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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.

 

Focus

This is a big and beautiful world we live in and there are so many paths to choose from as we meander or race our way through it. The questions are, what are we running from? Or what are we running to? Or are we just living the current moment?

 

What might be important along the way?

 

Horses and humans teamed up throughout history as travel partners, sometimes running towards something and sometimes running away from something; but regardless of the motivation, we discovered it was better to have a partner shoulder to shoulder with us as we went.

 

Over time we discover that some partners are easier to travel with than others and we start to distill the details down to discover what makes for an easier companion? What makes for a better travel experience, and how do we achieve that with different horses, or help others achieve that with their partner.

 

Each horse trainer has their own theories about what the key points are and over the years I have come up with a few ideas of my own as well. When I stumble upon an idea that seems to improve life for me and my equine partners, I share it with a few intrepid students. If I see theses ideas are indeed helpful, then they make it onto the blog and create a post like this.

 

Because I teach Freedom Based Training®, Freedom is always the idea that comes up first. Can we be free and also be partners? How would we do that? What does it look like to build a partnership between two free beings?

The second idea that comes up is Safety. How do we develop a feeling of Safety with partners who are free to make their own decisions? What does that look like?

 

It is only after we have tackled the ideas of Freedom and Safety that I am interested in delving deeper into what makes all this better, and for that we move onto the idea of Focus.

 

All of us, horses and humans alike, get better at what we pay attention to.

 

In this world of training horses what that idea has boiled down to is teaching horses to hold focus without wavering. Sometimes it is focus on the leader we want, so the horse understands what the leader is asking. Sometimes it is the obstacle in front of us that we want the horse to focus on, whether it is the jump or the raging river we are about to cross.

 

Regardless of where we want the focus to hold and what we want the horse and human to get better at together, I want to ask the pertinent question: Why is holding focus difficult to achieve with horses? Why do they fight us on holding a focus where we would like them to hold it?

 

I think that circles back to the first two ideas, Freedom and Safety.

 

All of us need to feel safe. All of us have some baseline of how much safety we are entitled to and how much we are willing to fight for that security in life. Only after a horse feels reasonably safe will it choose to do anything a partner asks.

 

We all, horses and humans alike, only give up our Freedom to the degree we feel we gain safety in return.

When we build a partnership with another being, it is this balance of freedom and safety that is always in flux. In Freedom Based Training® I aim to build as much of both as I possibly can – Freedom and Safety together!

 

Let’s talk more about focus.

 

While the end goal might be to hold the focus on one specific thing we want to get better at, what are the steps that might help us do this in a way that builds more and more trust between horse and human along the way?

 

I think it breaks down into five stages of learning.

  1. Change of Focus
  2. Using Drive to change focus
  3. Clearer focus changes
  4. Using Draw to change focus
  5. Holding focus

 

  1. Change of Focus

In the beginning of a relationship the horse still feels they are responsible for their own safety and they have not built enough trust to hand that job over to the human. Every time the horse notices a different thing (they change focus), they assess their relative safety. The wind in the tree, the dog moving across the yard, the bird that just flew by, the truck backfiring in the distance. All these things matter to a horse and in the beginning they are not going to be willing to give up any of their focus changes because their assessment is important to their future safety and comfort. I believe we honor this stage of the relationship in two ways. The first is to show them we are paying attention also! If we can change focus more often than the horse does, we are clearly keeping tabs on everything around us even better than the horse is. The second way is to acknowledge and appreciate each focus change the horse makes. This conversation of movements is key in building a horse’s trust. I find, the more consistent, rhythmic and diverse a horse’s focus changes are, the less likely they are to be afraid of anything. They have seen for themselves there is nothing to be afraid of. This is the first building block for a good relationship.

