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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.

 

Decisions and Choices

As my feet hit the sidewalk at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and I arrange my backpack on my shoulder, I breathe deeply the smells of car exhaust, tired people, and residual smoke hanging in the air from all the forest fires in Canada; and then it happens, that thing that always happens to me: the smile on my face is unstoppable, my shoulders settle down, my chin comes up, and if there is a feeling that goes along with having a sparkle in one’s eye, this would be it. I am at the airport, on my way!

 

I often marvel at this change that comes over me while traveling. It isn’t rational or logical; it is simply reflexive in the best way at a basic physical level. I am brilliantly happy at an airport.

 

As a trainer, I have to ask myself why. Why am I so happy at an airport? I never made a conscious choice to be happy in this situation. For many years it wasn’t even my choice to go to the airport. Why the joy? I have a strong theory, and this theory is part of what educates all the training I do with horses as well.

 

Contrast in the environment is a far better teacher than conscious effort ever will be.

We have been designed to seek comfort as a species for as long as we have been in existence. Extrinsically motivated: if the fire feels too hot, move away; if the snow feels too cold, move closer to the fire. That is how we all think it works, but I think there is something more powerful at work and that is the less obvious intrinsic motivation. Contrast in the environment causes a shift in how we feel intrinsically, and this intrinsic feeling is what will truly affect how we feel about the situation in an ongoing way.

 

We all seek to feel better, but feeling better has more to do with our prior conditioning, than with our present circumstances.

 

How we expect we are going to feel has everything to do with the timing of environmental contrast that we have experienced.

 

For me, my habits of expecting happiness began way before airports, it started with travel.

 

My parents divorced when I was very young, and some of my earliest memories were of driving in a car in Connecticut on the way to some midpoint meeting place. The first parent I was with would be sad and quiet, maybe because they were about to say goodbye to me, and we would travel in a quiet tense silence. After the hand-off I would climb into the car with my other parent, and the laughter and singing and stories would begin. The second parent was always overjoyed to see me and the fun was limitless. I believe it is this contrast and my reinforced expectation of joy that conditions how I feel about airports now.

 

Later, when I was older, my mother moved to the West Coast of the United States and my father stayed on the East Coast, so several times a year I would fly back and forth between the coasts and between my parents, each time strengthening my expectations of joy and travel.

 

Now, at the age of almost forty, I am not sure there is anything you could do to me to change my mind about airports. I am sure they are the happiest places on earth, because my expectation has been so thoroughly reinforced. I am sure that joy is waiting for me at my destination, and therefor, travel itself has become an immutable source of joy.

Why do I have such a joy of traveling when I know many people who love being someplace new, but hate the task of getting there? I think it has to do with the timing – not too much too soon. The strength of my conviction had to grow at a pace with the challenges presented to me. I started with short car rides between parents, and then progressed to half-flight jumps across the country where a family friend would meet me in Minnesota and escort me from one plane to another, so excited to see me and hear about my trip, and then I was off to the eventual destination. Then, at some point I started taking coast-to-coast flights. Now, as an adult, the longer the flight the happier I am.

 

The patterning of joy I talk about didn’t happen overnight; it happened slowly and gradually over time. It was a natural evolution supported by my environment. I don’t feel like my parents “trained” me to be happy traveling. In fact, if I did feel like they had trained me with any sort of purpose, I think the results would be quite different and not as positive.

 

This leads me to the title of this blog: Decisions and choices.

 

We often think that our decisions and choices have to effect an immediate change in the circumstance in front of us. With Freedom Based Training I want to challenge that idea.

 

What if, instead of immediately affecting the world in front of us, our decisions and choices were about fostering habitual positivity? What if we fostered that positivity in our horses, our friends, and everyone around us?

When one thing happens… what is likely to happen next; has your experience led you to believe you are going to feel better or worse?

 

The more we gravitate toward what makes us feel good, the better our life seems. The more we pull away from what feels bad, the worse life feels. Both sides are always going to exist, but if we can learn, and we can teach our horses to focus on and lean toward the good feelings, the quality of life goes up!

 

Now, I am not talking about affirmations in the mirror, or exaggerated praise and recognition, or perpetual treats out of a treat bag. That is obvious extrinsic training that can sometimes go well and can sometimes backfire on you. What I am talking about is a subtlety of feel and timing: where to be, when to be, how to be in a way that sets everyone up to feel increasingly good about the things we do in life. When we practice this over time life feels better and better and we are able to support our friends and companions in ways they don’t even need to know about. This is Freedom Based Training.

