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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.

 

Stretching the Comfort Zone

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

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.

 

Missing, Wanting, and Dreaming

 

“Dreams”

 

“Hold onto Dreams

For if dreams die

Life is like a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.”

 

Langston Hughes

 

This blog is recognition, that in all the joy and wonder and awe that making a movie contains, there is also a yearning and a hunger for the original work that created the movie.

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This is a recognition that missing, wanting, and dreaming are vital and beautiful in their own way.

 

I am thrilled beyond belief that “Taming Wild” has made it into its butterfly stage of a movie. I am excited to share it in Seattle on the big screen this week. I am thrilled I get to stand on stage with mic in hand and play at questions and answers and theory, batting words back and forth with old friends and new.

 

This movie has a life of its own to revel in and watch with joy as it inspires people to follow their own dreams with their own horses.

 

I find myself also, in this long evolution of making a movie, missing the caterpillar stages of the project – the slow, long hours with Myrnah where we poured hours and hours into each other in an endeavor with an unknown outcome.

 

I find myself wanting more time with my fingers in fur and less time with them tapping away at a keyboard.

 

I find myself dreaming of what comes next, and yet more simply than that, I find myself dreaming of time lost in the flow of BEING with horses. That way of losing time is so very precious to me.

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This week I had a rare day in which there were no lessons to teach, no travel calling me away, and the movie business needed a little less attention. The rain paused for a few hours and I grabbed hold of my chance to get back to the work I love.

 

Myrnah and I spent an hour moving together, practicing our skills and remembering what together felt like. I had a million things more I wanted to do and feel and remember with her; and then she told me it was naptime, lying down in the pea gravel, dropping her nose to the ground, shutting her eyes, and drifting off to dream land.

 

I could have pushed her back to work; I could have made action more important that stillness. However, that is not this work we do together. Dreaming is every bit as important as doing. Wanting is every bit as important as having. Missing is poignantly beautiful.

 

So I curled up next to Myrnah, feeling the heat of her body emanate through me against the chill of the day, and we both fell asleep.

 

There will be more days full of riding, galloping down trails, exploring new places, honing movements together and building the intensity of the things we can do.

 

Some days though, are just for curling up and dreaming about what might be ahead.

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Enjoy your success.

 

Enjoy your dreaming.

 

Enjoy your missing of things you hold dear.

 

That chrysalis of longing is so very beautiful in its own way.

 

Hold it tenderly until it is ready to become the work and the evolution we long for.

 

Myrnah and I send you all our love in your dreaming.

 

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.

 

Freedom

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

And then miraculously, she turned.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

I believe it can be.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One 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

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.

 

Don’t Argue, Just Move

 

As I sit down to write I am thinking perhaps my title should be: Don’t Argue, Just Write. I can think of a hundred other things that could be calling my attention tonight and there is a voice in my head arguing that any one of them might be more important than writing. My mantra in the face of such distraction…. Don’t Argue, Just Move.

 

A good life is a healthy balance of action and inaction. Arguing is neither. Arguing neither relishes the peace that could be experienced during inaction, nor does it revel in the constant evolution movement creates.

 

Arguing is a desperate plea for attention and connection. Arguing becomes a coping mechanism that can bond individuals together, but never to the full satisfaction of the parties involved. Only a healthy balance of movement and stillness can bond individuals together in a way that satisfies everyone.

Now this blog marks a certain amount of personal growth for me. I am one of those people who loves to argue. I am always seeking that closer bond with the world around me and sometimes an argument seems like the answer to that longed for connection. I think that harmony of individuals working together toward a common goal is what life is all about.

 

Put that lofty goal of individuals working together toward a common goal in the context of horses and humans, and it is easy to see the frustration, the desperation, and the arguing set in. Devices such as bridles and spurs become commonplace as a means to cut the arguments short and get the horses moving in harmony with the rider.

 

Tools have their place, and I do believe they speed up the process of training a horse to be a good partner. The question is: Do those tools that speed up the training of the horse, also, perhaps deny the rider the training important in making a human into a good partner for the horse?

 

That has been what the year with Myrnah is for me. I am three weeks from the end of our experimental year and the lessons just keep rolling in. Myrnah has taught me more about what it is to partner with a horse than any other horse I have ever known. She has challenged and pushed me to think beyond the normal lines of horse training. She is an incredible teacher.

Last week I talked about developing the habit of yes with Myrnah. With no tools to push through an argument I need to be aware and learn tact and timing about all the requests I make. Each request I make has to result in either movement or stillness, where we can enjoy each other’s company. The more time we waste arguing, the more I am building a habit of Myrnah saying no to me, instead of the yes we need to make this relationship functional.