  1. Using drive to change focus

As we work through the first step of the process where we appreciate and reinforce a horse’s development of consistent, rhythmic and diverse focus changes, we will notice every horse has strengths and weaknesses in where they choose to focus. This is where we start the second step of the process by using drive. Drive is the use of pressure to move one thing away from another. I can “drive” the horse in a movement away from me, or I can “drive” myself in a movement away from the horse. To “drive” is to create some degree of distance for a moment. Hypothetically, if we have a horse whose strength is staring off over the horizon, then that is the thing they will choose to do more than anything else. If diversity of focus is the thing that brings confidence to a horse, each time this horse gets stuck staring over the horizon, I am going to introduce some drive until we get any other focus than the horizon; and then I am going to appreciate and reinforce the new focus. Changes are still the goal; the horse doesn’t need to hold focus where they are weak yet, only try it out when I ask them to. My job is to ask them to try a change, and then acknowledge and appreciate their effort. I find that focus changes lower stress in the horse, as long as they are not required to hold the focus longer than they would choose. As the horse learns to respond to my “drive” that helps them change their focus and incidentally will make them feel better, then the trust between us starts to grow.

 

 

  1. Clearer focus changes

In the beginning of this process, I am acknowledging and reinforcing every effort at focus change, awareness and mindfulness of the present from my horse. That means each flick of the ear, or wrinkle of the nose, or rotation of the eyeball in the socket is appreciated. By the time we get to the third stage the horse understands that focus changes make them feel better, but learning to be more aware with mindfulness and presence requires the building of new neural passageways in the brain. This building is a developmental process, and just like lifting weights development sometimes feels like work. When the horse is strong enough to make the small changes easily, we are going to start expecting the horse to try harder, rewarding only the bigger focus category changes. There are five categories we need to keep in mind:

  1. Self
  2. Herd
  3. Environment
  4. Leader
  5. Learning

As a student pointed out to me this week, the acronym would be SHELL and I think that is fitting, since awareness of all the categories does create a sort of shell of safety around the horse as it lends a moment of focus to each aspect of the horse’s life.

 

 

 

  1. Using Draw to change focus

This fourth stage is where focus work starts to get really fun for me as a horse trainer. Does my horse trust me enough to think my ideas are good ideas? Have I proven my decisions make my horse feel better enough times, that my horse is more interested in being a partner than they are in being free and independent? When I change focus, does my horse act in harmony with me? At this stage of the game I am expecting my horse to make choices that are either in harmony with me or complementary to me. If I look at the ENVIRONMENT, my horse does also – both of us in harmony. If I look at my horse and ask them to do something, that makes them my HERD focus, and my horse can be complementary in their focus by looking at me as the LEADER. Now… if they are not acting in a complementary or harmonious way with my focus changes, we know we have more work to do in the first three steps of the focus development stages.

  1. Holding focus

This is where most horse trainers start. When we ask a horse to hold focus, we are asking them to trust our assessment that nothing else is important. We are asking the horse to trust our leadership decisions so completely that they don’t need to question our judgment. That is a great deal of trust indeed. Given the right tools to train and prove leadership, some trainers and horses can indeed jump right to this fifth step and this holding focus together builds a beautiful bond. However, if you take away all the fences, all the halters and ropes and flags and sticks and food rewards, that is when you find you have to break down your building blocks to smaller steps and build it up one solid layer of trust at a time.

 

The work I do in Freedom Based Training® is not to negate any other forms of training; it is simply to ask these questions:

 

How would we build partnerships with horses if we took away all the physical tools?

 

If we can understand how training without tools is possible, can we use that knowledge to make our training and partnership building even better when we do use the right tools?

 

This January I am going to be asking those questions in the process of filming a second movie “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” 

 

In this second movie I will be teaming up with Andrea Wady who has run the business “Discovery Horse Tours” in Costa Rica for the last thirteen years and together we are going to rescue two horses who have been discarded by humans as worthless and train them towards a second chance at a meaningful life.

 

All of this training will be done in constant motion as we take an incredible trek across the country of Costa Rica from the west coast to the east coast.

Andrea and I will be using movement and leadership to build feelings of safety and comfort on our trek. We will be using whatever simple tools we need to keep everyone safe and putting to use all the knowledge we have to develop partnership along the way. I believe this movie will take the ideas that were pioneered in the first Taming Wild movie and put them in a framework that will be even more useful and inspiring to horse enthusiasts everywhere.