 

When I show up to teach a Freedom Based Training Workshop, my goal is to give you the tools to make choices and decisions that are right for you. To some degree you might choose to train passively like I do, which will gently nudge your horse toward experiencing more and more joy in life. Also, to some degree you may choose to train more dominantly with treats or tools to build skills in a shorter time frame. There is a time and place for everything, and the beauty of what I teach can be threaded through the work you do with your horses no matter what choices and decisions you decide are best for you.

 

Choices and decisions are not always easy. When do we push forward? When do we hang back? When do we help? When do we allow events to simply unfold? For me, in these few days before I head off to my next teaching tour, I am brimming with adoration for my fifteen-year-old daughter Cameron. She is heading to her first big three-day-eventing clinic with David O’Connor. Then, the following week she heads to Oregon to adopt a four-year-old wild mustang from the BLM with the help of her Dad.

For the next several weeks, I will be in Europe teaching and doing the work I love, which is the right choice for me. While there is a big piece of me that wants to hover over Cameron with her new mustang, pulling environmental strings wherever I can to foster success, this time it’s all up to her. Cameron gets to foster her own success and make her own choices about when to be passive, when to be dominant, when to take action and when to wait. If you are as curious as I am about how it all turns out, check out her blog at Thesporadicjournalofahorsegirl.wordpress.com

We all get to choose our next actions in life, so my challenge to you is to think about your decisions and ask: This action I am taking – how might it effect future expectations of joy?

 

If you can affect the environment in subtle ways around yourself, around your friends, companions, and animals, so that joy becomes the likely outcome, while leaving everyone free to make their own decisions, this is the true depth of Passive Leadership and Freedom Based Training.

 

If you want to know more about this fostering of subtle development, join me for a workshop or an online course. I would love to get to know you more as you work through your decisions and choices. 2017/2018 is looking to be an amazing year of airports for me as I travel between teaching and home in the sweet evolution of development with my own horses and all my students.

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

August 19th & 20th, 2017 – Workshop – New Egypt, New Jersey, USA

August 26th & 27th, 2017 – Clinic, Mullingar Co., Westmeath, Ireland
September 2nd – 5th, 2017 – Clinic, Buckinghamshire, UK
September 6th -10th, 2017 – Clinic, Ittre, Belgium
September 11th – October 29th, 2017, Fall Online Course
September 12th – 14th, 2017 – Workshop & Clinic, Odemira, Portugal
October 7th & 8th, 2017 – Workshop, Bend, Oregon, USA
October 21st, 2017 – Clinic, North Bend, WA, USA
October 28th, 2017 – Taming Wild Benefit Screening for NCEFT, Woodside, CA, USA
November 8th – 12th, 2017 – Taming Wild Screenings, Napa Valley Film Festival, USA
November 26th – Jan 28th, 2017 – Winter Online Course
December 1st, 2017 – Taming Wild Screening, University of Minnesota, MN, USA
December 2nd, 2017 – Workshop, University of Minnesota, MN, USA
January 30th – February 20th, 2018 – Filming “Taming Wild – Pura Vida”
February 19th – 24th, 2018 – Workshop, Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica
March 1st -14th, 2018 – Australia, locations and dates to be announced
March 15th & 16th, 2018 – Workshop, Christchurch, New Zealand
March 17th & 18th, 2018 – Clinic, Christchurch, New Zealand
March 25th – May 13th, 2018 – Spring Online Course
May 19th – 22nd, 2018 – Clinic, Gifhorn, Germany
May 23rd – June 15th, 2018 – Workshops in Europe, locations and dates to be announced
June 24th – August 8th, 2018 – Summer Online Course
August 15th, 2018 – Filming Starts for “Taming Wild – Evolution”

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,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

Stretching the Comfort Zone

 

Pontipool, Canada; Marlow, England; Odemira, Portugal and Ittre, Belgium have been the Freedom Based Training travel itinerary in May.

 

Let me be honest though… It’s personal too. It isn’t just Freedom Based Training making its way around the world; it’s me, Elsa Sinclair, navigating trains, planes, and maps and meeting hundreds of new people in a moment-to-moment existence that seems almost too good to be true. Travel is indeed my second home and it feels so VERY good to be home.

