsibility for our stress and letting the horses take personal responsibility for theirs.

The other day at the end of a three-hour training session with Lily, I stood with her as she ate some Alfalfa. Then we walked together as she smoothly stepped in on Daisy’s pile and Daisy moved easily away to find a different pile of hay, between them an easy flow and harmony with no need for any display of boundaries. Then you could see Lily’s tension rise; she needed that red button, so into Mouse’s stall we went, too strong, too fast and Mouse felt pushed enough to kick out at Lily, giving her leadership and a boundary and making her back off. Lily seemed to feel better instantly, THEN she took a breath and very gently worked her way into flow and harmony at Mouse’s pile. One step forward and pause, another step forward and pause, one step back to give him a moment, then one step forward again. When she made it all the way to the hay pile, she didn’t eat right away. She looked around for a little while, showed some interest in the hay and then backed off and watched the barn for a moment again before she reached down and took a bite. Before long they were munching side by side in flow and harmony together.


Like any good horse trainer, Lily didn’t take “no” for an answer in that situation. She persisted until she got the answer of “yes”. She used advance and retreat (movement and leadership) to lower Mouse’s stress level until his likely answer was “yes”, then she took a bite of his hay.


The question simply is: Did she really need to come in so strong and fast in the beginning and make Mouse kick at her before she did it right?


How often are we all guilty of the same process where we need to push that big red button and get a big “no” answer before we slow down and develop our relationship and the things we do together in a fully functional way.


Perhaps if we put a little forethought into our actions, we might see where those big red “no” buttons are and resist pushing them to ease our own boredom or lower our own stress.

When we refuse to push the button that makes others create boundaries for us, then we truly start to take responsibility for our own stress, our own wild streak, and our own capability to make everything better for everyone.


Hooves and Heartbeats,



The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

Check it out! We are translating the blog into more languages. Please excuse the learning process and pardon us for the two extra Dutch emails you may have received as we figured out how to link the languages. Enjoy!

Surfing the Emotional Waves

I had a great conversation with a student this week and she broached a subject that many shy away from. I, however, find myself intrigued, fascinated, and unable to stop thinking about it.

Are we at the mercy of our horse’s emotional state? What about that horse that seems to love you one moment and then wants to bite your head off the next?

What do we do with that in the realm of Freedom Based Training?

My answer is, yes, in Freedom Based Training we are at the mercy of the emotional current, because in this way of training they are free to feel the way they feel.

Giving your horse the freedom to feel however they are feeling allows us to know them at a much deeper level. These emotions are the way we are able to read our horse’s stress levels. Yet how we surf these waves of emotion has everything to do with the relationship that evolves out of it.


When you have a partner who is very emotional, there are waves of emotion they feel and will emote that can knock you down like the crash of a wave when you are not looking, or can lift you high and carry you. It is all in how you respond. Yes, I know that the idea that we could possibly surf the intensity of our horse’s emotion is hard to see when we have been knocked down for the fifth time and have come up spitting sand.

Stepping out of my ocean analogy for a moment, let us think about what most horse trainers do when a horse gets overly emotional.

The conventional norm is to let the horse know that their behavior is inappropriate by making “the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy”. That means, if a horse bites you, you do something it doesn’t appreciate, like making a loud noise to surprise them, or chasing them around the round pen until they wish they had never thought about biting you, or backing them up until they wish they had controlled themselves instead of striking out.

Therein lies the crux of the problem though. If a horse controls themselves and doesn’t strike out when they feel the impulse, the stress that was the energy underneath that emotional impulse doesn’t go away, instead it gets buried to be dealt with later.

So what do we do in Freedom Based Training when a horse bites you?

Well, if we are doing our job as a passive leader that will never happen in the first place. The study of passive leadership is all about being in the right place at the right time.

So that means, if your horse is feeling the kind of stress that might lead to an emotional outburst, DO NOT get that close to your horse!

There is so much we can do for our partnership without ever getting inside the strike zone that there is no good reason to still be standing there when the horse strikes!

Instead we do our work as a passive leader to lower the stress our horse feels until we see that the emotional climate is one that we want to step into.


What if we don’t want to be at the mercy of the horse’s time frame? What if we want to do something with our horse when they feel too stressed to say yes easily to us in that particular moment?

