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Tag Archives: curiosity



The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language




The Goal:

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





All of us are either moving toward something we want, or away from something we don’t want. Usually it is some combination of the two that motivates us; however, if we can break it down to the simplest equation, life gets easier to understand. What are we paying attention to, and are we moving towards it, or away from it? Are we moving towards the life we want? Or are we running from the life we are afraid of?

This past weekend I attended a workshop put on by a mounted policeman, Bill Richey. Two days of smoke bombs, flares, lines of fire, hanging plastic, bridges, barking dogs, police cars, sirens and lights. I had intended to ride my mustang, Saavedra, through all this; however, she hurt herself a few weeks beforehand and left me without a ride. Several people jokingly suggested I take Myrnah and I laughed saying, maybe next year.

This time around my dear friend, Heather, jumped at the chance to send her four-year-old Gypsy horse Sage through the course with me. So Friday we loaded up the trailer with Cameron’s horse, Maharrah, Maggie’s horse, Joy, Sage as my mount, and we were off to Butler Hill Equestrian Center. For any of you interested there will be more of these clinics offered at Butler Hill. They do a wonderful job of putting them on, and everyone walks out of the clinic far more confident in day to day life than they arrived.

Throughout the workshop I had a great deal of time to watch and think about how things work. Sage, true to his Gypsy lineage, is a pro at handling chaos; so I got to sit back and watch the show everyone else put on as we walked through the obstacles. Starting with a simple sheet of plywood we formed a line and walked over it again and again until most everyone was OK with it. Then we added a bridge, walking around in a circle over the bridge and then over the plywood until everyone was fine with that… and so the obstacle practice continued. For the less tangible obstacles like noise, we rode drill patterns weaving in and out of the other horses, walking steadily on until the horses got used to the whistles, sirens, barking dog and so on. By day two everyone had progressed to navigating bridges with visually impenetrable smoke billowing from beneath, crossing lines of fire, and walking under hanging tarps and swinging curtains of clattering pipes.

All day I watched horses wrestling with the choice to run away or move forward where their riders asked and I came to this conclusion: a bridle is simply an attention-getting device. As you ride a horse toward an obstacle he is afraid of, his first instinct is to look for his escape route, and then run away. The bridle, depending on its severity and the horse’s willingness to have his attention directed, allows us to insist the horse pay attention to where we want him to go. If you cause enough pain, you can grab anyone’s attention, at least for a moment. Once the horse is looking in the right direction, pressure on the bridle releases, pain goes away, and the horse starts thinking perhaps the thing he was afraid of is actually less painful than the escape route he thought he wanted to take. And so, little by little, the horse learns that moving toward something his rider directs him to is far more pleasant than running away from something he thinks he might be afraid of.

We are all constantly weighing our options with more or less awareness depending on our stress levels. What feels better- what feels worse, it doesn’t have to be logical or rational. It is just that simple emotionally: we all want to feel better, and we will do whatever it takes. Horses run into burning barns because the familiarity of their stall feels better than the unfamiliar outside. People on a runaway horse will scream at the top of their lungs, not because it’s the smart thing to do, just because the scream makes them feel better.

We all do stupid things sometimes in an effort to feel better. What kind of pain, or attention-getting device would it take to redirect our attention and look at the other options? Here is what I think: the lower the stress levels, the more aware we can be about redirecting our attention. The higher the stress levels, the more pain it will take to redirect our attention. The beautiful thing about taking Sage, the Gypsy horse, through the course this past weekend was, he naturally doesn’t carry much stress. So riding him in a halter was easy. Add to that the nature of the course and the constant rhythmic walking we all did for hours on end, whatever stress was coming up was constantly being drained away. The less stressed we are carrying, the smarter we get and the clearer we can see options of where to move forward instead of panicking and running away.

So that brings me back to Myrnah and our training with no tools. If I don’t have a bridle as an attention-getting device, what will I do when she wants to go somewhere I do not want to go? What do I do when she decides something is frightening and she needs to run from it?

For now the working hypothesis is: Attention Attention Attention! I have to train her to bring her attention back to me or back to the the direction I choose over and over again. I have to train that habit in her so strongly that I don’t need pain to get it. I need to use persistence and timing to teach her to yield to the pressure of my fingertips. She needs to become patterned to yielding her attention whenever I ask, over and over and over again in low stress situations, so when stress increases in any given situation she has a pattern of behavior with me that will hopefully circumvent the need for a bridle.

This week we took our riding outside the paddocks and around the circle driveway. Slowly Myrnah’s confidence builds and she is willing to walk twelve steps instead of just seven, and then fifteen, and then more between each pause to gather her thoughts. Her deep breaths come more often, and I can feel the stress draining away as we travel together. My rides still only last for five minutes or less, but after a rest I jump on and we play again.

Wednesday we encountered a slight downhill, and as my weight shifted Myrnah lost confidence and gave a scoot and a buck. I jumped off and had her practice backing up the slight incline. Shifting her weight back will help her balance my extra weight as she carries me over terrain. If I had a bridle on her I could have quickly redirected her attention, helping her find her balance on the slope. Without a bridle and with her current stress levels about carrying weight, I didn’t have enough pressure to redirect her attention while I was on her. So I do whatever I need to do. Jump down, talk to her from a position she can hear me from, and then I can get back on to see what we can do together- after patterns of attention directing have been reestablished.