 

While I do certainly miss Myrnah, Cleo, and Zohari, and the rest of my family. What I know as I travel is that when I get back home to my first home where my family lives, I will be a better version of myself.

This is all about stretching my comfort zone and doing things I have not thought about doing before. This is about teaching horses and people I have never met and being open to their being uniquely different from anyone I have known before. This is about paying attention and valuing the differences I see from moment to moment and learning the next pieces of the puzzle that fall into place as I step into a student’s perspective for a few minutes and I share with them my understanding and let it become a part of theirs.

 

When I began this journey in the beginning of May in Toronto, Canada it was cold and I was warned to be ready for rain. My trip out to Pontipool was beautiful and Lindsey and her family were lovely hosts as we geared up for a day of demos and a clinic day following.

 

Let me first tell you though, cold is my Achilles’ heel, and I wasn’t sure if my comfort zone would stretch or if I would break into a million unfixable pieces during those two bone-chilling days. The only thing to do was to live what I teach and live from moment to moment with the best feel and timing I could find.

 

That is what this life is all about when you do it right… Feel and Timing.

 

The weather might still be cold, the rain, and snow may show up unexpectedly, and you find wrestling three pieces of luggage through the airport and on and off several trains is much harder than you ever imagined it would be. Especially when you clumsily drop one large suitcase at the top of an almost empty escalator and watch it bump end-over-end down as you yell to the people at the bottom, “WATCH OUT!”, and breathe a sigh of relief as a nimble man jumps out of the way just in time.

 

That’s the trick isn’t it – just in time; and how to FEEL what just in time is for the next move in the next moment, regardless of how embarrassing or challenging your previous moment was. You take them as they come and reach for the next best choice in the moment ahead of you. Because here is the thing to remember, the next moment always has the potential to be golden. You do not have a crystal ball or any real way to predict the future, but when you pay attention and learn how to be in the right place at the right time, life starts gifting you with better events than you had any way of knowing before they happened.

Standing up on the mounting block that day in Canada, I was in awe of all the people who gathered in their coats and hats and mittens to listen to me and watch the horses and students as they walked through the process of understanding Freedom Based Training. Thank-you to the kind and generous souls who handed me their extra coats and mittens and hand warmers; your timing was perfect and your help was invaluable to stretching my comfort zone and confirming for me that being cold for a little while isn’t the end of the world. Some incredible moments came out of the experience and I am so glad I was there.

 

From Toronto, Canada, I got on a plane and slept my journey all the way to London, England. Hedgerows and cottages, cobblestone streets and horse yards, and everything lined up with a sweet English feel. I am in love and also feel so very brash and American as every time I open my mouth to speak I worry about being coarse and different among my refined English companions. Nicole and Sienna took amazing care of me that week and seven-year-old Sienna took every opportunity to enjoy and appreciate my brash American way of speaking, explaining to me what the British version was of what I was trying to say as we played games of I spy from the car on our way to and from the horse yard, school, and the clinic I was there to teach.

By the time I stepped in front of some sixty people to teach for the weekend, I felt loved and confident in who I was and what I was there to share, brash American accent and all. Thank-you, Sienna for your feel and timing in helping me grow my comfort zone.

 

What I teach is this idea of starting wherever we are and taking stock of what is felt and where the comfort zone is in that moment, on that day, in that location. From there, and only from there, can we start to stretch our comfort zone a little and become, one moment at a time, better versions of ourselves. I find the best way to do that is in connection with others. Our connection to others is what helps us stretch beyond what we know to discover comfort in things we didn’t know we could enjoy.

 

One of the standout, stretch-the-comfort-zone moments of the Marlow clinic was with a Thoroughbred named Lawrence and his person, Lucy. Lawrence was upset, really upset! His friends were out of sight and he was in a round pen next to other horses and people he did not know. He felt so very alone, and all he could think to do was run, and call, and pace in desperation to feel better. How can we help someone who is so sure they are all alone? My heart tore apart a little every time I saw Lawrence spin around, trapped in his own angst. So I did the only thing I could think of to help him as quickly as possible – I asked for help. With Lucy safely on the outside of the round pen mirroring him as best she could, I asked all fifty auditors to help us by walking with as much rhythm and confidence they could to be like Lawrence – move when he moves, stop when he stops, change direction when he changes direction. Without buying into his distress, be there for him, and let him know he is not alone. Every move he made was heard, and understood, and responded to by the entire herd of people.