This is where dominance training is a beautiful thing. When we set up the extrinsic motivators correctly, the horse learns to put aside how they feel and simply go with our request. This is not wrong or bad; I actually think it is a good life skill for horses to have. The caution that goes along with dominance training is, how intense is that stress bubbling under the surface for your horse? Are they actually capable of holding themselves together and being open-minded about what you want to do? Is that stress going to explode all over you in a moment when their emotions cause the horse to tell you how they really feel.

A dominant trainer with good feel and timing will ask a horse to put aside how they feel for a moment and do what is asked. Then they choose activities with the horse that lower stress so that there are no pent-up emotions to explode unexpectedly later. A good dominant trainer will know that the causes for stress are many and varied and things like body pain or fear will have to be addressed for stress levels to go down.

A good trainer promises, if the horse is willing to put their emotions aside for the moment and not act with an excess of fight or flight, they will in return help the horse process whatever stress is underneath that emotion and let it go in a healthy way.

Now if we don’t have the tools at hand to dominantly ask horses to stop expressing the emotion they feel, what do we do instead?

Instead we work on the underlying stress with leadership and movement. When we take time to mirror, match, and be a partner to our horse while making good choices about where to be around them in time and space, this will lower the stress they feel. VERY gently and VERY slowly the horse will feel better and better until they have nothing to be overly emotional about.


This practice is NOT something that can be done once and then forgotten because stress is an ongoing evolution of events for everyone. Every day as a passive leader we have to walk into the relationship asking, “What is possible today; what, where, when, and how do I need to be to best effect this partnership for the long run?”

If my horse slept funny and their back hurts, they are going to be more stressed and emotional that day. Some horses will freeze up and not want to move, some will leap and buck more trying to work it out, and some will spook and jump out of their skin at every sound as their flight instinct comes up strongly in their state of vulnerability.

What I have found is that when I take time to be a partner to my horse in a way that allows them to feel however they feel and also not be alone, and when I do this in a way that lets them know I am attentive and aware and taking actions that keep us both safer, then their muscles soften and little by little they are able to breathe through and walk off whatever stress they were feeling.

The important thing to note is that in passive leadership I do not CAUSE the horse to feel better; I simply partner with them in good ways and wait for it to happen naturally.

What I find is, to the degree that they are willing to let their stress down, they will be willing to take suggestions from me, such as, perhaps if we take a walk together you will feel better. Or, perhaps, if I rub your back here the muscle will release and then you will feel better. I call these sorts of actions assertive actions, and they can only be received if the horse is in an emotional equilibrium that allows us to surf the emotions together.

To go back to the ocean analogy, if the emotions are at a reasonable level for my horse and me (the waves are not too big or overpowering), we can do something together and ride that wave of emotion until its intensity diminishes, leaving us both exhilarated by the experience. Emotion is a beautiful thing if it gives you the energy to do things together that make you both feel better when you are done!


If the horse is too stressed, then it is better if I simply stand back, let them know I am there for them, and act like a partner without interfering or getting close enough to irritate them. I find, with time and patience, the stress will go down, and THEN I will be able to step in more assertively and be a more direct cause for the horse to feel better.

As it usually does, the question of dominant or passive leadership comes down to the question of how much time do we have and how safe are we if we choose to let stress and emotion evolve naturally?

I am so excited to begin filming on the second Taming Wild movie seven weeks from now. This second project will give us a chance to explore the evolution of partnership with a horse including some of the time and safety constraints that affect most relationships.

In the first movie I was able to take a whole year in a very safe environment to work through the process of developing passive leadership until it evolved into assertive leadership, and those emotional waves were really something Myrnah and I could ride together.

In “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” we have set up some real-life situations where we are rescuing the horses from lives that have given them cause for stress, and potentially the kinds of emotional chaos that comes from that stress.


We are going to tackle the challenge of surfing those emotions together with our horses while trekking the width of a country.

Is it possible to safely allow horses to feel how they feel in a real-life situation like this? Honestly, I think I am going to learn how to surf a whole lot better as we go. Hopefully, I don’t come up spitting sand too often because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wish me luck! And, if you want to be on the list to get a copy of the movie as soon as it is finished, you can pre-order it here!

This is going to be an adventure worth sharing!

Hooves and Heartbeats,



The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.


