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Tag Archives: flow

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.


Safety Before Comfort


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


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


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


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


The question I think I get asked most often is:

“Where can I practice Freedom Based Training?”

In the pasture in the middle of the herd?

In a separate paddock?

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

While they are eating grass?

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

Or in the woods…

Or in the field…

Or with my dogs playing underfoot…

Or quietly alone?


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Feel and Timing is what relationship is all about.


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


Safety is the foundation that comfort and enjoyment grow from.


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

Hooves and Heartbeats,


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.


It’s all in the Timing


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


This is what I teach.


This is what I am perpetually learning more about!


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Hooves and Heartbeats,



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.

Love it, or Change it


What I do with horses is Freedom Based Training.


We all, horses and people alike, instinctively reach for freedom. Freedom is our ability to be unique and individual and reach out to live a life that suits us.


Training is also part of every day life because training is simply the development of habits. I believe habits form regardless of intention, and, if we can be conscious, then we can form the habits that may serve us. That consciousness and deliberation in training can at times feel restrictive and binding, yet, in a roundabout way, isn’t that more free than the alternative of creating habits randomly that perhaps do not serve us?


We are free to create the lives we want over time within the framework that life offers us developing one small habit at a time.


Watch your thoughts for they become words,
watch your words for they become actions,
watch your actions for they become habits,
watch your habits for they become your character,
watch your character for it becomes your destiny.


Horses do not have words, they have movements – their movements become actions and actions become habits and habits become character and character becomes destiny.


I don’t know about you, but I want my horses to have the best destinies possible. I want them to feel their freedom and uniqueness of being and at the same time develop habits that serve them.


That is Freedom Based Training.


So we start with their thoughts… how do we know what a horse is thinking? We notice where they are looking.


I talked about this in a recent blog, Attention and Confidence


We know what it looks like when a horse is totally self-absorbed, ears relaxed and attention turned inward. As a skill, this is self-confidence.


We know what it looks like when a horse is interested in their leader, ears and eyes following every movement the leader makes. This skill is confidence in the leader.


We know what it looks like when a horse is watching the group, scanning from one individual to the next. This is confidence in the herd.


We know what it looks like when a horse is watching and wanting to focus on and investigate all the objects and environmental variations around him. This is confidence in the environment.


We all know what it looks like when a horse is trying different things to get comfortable, the head coming up and down a little, the body adjusting left and right, the figuring out where in time and space one needs to be to get this right. That is confidence in learning.


Thoughts become actions (looking at something is an action) and this is where training starts.


If we can aim to build good habits in the action of attention, all the other actions follow that.


Here is the key: while all of us are individuals and long to be uniquely and freely ourselves, we also crave connection. We all seek someone who wants to do the things we want to do, we all want partners, we all want harmony and easy association with others around us.


That feeling of ease between characters is dependent on the development of complementary habits.


I truly believe it is our nature to perpetually seek balance between our love of freedom and our love of connection.


Our intrinsic motivation to develop new habits or strengthen old ones (on the horse or human side of the equation) is based on one of those loves- freedom or connection… or can we have both?


It starts with Flow…. A harmony of being that sets the base line for this relationship. Most likely one of the partners in the relationship is going to have to voluntarily give up their freedom for a moment to match the other.


When I start with a horse I match them, I give up my wants and desires and just watch what they are watching and move how they are moving.


Then, in order for my personal freedom to come into play, I have to ask the horse to do something I want to do. I have a choice, I can move towards a draw or a drive.


A draw is a suggestion, an option offered. I walk away and invite the horse to come with me, they can choose to or not.


If they give up their freedom for a moment and follow me, we have flow again. We are building habits that support deeper connection between the two of us.


If they ignore me completely they are exercising their freedom, but they are not developing reciprocal habits of connection. The horse in this case is in essence offering connection just on the horse’s terms; stand here with me and we are a team, do anything else and you are on your own.


Here is the challenge. Freedom and Connection are usually equally important, and I cannot get MORE connection by offering you MORE freedom. I can only get MORE connection by offering MORE connection. (I can often get better connection by offering you better freedom, but that is a nuance to explore in another blog). Simply- we get good at what we practice. Our actions become our habits.


Here is where drive comes up as an option. I am going to do something that is a direct request. My horse is going to feel pressure that increases until they do something that connects us more, and then they feel the release back into flow and partnership.


A halter and a lead line are a form of drive. I may be drawing away, but if they don’t follow me they will feel pressure until they make an effort to connect and do the thing I want to do.