I never said this was the fastest way to train a horse, but I am without doubt learning more about how everything works through this process and Myrnah’s help. When Myrnah and I do get it right and I can get her attention with a whisper instead of a shout, every moment we spent getting there feels worth it.

So here is to redirecting attention and getting smarter as we figure out how to move forward into a life that feels better.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

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


This Baby is a Dancer…

Sunset… Some of our best rides are at sunset. Work for the day is done; the light in the sky is fading fast. Osgar Lopez’s guitar sets the tone from a red, mud-spattered, boom box beside the arena. Myrnah and I travel together, step for step, stride for stride, side by side; and that baby dances right along with us. Myrnah is solid and seemingly unaffected by the fact that her belly jumps and dances to the left and right completely independently of the movements she and I make together. This baby is a dancer and will not be denied.

I don’t remember this kind of movement from any of the other unborn foals I have spent time with, perhaps though, I have never spent so much time with my other mares as I am now with Myrnah: my arm draped across her back, my ribs pressed against hers, our steps and our timing moving as one… and that baby, clearly moving independently from either of us. The movements under Myrnah’s ribs and beside mine don’t feel aggressive or constrained; it just feels like a dance that cannot be contained.

This baby seems to only dance at sunset though. When Myrnah and I ride in the mornings, the baby sleeps quietly though everything. While our morning rides tend to be focused and productive, our evening rides are a wonder as this third character dances amidst our practice.

Myrnah has indeed decided she likes having me ride more than she likes the incessant moving I like to do with her when I am not riding. She likes the peacefulness of putting me up on the mounting block; she likes my still, reverent patience as I let her adjust to and understand carrying weight on her back. She doesn’t seem to mind carrying her dancing baby and me all at the same time- though it is still very new to her, every step a consideration and a thoughtful undertaking.

Myrnah will walk a few steps and then stop to think about it. A careful lean one way and then the other, as though getting the feel for what happens to the weight on her back when she moves, a back up for a step or two, a rest, and then forward again followed by stillness. I am, for the most part, a devoted passenger. I cue gently with my hands and my legs in any direction she chooses, letting her match the feel of my body with the direction of her choice. When Myrnah takes a few steps with more confidence or gives a sigh of relaxation, I jump off and let her contemplate us from a more familiar standpoint.

For most of the week, that was our pattern of practice, our rides lasting for up to five minutes before I would dismount. Today Myrnah felt more confident, allowing me to ask for movement forward, backward, left and right. It is a thrill though me as I ask for a move or a turn with my fingers on her neck and my ankle at her girth… knowing we have practiced this for months from the ground, and yet also knowing I can’t make her do anything she doesn’t choose to do. If I pushed too hard, I think she would escalate her movement until she got me off her back. I am there as a guest; I make no demands, only requests. If I don’t like where she takes me, I am free to get off. Myrnah is not a slave, she is my partner, and this is a discussion between us. Someday, when she trusts me enough, she may allow me to dictate her movement; but for now she reserves the right to ask me to get off, so I had best be polite in my requests for movement.

This baby, however, doesn’t need to be polite at all. He may dance however he chooses, tumbling Myrnah’s belly this way and that while she patiently allows him be the dancer he is. There will be plenty of time to teach him to be polite later on. For now she has her work cut out keeping me in line.

So as the light fades from the sky each night and the silky strains of guitar music fill the air, you can know Myrnah and I will be riding and building our skills together, while this baby does his best to distract us from the seriousness of our endeavors, because this baby is a dancer and will not be denied.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


The Beauty of Adrenaline


It was a classic Pacific Northwest day: a light and steady rain all morning followed by a pervasive mist falling from the sky for the rest of the daylight hours- a damp, yet beautiful, February day. On this particular day, Myrnah and I had an adventure planned. Sometimes, stepping outside the normal patterns can change the way you look at everything. Step too far and the change feels stressful; step just far enough and the thrill of energy that courses through your veins is intoxicating. Myrnah and I needed something new; we needed to feel the beauty of adrenaline.


Without tools to push development on a faster track, we have found ourselves practicing the same tasks over and over for months. Go, stop, turn, back up, walk together, trot together, get on, get off- rinse and repeat. We have often changed the location of practice in areas around our home, but have been cautious about straying into unfamiliar territory. More specifically, strange dogs and random cars in our neighborhood have been seen from a distance and that has been fun- a moment of intensity as I wonder what Myrnah will do about the stress, and she wonders if she needs to do anything at all. Then the moment passes leaving just a little extra energy in its wake.


This week Myrnah and I were going somewhere different: a trip in the horse trailer, her first since traveling from southern Oregon with Cleo as wild horses. Myrnah has breakfast in the trailer most days of the week (she has local hay available all the time, it is just the richer eastern Washington timothy hay that gets doled out in smaller quantities in specific locations), so getting in the trailer is nothing out of the ordinary. Driving away and leaving all her friends behind was a completely new experience however.


Our destination was a three-acre lot at the San Juan Country Fairgrounds. Used for parking during the fair, it remains empty for the rest of the year. A beautiful combination of woods and grass, well-fenced so encounters with cars and dogs would be limited to what we saw through the fence, it was a perfect first destination. A big thank-you goes out to the caretakers who allowed us to come use the space.


