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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.




Progress with Myrnah is a meandering path of smelling the roses. We have plenty of goals we would like to reach; however, the journey is entirely more important than any destination. As you all know, I sat on Myrnah a couple of times back in October while she was eating hay, and she was completely at ease about it. Then abruptly she decided she didn’t like weight on her back, and we embarked on what seemed like an endless discussion developing her tolerance of my getting on and off. Our training in that area largely seemed to plateau, and every time I broke the process down, it seemed I needed to break it down some more, take it slower, wait with more quiet understanding, and enjoy the moments with her regardless. I am pleased to say yesterday we had a breakthrough!


Every day Myrnah and I practice moving together: walking trotting, turning, and generally traveling through space side by side with as much grace as we can muster. The fun part is, she continually asks me if we can stop at the mounting block and play that game instead. Even though she can’t tolerate my sitting on her back for more than a moment, she seems to trust me to respect her apprehensions and is drawn to the process of learning about weight on her back as much as I am. For months now all she could tolerate was a moment of my sitting on her. I would slide on, feel every muscle tense up for a reactive explosion, and I would slide off. If I wasn’t quick enough, I would be sliding off as she scooted forward or backward. Myrnah’s tension was instantly high enough in response to weight on her back there wasn’t any chance of asking her to bend her neck around to look at me, or really to ask anything at all of her. All we could do was quietly and patiently play advance and retreat, allowing her to realize the weight was only temporary.

This week on Tuesday and Wednesday came the breakthrough in riding. Myrnah and I had begun pushing the envelope a little in terms of trotting together side by side: another exercise which she was brilliantly relaxed about back in October, yet became averse to shortly thereafter. So each day we patiently played advance and retreat with the movements, enjoying the time together regardless of the apparent progress.


On Tuesday when we began to advance to trot more frequently (yet briefly) Myrnah became more and more insistent that the game at the mounting block was the one she would rather play. Once there I would take my time to settle with her and then slide on where, to my surprise, on this day, her tension would come up only slowly giving me a few more seconds to sit there each time before I slid back to the ground. It may not seem like much to the outside observer, but after months of approach and retreat the change felt dramatic and exciting to me.


Wednesday we played more of the same and were even able to start asking for a bend around, Myrnah’s nose coming over to investigate my hand or my foot any time I asked. And then we began to move together. The first few times it was a pure offer from Myrnah: a few hesitant steps forward followed by her reaching around to touch me as if to ask if we were still all right. Pretty soon I was able to ask for those few steps, my leg just behind her elbow asking her to move, just like we have been practicing using hand pressure when we walk side by side. We traveled no more than perhaps six steps each time I sat on her, and sometimes we just stood and didn’t travel at all. The breakthrough in interest between Myrnah and me about riding together felt amazing.

It really has been interesting to train Myrnah without any recourse of action when she says no. When I have tools I have all sorts of games of distraction I can play to get around a no. With Myrnah, all we can do is sit with it, play with it, let it be, and let her say no as many times as she needs to before she decides she is ready to say yes.


I honestly don’t know if this is the best way to train a horse. I don’t know if Myrnah is any happier or better off than any of the other horses I train using more tools of force. I do know, however, this process is teaching me more about horses every day than I ever imagined it would. Myrnah I feel is teaching me every bit as much I am teaching her, and the high of the breakthrough this week, simple as it was, means more to me than most of what I have accomplished with my other horses over the years.


I don’t know how it is that one simple little change can feel so monumental. This breakthrough is worth every moment I have spent patiently approaching and retreating for months. It feels like there are no words to convey the brilliance of this moment for Myrnah and I, but trust me, it’s all worth it.


Elsa Sinclair

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.

Quality of Life


Life with horses for me is all about enjoyment. I am not going to the Olympics, nor am I facing life-or-death situations. I ride simply because I love each moment of the experience. Quality of life is what it is all about for me.