Positive reinforcement training, best known recently as clicker training is a lovely sort of drive. The pressure the horse feels knowing you have a cookie to eat and he has none is eased, if he gives up his freedom for a moment and follows you, so that the cookie may be shared. That is drive.


In a more subtle drive, if I stare directly at my horse with all my focus and intensity and don’t give up, eventually the horse will do something. If that something is something I like, connecting us together, I reward it with Flow. A matching action of me looking in the same direction my horse is looking will be a preferable feeling for the horse. Repeat that enough times and you have a habit.



We are changing our habits all the time, and we are reinforcing our habits all the time. We are, all of us, comfort-seeking missiles. Living in a world where we find comfort in two apparent opposites, connection and freedom, is a rich environment for learning and growth.


The greater variety of things my horse and I can do together the richer our life experience will be. The only way to grow our skills is through this dance of Flow, Drive and Draw.


We do what you love, then we do what I love, then we do what you love, then we do what I love… and then as habits become established, we find we love the same things… or we change again.


Love it or Change it, one small piece at a time.


Here is to Freedom and Connection. We really can have both, that is what Freedom Based Training is all about.


Elsa Sinclair


Ps. If you want to learn more about Freedom Based Training, there is an internet based course in the development process right now that will be offered starting in September 2016. If you want to work with Elsa and Myrnah directly in this online format, email for more information or to get on the list of participants. We will be keeping the participating groups small and the format adaptable to the uniqueness of each horse/human pair.

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.


Progress Isn’t Linear


It was nighttime, I was out riding the trails, maybe ten o’ clock, very dark, the evening was still and deep and my horse and I felt wrapped up in a cocoon of quiet and peace. All that was were the rhythms of existence, breath for breath, swinging movement matching the clip clop of bare hooves and frogs and the breeze singing softly to Cleo and me.


In a sudden moment I realized the air smelled sweet and fragrant and in all honesty my first thought was perhaps I was losing touch with reality – this must be a moment of madness; what smells sweet in the end of February? Scanning the darkness for some reasonable explanation, there it was: a cherry tree in full blossom on the bank of the river. If this was a momentary flood of madness, the physical world was in full accord and here we were with springtime bursting upon us in all its glory, unexpected and so very welcome.


Life is like that; we don’t really ever know what is right around the corner and, however well we plan and prepare, we ultimately must trust that whatever happens is an important part of the process whether it is good, bad, planned or unexpected.


As we started into 2016 I was so very full of ambition. I had a book to finish, a movie to promote, days scheduled full of clients to teach and horses to train, and a discovery that on top of a full day of work, nighttime in the dark was actually an amazingly beautiful time to ride my own horses out on the trails. A sacred quiet time where I could return to my roots and the core reason I do all this work in the first place. A girl and a horse moving together through time and space in consideration of how can we do this better?


Life was heady and full of possibility.


In my plans, life was a perpetual motion machine of experience leading to understanding, leading to teaching and sharing what I was learning, leading to writing of blog and book. I had envisioned this in a very linear fashion: mornings to train and ride, daytimes to teach and travel, nighttimes to meditate out on the trails to the rhythmic pulse of heartbeat and hooves, and early morning hours to write about it all.


And then life happened: for a month, every time my alarm would go off in the wee hours of the morning, I would hit it blindly and fall deeply back asleep. My plans called for writing, and no writing was happening!


I tried writing the first few lines of ideas down before I went to sleep, hoping that would prime me to fall into action on waking. All that left me with was a whole list to things I want to write about…. And still have not yet…


I tried taking time for writing in the middle of the day, and found myself answering emails and shipping boxes of movies off around the world instead.


I tried sitting on the mounting block, computer on my lap in the paddock amidst the horses to write, and found Myrnah’s invitations to play with her irresistible.


I tried carrying my computer with me everywhere in the car, thinking perhaps I could write a few minutes at a time between lessons in a stray quiet moment here and there. I don’t think the computer ever made it out of the case in any one of those moments.


I have to admit, I was frustrated with my seeming inability to pull myself out of my writer’s block.


I think there is an art to navigating our personal roadblocks and stuck places. Because progress is never as linear as we think it will be, perhaps it would be good for us to have some game plan for these times too?


As is my habit, I took this problem to my horses and laid it out to look at it closely. What do we do with frustration and a seeming inability to move forward? I remembered all those months with Myrnah when I wanted to get on and ride and she wasn’t ready. What did I do?