 

I am asking all of you to take just a moment and stop by our Kickstarter page and join our community around this movie. I will be working on a lot of different financial avenues to get this movie made. What I need from all of you is a showing of the number of people who are behind us.

 

Will you join us through “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” on this adventure of developing relationship between horses and humans?

 

Together I believe we can continue to inspire everyone to find their own personal adventures of beautiful partnership.

Here is to Freedom and Safety and Focus helping us all have better partnerships!

 

Elsa Sinclair

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.

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.

 

Taking the Challenge

 

I want to give you something a little different for the blog this week.

 

When I started this project with Myrnah I believed it was something truly different than anything that had been done before. I still believe that is true because I have not found anyone willing to train horses without the added incentive of food rewarding behavior, or the added pressure of a whip or rope or fence to push them against. If any of you know it exists, please let me know. I would be so curious to know more.

 

What I HAVE found, though, is many people pushing limits and taking on challenges all over the world:

 

How can we exist with horses in a better way?

 

I find that so very beautiful, worth paying attention to. I encourage each and every one of us everyday to explore what is possible:

 

How can we live our own lives in better ways?

 

For now, I leave you with a little inspiration.

 

Here is Emma Massingale with “The Island Project”:

 

And here is Honza Bláha with “Open Borders”:

 

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.

Thank you all for your support on the Front_Of_Card_ELSADocumentary. Take a look at the trailer here, and please donate to the completion of the project.

https://www.kickstarter.com

 

Holding Space

Holding the job title I do of Trainer and Teacher, there is an expectation everywhere I go to create change and evoke growth. Last week’s blog – “Focus, Persistence and Confidence” – was all about how that comes to pass for me. This week, however, I find myself thinking more about the basis for that growth and change.

 

I believe we are only willing to grow and change to the degree we feel safe and stable where we are.

 

In this culture we are taught, “you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow” and “being uncomfortable is an important part of learning something new.” I do agree with these sentiments if our goal is to change fast; if we aim to get from where we are to where we are going quickly, it might indeed be uncomfortable.

 

That discomfort, though, tends to lead to students resisting and fighting the very growth and learning they are seeking. Adult humans can rationalize, talking through the uses of discomfort so they learn to tolerate or even seek it. Animals and children, though, tend to fight ever harder when their feelings of core safety are threatened by discomfort.

 

It is often Animals and Children who teach us to live fully right now!_E0A0233

What if this life is for living and enjoying with the full breadth and depth of who we are NOW… instead of who or what we seek to be.

 

Change is inevitable, growth happens, whether we seek it or not. We are all constantly evolving because it is simply the nature of being alive.

 

As a teacher and a trainer I find myself at this balance point: my job is to create growth and foster learning, and yet, I find the best way to do that is to start from the premise that my student, horse or human, is already perfect.

 

Right now, in this moment, they are exactly what they need to be – not lacking or “less than” in any way!

 

My first job is to let them feel safe, connected, and supported exactly how they are, because that is how a love for learning and growing is fostered.

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Give any of us enough safety and base of support, we learn to love and seek our own evolution.

 

How do we do that?

 

We hold space.

 

This piece written by Heather Plett says it best.

http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/

I often feel as Heather does about holding space:

 

“It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important.”

 

It is important we know we are really okay however we are right now, because right now is our jumping off place for everything we are about to become. When I teach or I train, I endeavor to build this base of support. It seems a little counter intuitive, my job being to change things for the better, and yet I walk in first saying everything is perfect just as it is. Why would you need me if that was the case?

 

You don’t need me; that’s the point. I just have the tools to make the inevitable growth and evolution of being alive way more fun. Because I can do that for you, together we discover. The more fun you think learning is, the more you will seek it and reach for it and change, in fact faster than if I had pushed you hard to grow in the first place._E0A0331

So here are the keys to holding space that let a person or an animal feel they have a strong enough base of support to leap into what they are becoming.

  1. Give others permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
  2. Give others only as much information as they can handle.
  3. Don’t take their power away.
  4. Keep your own ego out of it.
  5. Make them feel safe enough to fail.
  6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
  7. Create a container for complex emotions.
  8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.