Myrnah, I am finding, also has a great deal to say about her quality of life. What she likes and what she dislikes she seemingly tells me without hesitation. Given her freedom to walk away from me any time she may choose, I have no choice but to listen and make sure she enjoys working with me as much as I enjoy working with her. Quality of life must remain high for both of us in order for this relationship to continue functioning. I like that.

This last weekend I attended a workshop all about liberty work with horses. It was taught by a woman who believes in letting go of the stick and ropes and simply using body language to communicate with the horse. I was excited to learn from someone who seemed to have similar ideas to my current mustang project, and though I brought a horse more traditionally trained, I hoped she would be able to shed new light and inspiration onto the work Myrnah and I do together.

Much to my disappointment, over this weekend the walls of the round pen became the tools with which to dominate. The teachings all rested on the concept of being able to push the horse away (using only body language) and ask it to keep running until it was called back to you. While I attempted to remain humble and open minded to ideas different from my own, in the end I feel I utterly failed in this situation.

I walked through the steps of the liberty process to the best of my ability, I let the teacher work me like a marionette: Go, stop, click, pressure, stop, get behind the horse, find the diagonal line, don’t block with your shoulder. I tried to make it work for me because learning comes when you step outside what you think you already know. With every step I watched the outcomes and felt for the connection between my horse and me. I tried to ignore the sinking feelings as I felt my quality of life degrade; I tried to trust the teacher and put aside my judgments; I tried to give her the chance to show me the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted to learn something new and beautiful that might in the long run raise my quality of life with horses and their quality of life with me.

The two-year-old Gypsin Gelding who had accompanied me to the clinic had stepped out of the trailer with a feel of joy and connection, and perhaps a little apprehension about the new spaces, however by our third session in the round pen, it broke my heart to feel I was no longer sure if he would come to me at all when I called. After being pushed against the rails of the round pen repeatedly and constantly- told he had not yet gone forward fast enough, or clean enough or long enough, our partnership felt disconnected, unfocused, and frustrated.

The very best feeling I got with my horse all weekend was ironically the part where I did everything wrong. Halfway through a very frustrating second session when I went to put pressure on him, instead of running off like he was supposed to he turned to face me and reared up. I chose that moment to trip over my own toes, fell headlong underneath him, and had to tuck and roll in order to narrowly miss his substantial hooves as they headed back to earth. He was surprised and startled and did his best to avoid me as I avoided him. I rolled to my feet and asked him to move off again, and he did so with the beautiful connected brilliance that is common for us when we play at home. I wanted to cry with relief as he pranced around me, and in those next few moments I wish I had called him in to reward and nurture that bond our moment of excitement had given us. Instead we continued the prescribed program, and the momentary brilliance was once again replaced with dull resistance from both of us as we tried to get the actions correct and follow instructions.

Now I have no doubt of the brilliant artistry of the teacher, and I have no doubt she can train liberty horses better than almost anyone. She may even have a joy and a lightness to her training that I was unable to find following her teaching. What I do know is: if I had to follow the courses of action I learned this weekend to train my horses, I would give it all up. I would sell my horses and do something different with my life. My present quality of life is too dear to me to trade for some eventual future outcome.

I ride and train horses because it brings joy to my life every day. I choose to ride and train in ways that feel good to both my horse and me more of the moments we share than not. I choose to train in a way that increases our quality of life perpetually.

There will be ups and downs, moments that feel better or worse as we push out into new territory to grow and develop. Overall, though, quality of life must remain high because that is why I ride and train. It isn’t about some future result; it is about the past and the present and the future all intertwined in what is my life, shared with those I love.

I aim to value the past, the present, and the future equally because all play a part in creating the life I want to live. If I can keep the quality of life high in the present, soon enough it will become the past, and the future will always be something pulling us forward into becoming the best of ourselves.

Thank-you, Myrnah, for reminding me every day that the quality of life right here in the present is just as important as anything we might be striving for in the future.