Movement and Trust Building


The rose hips bright red on the skeletal frame of winter rose bushes, the hawthorn berries in their dark red glory adorning the fairy trees around the pasture, the last withered apples falling from the high branches of the trees in the orchard and the grass slowly turning winter dormant under our feet. This is the backdrop for Myrnah and I as we delve into the meditation of the moment.


This meditation is about movement.


This meditation is all about the upcoming movie to be filmed in January and February and the pieces of understanding that will need to be developed around this project.


You see, there are two predominant categories of questions come up when people watch the first Taming Wild movie.


The first question is how much time did you spend with Myrnah in the year of filming the movie? The answer is from 3-6 hours a day five days a week. The follow up question is always what if I want to do Freedom Based Training but I don’t have that much time?


The second question has to do with history. Since you did this with Myrnah, who was a clean slate and didn’t have any bad associations with people, how does that apply for those of us who have horses from bad situations, horses who perhaps have good reasons for not trusting people. How can Freedom Based Training be applicable in these situations?


I find I can answer these questions in theory, but not in practicality because I haven’t had personal experience walking the path that would let me fully EXPERIENCE the answers to these questions.


“Taming Wild: Pura Vida” is the project that will allow me to dive in deeply and live those questions so I can experience all the learning that comes from them. I am doing the project for my own personal opportunity to learn and we are filming the project so that people all around the world can experience and learn from it too!


So here I am walking around the pastures of San Juan Island with Myrnah meditating on how those questions might be answered?


We ask: If a horse comes from a situation where they have little reason to trust people, can we use a freedom based approach to help them learn to trust people again? How might we apply our understanding of relationship to build that comfort, trust and, bonding to the best effect?


I believe that movement in partnership is one of the keys to lowering stress, and lowering stress opens the door for bonding and trust to occur.


In the first movie, Myrnah moved when she chose, and I worked in a passive leadership form around her using the movement choices in my own body to lower her stress. Then, when I thought her stress levels were low enough I progressed to assertive leadership where I asked her to do things with me.


For those of you who have seen the movie, you know I was not always accurate in my judgment of Myrnah’s stress levels, which meant sometimes I asked her to do things at times when she could only say NO to me. I accept that both of us were learning together and mistakes are often made in that learning process… besides my mistakes made for a potentially more entertaining movie for you all to watch.


“Taming Wild: Pura Vida” will be no different. Andrea and I will have ideas that we are working through with our equine partners. We will get it right sometimes and we will get it wrong sometimes, but we will give it all we have to give and learn every step of the way.


Yes, I literally mean that, every step of the way. This project is built around the idea that movement is one of our greatest allies in building relationship with horses, so we are going to do this work as we walk across the country of Costa Rica from the west coast to the east coast.


Wait you ask:

How is this Freedom Based Training if you have a proscribed path to travel during the movie? What if the horses don’t want to do that?


The answer to that question is one of those I am excited to explore. We are to some degree counting on the idea that horses in the wild travel and move a fair amount each day, and we believe we can use this natural instinct to support the trust we are aiming to develop with these horses.


Will the horses be completely at liberty?


No, we will be using halters enough to keep the horses safe in the human traffic filled environments they will be crossing and enough to make sure we do not lose them into the jungle never to be seen again.


Will they be at liberty sometimes?


Yes! As much freedom as we feel we can safely give them!


How is this Freedom Based Training if you are walking a proscribed path and using halters?


While the first movie was FREEDOM based training with the emphasis on the freedom idea, we were able to do that with Myrnah only because the environments we chose to work in were completely safe for horses.


In the second movie we will be using freedom BASED training. With the idea that we will be focusing on using freedom as our BASE of understanding and communication to the degree it can be safely experienced. For example ropes will be placed across the horse’s back as much of the time as possible, halters removed in areas where we won’t encounter traffic and can safely and responsibly do so.


I learned more in the one year of FREEDOM based training with Myrnah than I have in all my years with horse’s combined. I believe this second project will again be a dramatic development of knowledge for everyone involved. We will be focusing on freedom as the BASIS for what we do. Freedom will be the framework to understand how time and trust are intertwined in this partnership journey between horse and human.


Until we have boots on the ground in Costa Rica, and meet our new horse partners. I will be walking with Myrnah through our pastures here on San Juan Island, and meditating on what it means to develop trust through movement.


I promise to keep you posted on the things we learn along the way.