 

Heather goes into more details, I encourage you to read her piece.

 

Growth and learning make us feel alive; I simply question, how far out of our comfort zone must we step in this reaching for life?

 

How might we instead revel in whatever is felt now, as we support it and build firm ground under our feet so we grow into the delight of tomorrow with grace.

 

While holding space for people is a concept that is gaining traction in the world, I am now putting a bid in for people to also learn how to hold space for their horses.

 

Now is all we really have. I am voting in this “now” to foster safety and security and a stable learning base from which to push off into the future fearlessly.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

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The Project:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMustangs directly off the range

Stretching the boundaries of training horses without tools

Understanding passive leadership

Learning, Listening, and Leaning into life together

The Goal:

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

 

The 3 Keys

Believing in something greater than one’s self brings a confidence to life. Be it Family, God, Country, Karma, or the existence of Love, it’s not so much what we believe in, as it is the existence of belief, a sense that we are part of a greater good.

I believe horses reach for that same belief. Instinctively they want to be part of something greater than any one individual can be alone. Movement within a herd exists to let the horse feel part of a greater whole. Movement is the horses’ form of conversation.

Here I am studying what it takes to work with the horses purely, and teach others to do the same. No food as bribe or reward, no whip as threat or punishment, no boundaries to push them against. Just bodies moving through space, and a shared desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. What are the keys to bring it all together?

1. MovementOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. Connection

3. Quiet

Movement is a horses conversation, movement of one individual is a monolog, movement of two individuals is a dialog. Horses move together to bond and build partnerships. So that is what I do too.

We move together until we can reach toward each other for connection. Then we are quiet together to savor that feeling.

As our conversations become more specific, more interesting, and more dynamic, our bond grows stronger. Yet it still needs all three parts: Movement, Connection and Quiet.

Today I want to write about the riding part of this process- specifically the connection and quiet parts of riding.

We all know about the movement part of riding, we are all familiar with- push with this leg, pull with that hand, make the horse go forward, backward, turn, and yield- all possibly good and beautiful, dynamic conversations to have between horse and rider.

What does connection look like?

I start the idea of connection with the horse reaching back to touch my foot or my hand- simple, bold and clear- an easy marker to be quiet after.

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Then, as we get better at this game of connection, we can feel them glance back out of the corner of their eye to check on us, and we can feel that contact reverberate through the two of us. We learn to use movement to ask for connection: a leg stretched down in a long embrace around the ribs, a finger tracing the neck above the withers. This only works as well as we follow the rules, following connection each and every time with quiet.

Quiet riding is being the best passenger possible. No requests or pressure anymore, just the flow and tempo of whatever the horses is doing- breath for breath, step for step, left for left and right for right- quiet, fluid synchronicity.

If the horse is unsure, we can drop down and hug them around the neck, willing to swing gently off if that is what they need to build confidence. Usually, all it takes is that hug to reassure them we are there with and for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The movement is the mount, then we ask for connection- having the horse reach around to touch us- and then we sit quiet. Then we ask for movement forward, then on a turn. If they can glance back at us on that turn, we sit quiet and let them travel anywhere they want to take us, movement together- step for step, breath for breath.

Movement, connection, quiet, the three parts of the puzzle that connect us together. Riding, or moving side by side on the ground- simple or complex in movement conversation. It is beautiful and lets us feel the belief that we are indeed part of something greater than ourselves.

Whatever your style of riding or relating with horses, try it. You may find it reaps rewards you never dreamed of. IMG_3630

 

 

On a lighter note, here are a few pictures to make you smile.

Our new Puppy Breez is learning the importance of quiet time while riding.

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IMG_3561Our Cat Ahzizi believes quiet time an essential building block of relationship with the new puppy (though in all honesty she likes the movement part better and can’t wait to pounce on him when he comes in the door starting off an evening of rollicking rolling wresting fun.)

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Many of you asked about Errai. He is well settled in with his new family. He has a new name of Cay and seems happy in his new place with his new herd of horses and people. I get to see him every couple of weeks when I am there to teach and think he is a very lucky colt to have scored such a good home. And I am a very lucky girl that I still get to see him and enjoy his nuzzles every so often. I will include pictures of the young one in a blog coming up soon.