Elsa Sinclair

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 Great Affair is to Move”

Robert Louis Stevenson said, “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move”

This week for Myrnah and me has been about just that. The love affair between us is what makes it possible for us to work and grow and learn together without any bonds of force. The ever analytical part of me wants to know how and why that works. Everyone else I know needs a halter and a rope and a round pen to build that bond between horse and rider… why is it that Myrnah and I get to skip those forceful steps and jump right into the voluntary love affair?

I believe the answer lies in movement and how we choose to use it. Our movement through space is the greatest love affair there is. If you have ever watched a talented dancer entrance a crowd with the twitch of a finger, or a brilliant comedian cause the audience to burst into uproarious laughter with the well-timed raise of an eyebrow… you know what I mean.

Everything means something, nothing means nothing… learning to place value in every movement, and reverence in traveling through space is an art and the best part about art is you can’t do it wrong. The trick is to enjoy it completely as you figure out the cause and affect your movement creates and learn from the ripples of change around you.

Because I have no tools to hold Myrnah close to me, my job from day one was to make movements that would cause curiosity, interest, joy, peace, and connection between us. I courted her with movement and strove to build a love between us.

Movement is what bonds Myrnah and I together. The more we move together, the stronger our connection. And so the quote seems quite fitting. “The great affair is to move”

I read a quote from a Natural Horsemanship trainer today that made me sad for a moment. “Remember the rules of Horsemanship: Whoever moves first, loses.” Perhaps it is true, but I wish to challenge the customary understanding of this statement. Is this relationship with my horse one where I want her to lose? I don’t know about you, but my answer is a definite no. I want my horse to feel like she has won every moment of every day with me. I want my horse to feel like she is in the best love affair ever and has won the lottery to be my partner. To achieve this I will, in the beginning, voluntarily assume the so-called losing position. I will move through space using advance and retreat and timing a balance of action and inaction to woo my horse into becoming my partner. Once those beginning phases of the relationship are formed then the real fun begins. Moving together is when the whole of our partnership starts becoming so much more than the sum of it’s parts. There is an energy and a lightness of being that can’t be bought or sold, it can only be earned through the devotion of movement.

During the snow this last week, Myrnah and I climbed a hill together with my daughter who took pictures for all to see. The next day we walked out through the woods in a different direction for almost two hours with my brother who videoed the journey for us. I question… would I be able to walk through the woods for two hours with any of my other horses? I have good liberty skills with many of them, but two hours out in the woods is a long time to stay connected and focused. No carrots, or sticks, or ropes. I don’t actually know the answer to that question, yet with Myrnah there was very little doubt.  

I attribute that confidence and that bond between Myrnah and me to our practice of movement together. The hours we have spent traveling in silence side by side, matched step for step, is the glue that binds us together. It isn’t my ability to make her turn, or stop, or go, it isn’t the things I have taught her, or the things she has taught me, it is simply the in between times. It is the times when we move through space with no change or directing necessary. Our ability to communicate left, right, stop or go is vital to our comfort with each other, however it’s our ability to simply move, in quiet harmony without communication, that connects us together like nothing else can.

Placing value in movement together is what allows this experimental training process to succeed.

So what of the riding part of the equation? Myrnah and I are in the courting stage of our relationship when it comes to riding. I do the movement, and she still is deciding if she wants to partner with me. Advance and retreat, a timed balance of action and inaction- the game is marvelous fun for me; and, while Myrnah still seems a little puzzled and unsure about it, I have no doubt that one of these days she will fall in love with the idea of carrying me higher and faster than my own feet can carry me. Our traveling through space together continually evolves and is an endless love affair of movement.

So I put this out to all of you. Value your movements, and observe the ripples they create through time and space around you. If you are looking for a partner and you want that brilliant feeling of connection, find a way to move together, step for step, breath for breath- more time spent existing in movement, less time talking, debating, and communicating about exactly what or how or when. Take the time to just be- in movement together.

Communication brings comfort and trust to the relationship- that is a necessary piece; however the inexplicably beautiful bond and connection between you comes from the time spent when communication isn’t necessary, moving in harmony together. It’s that simple.