First, we kept developing our other skills and partnership that seemingly had nothing to do with riding. Secondly, we showed up to that thing we couldn’t seem to get past and waited every day for a while. To look at frustration, breath into it, and simply exist with it, waiting to feel a little more comfortable where we are.


There! That was it! There was the piece I seemed to be missing in all of February. Getting more comfortable with where I was, and then when I felt better, BE STILL!


The mistake I was making was that, the moment I started to feel a little more comfortable, I would push myself hard to start writing, and then find myself in active rebellion doing anything other than writing!


What I needed was to spend time every day just existing, me and a blank page, or me and the few words of ideas waiting to be developed. Then when I felt almost ready, stay a little longer, get a little more comfortable, dream and plan and wait. Take a deep breath and wait.


Show up and wait; there will be a moment when action becomes irresistible. Wait longer than that, because after irresistible comes more frustration and more breathing, and then after that you have the moment it feels right.


We have to show up; that part is important. I needed to try all those things to get myself to write. I just think, if I had taken the time to get comfortable in any one of those situations, without pushing myself harder, it might not have taken a whole month for me to get back into the action I was aiming for.


Then again, if I didn’t get myself stuck every once in a while, how would I learn to get myself unstuck?

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These imperfections and backslides of progress – that is what makes this interesting.


I may be riding down the trail in the dark waiting for that feeling of my horse’s back stretching out a little more, muscles letting go, stride lengthening, thinking how do I get better at this? How do we get more feeling of flow, more release, more energy? I may be pondering how we get more intrinsically at ease so we both don’t jump out of our skin every time a duck lands in the dark river unexpectedly with an almighty splash!


Through all this, no matter how many obstacles and challenges I find to pit myself against, there is always going to be the unexpected cherry tree in full bloom to remind us, that life gets better right around the corner. Just keep showing up and breathing.


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.


What and How


I believe with horses we generally have a pretty good idea of WHAT we want. It varies from relationship to relationship in the details, of course, but it generally falls somewhere in the category of wanting the horse to want to do the same things we want to do.


We all crave a sense of community.


Community is built with relationship.


Relationship is built with interaction.


We can play, we can fight, we can be still, we can be active, we can collaborate, we can train, we can coerce, we can bribe. The list goes on, and, regardless of what comes after it, WE is the part that feels important.


The part that is usually challenging is the HOW.


How do we have interactions that draw us closer together? How do we avoid interactions that splinter us apart and cause us to feel there is no WE. If there is only me and you going in separate directions, that sense of community we all crave is being ripped from us. All too often we don’t know HOW to find our sense of community again.


Often I hear stories of a rider having a fall off a horse and having their confidence shaken. Falls can be hard and injuries can occur. Yet there is something about a fall off a horse that seems to strike a primal chord of fear in people above and beyond normal. I think it’s that loss of community, that feeling that the creature you thought was there for you wasn’t anymore.


The hardest part about a fall off a horse or any dramatic separating of the ways is: though we know what we want (being part of community), we often don’t know how to get there or bring it back when it comes apart.


This developing of HOW, learning how to build a sense of community, this is what Taming Wild is all about.


I was asked, why the title “Taming Wild” when it perhaps seems more like I let Myrnah stay somewhat wild with all the freedom I gave her in our training. While that part may be true, the title “Taming Wild” reaches a little deeper than that. When we realize we crave community, we realize each one of us needs to tame the wild independence we carry in order to build strong community.


Wild independence usually means we want WHAT we want, WHEN we want it. Then we realize if WHAT we want includes another living being, either they must become subservient, or the WHAT and the WHEN have to soften in the face of the HOW.


Taming our own wild independence becomes a necessary part of learning How to get what we want in the realm of building community.


We crave community so much that, when we don’t know how to build it, we will often settle for subservience; however, we all know deep down that a community of the dominant and the subservient is never as satisfying as a community of collaborative partners.


This is what “Taming Wild” is about.


If you are in the Seattle area in mid-December, come watch “Taming Wild” with us on the big screen. We will not be selling tickets, come one come all, donations accepted at the door.

Tuesday, December 15th–  Seattle- Location to be announced. (updates will be posted on Facebook, and in the blog.)

Wednesday, December 16th – Cinnebarre Theater in Issaquah.

8:00 Start time at both Venues, both dates!

This journey into community we are all on, it just keeps getting more satisfying as we figure out the HOW to go along with all the WHAT. I am glad to have you all along with me as we figure out better and better ways to build community.


