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Tag Archives: freedom

The Project:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

Elsa

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

The Project:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

  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

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The Goal:

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

 

The Unfolding of Trust

Have you ever faced a decision where you knew what to do, yet you thought of a million reasons why maybe you shouldn’t?

That place where the head and the heart come face to face and hold each other in a stand off.

Your heart calls you and says this is right, while your head says hold off, back down, don’t even think about it, let it go…

Sunday of this week, my heart won.

This is Helios.
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I don’t know why this particular horse caught my eye on Saturday night. I see and hear about a million horses that get loaded from feedlots onto the trucks headed for slaughter every week. Horses unwanted, their potential in this world discarded.

I can’t save them all, so instead I focus on the most good I can put out into the world. I keep my head down and work on my book, share the movie Taming Wild as far and wide as I can, and look people in the eye and pour myself into being there for everyone I reach. We are a society of people who long for connection and yet we often feel we are only beginning to understand HOW to connect.

How is it we can need something to the very core of our being and yet hardly know anything about how to fulfill that need?

None of us are islands, we are designed to integrate with others; and yet so many of us become paralyzed in feeling alone!

Even though I have devoted my life to the understanding of being connected, I still find myself feeling SO alone sometimes. Afraid that connection will lead to being trapped, I fight it, even though this work of connection is my whole life. Maybe that is why this work is my whole life…

Freedom and Connection… when I find the balance between the two, that is when I am happiest.

Maybe that is the heartstring that pinged and wouldn’t stop humming on Saturday night.

Here was this horse, too wary of being trapped to let any person near him. Connection was his only hope of being saved, and yet he was holding onto his freedom with every scrap of his being.

They were calling him Sport and reaching out to anyone who might listen. Four years old, untouched and seemingly untouchable. Brought to the feedlot from the Indian reservation where they breed thousands of horses and seemingly cull most of them to slaughter, keeping only the ones they like best.

This one was strong, sound, beautiful… So much potential, but who is able to take on the project of an untouchable four-year-old stallion?

Elsa’s head, says look away, you have only so many hours in the day, stay focused on your work of helping so many horses and so many people around the world. Elsa’s heart raises her hand, reaches out and says, I will take him….

Once the words are spoken, you can’t take them back. The slaughter truck is coming in the morning and no one else is going to take this horse.

Elsa will. Elsa’s heart knows it’s what she needs to do.

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An understanding of freedom within connection, that’s all this horse needs and I can help him with that.

This horse isn’t staying with me forever, but for right now, until the right person comes along for him, Helios and I are going to teach each other about Freedom and Connection.

My life is already brimming with too many things that need to be done, how am I going to do this too? I texted a friend:

“I have done something really foolish. I rescued a 4 year old stallion off the slaughter truck yesterday.”

In her beautiful wisdom she texted right back:

“I’m excited for you. Done is done, so where it might have been foolish beforehand, it is now the best decision ever! I’m thrilled for both of you, for the adventure ahead!!! Go Elsa!”

She was right, best decision ever.

Monday was a beautiful chaos of moving fence panels and setting up space for a stallion where there was none before.

Tuesday morning Kevin and I left before dawn and drove the trailer to eastern Washington. Here I was driving three and a half hours to pick up a horse from a picture and a plea for help. My head in disbelief said, we don’t even know how tall he is, we don’t know anything about him! My heart said, it’s all right, we will find out what we need to know as we go.

The taciturn feedlot owner directed us to pull through the loading chutes and closed the gates around the trailer. I walked with him back to where the grey horse stood watching us amid a sea of metal bars. The man said,
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“He’s not crazy, this one, just wild. He moves around pretty good, you ready for this?”

Was I ready for this? Dark eyes staring out at me from a chiseled thoroughbred-type head… so much higher up than I had imagined, I don’t know why I thought he was going to be small, but face to face I suddenly discovered he definitely was not small. 16 hands maybe?

There wasn’t much time to think about it as we followed the horse through the chutes to the trailer. No particular plan because, as I said, the man running the place was short on words and I was too shell-shocked to ask questions. Then we were there at the trailer, a little dance as the horse realized there was nowhere else to go, in he went and the man said in his laconic way, “Shut the doors.”

Kevin and I swung the doors shut fast as I saw two massive hooves double-barrel at the impending trap. The speed and the power of this horse took my breath away for a moment. What had I gotten myself into?

