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Tag Archives: extrinsic

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:

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

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

IMG_5810The Goal:

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

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

And then we have the rest of life….

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

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

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

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

Being in the Zone.

Working in a state of flow.

Being defined by what I love.

Living in the now.

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

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

Elsa Sinclair