Margaret came up from the city to film the event, my daughter, Cameron, walked up from town after her swim lessons to see how it was all evolving, Myrnah and I were there for as long as it took to get home again- that was the thrilling part of the adventure. I really didn’t know how soon Myrnah would be willing to get back in the trailer to go home after the trip to town. I didn’t know how much this adventure would push the edges of her comfort zone. I had a feeling we were ready though.


Eleven-thirty on Thursday morning, Margaret pulled in the driveway, set up the video equipment, and we were ready to roll. Myrnah hopped right in the trailer for breakfast. Cleo knew something was up when I brought over one of the school horses to be in the paddock next to her for the day, and we were off.

Traveling, Myrnah did nothing but impress me as usual. She stood loose in the three-horse stock trailer with the relaxed grace I have come to appreciate so much about her. I felt her turn around a couple of times when we were stopped at a stop sign, but, other than that, she seemed to just stand quietly observing the world go by.

Once at the fairgrounds, I let her be in the trailer for a few moments while we got gates closed and the space organized. Myrnah seemed still and patient with a soft eye, licking and chewing as she watched and digested all the changes. I opened the door and she came out gently, yet so beautifully alert. There really is a beauty to adrenaline.


For the next hour and a half Myrnah and I alternated traveling and exploring the space together and letting her graze the grass that was far lusher and greener than anything we currently have at home. My favorite moment of the day was when I discovered she would follow me, with ears pricked forward, at the trot when I started to run. The added energy of the new location made speed feel fun for Myrnah instead of the disliked task it usually presents as at home. So we weaved through trees and ran across meadows, played with circles and stops, back-ups and the best part- grazing the green, green grass everywhere underfoot.

The interesting part of the day was when a group of children came out to play in the school yard on the other side of the fence. They were far away, yet the racket they made put Myrnah on high alert; and then, to my dismay, she took control of the situation and trotted off with me running behind until Myrnah had gotten us as far away as she could from the disturbing chaos. I have to admit I was glad for the fence that stopped her; I am not sure I am fit enough to have run as far away as she would have wanted to go. Once she felt safe enough, she reconnected to me, and, little by little, we made our way back to the center of our play area. Our bond felt tenuous after that, as though Myrnah wasn’t sure she could trust my decisions as a leader; but she didn’t distrust me either, she just held tight to her right to leave if the children or the basketball players across the field scared her too much.

For the most part we worked well together with lots of breaks to watch the players across the fence. Every once in a while though Myrnah would lead me in a fast run across the lot to the far side where she felt safer. She didn’t leave me, because I was right there with her, but it was clear she wouldn’t have stopped if I had asked, she took control of the situation and led us to safer ground.


After an hour and a half, the people playing in the neighboring field were not so worrisome anymore, and I decided it was time to load up and go home. Myrnah had other ideas.


We could approach the trailer and stand at the open door for a brief period of time, and then Myrnah would take definitive action, turning away to go somewhere else. I can stop her, and turn her and ask her to go forward, but I cannot make her do something she doesn’t want to do. She and I both know that.


Early on I wrote a blog: “For Every No, There Is a Yes Nearby”. Thursday, loading in the trailer, I definitely leaned on those ideas. For months I have been telling myself I would really like to spend more time walking with Myrnah. It is something horses do together and I feel we both benefit from it- traveling side by side, stride for stride, traveling miles, not just a few minutes, the rhythm and distance building the bond between us. Well, here was my chance. Walking together was the yes Myrnah was offering me; trailer loading was a no until she decided otherwise. Grazing was over for the day; there was hay and water in the trailer and until she decided to head in there, we were moving together.

So we moved. Sometimes, when Myrnah wanted to emphasize how much she didn’t want to get in the trailer, we ran away from it together. I want to practice trotting with her anyway, so it was a win-win situation. Whenever Myrnah wanted to look at the trailer, standing fairly close to it, we could rest. For an hour and a half we traveled together with only brief rests at the trailer. When we were standing there I would move forward a test step towards the trailer to see if I could walk in first to play with the hay and splash in the water bucket, but every time she would turn her head away and tell me she would rather go somewhere else than watch me walk toward the trailer. So that is what we would do, move together some more.

I have to say, about an hour into this trailer project I found myself considering all the contingency ideas: calling someone to come pick up Cameron and take her home for the night. Saying goodbye to Margret and letting go of the filming aspect of the day, bundling up in all my coats and putting on my head lamp so Myrnah and I could just keep traveling together through the dark until she was ready to load into trailer. I was there for the long haul. If Myrnah needed me to jog a marathon with her before she was ready to get in the trailer, that is what we would do. Lucky for me, just after I had figured out all my contingency plans, Myrnah decided she was ready to go home. We were standing resting, looking at the trailer, and this time, when I began to walk forward into it, she kept looking at me. I walked in and splashed in the water bucket and she quietly followed after me. She wasn’t thirsty, but did munch on a little hay. I walked out and closed the big door, reentering by the side door to sit with her, relaxing and listening to her chew before we headed home.