“The great affair is to move.” Life is your canvas and movement your paint brush. Paint a landscape your horse can’t resist and revel in the great affair.

Elsa Sinclair

Myrnah thinks that looks like a very big hill to climb…

“Are we really walking up that?”

Almost half way up…

Pine branches are yummy!

Snow is yummy too!

We reached the top!

Cold and windy at the summit.

Headed back down.

Have to stop to make a snow angel, Myrnah’s not so sure about this game.

Stopping for a snow snack.

Elsa likes the snow, Myrnah likes some branches in her snow…

Down the hill through the dark woods…

Almost home.

Not so sure about the snow monster guarding the driveway… luckily monster turns out to be friendly.

Thank-you Cameron for building a fabulous snow monster, and for talking these amazing pictures!

Elsa Sinclair

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.

Waiting for the Emotional Change

Every one of us- Horses, People, and every other sentient being out there- wants just one thing. We all want to feel better than we did a moment before. Some of us build up varied amounts of discipline for delayed gratification, trading in our current better feeling on the promise of something far greater waiting ahead. Some of us have less forethought and just grab whatever better feeling we can find regardless of the cost. Most of us know it is in our best interest to hold out for feeling the best we possibly can, even if we have to wait for it, but how do we develop the discipline it takes? Waiting for the Emotional Change is one of the best ways I know to go about it.

Myrnah and I have been working on a current sticking place in the project together. She just isn’t fully comfortable with my sitting on her (unless she is too busy eating to notice); I want her full and absolute approval before we start to ride together.

Myrnah’s needs are simple- she just wants to feel better. I know how much fun riding is going to be for us; she doesn’t know that yet. So how do I build up her discipline to a point that allows her to get through the insecurity of something new and into finding more fun with me as a result?

The answer is: break it down just like any other task, and develop it one step at a time. I believe the strongest support for developing a new skill is waiting for the emotion to change for the better, and then rewarding that emotional change with quiet companionship.

In the beginning I taught Myrnah to pay attention to me. Full attention on her was pressure; then, when she gave me her full attention, I would look away, take a deep breath, and relax as reward. This was good- a game of advance and retreat to develop our relationship. However, I didn’t quit there at the simple accurate physical response. The discipline of the action really began to develop when Myrnah could reward herself. That reward was the emotional change.

In people we can see an emotional change for the better in a smile, or a deep relaxing breath, in the shoulders settling, or a yawn and a stretch. In horses the changes are there to be observed as well- the ears coming forward, the muscles relaxing, the jaw loosening to lick and chew or yawn, sometimes a soft nuzzle to a friend.

Associations are strong. If we can stay in a new and possibly uncomfortable pattern long enough for the emotions to relax, changing for the better, all of a sudden we begin to associate the new pattern with feeling better.

Sometimes emotions change for the worse- anger, fear, or shutdown- and that is when we must retreat. We don’t want to reward the behavior that can come from negative emotion, (so we may play a continual game of advance and retreat until the physical behavior changes) yet we must remember pushing (with no retreat) through negative actions can often have negative side affects that will have to be addressed later. So we advance and retreat, working in and out of patterns that the horse can sustain long enough to find the positive emotional change.

We are looking for the sense of flow where challenge and skill are both within range, the challenge at hand pushing the skill to evolve. If the challenge at hand is too difficult for the available skill, the horse will try to evade and get away seek a better feeling. The only way to build the discipline that consistently bridges the gap between challenge and skill is to wait for and reward the positive emotional changes.

If we can teach the horse to reach for a good feeling, relaxing and letting go of tension even in a new or uncomfortable exercise, then we have a horse who is building the discipline to learn. If we can push them just far enough out of their comfort zone that they develop, but not so far that they want to evade, that is good. Better, however, is staying there long enough, waiting for the emotional change that rewards the horse internally.

When the horse can feel an internal reward for something he thought was going to be difficult, uncomfortable, and not at all better, then he begins to build faith in the developmental process.