Now while I have done this before with three or four people, I have never done it with fifty, and the results were astonishing. I have so much gratitude to Lawrence for gifting us that moment. In appreciating him exactly as he was, Lawrence quickly calmed down, and the unbearable emotions he was feeling settled faster than I would have ever guessed possible. While his horse friends were out of sight, he suddenly realized he had a whole herd around him who cared and would keep him safe. Once he understood that, then he was ready to delve into the work with Lucy and develop their pair bond in a location that previously had been just way too far out of his comfort zone.

 

Comfort zones grow; that’s how they are designed. With a little help from our friends our comfort zones get bigger, and then we find we have more in life to enjoy.

 

From London I hopped a quick plane ride to Lisbon where Francine picked me up and drove me out to Odemira. I had known Francine from before I started filming the movie; we have exchanged emails about the blog for years and finally here we were together in person! The rolling grass hills, the cork trees, the sun, and the blue skies, and then the horses meandering among the buildings of the farm, free to come and go as they pleased. Freedom exemplified!

So beautiful, and then I discovered that internet access was very limited out on the land here. Oh no! How does Elsa exist without constant contact with the outside world? There will be emails that go unanswered and so much guilt as I worry I am letting people down! There is that comfort zone stretching again! So I walked the land, and breathed in the sweet scent of mint under my feet as I picked oranges off the trees, and reveled in the sweet, sticky, deliciousness of simply being with myself.

 

The workshop in Odemira was my favorite setup for learning. Instead of working a pair at a time with people and their own horses, we instead had herds to work with. Creating pair bonds from moment-to-moment within the herd in natural ways, I could present the ideas we were going to consider for the day, and then, a few at a time, we could step into the herd to practice. The goal was timing and feel, starting where the horse was and, through partnership, developing connection that ever so gently started to stretch the horse’s comfort zone and help them become better versions of themselves. At a moment of peak enjoyment we would step out of the arena and leave the horse to think about it for a moment before another student stepped in to make their connection with the horse and work the process all over again.

I find horses love this work and do not ever get tired of it. Body language is their first language and connection is something they thrive on. However, people get fatigued doing this work that is new to them, so the format of working in and out of a herd gives people a chance to alternate between working and watching others work as they process what they have learned.

From Odemira I caught the train back to Lisbon and followed instructions to get on the train, the one headed to the left, and get off after the big bridge in Lisbon… What? That’s it? What if I do it wrong? I don’t speak Portuguese… Take a deep breath – that’s my comfort zone stretching again. There is a beautiful little stray dog making the rounds at the train station greeting everyone like it’s his job. If he can figure out where to be, when to be, how to be… then so can I. I heard an English couple confirm with someone which direction the train to Lisbon came from and where to get on. I think to myself, I can do this and it is all going to work out. After the big bridge, I got off the train and Sandi met me at the station taking me to a beautiful apartment in Lisbon with fast working internet so I could Skype to Idaho in the middle of the night for a Q&A with a gathering of people at a screening of Taming Wild. Who knew I could be on two sides of the world at the same time?

 

From Portugal I flew to Belgium to meet with Florentine and get ready for the last clinic of the European tour. We dropped my bags at the house, had a quick hello with the horses, and then were off to a conference and a screening of Taming Wild. It was then that I remembered, we are in Belgium and everything is in French. While I love French, I have to admit, I understand none of it. Florentine and Fabrice were there for me every step of the way as I listened and nodded and paid deep attention to everyone who spoke to me, understanding nothing of what they were saying until my fabulous translators stepped to help me out. So here again, with a little help from my friends, my comfort zone was growing and life was getting more enjoyable every day.

There is a different rhythm to teaching one sentence at a time and listening to its translation before you speak the next one. There is time to think and weigh your next comment before you speak it. The feel and the timing slow down and let you see the nuances of choice in every moment.

 

The work I teach with horses is much the same and it differs from most training where the horse is taught to conform to our wants, and needs, with each moment happening almost faster than we can prepare for it. Freedom Based Training, instead, slows everything down and endeavors to understand the world from the horse’s perspective first. Then, a movement at a time, we connect with the horse and learn slowly, a sentence at a time, the feel and the timing of developing the relationship together.