The drive home was as uneventful as the drive out had been. Myrnah was happy and relaxed as she stepped out of the trailer, perhaps just a little more alert than usual with the beauty of adrenaline still coursing through us both. Another challenge conquered, the stress proving energizing and fun, the day bonding us together just a little more.


Elsa Sinclair 


PS The next day, Friday, Myrnah jumped right in the trailer without hesitation. Completely unscarred from the previous day’s adventure, the beauty of adrenaline seemingly all positive this time around. May we always be so lucky as we push forward into the unknown.

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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




Progress with Myrnah is a meandering path of smelling the roses. We have plenty of goals we would like to reach; however, the journey is entirely more important than any destination. As you all know, I sat on Myrnah a couple of times back in October while she was eating hay, and she was completely at ease about it. Then abruptly she decided she didn’t like weight on her back, and we embarked on what seemed like an endless discussion developing her tolerance of my getting on and off. Our training in that area largely seemed to plateau, and every time I broke the process down, it seemed I needed to break it down some more, take it slower, wait with more quiet understanding, and enjoy the moments with her regardless. I am pleased to say yesterday we had a breakthrough!


Every day Myrnah and I practice moving together: walking trotting, turning, and generally traveling through space side by side with as much grace as we can muster. The fun part is, she continually asks me if we can stop at the mounting block and play that game instead. Even though she can’t tolerate my sitting on her back for more than a moment, she seems to trust me to respect her apprehensions and is drawn to the process of learning about weight on her back as much as I am. For months now all she could tolerate was a moment of my sitting on her. I would slide on, feel every muscle tense up for a reactive explosion, and I would slide off. If I wasn’t quick enough, I would be sliding off as she scooted forward or backward. Myrnah’s tension was instantly high enough in response to weight on her back there wasn’t any chance of asking her to bend her neck around to look at me, or really to ask anything at all of her. All we could do was quietly and patiently play advance and retreat, allowing her to realize the weight was only temporary.

This week on Tuesday and Wednesday came the breakthrough in riding. Myrnah and I had begun pushing the envelope a little in terms of trotting together side by side: another exercise which she was brilliantly relaxed about back in October, yet became averse to shortly thereafter. So each day we patiently played advance and retreat with the movements, enjoying the time together regardless of the apparent progress.


On Tuesday when we began to advance to trot more frequently (yet briefly) Myrnah became more and more insistent that the game at the mounting block was the one she would rather play. Once there I would take my time to settle with her and then slide on where, to my surprise, on this day, her tension would come up only slowly giving me a few more seconds to sit there each time before I slid back to the ground. It may not seem like much to the outside observer, but after months of approach and retreat the change felt dramatic and exciting to me.


Wednesday we played more of the same and were even able to start asking for a bend around, Myrnah’s nose coming over to investigate my hand or my foot any time I asked. And then we began to move together. The first few times it was a pure offer from Myrnah: a few hesitant steps forward followed by her reaching around to touch me as if to ask if we were still all right. Pretty soon I was able to ask for those few steps, my leg just behind her elbow asking her to move, just like we have been practicing using hand pressure when we walk side by side. We traveled no more than perhaps six steps each time I sat on her, and sometimes we just stood and didn’t travel at all. The breakthrough in interest between Myrnah and me about riding together felt amazing.

It really has been interesting to train Myrnah without any recourse of action when she says no. When I have tools I have all sorts of games of distraction I can play to get around a no. With Myrnah, all we can do is sit with it, play with it, let it be, and let her say no as many times as she needs to before she decides she is ready to say yes.


I honestly don’t know if this is the best way to train a horse. I don’t know if Myrnah is any happier or better off than any of the other horses I train using more tools of force. I do know, however, this process is teaching me more about horses every day than I ever imagined it would. Myrnah I feel is teaching me every bit as much I am teaching her, and the high of the breakthrough this week, simple as it was, means more to me than most of what I have accomplished with my other horses over the years.


I don’t know how it is that one simple little change can feel so monumental. This breakthrough is worth every moment I have spent patiently approaching and retreating for months. It feels like there are no words to convey the brilliance of this moment for Myrnah and I, but trust me, it’s all worth it.


Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

Quality of Life


Life with horses for me is all about enjoyment. I am not going to the Olympics, nor am I facing life-or-death situations. I ride simply because I love each moment of the experience. Quality of life is what it is all about for me.

Myrnah, I am finding, also has a great deal to say about her quality of life. What she likes and what she dislikes she seemingly tells me without hesitation. Given her freedom to walk away from me any time she may choose, I have no choice but to listen and make sure she enjoys working with me as much as I enjoy working with her. Quality of life must remain high for both of us in order for this relationship to continue functioning. I like that.

This last weekend I attended a workshop all about liberty work with horses. It was taught by a woman who believes in letting go of the stick and ropes and simply using body language to communicate with the horse. I was excited to learn from someone who seemed to have similar ideas to my current mustang project, and though I brought a horse more traditionally trained, I hoped she would be able to shed new light and inspiration onto the work Myrnah and I do together.

Much to my disappointment, over this weekend the walls of the round pen became the tools with which to dominate. The teachings all rested on the concept of being able to push the horse away (using only body language) and ask it to keep running until it was called back to you. While I attempted to remain humble and open minded to ideas different from my own, in the end I feel I utterly failed in this situation.