Our job as friends and trainers to our horses is to help them wait for the emotional changes that make them feel better. Our job is to challenge them just enough to cause life to be interesting and full of development, perceiving and breaking down the tasks that cause them to evade, escape or fight back. Allowing them to learn a piece at a time, while we wait for the emotional changes that will reward the horse from the core of who they are.

Pressure motivates; Release teaches. What I most want to teach my horses is how to feel better, even when they are challenged. So, when they are challenged (feeling pressure), and I see them take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy it, I know all the practice we put in waiting for the emotional change has been well worth it.

Here is to feeling better, each and every moment, regardless of the challenges we may face.

Elsa Sinclair

















(Thank you John Sinclair for the beautiful photographs in this weeks blog.)

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.







Shut down or overwhelmed? 

When any of us are shut down or overwhelmed, the space between can seem as narrow as a tightrope and balancing in that calm seems beyond any realm of possibility.

So I want to talk about this side and the other side of the space between.

It’s not wrong to shut down, and it’s not wrong to get overwhelmed and propelled into action; it just doesn’t feel as good as the space between.

The best way I know to find that space between is to have a friend. Yes one can be friends with one’s self, but it is awfully nice to have a friend next to you to help you find your center. On a good day we are friends to our horses, helping them find their center. On a less than good day…. a shove is as good a boost?

People love community, and horses love their herd. The friends around us keep us interested, and push us to grow and develop our emotional fitness as the natural chaos of community can often be overwhelming.

As anyone who has ever been married can tell you, the closer your friends, the more overwhelming they can be; and you wonder why they would choose to hurt you instead of help you? A shove is as good as a boost perhaps?

A brilliant riding instructor once told me abuse only comes when we don’t know what else to do. It is the same for both horses and people. Horses kick and bite when they don’t know what else to do, when they feel alone with no friends and know no way to feel better. When they can’t find the space between, the only choices they can see are to take action- to drive away or flee from anything overwhelming. Fight or flight. Or, if neither fight nor flight seem viable, shut down is all that is left.

So what do we do when the space between cannot be found? What do we do when our horse is angry, or scared, or shut down?

All we can do at that point is be their friend, showing them that we are indeed a friend over and over and again until they believe us.

How, you ask? Approach and retreat is the best way I know. There are many ways to use approach and retreat; however, the basis is always the same- get closer and pull away, only to get closer again, and then pull away again. Getting closer lets the horse know they are not alone and you are their friend; pulling away lets them know you understand they feel overwhelmed and you don’t intend to make it worse. ( This is another way to understand balancing the drive and the draw.)

Even if a horse is shut down or disinterested, the same principles apply. Sometimes just the simplicity of being near them, aware of breathing in and out, is an advance and retreat of intense subtlety. Each breath brings you ever so slightly closer and then farther from them. Closer letting them know they are important to you; farther letting them know you understand they feel overwhelmed.

So when do we use advance and retreat in a big way, and when do we use it in a small way? Usually the rule of thumb is: when the horse feels dominant (anger or bored disinterest) we need to be a playful and provocative friend with big movements in and out of their space. When the horse is feeling lack of confidence (fear or shut down), we need to get quieter, smaller, and gently understanding in our advance and retreat.

What next?

As soon as you see the horse get a glimpse of what feeling good is like, as soon as the horse knows what the space between feels like for a moment, the most important thing in the world is to be still together. Let the horse enjoy what felt so incomprehensible moments ago- the ears forward, the deep breaths, yawns and signs of comfort are the greatest gift you can give a horse. If your horse can associate you with helping him feel better when he doesn’t know how, that bonds you together like nothing else.

We get to be both the cause of overwhelmed or shut down, and the solution. The closer we stay to the space between, the more functional is our relationship with our horse. There is a sense of flow in relationship as there is in anything else. Csikszentmihalyi’s chart is applicable here as well.