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.


Choosing Life


My sister once said to me, “The only thing you can count on in life is change.” I am sure I was in the midst of a depressive episode at the time, and positively sure the grief I was feeling would never pass. At the time she said it to me I couldn’t believe it, but it has stuck with me anyway, able to sink in later when my mind was clearer and become one of those anchors of belief that keep me on track when things feel like they will never be right again.


Having just flown into New York City for the premiere of the movie “Taming Wild”, I find myself in the most beautiful, peaceful, brilliant elation. The world is so full of wonder it is almost unbelievable and life feels gorgeous.


I am reminded of Robin Sharma’s quote:

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”


Not only do I believe that the one thing you can count on in life is change, I also believe change is a fairly constant state that we all resist to some extent. We resist it because of the ebb and flow of feeling that goes with it. I experience the shifting emotional states perhaps more extremely than most, because of my personal experience with bipolar condition. However, I think everyone feels it to their own degree.


When things start to change, it can feel hard, then messy, and then, as we get comfortable, it feels gorgeous. This can be plugged into Csikszentmihalyi’s chart that I love to think about when addressing the state of flow. When we look at change, we look at potentially doing something challenging enough – we do not have enough skill for it and that feels hard, and then messy as we gain the necessary skills. Then at some point our skills and our challenge start to match, and that is that perfect place of being in the flow, in the zone – life feels gorgeous!


Last night, in a beautiful little French restaurant in Brooklyn with another one of my sisters and her husband, I felt so deeply in the flow of life and perfection. We were talking about making the movie “Taming Wild” and the five-year journey I have been on. My sister asked me, “What was the hardest part?”


Looking back, I had to say the hardest part was persevering – there were so many beginning again moments when I felt like I didn’t have the skills for this, and it was too hard, and was never going to work. During every one of those moments I needed to remember: change is the only constant, show up, do what you can do, and learn what you need to learn. Something will shift, and gradually it will go from feeling hard to just feeling messy… and then one day you realize it doesn’t feel messy anymore, it feels gorgeous. This is life at its best!


You have to revel in those moments, soak them up and luxuriate in them. I talk about this all the time with Myrnah’s process and working with the horses; rest on the moments that are about connection. That thing that you want, just keep moving until you feel a little closer to it; then pause there, breath it in, and enjoy THAT moment. Soon enough you are going to reach a little farther and realize you don’t have the skills for that reach yet; it’s going to feel hard and you just have to keep moving until you gain the skills needed to get the job done. Gaining skills feels messy, and then using those skills so hard won…. That is perfection.


When you feel life as extremely as I do, there is a way of being that becomes necessary for survival. Choosing life.


I know that sounds excessively dramatic, but here is how it works for the overly emotional. (This is important, because I think a great many horses fall into this category of overly emotional, and, if we can help them choose life when they feel like this, we have made the world a better place for everyone.) When emotions run hot, it is hard to believe that change is inevitable. Whatever we feel right now feels so rich and real, it feels like it is going to last forever!


It becomes absolutely essential to break process down to small manageable pieces. If we reach too far, look too far ahead, take on a challenge that is too big, that beginning stage is so hard sometimes death feels like a better option than moving forward. And then the messy stage of developing skills, that feels so messy it isn’t even worth it, why bother, why not give up… becoming despondent and frozen is tempting. When emotions run this hot, taking on something too big can feel akin to choosing death instead of life.


So how did I do this? Why did I choose to take on such a huge challenge? Was it worth it?


Absolutely yes, worth every moment! I think I did it because we get out of life what we put into it, and big challenges have big pay offs. I got it done by taking only one small piece at a time. I learned how to keep my head down and stay focused on the task at hand through the hard and the messy until it started to feel good, then I could take a breather, come up for air, and look ahead at the larger goals and wider view. Then, when I felt rested and at peace with the world, I dove in again embracing the hard and the messy until I could find another moment that felt good. Ahhh, yes, there it is; that is why I do this, this is what if feels like to choose life!


Change is inevitable – Embrace it. Just remember, we each have our own emotional journey to take through it. Choose life, break it into pieces you can manage and just do one at a time.


If you are like me, before you know it you have made a movie, and you are looking back in wonder and awe: How in the world did that all happen?


One piece at a time – choosing life – that’s how.

What is it you want to do? How are you going to break it down into sections that let you choose life again and again and again?


There is a question worth pondering….


Elsa Sinclair