Thank you Arianna, Sofie, Cameron, Christopher, Breez, Ahzizi and of course Zohari, Saavedra, Myrnah, Cleo for the pictures this week.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

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.

 

Turning the Tides

Swirling foam and spraying salt water, blowing sand and dancing grasses- time at the beach is time like no other. With the constantly turning tides and weather, adaptability becomes an essential way of life. To begin year number two together, I couldn’t think of a better foray for Myrnah, Errai, and me than the beach. This two weeks at the beach was about much more than a physical destination; it was about turning the tides of focus and emotion. The tides have kept us close to home so far, in our safe cozy valley with all the herd close around us. This tide changed in mid-September and swept us into a horse trailer headed on a ten-hour trip south via ferries, highways, and winding small roads to Longbeach, Washington- twenty six miles of an incredible beach to play on, dream on, and hone our partnership on.

The most beautiful cabin, a six-stall barn with paddocks and play areas, and a five-minute walk through the dunes to the beach- this became home for two weeks of heaven. Thank-you, Maggie Schuler, for creating such a place for us to stay.

And a great thanks for Myrnah and Errai for handling this change in tide all so smoothly. They stepped out of the trailer like it was just another day’s events and have amazed me daily with their calm appreciation of the new world around them.

Every day we walk to the beach a couple of times, munching the dune grasses along the path, Errai galloping over hill and dale, stretching his little legs to take in all the new land he can. Myrnah and I keep the halter on to and from the beach. I think she has only hit the end of the rope and felt pressure from it a handful of times, yet I find myself grateful in those moments to have caught her attention quickly and focused her in partnership again.

The alternative, without a halter altogether is to run with her when she gets startled into flight, possibly getting left behind if her flight is longer than my stamina. At home this is what we do, but here, where cars and unknown civilization pose a danger, we only take the halter off when I am riding and an unexpected moment of flight is something we can weather together, working that emotional tide around again to confidence.

 

Day by day it was fun to see our confidence grow. From small splashes in knee-deep, calm water, to braving the swirling waves, to learning to hold a line running along the ocean where the sand was firm, to resisting the ever-intoxicating draw of the safe dunes where grass is sweet and the wind is softer.The beach requires adaptability and the willingness to face the unknown. That Myrnah and Errai have been able to accomplish all this with me without a rope to hold them to it, without a stick to drive them to it, without a saddle to hold me secure, I find a marvel every day.

The bonds of friendship Myrnah and I have built over the last year have held strong. Even when fear grips her for a moment and I find I have to lie down on her neck, working my fingertip pressure up to a firm slap on the side of her cheek, I find myself amazed and grateful that is all it takes to change the emotional tide, bringing her back to rationality as she bends her neck around to touch my foot with her nose. Even when the wind kicks up so strongly that we can’t hear anything and have to lean into it, she comes back to touch me again and again, leaning on that bond of friendship and trust to help her face blowing sand, swirling waves, and buffeting gales. When I finally tell her we have done enough and head back to the quiet of the dunes, I know she is happy. Yet every day she again heads to the ocean with me to play in the waves, and seems to enjoy the challenges I set in front of her.

I had no idea of what to expect on this journey to the beach. I knew Myrnah and I would do as much or as little as we could. If all we could do was go peek at the waves from the safety of the dunes, then that is all we would do. After only a year together with no tools to force growth to a speed, I had no expectations. Yet, like every little girl, I must admit I dreamed of galloping on the beach, horse and rider as one through whipping wind against a backdrop of crashing waves. About a week into our trip, much to my amazement, Myrnah was there too. Galloping was something we could do together.

It was fun, it was thrilling, and the calm of walking home afterward was the most peaceful feeling on earth.

Sometimes the tide is low and the waves quiet over long-stretching sandbars; sometimes the tide is high with steep, soft sand and crashing waves. Sometimes the sun kisses us, sometimes the wind buffets us, and sometimes the fog wraps us in its quiet glow like a dream. No matter the surroundings, Myrnah and I face the waves and soak it all in, drinking life up for all it is worth. When fear of the unknown presents itself, we work together, turning the tides of emotion until we again can face the waves and soak up the beauty.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

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.