I turned and asked the man, “Is there any paperwork I need to do, any sale papers?” He looked patient with the girl who clearly didn’t know anything about how this all worked, “No ma’am, he’s not branded or anything. He’s yours now, good luck.”

Driving home we stopped from time to time so I could sit with the big grey horse for a few moments, him in the back section of the trailer, me up in front of the divider. He didn’t seem afraid, simply decisive about keeping distance between us. I didn’t know why, but I was happier than I had been in a long time.

It was raining when we got home. Helios leapt out into his new paddock, seemingly very relieved to escape the small space at last. Then he stood on the hill and surveyed the territory with a quiet ease. I was happier than I had been in a long time.
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My mares came out, took a look at the new horse, and then wandered back around the corner to the shed, leaving the cute little paint mare we have boarded with us to dance the fence line tossing her head and flirting with the newcomer.

Helios stood quiet on the hill like the sun god we had named him after, shining down on the world around him, and I was happier than I had been in a long time.

This is the work I live for. I may spend most of my time teaching and writing and helping others develop their relationships with their horses, and I love that. Traveling to teach workshops and most recently developing an in depth study of Freedom Based Training™ with students around the world where we study together connected via computers, internet and technology. This is exciting and profoundly gratifying as I watch connection and understanding blossom for others all around me.

Closer to home, this beginning process of unfolding trust with a new horse; this is where I learned how to do what I do. This work is at the core of who I am and who I want to be. I have a feeling Helios is going to teach me as much about freedom and connection as I am going to teach him.
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A girl and a horse and an unfolding of trust, I am happier than I have been in a very long time.

Thank you heart!

Elsa Sinclair

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

Why Freedom Based Training™?

 

This perhaps starts as far back as my childhood and that dang pony I couldn’t catch, that pony that no one could catch. There I was, ten years old, sitting in the pasture with a can of grain in one hand and a halter in the other.

 

A crowd of horses gathered around me wanting the sweet taste the rattle of grain promised, and the cute fat little brown pony way down at the bottom of the valley as far away from us as she could be, wanting nothing to do with me or the grain or the other horses.

 

Tears of frustration welling up in my eyes, anger surfacing as I chased the other horses away, determination pulling me up by my boot straps as I trudged after the pony yet again.

 

I spent innumerable uncomfortable hours in that pasture, focused on that pony as a disappearing dot across the expanses of grass blowing in the wind. The emotions ran rampant for me as every obvious failure to catch her slammed me in the gut as a personal accusation that I was unwanted and unliked. At the same time, I was drawn to her expression of freedom like the strongest magnet imaginable.

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Every other horse in the field would hear the rattle of grain or the snap of a carrot and would drop every personal intention they had for a sweet taste. Where is the self-respect in that?

 

My pony, Chocolate, had a sense of personal freedom and choice that the other horses seemed to have given up somewhere along the path of their lives. Or maybe they had never had it…

 

When it came to putting a halter on Chocolate and bringing her in for a ride, it wasn’t the lure of a treat that brought us together; it was instead our coming together on a much different plane. Don’t misunderstand, the carrots or grain was still necessary and helpful in the process, but it wasn’t enough all by itself. I had to dig deeper and relate to that pony as an individual with all her own wants and needs just like I had.

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Two unique and complex individuals coming together, neither one of us willing to give up our sense of self to adjust to the other, and both of us determined – there was no giving up!

 

I have come to realize, years later, it was Chocolate’s sense of freedom that I loved best. There was no chance of my giving up, not because I wanted to take any of that freedom away from her. There was no giving up because I wanted to be close enough to her to feel it too. I wanted to become part of her sense of freedom.

 

This was perhaps some of the beginning of Freedom Based Training.

 

Ultimately it came down to the question that started the project the movie Taming Wild was all about.

 

What if a horse had everything it needed: food, water, companionship, freedom, comfort. What if the only things I had to offer the horse were encased in the body I walked around in – no stick picked off a bush to use as a communication tool, no rope or halter to make myself bigger or stronger than I am, no fence to trap the horse up against, and no special food item that they can’t get without me.

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If I only used the body and intellect I was born with, could that be enough to cause the horse to want to be my partner. Maybe even enough to let me ride?

 

As far as I know, I am the only horse trainer alive who has attempted this.

 

Yes, it is possible.

 

Yes, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

 

Yes, it is worth it.

 

Importantly though, since the project and the movie, I have found that Freedom Based Training doesn’t need to exist to the exclusion of other kinds of training.