If you haven’t yet, stop by the Kickstarter for “Taming Wild: Pura Vida”. We have an amazing community developing around this project and I would love you to be part of it before the Kickstarter finishes on December 7th.


Hooves and Heartbeats,




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.


Finding Your Niche


As the rain sheets down outside in the wee hours of the morning, I am curled up on the couch with the dogs all around me and I am thinking about how I got here? How is it that this is my place in society? What were the actions that led to this moment?


Or perhaps it wasn’t my actions at all that brought me to this place in life. Perhaps it was the actions of all the tribe around me, supporting and propelling me forward as I learned.


When I help horses and people to develop their relationships, I have this theory I operate on. The theory is that each one of us has this wild streak inside us that wants what we want when we want it! All of us are perpetually making decisions about how independent we are going to be to chase after our wants, or how much we are comfortable dominating or motivating others to give up their personal wants to instead team up with our cause.


Here is the key thing to realize though. We all crave a community, and, to the degree the community is self-motivated and intertwined with us and our actions through free will, we are more content individually as well.


Horses crave a herd-life existence; I believe people do as well.

I also believe that this community living is an endless dance between the personal wants of an individual and the wants and needs of their partners. You see these wants and needs are many and varied, and this is the original barter system we all live with.


You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.


There is this funny thing I see in my herd of horses that illustrates the challenge. We have both Arabian horses and Mustang horses mixed together in a herd and their needs and wants are very different when it comes to scratching each other’s backs. Mustangs have fairly tough skin and really like another horse to dig in hard with the teeth and give a good deep scratch. The Arabians on the other hand are fairly thin skinned and like an easy gentle itch. When a Mustang and an Arabian stand together to itch each other’s backs you will see the Arabian cringing as they drop their back lower and lower away from the vigorous attention of the Mustang, while the Mustang itches harder and harder as if in an effort to show their partner how they would like to be itched.


In their effort to get what they want, both horses are left somewhat incapable of giving their partner the right attention.


Now as human beings I think we get ourselves in these kind of binds all the time, and it is a task of our intelligent brains to sort out how to give our partner what they need or want while communicating our own needs and wants. We are all different, we are all unique, and that is what makes our world so very interesting and diverse to live in. It is also the very crux of every challenge we face.

As it is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, I am inspired to thank all my teachers and all my students who have helped me understand this diversity and beautiful mosaic of characters that make up my community.


I couldn’t do what I do today if it were not for everyone who has taught me along the way. Yes, EVERYONE, I have interacted with in all different levels of the intensity spectrum has given me an important piece of the puzzle.


This gratitude I speak of is very important to me, and I feel I need to speak of it given the extremely gentle and quiet nature of the work I do with horses now. Sometimes the community I am in would ask me to disown or march against the more dominant methods of training horses and that is not my style. I do not believe in a “me-against-the-world” model of living. I believe I am learning from the world as I interact with it and make my own choices.


Every day I am learning from my community and every day that is making me a better part of my community. I will always have my own personal wild streak that wants what it wants when it wants it. I will also always have my heart and my intellect to help me tame that wild streak into something that helps me be a beautiful part of my community, and that is something I want perhaps even more than the personal wants and needs.

There is an evolution of being for all of us and the right teachers and students appear at the right times to help us carve our own niche in the community.


I am profoundly grateful to my early Pony Club teachers who taught one perception of what community with horses might be, and my time with the Linda Tellington Jones community as they showed me what community with horses looked like from their perspective. The French classical dressage masters, and also the more German perspective on dressage, the event trainers, the endurance riders, the Centered Riding, Feldenkrais and Alexander technique practitioners. The huge range of communities that bridge every variety of perspective, from clicker training and Friendship Training to behaviorists, ethology, and telepathic communication. The Natural Horsemanship trainers from Tom Dorance and Ray Hunt to John Lyons, Parelli and Buck Branaman. This list is by no means exhaustive and I am grateful to all of them and many more for what they taught me. There are videos on the internet of my studying Parelli skills, and, while that is not the kind of work I do with horses anymore, I would not be able to do what I do now if it were not for the education I have had in the past and all the teachers who showed me what they know.


I am grateful to all the teachers who have discovered their niche in the community and then shared it with me. I only hope to be able to do the same and share who I am in my community through the niche I have built around Freedom Based Training.