Today, working in the pouring rain with Myrnah, I found myself wondering, Why do I ask her to do these silly things that make her uncomfortable? Why do I get on and off her back repeatedly even when I can see her lack of confidence in the shake of her head and the tension in her neck? Why do I ask her to step up on a box when she never has before and doesn’t really need to? Why is that conversation important?

The tasks themselves are not important; however the tasks create pressure. Pressure causes growth, and, when the pressure is too much for Myrnah, I get to play advance and retreat until she finds her center again. I get to show her I am her friend and I will help her feel good again, no matter how much pressure she feels.

Today, beneath the drenching clouds and standing in the puddles, I didn’t really think Myrnah would step up on that silly platform. No halter, no rope, no stick, no treats… Nonetheless, the conversation was fascinating. Sometimes we worked in the sweet spot of flow, and she was interested in me and the box; sometimes I pushed too hard, and she marched off angry and alone. I would follow, playing advance and retreat until she felt like I was a friend again. Then we would re-approach and converse about the silly platform. When finally she did step up, calm as could be, I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face. She wasn’t forced into that action, she had plenty of exits, yet she chose it because I asked, and the look on her face was neither shut down nor overwhelmed. She was firmly in the space between. Happy to be quiet and still with me, enjoying life completely.

Happy New Year,

May you always find the space between.

Elsa Sinclair

Today Myrnah and I took our longest walk yet: Twenty minutes out though the wide open woods with John and Cameron keeping us company . Thank you John for the brilliant photographs. Christmas time is shaping up beautifully this year!

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.

Life is a Game

Every once in a while I find I have become far too serious and I have forgotten life can be whatever I choose to make of it. I may not be able to control the world around me, but I certainly can decide how I want to respond to it. If I act as though life is a game, the results tend toward laughter, enthusiasm, and interest followed by a contented peace. If I think of it as work the resulting emotions tend toward tolerance, resignation, intense effort and exhaustion.

The horses also feel these things. They are horses not people, so it is different I am sure, but they do feel pure emotion of their own variety. How they feel about work versus play is clearly visible on their features and felt in their responses when you know what to look for. I believe most of us would rather be partners with horses who are enthusiastic and interested rather than tolerant and resigned.

So how do we make horse training a game instead of a job?

Myrnah and I are partners. When we work together I hope we bring out the best in each other. On those occasions that we don’t seem to bring out the best in each other, I ask myself: What do I need to do to make our time together more like a game and less like a job? How can I initiate interactions that are playful and fun? What do I need to do to find resting points that are peaceful for both of us together?

Asking questions has become one of the most important parts of this process with Myrnah. We are following a training process together that has no instruction manual. Our course is largely uncharted, so when I find myself adrift and not sure where to turn, I try to figure out what question I need to ask. Then I just wait. Life has a funny way of showing me just the experience I need to find the answer and the next step in our process.

Over the last few weeks Myrnah has learned to be so soft about yielding her hind end, turning towards me with ease when I drop my hand back on her belly to ask. Myrnah also has gotten very good at the specificity of standing next to a mounting block and allowing me to stand over her quietly.

The interesting part of the process now is getting on to ride. I’m not in a hurry- Myrnah is only three and largely pregnant. More weight on her back is probably not a comfortable thought for her. I am, however, very interested in the conversation she and I get to have ABOUT my getting on.

The first couple of times I got on, Myrnah was eating hay. She was unconcerned about my sitting on her back and also unengaged. What I would like to feel is that she actually wants me up there.

Now that she will easily sidle up to the mounting block, I can play with leaning on and off, advancing and retreating while watching her expressions and movements. Some days she is quiet letting me hang on her, and gently reaching around to nuzzle me. Other days she seems more irritated when she reaches around to check in with me and steps away quickly if I leave my weight on her for too long.

I am not sure how to make this more like a game she enjoys and less like a job she tolerates (or not); I just know my intuition is telling me play is the key. Somehow we need to make the process of riding a game she likes playing…..

I like the puzzle. The pieces fit together in a myriad of different ways, yet the end goal is always simply to have everyone as happy as possible.

Here is to life as a game!

Elsa Sinclair