 

The work I learned to do with Myrnah I did because I had to. The honoring of your horses freedom, wants and desires, in balance with honoring your own freedom, wants and desires become crystal clear when you have no plan B.

 

What I have found is, when people choose to take a couple of hours a week or more to do some freedom based work with their horses, everything else gets better too.

 

You do not need to choose the all or nothing path. Just take some time to be with your horse in freedom, respecting and beginning to understand your horse’s needs and wants and how they correlate with yours.

 

Whether you take Carolyn Resnick’s chair challenge, or join my course in Freedom Based Training, or develop your own journey with your horse, choose to take a little time to consider freedom. It’s worth it, no matter how you do it.

 

Trudging around the pastures following my pony, Chocolate, at ten years old wasn’t something I consciously chose at the time, Looking back, however, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. That was the only way that pony could help me spend time with her in freedom, and I learned so very much about her and about myself in the process.

 

We all long to be free, and we also long to be together, learning to have both is what life is all about.

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Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

The Cost of Freedom

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

The cost of freedom is complicated.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How much can we have of both?

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa Sinclair

 

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

Freedom-Based Training

 

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

 

Why you might ask?

Because of the freedom involved.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

How do we do that?

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Here is how it works.

 

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

 

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

 

Wait, but doesn’t that limit her freedom?

 

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

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

 

Here are the nuts and bolts of the process:

 

  1. I can always ask Myrnah to move.

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

 

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

 

That’s it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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

 

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

 

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

The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

Freedom

 

October finds us taking a week away to the beach. Sand, Salt, Surf and the freedom that comes from wide-open spaces. Myrnah and I needed this time to just be with each other.

 

Living in the city, navigating traffic for hours on end each day, too many hours spent in front of a computer attending to the many details the movie demands, and chasing a schedule to pay the bills….. Sometimes the beauty of simply living gets lost in such business.

 

Long Beach, WA and the sweet cabin Naytura Haus nestled in the dunes was the spot Myrnah and I finished up filming the project in our first year together. Now it seems fitting to be here again as the movie is reaching its final editing stages.

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I find myself reflecting on freedom this week and the balance we all seek as we notice there is a certain amount of commitment and focus and determination required to develop something new. All that intensity of focus can feel like the opposite of freedom sometimes. What happens when you let go?

 

Out on the beach, away from home, I keep a rope on Myrnah when we are out walking together, a reminder for both of us to stay connected. We mostly don’t test the limits of that connection; it’s just there to make me feel safer. However, the other day I found myself tired of carrying the rope around all the time, so off it came.

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All went well for a time, walking, exploring, watching the world go by, Myrnah and I soaking up our freedom together. Then we found ourselves playing in the waves, and I pushed a little too hard, asking Myrnah for one turn too many too soon, and Myrnah’s independence overrode her desire to stay with me. With a head toss and a spin she ran off.

 

Here we are on twenty-six miles of wide-open beach, dunes, and woods stretching behind and my horse is trotting full speed away, and then stretching out into a gallop along down the beach.

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Is this how our story ends? I took her out of the wild, brought her into my world and my story with all its corresponding focus and intensity. I may have always pushed her away from fences and used big spaces, encouraging her to feel free, but its different when you know the fences are there.

 

Here we were, real freedom, and I was watching the tail of my horse disappearing at a gallop in a straight line away from me. What happens now?

 

And then miraculously, she turned.

 

Galloping back to me, Myrnah ran head thrown up, nostrils flared, hooves pounding, and then circling around me just as fast as she had run away, all her power and speed and freedom coming back into my world.

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I found myself remembering, “If they never run away, how can they ever run back?” Having a horse gallop straight toward you and watching all of their power and grace is one of the most beautiful experiences. When you know its just because they want to be with you…. There really is nothing quite like that feeling in that moment.

 

In THIS experimental training process with Myrnah my goal was to use only my body and presence as pressure or reward. I found it is possible, and it does forge a bond and understanding that is incomparable. It also leaves one wondering in moments, is that bond and connection enough?

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In normal training, if I have a little more pressure available to me with a whip or rope to push my horse, or a little more reward, paying them for learning and working with grain or cookies or carrots, then doing things like running away and running back or working together at distance, all feel more reliable. I hold power over what my horse wants, and with practice, my horse finds herself wanting to work with me more than being free and independent.

 

In training a horse, you get out what you put in. I think that sometimes the more you bring to the relationship in terms of food or intensity pays back and you feel more connected.