 

The Beauty of Backing Off

Here we are, into September! After ninety consecutive blogs, never missing a week I have finally backed off. This blog marks a change, taking Meditations on Equestrian Art from weekly updates to bimonthly journals. The beauty of backing off my intensity, documenting and developing the project with Myrnah, is all about the freedom to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor so far. It is about quality more than quantity, and, as I have emphasized in the past, the more often I can stop to smell the roses along the path, the more I enjoy the journey.

I still want to share with all of you the meandering path to success this mustang project is taking. It is too beautiful a journey to keep all to myself. As you may have noticed, my headline has changed a bit. The blog and the project it follows is now officially about BOTH Myrnah and Errai: One mustang directly off the range, one mustang born into the project. While I have been the one trainer propelling these ideas into development with Myrnah and Errai so far, this year I hope to add many students to the process. These ideas and this journey are much bigger than one horse and one trainer. The premise is communication through body language; the proviso, to keep this journey safe as we learn together, is tools used only for safety, never to train.

 

Trust me as I state, the goal remains the same even as we add people, horses, and places to the mix: To discover how far Equestrian Art can be developed solely using body language. Like a river, this project will gain width as we add characters to the mix. We will lose the intensity and depth perhaps of one horse, one trainer, one year, and updates weekly. However, in exchange, we will develop the ability to touch, interact, teach, and develop with the world at large.

 

Errai continues to grow magnificently- happy, social, and the most lovely easy youngster to be around and share with visitors. I can’t help but wonder: How much is that innate character that he was born with? And how much of that is the respect and aware interaction we have offered him since he was born?

 

We continue to develop Errai’s comfort in the halter in preparation for our Long Beach trip in the middle of September.

Ropes on and off comfortably, following pressure so he is not surprised by that feel should we need to use it in an emergency,

and then, best of all, the scratches and grooming he loves most to reward those periods of focus and learning.

On a side note, Cleo is now out in the big field with the herd and doing beautifully.

With the grass drying out at the end of the summer here, I feel she can eat as much as she wants and stay healthy even so. I watch her freely roaming the wide fields, confining paddocks of the summer a quickly fading memory. Cleo’s desire to remain connected to human friends as well as her horse friends is a joy to see.

Myrnah and I have been keeping up the halter practice.

She is already comfortable with following the pressure if need be, so we simply keep it a small part of our daily time together. Rope loose, it is only a safety net to help her stay focused with me in a challenging or dangerous situation.

Added to our practice, Myrnah is learning to drag it along behind her at feeding time, the desire for dinner helping her to overcome the instinctual fear of the long snaky rope seemingly chasing us from behind.

It is all about continually developing confidence and respect in equal doses, regardless of the subject matter.

 

The heart and the soul of the project remains the liberty work.

This is where Myrnah teaches me the most about my feel, my timing, my communication, and my relationship skills.

This is where my skill as an equestrian is honed, and this is where I intend to share Myrnah with students in the upcoming year: working side by side in the ground work,

or developing the ease and peace that allows a riding partnership,

or the riding work where one develops the ability to follow and direct in a fluid partnership.

The experience of connecting, bonding, and working with Myrnah is an inexplicably powerful one.

I feel beyond blessed to have had this last year to learn from her. In the next year I look forward to the beauty of backing off, letting her connect with other students, and watching more of this unfold from the sidelines. I will keep you posted as we go. Year one may be finished, yet we are only just beginning something truly beautiful. Thank you Myrnah, Errai and all of you enjoying this project with us.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Mustang born into the project, 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.

 

Ratios

Here we are in the first week of year number two with Myrnah. Beautiful hot August weather has us all mellow and peaceful. True to my stated intentions, I am training less intensely this week. I still spend some time with her each day I am home, yet I am relieved feeling my drive to achieve has relaxed, leaving in its wake a calm assured feeling that all is well. So if all is well just as it is, what do I reach for next? And how hard do I push to get there? As in anything, I believe there is a balance to be found. Ratios kept in balance between pushing for progress and enjoying the moment.