 

While Freedom Based Training is the majority of my life and what I do with horses, for most people I share it with it will be simply a part of what they do with their horses. What I am finding as I share this work is that taking even a little time to slow down and understand the relationship deeply builds a stability that lets you enjoy life so much more, even when it speeds up again.

The more connected we feel to each other, the easier it becomes to stretch and grow. This is what I teach.

 

Canada and Europe have been amazing, and I can’t wait for Colorado, and California in the next few weeks.

 

I have decided to postpone the filming of the big movie until August of 2018, leaving me room to travel and teach and finish my book between now and then. There are plans in the works for a short movie to be filmed this February, I promise to keep everyone posted as things develop.

 

A huge thank-you to all of you who hosted me and made me feel welcome everywhere I traveled. My comfort zone is a little bigger because of you. I do hope I have passed that gift forward and helped people and horses grow and develop together everywhere I went.

 

We are all in this together, becoming better versions of ourselves a day at a time with a little help from our friends. I know the horses won’t be reading this blog, but for those of you who shared your horses with me on this trip, go out and thank them for me. I am better because of all of you.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Confidence and Learned Helplessness

Yesterday I found myself sitting on an airplane on the way to a screening in New York City simply brimming with joy. My pondering, wondering mind couldn’t help but wonder why? Are emotions rational? Are emotions explainable?

 

I know I have a similar joy when I am able to help a horse, or a student, or a horse and student together work through the solution to a knotty problem. My pondering, wondering mind has to ask again, why is that? What even constitutes a problem in a relationship?

 

I truly believe it all comes down to confidence and learned helplessness. We all have things we do that are in our comfort zone, horses and people alike. These are the things we have confidence in. Somewhere in our history we learned we had a good chance at feeling OK in this situation. On the flip side, when we feel there is no hope of feeling better in a situation, this is learned helplessness. When things are too far out of our comfort zone, then our only hope becomes survival.

 

This confidence in a situation, the idea that a particular situation is well within our comfort zone, is simply a neural passageway in our brain that has been used often enough in such a way as to cause comfort, maybe even joy.

I believe this feeling is effective passive leadership.

 

Passive leadership is the ability to take personal action towards your goals in confidence, without falling into the patterns of fight, flight or freeze.

 

The art of applying passive leadership with a thousand-pound prey animal is more intriguing to me every day, particularly when I realize that what I learn with the horses, has a ripple effect of understanding in every situation I can imagine.

 

How do you simultaneously encourage horses to find their own comfort and also work with you?

 

How do you foster collaboration and confidence in partnership?

 

I named the movie Taming Wild, not because it was about taming a wild mustang. The title leads us to think more deeply about our own nature: that wild part in each of us that is willing to fight to the death for what we think we need, or run away from the things we cannot control, or even freeze and admit defeat when we have no other options. This is not just a horse problem; this is a problem with being alive that we all face together.

Is it possible to maintain our individuality in any relationship and also foster collaboration? Or does someone always have to lose out and give up some part of themselves in order to fit the relationship at hand?

 

That is what Taming Wild is about. Are any of us willing to tame the wild impulses of fight, flight or freeze, or do we think we need them for survival?

 

The answer is both. We do need them for survival, and also, we don’t collaborate well with others when we are in survival mode. The taming of those instincts is what has to happen first in order to collaborate well.

 

When a horse is expressing fight, flight or freeze, they are in survival mode and doing the reactionary thing they think they need to do in order to survive. This survival mode is, I believe, simply a lack of confidence in their own passive leadership.

 

How do we teach passive leadership in horses? How do we teach this concept of taking personal action toward a goal without fight, flight or freeze?

 

We lead by example.

 

Do you know how to work in relationship toward a goal without fighting, running away, or freezing and giving up some of yourself in order to capitulate?

Some situations are easier than others for sure. The challenge I am laying out for the world is this. Be conscious, be aware, and notice when anyone in a partnership is falling into reactionary behavior and lack of confidence.

 

When your horse fights with you, can you take personal action toward your goal of being in partnership – without fighting back, or running away, or giving up?

 

When your horse tries to run from you, can you take personal action toward a goal, without reacting to him in a survival sort of way?