Freedom Based Training is just one perspective out of many; it is not more right than anyone else’s perspective. However I do believe what I do and what I teach will, in its own way, help shape the larger equine community. If I can add a little bit of beauty to the world while I am here, then I have done my part.


For all of you who enjoy Freedom Based Training with me, I encourage you to take it in, make it yours and let it become a vital part of who you are in your unique niche in the world.


I don’t hope train anyone to be exactly like me. You can be YOU, with your own wild streak and your own ways of taming your wild streak to find your niche in the community.

I am here cheering you on, appreciating you for being part of my community, glad I am a little part of yours sharing so much good in the world.


Hooves and Heartbeats,



P.S. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please stop by the Kickstarter for the second Taming Wild Movie and take a moment to support it. I really need all my community to propel this movie through to the finish. Thank you! ~Elsa

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.


A Sense of Belonging


A question came up recently that strikes right to the core of what I do and why I teach.


“How do you reward behavior you like in your horse?”


My answer in true therapeutic form is to turn it around and ask you the same question with a twist: “How do you reward any behavior that you like from any of your friends?”


I would bet you can think about that for a little while and consider the ramifications of how differently we treat animals than we do humans. You might even think to ask why that is?


With our human friends we don’t have a bridle to release the pressure on as a reward (at least not in the social circles I travel in), and it’s generally thought a little strange if we hand out candy every time someone makes us smile.


So what do we do?


Maya Angelou suggests there are four things that we are asking each other all the time:

  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I am special to you by the way you look at me?

When the answer is Yes, we have a sense of belonging that makes us feel safe in the world.


This need for safety in our community, and the feeling of belonging where we stand in time and space I believe runs true for humans and horses and dogs… and most likely many other species as well.


This need I believe is the driving force for developing intrinsic motivation to do any of the things that get done in life.


Now let’s talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for a moment. If we strip away the obvious and familiar EXTRINSIC motivators of pressure and metered reward, what we are left with is our body movements and personal choices in time and space.


When I find some way to express to my horse that:

  1. I see them.
  2. I care about them being there.
  3. They are enough as they are, or there is something within their capability they can do for me that makes them enough.
  4. They are obviously important to me by the way I act.


My expression of those four points would be EXTRINSIC motivators for a horse to choose to be with me. I have filled their needs and satisfied them with a sense of belonging with me.


Now, in Freedom Based Training we do our best to take all that a step further – INTRINSIC motivation.

INTRINSIC motivators are feelings that come from inside one’s self that seem to have no obvious source. INTRINSIC motivators are triggered feelings that come from the habitual patterning of the brain.


In other words, when EXTRINSIC motivators consistently cause good feelings, the brain patterns in such a way that all similar circumstances will tend to evoke the same good feelings for seemingly little or no reason.


I believe to the degree behaviors are INTRINSICALLY motivated they are stronger than behaviors that are EXTRINSICALLY motivated.


These are the theories that drive Freedom Based Training.


In the beginning of a relationship and periodically throughout a relationship with a horse I find it is very important to give them what I call Free Flow.


What this means is, they do not have to do anything to deserve my being in harmony with them. When they step, I step; when they look at something, I do also. While I offer this Free Flow to my horse, the four ideas are in play.


  1. I see them, and they know this because I respond – everything they do is important to me and responded to or anticipated!
  2. I care about them being there, and they know that because I watch their body language and I see where I should stand next and when I should move so their comfort levels perpetually increase.
  3. They are enough as they are, that is what Free Flow is. The horse does not need to do or change anything to earn my harmony and partnership.
  4. They are important to me, and they know that by the way I scan the environment and watch carefully for danger when that is what they need, or, if we agree there is nothing stressful, I fully match or complement where their focus is. What is important to my horse is also important to me.


This list is obviously a list of things we can do to Extrinsically motivate horses to enjoy our company. How do we turn that EXTRINSIC motivation into INTRINSIC motivation? The answer: We repeat it often enough and, most importantly, we end every interaction on the best feeling possible.

You see, the brain is constantly recognizing and interpreting experience, and the last perception to occur in any sequence is what the brain grabs hold of and remembers best about that situation.


In Freedom Based Training that is an important concept we use perpetually. If I can CAUSE a good feeling (EXTRINSIC motivation) in any interaction and have the lasting memory of that interaction be good. then next time a similar interaction occurs, the horse’s brain will automatically fire off a good feeling through the body and they have instantly rewarded themselves (INTRINSIC) for participating in that interaction.