I walked through the steps of the liberty process to the best of my ability, I let the teacher work me like a marionette: Go, stop, click, pressure, stop, get behind the horse, find the diagonal line, don’t block with your shoulder. I tried to make it work for me because learning comes when you step outside what you think you already know. With every step I watched the outcomes and felt for the connection between my horse and me. I tried to ignore the sinking feelings as I felt my quality of life degrade; I tried to trust the teacher and put aside my judgments; I tried to give her the chance to show me the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to learn something new and beautiful that might in the long run raise my quality of life with horses and their quality of life with me.

The two-year-old Gypsin Gelding who had accompanied me to the clinic had stepped out of the trailer with a feel of joy and connection, and perhaps a little apprehension about the new spaces, however by our third session in the round pen, it broke my heart to feel I was no longer sure if he would come to me at all when I called. After being pushed against the rails of the round pen repeatedly and constantly- told he had not yet gone forward fast enough, or clean enough or long enough, our partnership felt disconnected, unfocused, and frustrated.

The very best feeling I got with my horse all weekend was ironically the part where I did everything wrong. Halfway through a very frustrating second session when I went to put pressure on him, instead of running off like he was supposed to he turned to face me and reared up. I chose that moment to trip over my own toes, fell headlong underneath him, and had to tuck and roll in order to narrowly miss his substantial hooves as they headed back to earth. He was surprised and startled and did his best to avoid me as I avoided him. I rolled to my feet and asked him to move off again, and he did so with the beautiful connected brilliance that is common for us when we play at home. I wanted to cry with relief as he pranced around me, and in those next few moments I wish I had called him in to reward and nurture that bond our moment of excitement had given us. Instead we continued the prescribed program, and the momentary brilliance was once again replaced with dull resistance from both of us as we tried to get the actions correct and follow instructions.

Now I have no doubt of the brilliant artistry of the teacher, and I have no doubt she can train liberty horses better than almost anyone. She may even have a joy and a lightness to her training that I was unable to find following her teaching. What I do know is: if I had to follow the courses of action I learned this weekend to train my horses, I would give it all up. I would sell my horses and do something different with my life. My present quality of life is too dear to me to trade for some eventual future outcome.

I ride and train horses because it brings joy to my life every day. I choose to ride and train in ways that feel good to both my horse and me more of the moments we share than not. I choose to train in a way that increases our quality of life perpetually.

There will be ups and downs, moments that feel better or worse as we push out into new territory to grow and develop. Overall, though, quality of life must remain high because that is why I ride and train. It isn’t about some future result; it is about the past and the present and the future all intertwined in what is my life, shared with those I love.

I aim to value the past, the present, and the future equally because all play a part in creating the life I want to live. If I can keep the quality of life high in the present, soon enough it will become the past, and the future will always be something pulling us forward into becoming the best of ourselves.

Thank-you, Myrnah, for reminding me every day that the quality of life right here in the present is just as important as anything we might be striving for in the future.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


“The Great Affair is to Move”

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”

This week for Myrnah and me has been about just that. The love affair between us is what makes it possible for us to work and grow and learn together without any bonds of force. The ever analytical part of me wants to know how and why that works. Everyone else I know needs a halter and a rope and a round pen to build that bond between horse and rider… why is it that Myrnah and I get to skip those forceful steps and jump right into the voluntary love affair?

I believe the answer lies in movement and how we choose to use it. Our movement through space is the greatest love affair there is. If you have ever watched a talented dancer entrance a crowd with the twitch of a finger, or a brilliant comedian cause the audience to burst into uproarious laughter with the well-timed raise of an eyebrow… you know what I mean.

Everything means something, nothing means nothing… learning to place value in every movement, and reverence in traveling through space is an art and the best part about art is you can’t do it wrong. The trick is to enjoy it completely as you figure out the cause and affect your movement creates and learn from the ripples of change around you.

Because I have no tools to hold Myrnah close to me, my job from day one was to make movements that would cause curiosity, interest, joy, peace, and connection between us. I courted her with movement and strove to build a love between us.

Movement is what bonds Myrnah and I together. The more we move together, the stronger our connection. And so the quote seems quite fitting. “The great affair is to move”

I read a quote from a Natural Horsemanship trainer today that made me sad for a moment. “Remember the rules of Horsemanship: Whoever moves first, loses.” Perhaps it is true, but I wish to challenge the customary understanding of this statement. Is this relationship with my horse one where I want her to lose? I don’t know about you, but my answer is a definite no. I want my horse to feel like she has won every moment of every day with me. I want my horse to feel like she is in the best love affair ever and has won the lottery to be my partner. To achieve this I will, in the beginning, voluntarily assume the so-called losing position. I will move through space using advance and retreat and timing a balance of action and inaction to woo my horse into becoming my partner. Once those beginning phases of the relationship are formed then the real fun begins. Moving together is when the whole of our partnership starts becoming so much more than the sum of it’s parts. There is an energy and a lightness of being that can’t be bought or sold, it can only be earned through the devotion of movement.