I believe the ratio we are looking for here in training horses is two to one. For every minute we spend pushing for progress, we need to spend two enjoying the moment we are in.

That becomes an interesting notion when you have a green horse who isn’t sure it wants to do anything you want to do. As a partnership, the two of you, horse and rider, need to agree on something to do together that you both enjoy, something you can spend twice as much time doing together as the exercises that are pushing for progress. This is a concept Myrnah has driven home for me over the last year.  I have a million things I want to do and achieve, yet, because this is a cooperative partnership between the two of us, the only way for me to push for progress is to make sure Myrnah gets enjoyment out of the rides also.

I can push for progress because I love it, yet I always need to remember, twice as much time needs to be spent both of us enjoying life.

So I ponder, what does that mean? Do I have to just sit still on Myrnah, letting her graze, to fill my quota of enjoyable time together? Can it be walking around?  Can it be trotting or cantering? Can it be practicing precision patterns or trail riding? How do I know if I am getting the ratios right between pushing for progress and sitting back to enjoy life?

Here is how I look at it: How much pressure does it take to accomplish something? In Natural Horsemanship we talk about phases of pressure, generally working in increments of four. Phase one is a suggestion, phase two is a request, phase three is a demand, and phase four is a promise life would have been more pleasant if the horse had responded to one, two or three. In phase one or two the horse has an option to say no, as a suggestion or a request is part of two-way communication. Phase three and phase four are more about dominance and submission: if there is to be a leader and a follower, yes needs to be the only answer, otherwise a power struggle ensues.

Any time that power struggle crops up you are then in the range of pushing for progress.

Enjoying the moments together exists strictly within the ranges of phase one or two pressure. The horse needs to have an option to say no, and choose to say yes anyway.

So if we are looking at a balanced ratio between pushing for progress and enjoying the time, what things we are able to do is completely based on how far our training together has progressed. How good have we gotten at building the habit of saying yes to a request?

If my horse always has a positive response to my suggestions of jumping big jumps or doing complicated maneuvers, then I know we are pretty advanced in our training and it becomes easier to spend the right ratio of time pushing or enjoying. If my horse is more green, as Myrnah is, then I need to be aware that our time enjoying may be as simple as walking around the fields, possibly even stopping for lots of rests during that walk. A third of the time I can push her to try a little harder, to practice doing things outside of her comfort zone, increasing our training so that tomorrow’s rides are that much easier and that much more fun for both of us. I have to watch myself though; if I get my ratios out of balance then I find I no longer have a willing partner in my horse. This project without a halter or bridle or stick or rope has helped me immensely respect the value of maintaining a willing partnership with my horse. If Myrnah isn’t willing, there is no way I can force her into cooperation.

All theory aside, here is the physical update: because we are into our second year the halter came into play this week. Myrnah and I take a daily walk to a new and different location outside the pasture with her wearing a halter, to go find her grain and supplements (which thank goodness, she is finally eating and enjoying). The halter really doesn’t come into play much; it is just a matter of familiarization and easy acceptance.

Errai wears his for a few minutes around grooming time, getting comfortable with the feel of it as he follows me for his favorite scratches.

When we head to Long Beach for our two-week vacation in September, Myrnah and Errai will be in an area close to the highway. The halter will become an important safety net in those moments when their attention may become scattered about a new environment. I need to know I can recover their attention quickly enough to avoid any dangerous traffic incidents. The halters give me that confidence as we explore the world. So far, halter awareness is progressing smoothly for Myrnah and Errai, I think they will be ready for travel come September fourteenth.

 

Until then I will do my best to keep the ratios right as we all learn and grow together. A willing partnership between horse and rider is the stuff of dreams. Myrnah, Errai and I, we are living the dream!

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

The Year Finishes Up With A Bang!

 

Rumbling thunder, flashes of lightning, and an amazing sky of billowing clouds on blue… backlit by the setting sun- clouds became defined by their bright halos, and the twilight glowed like something out of a story.

 

Tonight was spectacular.