 

And most importantly, when your horse has learned helplessness –freeze as a day to day survival skill – and no longer takes any action towards feeling better, can you still take personal action toward your goal of being in partnership without taking advantage of the helplessness in front of you?

 

We teach by example and our partners in any endeavor become products of their environment.

 

We can only truly work together when someone steps up to make the environment one of collaboration and confidence.

Be that person, and watch your horse in turn become that horse.

 

We are all in this together,

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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.

 

Joy and Pain

 

Throughout this blog I have a tendency to make life look like a bed of roses, because joy is what we live for.

 

Is life worth living if we don’t perpetually reach for joy?

 

Don’t answer that question, it is meant to be left as a quandary.

 

The part I sometimes leave out of my writing is how hard life is as well, for me at least …

 

Wherever there is joy, there is also the contrast of pain and sorrow. I want with all my being for growth to be easy; I want to evolve and grow and develop so sweetly and gently that life is all about joy.

 

There it is, there is my mission statement:

 

Freedom Based Training™ is about learning to have more joy in every moment, horses and humans alike.

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There does not need to be as much pain as there is in the world. Anything I can do to alleviate any of the pain that might happen in the future, that is my job. Even if it means diving into my own internal dark nights of the soul to do it, I will struggle so others can have more roses and maybe fewer thorns.

 

Helios brought one of those mixed moments of joy and pain for me. I felt myself magnetically drawn to do whatever I needed to do for him. I didn’t need another horse to take care of. I didn’t need the drama and chaos of building fences for a stallion enclosure, or ordering gravel and spreading it in the last moments before a possible record-breaking rain storm hit. It didn’t matter what I didn’t need though. The possible pain I might experience in doing what needed to be done was far outweighed by the possible joy Helios might bring to the world.

 

I have never regretted it. Helios has brought more joy to the world than I had any way of knowing when I did my mad-dash drive across Washington to pull him out of the jaws of the slaughter truck.

 

For all my lost sleep and corresponding emotional pain of feeling like I can never do enough, no matter how hard I try because there always seems to be more pain in the world than I can possibly beat back with the joy I know is possible.

 

It is all worth it when I step into Helios’ paddock and I feel him close to me. Like his namesake the sun god, being in his presence warms me to my core in an inexplicable way. Any pain either of us has is suddenly drowned out by joy that feels exponential.

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Too many 3AM mornings jumping out of bed to write before sleep and dreams claim all my good ideas. Too many 1AM mornings where I am still awake editing video and photographs. Too much caffeine and sugar used artfully to propel me into the next moment of learning. This hurts and the body cannot do it forever, and yet I live to learn, and every time I learn a little more and I share that to bring a little joy to someone else’s life, all the pain of getting there is washed away.

 

Taming Wild is a movie about joy and connection, however, it also has its dark underbelly of pain and frustration. Taming Wild was more about learning to tame the wild impatient impulses I have as a human being than it was about taming a horse. I can’t tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep thinking I had set myself a project that was unachievable. Who trains a horse without some sort of pressure device, or some sort of withheld reward? There were too many nights I was mired in frustration that Myrnah didn’t want to do the things I wanted to do, and making a movie about joyful connection with no means of force seemed simply an effort in emotional pain caused by perpetually pitting myself against the gut wrenching pain of disappointment.

 

We all want what we want when we want it! How do you build joyful connection from that selfish place?

 

What I have found is, the only way I know to get through that selfish place is to start with admitting it is there. That frustration, those tears, that anger are there because life didn’t shape itself to your desires fast enough.

 

Sit with that, feel the pain, and then do the work it takes to get where you want to go. What if “fast enough” wasn’t the operating principle anymore?

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What if the amount of joy in every moment was the measuring stick we held our progress to?

 

That wild frustration and the pain that goes along with it, that is part of being alive. We are not always going to know what to do to move forward toward our goals.

 

I am not going to tell you to just let it go. You get to feel however you feel, and sometimes that hurts. What I am going to do is put all my own past pain to good use by writing down the steps I took, making sign posts and markers along the path to joy, so maybe you don’t have to take the detours I took into dark places.

 

The last eight weeks of sharing Freedom Based Training™ in a systematic step-by-step way through the online course has been awesome.