During the snow this last week, Myrnah and I climbed a hill together with my daughter who took pictures for all to see. The next day we walked out through the woods in a different direction for almost two hours with my brother who videoed the journey for us. I question… would I be able to walk through the woods for two hours with any of my other horses? I have good liberty skills with many of them, but two hours out in the woods is a long time to stay connected and focused. No carrots, or sticks, or ropes. I don’t actually know the answer to that question, yet with Myrnah there was very little doubt.  

I attribute that confidence and that bond between Myrnah and me to our practice of movement together. The hours we have spent traveling in silence side by side, matched step for step, is the glue that binds us together. It isn’t my ability to make her turn, or stop, or go, it isn’t the things I have taught her, or the things she has taught me, it is simply the in between times. It is the times when we move through space with no change or directing necessary. Our ability to communicate left, right, stop or go is vital to our comfort with each other, however it’s our ability to simply move, in quiet harmony without communication, that connects us together like nothing else can.

Placing value in movement together is what allows this experimental training process to succeed.

So what of the riding part of the equation? Myrnah and I are in the courting stage of our relationship when it comes to riding. I do the movement, and she still is deciding if she wants to partner with me. Advance and retreat, a timed balance of action and inaction- the game is marvelous fun for me; and, while Myrnah still seems a little puzzled and unsure about it, I have no doubt that one of these days she will fall in love with the idea of carrying me higher and faster than my own feet can carry me. Our traveling through space together continually evolves and is an endless love affair of movement.

So I put this out to all of you. Value your movements, and observe the ripples they create through time and space around you. If you are looking for a partner and you want that brilliant feeling of connection, find a way to move together, step for step, breath for breath- more time spent existing in movement, less time talking, debating, and communicating about exactly what or how or when. Take the time to just be- in movement together.

Communication brings comfort and trust to the relationship- that is a necessary piece; however the inexplicably beautiful bond and connection between you comes from the time spent when communication isn’t necessary, moving in harmony together. It’s that simple.

“The great affair is to move.” Life is your canvas and movement your paint brush. Paint a landscape your horse can’t resist and revel in the great affair.

Elsa Sinclair

Myrnah thinks that looks like a very big hill to climb…

“Are we really walking up that?”

Almost half way up…

Pine branches are yummy!

Snow is yummy too!

We reached the top!

Cold and windy at the summit.

Headed back down.

Have to stop to make a snow angel, Myrnah’s not so sure about this game.

Stopping for a snow snack.

Elsa likes the snow, Myrnah likes some branches in her snow…

Down the hill through the dark woods…

Almost home.

Not so sure about the snow monster guarding the driveway… luckily monster turns out to be friendly.

Thank-you Cameron for building a fabulous snow monster, and for talking these amazing pictures!

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

The Goal:

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







Shut down or overwhelmed? 

When any of us are shut down or overwhelmed, the space between can seem as narrow as a tightrope and balancing in that calm seems beyond any realm of possibility.

So I want to talk about this side and the other side of the space between.

It’s not wrong to shut down, and it’s not wrong to get overwhelmed and propelled into action; it just doesn’t feel as good as the space between.

The best way I know to find that space between is to have a friend. Yes one can be friends with one’s self, but it is awfully nice to have a friend next to you to help you find your center. On a good day we are friends to our horses, helping them find their center. On a less than good day…. a shove is as good a boost?

People love community, and horses love their herd. The friends around us keep us interested, and push us to grow and develop our emotional fitness as the natural chaos of community can often be overwhelming.

As anyone who has ever been married can tell you, the closer your friends, the more overwhelming they can be; and you wonder why they would choose to hurt you instead of help you? A shove is as good as a boost perhaps?

A brilliant riding instructor once told me abuse only comes when we don’t know what else to do. It is the same for both horses and people. Horses kick and bite when they don’t know what else to do, when they feel alone with no friends and know no way to feel better. When they can’t find the space between, the only choices they can see are to take action- to drive away or flee from anything overwhelming. Fight or flight. Or, if neither fight nor flight seem viable, shut down is all that is left.

So what do we do when the space between cannot be found? What do we do when our horse is angry, or scared, or shut down?

All we can do at that point is be their friend, showing them that we are indeed a friend over and over and again until they believe us.

How, you ask? Approach and retreat is the best way I know. There are many ways to use approach and retreat; however, the basis is always the same- get closer and pull away, only to get closer again, and then pull away again. Getting closer lets the horse know they are not alone and you are their friend; pulling away lets them know you understand they feel overwhelmed and you don’t intend to make it worse. ( This is another way to understand balancing the drive and the draw.)

Even if a horse is shut down or disinterested, the same principles apply. Sometimes just the simplicity of being near them, aware of breathing in and out, is an advance and retreat of intense subtlety. Each breath brings you ever so slightly closer and then farther from them. Closer letting them know they are important to you; farther letting them know you understand they feel overwhelmed.

So when do we use advance and retreat in a big way, and when do we use it in a small way? Usually the rule of thumb is: when the horse feels dominant (anger or bored disinterest) we need to be a playful and provocative friend with big movements in and out of their space. When the horse is feeling lack of confidence (fear or shut down), we need to get quieter, smaller, and gently understanding in our advance and retreat.

What next?