 

This week Myrnah seems to be feeling a little more energetic. I have been able to spend a little more time each day riding- mostly at the walk. We work on training those first steps of responsive yes when I ask for more movement. Myrnah constantly suggests we stop and rest; I constantly suggest we go faster and explore more of the world. The connection we build together is from an equal game, spending time enjoying the movement and the stillness-alternately what she wants and what I want.

Not only does she need to build the habit of saying yes to me, I need to build the habit of saying yes to her. When she stops I say yes, and then ask her if she can turn; she says yes, and then usually ends up walking forward out of the turn (that turn unsticks her feet and lets us move together). Then she stops and I say yes, I will stop with you, we are stopped together. Then I ask for a turn, or a go, or a back up, whatever movement I think she is likely to say yes to. It is a conversation between the two of us. If one of us starts saying no instead of yes, then it becomes an argument instead of a conversation.

 

This conversation of movement and stillness, this is how we build a partnership. As our connection brings positivity, I find Myrnah and I can spend longer and longer simply existing, enjoying each other’s movement or stillness without the need to constantly counter with another idea to discuss. Myrnah is willing to trot for longer, and turn more lightly; I am willing to breathe when I feel the desperate desire to argue- breathe while I think carefully about what requests I can make that will build the habit of yes between us. Yes to movement, yes to stillness. Yes to being together, moving or being still. Both Myrnah and I need the practice, and love the results. Don’t Argue, Just  Move.

 

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.

 

Extended Family

From the people who come to visit every day, to the herd of thirteen horses they live within, Myrnah and Errai are surrounded always by a devoted extended family.

This week marks the start of something special when it comes to family. On Wednesday, when Myrnah and I rode through the field, past the blackberry hedge through the open gate and across the next field, it was the farthest away from the herd we have traveled since the foal joined us. For the first time ever, there was no foal jumping up and down around us. Instead of following us wherever we went, he chose to stay in the herd standing close to his Uncle Theo, watching us walk away without even a whinny to mark the change. Even when Myrnah and I rode back from the far pasture, past the herd to the bottom of the field, Errai chose to stay with his extended family. A trot along the bottom fence line and then a canter up the hill to the water troughs- only then did Errai choose to leave the herd to gallop over and join our little burst of speed.

Errai and Myrnah are both growing up.

In last week’s blog I wrote about riding the perimeter of the herd or the field with Myrnah. This week marks a breakthrough, as we were able to stretch the perimeter to include the next field away from the herd as well.

As for Errai, his confidence is increasing in leaps and bounds also. This week he is following me around so well we too are able to walk the perimeter of the herd. No sooner do we make it all the way around and back to our starting place, than he whinnies and gallops off back to his Mum in the center of the group. He is still little and so I suppose that is to be expected from time to time regardless of how good he gets at following me. Little by little we will stretch the time and the distance, and he will grow into his independence. The process is inevitable and beautiful to watch develop.

I am grateful to the larger herd and the extended family of people that are there for Myrnah and Errai when I cannot be. When I have to be away from the island for work, it is wonderful knowing they are loved and adored and cared for. Getting photos like this from a student when I am away makes my day. Errai, helping Robin bring Yahzi in from the pasture, is one of those small moments that bring joy to everyone.

Because of the brilliant family that is here at Plumb Pond, I have the most incredible support system of people and horses throughout this process. My premise may be: One horse, One trainer, One year, No tools, Just body language. However, there is a richness to the environment that Myrnah and Errai enjoy when I am not there as the one trainer. I feel blessed to be able to offer that.

That richness of family brings joy and diversity to life that I could not provide Myrnah all on my own. When I sit in the grass and watch the herd take a gallop just for fun across the pastures, or, when riding, Myrnah and I play to develop our turning skills, circling around one horse, then figure eights around two horses, then circling around a cluster of three, weaving our way back and forth through the maze of extended family, I know there is so much more happening here than what is obvious. Our extended family all around gives us a vivid backdrop for learning that brings life into focus.

So this blog is a thank-you to all the extended family here at Plumb Pond, and also to all the extended family that reads this blog from afar, sending me comments and encouragement throughout. In six weeks we will have reached our goal- One year, One horse, One trainer, No tools, Just body language. Thank-you to all my extended family of friends! You have added color and light and brilliance to this project. I may be the one trainer, but I am forever grateful I didn’t have to do this alone.

So here is to family and friends- invaluable as the extended family we are blessed to live within.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com