 

I had ten of the best students do the course with me this first session, and, whether they knew it or not, they asked me some of the most perfect questions throughout our study together. Every question that was asked became a ray of light illuminating some idea that I knew was going to be unbelievably useful for others going forward.

 

That is what I live for – more light, more joy, and more positive connection in life.

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We can all do that for each other!

 

Pain is still going to be there, sometimes it is unavoidable; but, with a little help from our friends the way out of darkness just might be signposted, so just keep moving and joy will find you soon enough again.

 

This is where my joy and my sadness get all wrapped up and I don’t know which is which. I have the honor and joy of telling you Helios, who came through my life in such a powerful way recently, has found his person, and no, it isn’t me.

 

I will be honest, it hurts to let him go; but it hurts less when I see the joy emanating from him and Shelby when they are together. Helios gets to continue living at my barn, and I will still be part of his herd and be allowed to soak up some of his sunshine every day. I also get to be part of the joy Shelby and Helios emanate when they are together. That is priceless.

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I think Helios is an example for me of what could be. I have never met a horse so clear about his interest in being with you, and paying attention, and being part of a relationship, while still maintaining VERY clearly what he is and is not yet comfortable with.

 

None of my other wild horses have ever been this slow or this perpetually positive and joyful. It was a full ten days before Helios considered putting a foot back in the horse trailer. He got minimal hay meals twice a day in the doorway, and tons of hay available just a little farther in, if he would step in, but nope, he waited until he was fully ready and comfortable before stepping in to eat his fill. All my other mustangs were in and out a million times in the first few days (even Myrnah who had unlimited hay outside the trailer as well). My other mustangs may not have been comfortable yet, but they were willing to try.

 

Helios waited until he was comfortable and then proceeded to step in and out easily and regularly like he had been doing it his whole life.

 

Same thing with being touched. It was almost three weeks before Helios permitted anyone to touch him. He would touch us, but any hand outstretched to him past his nose was promptly and decisively evaded. My other mustangs were interested in the fact that I wanted to touch them within the first couple of days, even if they were unsure or apprehensive. Helios knows what he is ready for, knows what is too much, and throughout it all continues to be a beam of light in his positive attention and interest. He loves people!

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Perhaps I have something to learn about the timing of progress, respecting personal boundaries, and how that affects positivity, interest and joy.

 

I will leave you with that idea to ponder.

 

Here is to pain, and here is to the joy that makes it all worth it, and sometimes even replaces it completely.

 

Elsa Sinclair

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.

 

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.

 

Horses as a Spiritual Practice

 

Bugs! Swarms of little, tiny, annoying midges finding every nook and cranny of the body to bite and irritate. This year in Redmond, WA my pastures seemed to be infested! I was at my wits end and beside myself with worry for my horses. My three, Myrnah, Cleo and Zohari, seemed defenseless this particular year, and every day I saw bigger chunks of flesh peeling from between their legs and across their stomachs with swelling distorting their natural shapes and turning them into grotesque elephant-skinned versions of themselves. So uncomfortable, it looked like they waddled across the fields so slowly trying not to let their thighs touch. It had reached the allergic response stage I had watched clients struggle with in their horse management, but never personally dealt with. My boarder, the cute little paint-mare Kiera, trotted gay little circles around my three with seemingly not a bite on her. It wasn’t just the pasture with its swarms of midges; it was all three of my horses unable to cope for some reason this year. I tried every bug spray and lotion I could find to combat it (thank goodness for “Where’s that Blue Stuff”, a lotion for rain rot and scratches that gave them the only relief I could find and helped repair their abused skin).

 

Finally I could watch them suffer no more and I made arrangements to flee the swarms of devastation. Kiera went to board with a neighbor’s horses and my three loaded into the horse trailer and took off for the cool, windy freedom of the San Juan Islands.

 

My mother and my daughter live still in the beautiful valley where the movie Taming Wild was filmed. We call it Plumb Pond and it is about as close to heaven on earth for horses as any place I know. It had been three years since my horses had been there and it was like taking them home. A hundred acres of fields and ponds with fragrant cedar trees to sleep under in the heat of the day and nine other horses, all of them long time friends.

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Horses have complex social lives when we give them the chance, and I believe the glow of health I have seen blossom on my horses in the last month has been as much about the richly emotional interactions they have all day long with their friends as it is about the healthy living they do galloping up and down the hill every day across the wide expanses of grass together. Sometimes I wonder how I could ever have taken them away from this wonderful place.