As soon as you see the horse get a glimpse of what feeling good is like, as soon as the horse knows what the space between feels like for a moment, the most important thing in the world is to be still together. Let the horse enjoy what felt so incomprehensible moments ago- the ears forward, the deep breaths, yawns and signs of comfort are the greatest gift you can give a horse. If your horse can associate you with helping him feel better when he doesn’t know how, that bonds you together like nothing else.

We get to be both the cause of overwhelmed or shut down, and the solution. The closer we stay to the space between, the more functional is our relationship with our horse. There is a sense of flow in relationship as there is in anything else. Csikszentmihalyi’s chart is applicable here as well.

Today, working in the pouring rain with Myrnah, I found myself wondering, Why do I ask her to do these silly things that make her uncomfortable? Why do I get on and off her back repeatedly even when I can see her lack of confidence in the shake of her head and the tension in her neck? Why do I ask her to step up on a box when she never has before and doesn’t really need to? Why is that conversation important?

The tasks themselves are not important; however the tasks create pressure. Pressure causes growth, and, when the pressure is too much for Myrnah, I get to play advance and retreat until she finds her center again. I get to show her I am her friend and I will help her feel good again, no matter how much pressure she feels.

Today, beneath the drenching clouds and standing in the puddles, I didn’t really think Myrnah would step up on that silly platform. No halter, no rope, no stick, no treats… Nonetheless, the conversation was fascinating. Sometimes we worked in the sweet spot of flow, and she was interested in me and the box; sometimes I pushed too hard, and she marched off angry and alone. I would follow, playing advance and retreat until she felt like I was a friend again. Then we would re-approach and converse about the silly platform. When finally she did step up, calm as could be, I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face. She wasn’t forced into that action, she had plenty of exits, yet she chose it because I asked, and the look on her face was neither shut down nor overwhelmed. She was firmly in the space between. Happy to be quiet and still with me, enjoying life completely.

Happy New Year,

May you always find the space between.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

The Space Between

Some call it perspective. For some it is the zen state of mind, for some it is the oneness with everything, for some it is non-dualism. Some find it though yoga, some find it through meditation, some find it through art, some study with masters and some stumble upon it by accident. For me, horses bring me to the space between….

Somewhere between disinterest and overwhelming emotion there is a space where life is at its best. We may think we live for emotion, that it is what brings intensity and vibrancy to life… I would argue that perhaps we can only enjoy the intensity of emotions when we have the presence of mind to be confidently one with that feeling, once it becomes too much for us we would rather run away. The space between is this side of overwhelmed and the other side of disinterested.

With horses, far too often they can go from uninvolved to scared or angry in the blink of an eye. The space between feels narrow and unforgiving. Training can feel like walking a tight rope, rapids below, wind buffeting from the sides. If we get it right, the feeling of relationship is exhilarating; if we loose our balance, we feel cold and alone wondering where it went wrong.

My goal with horses is to build that tight rope into a bridge by broadening our focus, our attention, our fascination, and our enjoyment of life.

How we do that links back to one of my first blogs about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s chart and the state of flow.

The sense of play that I was pondering last week also comes into account, as well as the balance between drive and draw.

What if the relationship we had with our horse was always this side of overwhelmed and the other side of disinterested? What if, no matter how quiet and repetitive the practice, we always felt fascinated and interested? What if, no matter how high the intensity of emotion and pressure, we felt we had the space and the perspective to enjoy it?

The emotion feeding us with energy, a sense of space allowing us confidence that no intensity was too high to handle.

Like anything, this usually needs to be built and developed one gradual step at a time.

Myrnah and I began with drive and draw. A direct gaze felt like drive to her; to look away and take in the environment felt like draw to her. My job was to play at this drive and draw over and over until she was fascinated by her part in the game, letting her figure out that focus and attention to me would cause me to take action that felt like draw to her. That draw would cause her to feel curiosity and connection with me.

When she was disinterested, it would cause me to take action that felt like drive. Here is where the tight rope analogy comes in. Drive too hard and what was once a game now feels overwhelming and frightening to her. Drive has to stay in balance with draw in order for that space between to grow in strength, breadth, and depth.

Should I draw away too much with no drive to balance it, disinterest sets in. I am of no interest or use to the horse if I am out of balance.

In the beginning it is a delicate balance- a constant back and forth game of drive and draw stimulating interest, keeping the emotions in check, and, step by step, building the tolerance for both intensity and quiet- developing the sense of self that allows intensity to be fulfilling without fear and quiet to be nurturing without boredom.

At times the horse can feel like a child with a bad case of Attention Deficit Disorder. All we can do is love them for who they are in that moment and let the play and the games build them into the focused individual we know they can be.

People often attribute to me more patience than I actually have. Patience would imply I am weathering boredom with good humor as we train. In fact I find, when the progress of building focus is slow with a horse, I can feel a sense of exhilaration as I play along the tight rope of keeping the horse in that narrow gap between boredom and the desire to escape. This is my art.

When you have had the pleasure of partnering with a horse who always seems fascinated by working with you, and never seems phased by the challenges the two of you face, you will never be able to get enough of a relationship like that. It is intoxicating and feeds your soul like nothing else can.

Emotions like anger and fear become entertaining, adding depth and richness to experience. Every emotion is one that adds to the beauty of life, and every challenge is one that builds your connection to the world, to yourself, and each other.