That brings us around to the original question.


“How do you reward behavior you like in your horse?”


Regardless of how we choose to live, life has to have the yin and the yang, the black and the white, the pleasant and the unpleasant because it is contrast that shows us the richness of life. Reward has to have a counterbalance of “lack of reward”.


When I spend time in Free Flow with a horse I am giving the horse exactly what they need in every moment (to the best of my ability), and during that time I am making a catalogue in my mind of everything that appears challenging for that horse – the things they would rather not do for very long. The better I know my horse, the better job I can do to shape our relationship into one where we both enjoy our time together to the utmost degree possible.

Then slowly and gently I can start using my personal choices as EXTRINSIC motivators. When I see a behavior I like, I reinforce it with Flow (harmony between the horse and me) doing something that is well within the comfort zone. This is no longer “Free” as it was earlier because the horse earned it by doing something I liked. Then, when the horse does something I don’t like, I am going to step into doing something challenging for my horse all the while looking for that moment when the challenging thing feels a little better than it did, at which moment I will go back to Flow with my horse. (Remember, building good feelings about challenging things is how we build INTRINSIC motivation for the horse to try challenges with you.)


You see it is all about the timing of when we take action that is different or challenging in some way, or when we take action to step back into Flow.


Using Flow and harmony as a motivator with your horse only works if you have done enough of it for free and they know they like it and want it.


If you are going to offer something as a reward, make sure it is something that has some degree of INTRINSIC good feeling attached to it. And if you offer something as a reward, there has to be a counterbalancing lack of reward somewhere in the experience. This is how motivation works.

Now that you know how this works, your choice is simply the degree of intensity you choose to use in any of your relationships. How much pressure is felt and how much reward is offered in contrast is up to you!


Freedom Based Training is all about subtlety and awareness. We are all training each other all the time whether we understand it or not.


Think about it next time you are with your human friends. How are they answering your four questions, and how are you answering theirs?


  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I am special to you by the way you look at me?


How is your brain patterned for expectation? And does that patterning and expectation of good feeling affect how much you want to be with those friends?


Can you see the balance between reward and lack of reward that gives us motivation to make certain behavioral choices?


If there is enough of a sense of belonging, we will do almost anything for our friends; and when we have the understanding that some small behavioral change will earn us more of a sense of belonging, we will do even more for our friends.


Horses are like this also.


The ways we express ourselves with horses will of course be different than we do with people, but I find the core values are very much the same. They might be prey animals while we are more predator like, but we are both herd creatures!


If you enjoyed this blog, please stop by the Kickstarter for Taming Wild’s second movie and take a moment to support it during November 2017!


I can’t wait to take all the theory that has been developed so far through Freedom Based Training and take it into action down the trail as we cross Costa Rica. The two horses who take that journey with us will teach us even more I am sure, and I can’t wait to share it in the movie “Taming Wild: Pura Vida”.


Hooves and Heartbeats,


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,







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.


Soaking Up The Silence


December in the Pacific Northwest brings its own character-building atmosphere into play. I am finding each year I love it a little more than I did the year before. Enveloped in fog, kissed by frost, christened by the perpetual moisture in the air: rain, snow, sleet, mist or some combination of all at the same time. Cocooned in a perpetually dim cloud-covered dome of existence, only to be swept occasionally into the brilliant clarity of a piercing sunshine, visiting for a day or two before the cocoon of cloud cover wraps you again in its comforting cloak.


I feel a sense of peace, safety, and deep personal challenge here. There is something about the almost endless, deep, grey skies and the piercing clear moments of sun that break through. Almost as though the weather brings safety, challenge and clarity in waves, the same way I aim to do in relationship with my horses.


More and more I am realizing this work with horses is about being aware. Increasingly aware of why, when and how we do what we do. Nothing is meaningless; actions are tuned in as communication or are tuned out to be merely static and noise in the environment.


The world gives high praise to trainers with “good feel and good timing”. What does that mean and how does one achieve that elusive “good feel and good timing”? Can it be learned or taught? Or is it something one is simply born with or touched by, like a whimsy from a supreme deity.


I believe feel and timing are skills that can be learned, and I believe my greatest work is honing those skills each and every day.


My work begins in a foundation of silence.