 

In training Myrnah, this is more about how much of myself I can bring. I get out of this relationship what I put into it. If all I have is myself to give, can that be enough?

 

I believe it can be.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

A Question Of Slavery

I spent some time last week in Nevada following wild bands of horses around, watching their interactions, and immersing myself in what it might be like as a horse to have freedom of choice.

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It is different than the feel I get from our horses and beautiful in its own way; yet I still found myself questioning how free they are. How free are any of us?

 

I do believe we ALL have this hierarchy of needs I have been talking about in previous blogs. For a horse, there is some trade-off necessary to have one’s needs met. Depending on how they feel about their safety, they are more or less slaves to their herd even if people are not part of the picture. Their herd provides some security in many minds working together to find food and water, safety in numbers from predators, community, appreciation from community as self-esteem is built. On the simplest level self-esteem is just the appreciation we each can be good at something and valuable in our own right. I feel like I see all these values play out even in wild horse bands.

 

And, it seems to me I also see trade-offs. This life is not lived alone for most of us, horses included. It seems we each accept the slavery that fills our needs as best we can.

 

In the wild bands there were some stallions who behaved aggressively and seemed to keep everyone in a state of agitated tension as they moved through the terrain, perhaps because I was there watching (I do realize I may have been the problem); and there were other bands who seemed to wander through life with a calm, accepting demeanor. All these bands were in the same general area; why would the mares not just walk away from the demanding, aggressive Stallions and join up with an easier-going herd?

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I am sure I can’t know all the intricacies of the decisions and choices a wild horse makes, but it did cause me to think about why. Why choose a life where everyone around you is covered in marks from bites and kicks, versus a life where everyone is glossy and sleek and seems to live with ease? These horses seem free in the sense that they are not entrapped by fences or halters or threatened with isolation, yet they are still enslaved to their sense of safety and where they think they can best get their needs met.

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Perhaps we all are enslaved to our sense of safety: at a base level, none of us have figured out how to go without food or water for very long, and so we are enslaved to whatever our personal timetable is to fill that need, and then whatever means we have to beg, borrow, steal, or trade for it. If we are lucky, we find ourselves in relationships that are reasonable where we can cooperate with those around us so everyone gets what they need. If we are really fortunate, we find ourselves in situations where everyone’s needs are readily met and we can collaborate to build better and better lives.

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Yet, this subject of slavery cannot be ignored. This week I went from following wild bands of horses around to spending time at the Palomino Valley facility where there were about twelve hundred wild horses held in pens up for adoption. While there is much controversy about this, there are some basic needs that are being filled, such as horses brought in from Idaho where the fires had burnt all their rangeland. When they have no food…. Do we just leave them out there to starve? Do we bring them food? Do we wait until they are skin and bones to help, or do we work proactively? Does it make more sense to gather them into one area like Palomino Valley where they can be fed and watered and made available for adoption by people who could fill their needs more consistently? I don’t have the answers to all these big questions. I can only ask myself, what can I do to help.

 

I know I can’t personally make myself a slave to all the horses everywhere, nor can I pay to have someone else do it. On a personal level, I can consider taking on one or two here or there. They would feel like they were enslaved and trapped by me for awhile, but I believe I have the skill to develop relationship with them and help them develop the skills to have positive cooperative relationships with people where everyone gets what they need.

 

Yet, I still find my heart breaking every time I am confronted with all that is needed and my small ability to contribute.

 

With all I have going on in my life, I am not sure I am ready to take on another horse yet. I would be fascinated by building relationship with any one of the twelve hundred horses I saw up for adoption, and every one of them is just looking for a way to have their needs met, in the wild or adjusting to domesticity. I will leave you with a couple of images that haunt me. Maybe you can help.

Photo Sep 12, 7 28 00 AMThis five-year-old Stallion from Hard Trigger HMA was gathered in the last couple weeks due to fires. He was in a pen of other stallions and walked though all of them in a bubble of calm. It was like he was the only horse there, untouchable in his self assurance.

Photo Sep 12, 6 46 32 AMThis eight-year-old mare was gathered when she was three from the Silver King HMA. She spent five years up for adoption, heading to long term holding shortly.

So many horses… Each one of them valuable in their own right.

Does that value make them potential slaves? Or a partners? Or somewhere between the two? How free are any of us?

I leave you with that question to ponder.

Elsa Sinclair,

EquineClarity.com

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