This project with Myrnah is enriching and developing my professional understanding with unprecedented speed and clarity. When I hit a stumbling block with one of my other horses, I ask myself: What would I do if this were Myrnah? What would I do if I had no tools to cause an action? Again and again it comes back to building the focus, and the attention, and the connection- building the space between.

May we all have the space to enjoy life to it’s fullest.

Merry Christmas to all,

Elsa Sinclair

(An immense thank you to John Sinclair for the amazing photographs today, best Christmas present ever!)

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

Positivity in Community

The wet Northwest weather has finally driven us to the wintertime necessity of pulling the horses off the pastures and into paddocks of drier footing. Our summertime pastures are about a mile down the road from my house. The winter paddocks are close, tucked up all around my home, so with this move came a whole new learning opportunity for Myrnah and Cleo: positivity in community.

Myrnah and Cleo still have their own paddock, at least for the moment. The biggest change for them is the level of chaos around. Five of the most exuberant, gleeful, and energetic kids (my daily students) are now part of the Mustang’s regular environment. As the girls run, jump, laugh, and play in and amongst their five very patient horses, Cleo and Myrnah watch on in what seems like fascination and disbelief. The girls adore the mustangs and are good at being quiet when interacting directly with them. However, when the girls are with their own horses being loud and fun, I think it is just wonderful for Myrnah and Cleo to see all that commotion quietly accepted to by the other horses.

The first day the additional horses had made their home at Sanctuary Lane, I took Myrnah out for a walk. Interestingly, she did not want to go see the other horses at all. We played advance and retreat, walking back and forth to and fro, until she worked up the courage to get just a little curious- just curious enough to stand and stare at them where they were resting in the woods at the end of our short driveway. In between long rests for Myrnah’s courage to build, we would weave left and right slowly making our way down the drive two steps at a time. When we got to where the horses were grouped under the trees we just stood across the fence from them, everyone looking at everyone. Turning around to retreat toward the home paddock seemed a great relief for Myrnah that day. I am continually amazed that Myrnah and I can do all this with no halter or rope, no stick, and no treats- only the body language between us necessary.

Myrnah is only three, and when I watched her with her wild herd in Oregon she seemed fairly low in the hierarchy. Obviously a new herd is a little intimidating for her and is something we will work up to slowly.

Cleo is definitely the higher strung of the two Mustangs, and had all the same hesitations walking out to where the new herd was gathered. With her energy, much higher than Myrnah’s, rippling around her her like a force field, I find I am reassured by the halter and rope connection between us. When we got to the other horses, Cleo lost all her reserve showing how much more social she is. She wanted to plunge right over to the new horses and say hi nose to nose. There was an electric wire between us and them, so I kept her a little ways away in spite of her positivity. I was glad to see it none the less.

The following day after lessons were over, the kids and the chaos gone for the day, I gathered my beautiful black Mustang mare, Saavedra, from her paddock and brought her over to meet Myrnah and Cleo. The wonderful thing about Saavedra is her complete trust in my leadership around other horses. When I am with her, there is never an ear laid back, or any sort of threat. She is quiet and easy and relaxed no matter what other horses we encounter. My goal is to impress upon Myrnah and Cleo that this is the kind of behavior expected around humans. They may play whatever dominance games they choose out in the far reaches of the field, however, when humans are close, all dominance games and aggression must be put aside allowing the humans to take leadership.

Saavedra was perfectly wonderful as Cleo came right up to sniff noses, then spun for a kick.. I stepped in with a yell before she had a chance, and off she ran. Myrnah came and said hi and then pinned her ears and went for a charge, teeth bared. I stepped in again and sent her away. Saavedra played her part perfectly: interested, friendly, and simply moving quietly out of the way as the other mares figured out the rules with me.

We then followed them walking around the paddock for a while, allowing them to lead us where they would, Saavedra and I taking a submissive following role and asking to be accepted into their herd. When they stood still, we just stood with them, close enough to be part of the herd, quiet enough they didn’t feel like we were trying to drive them. Eventually Myrnah came over and very positively and gently sniffed noses with Saavedra. Then she stood with us for a moment before she wandered off to eat some hay. Cleo was not so brave; she had been yelled at by me once and wasn’t going to risk it again. We could rest somewhat close to her, but it is going to take some time before she gets brave enough to come over to Saavedra and me again. I am OK with that; I would rather she be more hesitant than aggressive if I have to pick one side of the spectrum.

This process of developing positivity in community is one that takes some time, but is priceless when it comes to ease of coexisting- horses and people together. Saavedra and I will continue to visit with Myrnah and Cleo often. Over time they will understand how socializing around people works, and then I will introduce someone else to them- perhaps a horse more abrasive in nature, more of a challenge to be easy around. For now, Saavedra is the best partner I could possibly have in this process.

By spring when they all go out in the big pastures together, new Mustangs included, I hope to have everyone socialized and positive in community. I do this for me, and for the safety of all the people who spend time with my horses. A part of me also hopes it influences their behavior with eachother: maybe, just maybe if the horses spend time being kind and quiet and gentle with each other around me, their need for dominance games of kicking and biting out in the field will ease and quiet.

All I want is the best for my horses, and I intend to continue learning all I can as we strive to be the best of ourselves together.

Elsa Sinclair