I am talking about the silence of harmony. If actions and movements are sound and everything means something, silence is how we find the spaces between words and hear the music play out of the static.


Sound has meaning in counterpoint to silence.


Movement has meaning in counterpoint to other movement.


Every movement we make has a meaning, a sound, a song, a harmony or a deafening screech of meaningless static, like a radio dial that can’t find a station while we grasp desperately at the volume adjustment.


With your horse, begin with the silence. Before you play with the noise.


Soak up the silence, become one with the silence, let it tear you open and bare your soul to the world. Simply be.


As human beings I find we tend to try and fill all the silences, using words and thoughts and explanations to buffer us from feeling what actually IS in any moment.


That elusive “feel and timing” that great horse trainers have, it begins with a willingness to be quiet and soak up the silence. Only then can we feel our way through speaking with our horses in ways that bring us the relationship we seek.


This quiet I speak of, what does it mean? How does it apply with horses? It is about harmony, it is about reading the body language of the horse and knowing how to be, when to be, where to be, to speak or to be quiet.


In order to be heard or to listen well, we need to first find the silences and learn to make the silences in such a way that allows sound to have meaning and clarity when it happens.


This is feel and timing.


Imagine a chess board in the space around your horse. You are an all powerful chess piece and can move in any direction at any speed from one spot to another. Your horse has likes and dislikes, preferences and comforts that you may or may not be aware of. Spatially, does your horse like you farther away or closer to? Does your horse like you touching them or not touching them? Each horse is an individual and has a different idea of harmony.


Can you be in harmony with what this particular horse enjoys? That is finding the silence.


Can your horse be in harmony with what you enjoy? That is finding the silence.


Once you have found the silence, can you simply be there? No noise, just be there in the silence.


This is not a magical “feel the energy” type of thing, this is real and tangible and very learnable on a physical plane!


If your horse likes you five feet from their neck on the left side, can you simply be there for a while and read their body language to know you have not overstayed your welcome or worn out your harmony. When they walk, you walk; when they stop, you stop; when they breathe, you breathe; when they watch the horizon, you watch the horizon. Can you be in harmony with them? Can you soak up the silence together?


Then, can you move to another place of harmony, find another source of silence BEFORE the first one feels uncomfortable? This is timing.


Every being on earth seeks comfort. In relationship one being’s idea of comfort is often another being’s description of discomfort. Feel and timing is finding where, when and how two beings are comfortable together, and then letting the nature of relationship stretch us and develop us so we learn and evolve into finding comfort in more and different ways.


Harmony is the silence. A voluntary being together of beings is the silence I encourage you to soak in.


Move from one spatial relationship to another with a feel for harmony. Don’t wait to be kicked out of the one you are in, don’t wait for your horse to pin their ears at you, or walk away with a determination to oust you out of the spatial relationship you chose. Find a new silence and another new one and another new one, each harmony of relationship a new place to bask in each other’s company.


Then, when you have found all the places of harmony and silence, make brief and temporary visits into the world of sound. Sound is the counterpoint to silence. If movement in harmony is silence, movement that is challenging is sound.


Move to a place your horse is challenged by, but don’t stay there. Move right on through to a place of harmony again. We visit the places of challenge and retreat to the places of harmony. Again and again until the places of challenge become more familiar and we can stay for a little longer, and then eventually familiarity begins to become comfort, perhaps even enjoyment.


As a practical explanation of this, in the movie Taming Wild I was aiming to ride Myrnah in voluntary harmony. How do you take a wild mustang and convince them they want to be ridden, in harmony, with the whole process voluntary?


You start with the silences. You bask in the harmony of being together in ways that are comfortable. Then you challenge the comfort zone briefly by visiting the spaces that are less comfortable. That visiting of places less comfortable, that is the music of training and the evolution and development of relationship.


My point is, the music is only as beautiful and valuable as the silences we find in counterpoint.


The language and interchange of ideas between horse and human is a beautiful thing. This beautiful interchange of ideas and movements is made more beautiful by a constant evolution of the harmony and effortlessness of being together.


This effortless togetherness, is the silence I speak of.


Bask in the harmony.


Soak up the silence.


Make music and develop new and exciting ways of being together from this quiet place.


This is how relationships are built.


Wishing you depths of silence you have only dreamt of and brilliant counterpoints of music in the New Year.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


  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


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.


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