 

Framed by that backdrop of earth and sky, Myrnah and I tackled our final accomplishment of the year. Of all the things I dreamed of doing with Myrnah in our first year together, this last piece brought forth the most excitement in me, and was also something I thought I had given up on doing anytime soon.

 

Galloping.

To ride a horse at full speed is what dreams are made of: wind in mane, the pulse and ripple of strength carrying through space high and fast, all cares left behind, the feel of power and speed filling the senses.

 

To take a wild Mustang off the range, bond with it, partner with it, develop a language with it, and convince it to carry me high- two beings becoming one as the centaur of legend- this too is what dreams are made of.

 

Put together the bond, the trust, the partnership, and the speed, against a backdrop of thunder, lightning, and billowing clouds at sunset: What could be more perfect than that?

 

Did it really happen? Yes it did.

 

Was it that storybook magical?

 

No, not really. It was ever so much more real and mundane and perfect in how it came together.

 

Last ride of the day, I walked out to get Myrnah in the far corner of the far pasture. After I swung up and we started our ride back toward the barn, the rest of the herd began to play. The weather was fresh. Tails flagged, heads tossed, rivalries long buried resurfaced for the fun of dancing and playing and chasing each other in the wind.

 

My first thought riding along on Myrnah was: Here is my opportunity to gallop. The herd is hot and playful; Myrnah would probably follow them and gallop a little, letting me cross that last task off my year-one wish list for Myrnah and me.

 

My second thought was: This is going to be the day I pass up my dream and play it safe. Thirteen horses cavorting and galloping in the wind is not the first place one would choose to ride a newly-started, bridleless Mustang. I was here amidst the crowd whether I chose it or not, but I didn’t intend to join the excitement. Lucky for me, Myrnah really is that bonded with me and respected my request for peaceful travel in spite of the fun going on around us.

 

By the time we had walked up close to the barn, the water troughs, and the trailer, I had decided the energy crackling in the air around us was too good to pass up. It was time to take this opportunity and run with it.

 

So Myrnah and I headed down to the far corner of the bottom pasture- that same corner of the field I had regularly traveled to as a child with four or five friends around me, our horses prancing and chomping at their bits because they knew this was the racing corner. Animals barely held in check until that moment someone yelled GO! Then we would be off in a blur of speed, across the bottom land, up alongside the pond, holding on tight as they jumped the ditch, and then the final burst of speed up the hill past the maple tree, children’s fingers clutching at sweaty reins as we tried to bring the horses back under control before heading back down the hill to the barn, hopefully at a walk.

 

All these memories swarmed through my head as Myrnah and I walked through the bottomland to the corner of the pasture. Here I was, thirty-four years old, and riding that same excitement of a gallop ahead. Only this time there was no frothing, foaming horse fighting the bit, no rivalry of companions arguing about who got to yell go. Instead, here I was bareback on a mare who one year ago was wild and untouched, only to be rounded up and brought into a life she previously had no idea existed. Here I was, about to gallop her for the first time with only my fingertips and my legs to guide her, my voice and my weight to steady her, and our trust and bond to hold us together whatever happened.

We started off and were quickly into a canter. I asked for more speed and she gave me more, I asked again and she gave me another notch more. Crouched low over her neck, fingers wrapped in her mane, I asked again and she stretched out just a little more for me.

 

Was it fast? Not very, but it was faster than we had ever gone before. Much faster than a canter, but still only a portion of the full speed hovering under the surface.

 

Was it smooth? Unbelievably smooth, like carrying riders at speed was something Myrnah had done every day of her life, balanced and effortless.

 

Was it fun? You can only imagine…

All year Myrnah and I have worked, and strived, and dreamed, and meditated on who we are and who we can be together.

 

Here we are. It is less like the fairy tale I dreamed up, and it is more like the brilliant reality I couldn’t have even imagined a year ago. This reality of connection between Myrnah and me is beyond what I expected, and still merely a hint of the potential underlying.

 

So here is to the year ahead! Meditations on Equestrian Art, part one: the year finishes up with a bang! I hope you have enjoyed the ride with me. Meditations on Equestrian Art, part two: here we come; who knows what the future will bring…

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com