 

In the past month I have traveled from the high mountain grasslands of Kamloops, British Columbia, to the tropical paradise of Maui, to the lush grass valleys of San Juan Island. I travel on the call of horses and people who want to learn some of the things Myrnah and my other horses have taught me. Each place I go I have found myself part of dynamic and interesting horse herds that differ from each other in more ways than you can imagine. This barrage of experiences has left me both brimming with ideas and peacefully empty and present.

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I am beginning to realize there has been a shift for me in how I view my time with horses. Once upon a time I was a trained professional and horses were part of a sport I loved. From Eventing to Endurance to French Classical Dressage to the levels of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, there was always another thing we were aiming to achieve skill in. How good one was at the chosen discipline was a gathering of skills, and the more skills one had, the more fun one could have with a horse.

 

While I still believe this, I find there is a new discipline that has become more important to me than any of the sport aspects one can explore with a horse. It is a discipline no one ever talks about, and I find myself wondering if I am the only one enraptured by this.

 

Freedom Based Training is what I call this thing that I do with horses now. It really is training as much for the person as it is for the horse. We all have an innate desire to be free and to want what we want while living our lives in pursuit of happiness. Training is the thing that naturally happens when we realize we want partnership as much as we want freedom. In every partnership we realize each partner is unique, and only if both parties are willing to grow and train and learn together can we find the hand-in-glove easy depth of connection we long for.

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Myrnah and I developed these ideas when we were filming the movie Taming Wild. In the movie we had one year and a very specific goal – to be able to ride together without any bribes or tools of force. This goal was so task-oriented it was still almost like a discipline of sport. I found myself mapping progress and making lists and pushing to develop skills so we could achieve our goal together. And yes, the more skill we developed the more fun it became.

 

The year of the movie was more about sport than spirituality because it was more about my wants and desires than Myrnah’s. It was by accident that the spiritual aspect of this process was born and I fell in love with a whole new way of being with horses.

 

What if we start from the basis that there is nothing that needs to be changed or developed? What if we start with the premise that the horse is exactly perfect already, and the person is too; the only thing in need of development is the depth of bond between them. What are the things we then do to create connection that honors both horse and rider’s innate desire for freedom of choice?

 

This, I find, is more of a spiritual practice than it is a sport.

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My horse wants to eat grass; I want to ride and run through the fields! My horse wants to sleep with the herd under the trees; I want to go for a trail ride, climb a mountain and explore the world. My horse wants to run with the other horses; I want to stand peacefully and watch the magnificent beauty pounding with incredible horsepower past us.

 

It sounds impossible when you lay it out like this, and that is why we have halters and bridles and whips and treat-pouches for training. We think we need to overpower a horse’s desire to be free and replace it with incentive to do the things we want to do. If one is interested in sport, then yes, most likely you are going to have to invest in incentives.

 

I find I am increasingly more interested in the core of this relationship. If we strip away the incentives, what is underneath? What are the things we can do together that build a bond that nurtures our freedoms and develops our desire to stretch and encompass the wants of our partners as well as our own?

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I am finding that sport and spirituality are not separate or exclusive, you can combine the two ideas in whatever proportion works for you. I am finding the more time one puts into the development of the spiritual side of riding, the better the sport side becomes as well.

 

The curiosity for me is the better I get at the spiritual side, the less often I am willing to put on a halter, or reward a behavior with treats in order to achieve an end goal. I find I am much too fascinated by the natural evolution of partnership in a spiritual sense, and the sport of achievement doesn’t hold the same thrill for me that it once did.

 

I still love my work as an instructor, helping students and horses develop partnership and achieve their goals of sport. Finding the right incentive to help partners stretch together is fascinating.

 

However, when I walk into a lesson, I find I no longer have any idea of what horse or rider should or shouldn’t do.

 

What do you want?

 

What does your horse want?

 

How do we make that work for both of you?

 

That is what matters to me.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

I will be leading an Online interactive course on Freedom Based Training starting in September. I am only taking on twelve students and will be personally available for coaching on a one on one basis during each week between classroom sessions. Email me at Elsa@TamingWild.com or click here for more details if you are interested in taking part in this learning opportunity.

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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.

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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