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Tag Archives: Mustang

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

Check it out! We are translating the blog into more languages. Please excuse the learning process and pardon us for the two extra Dutch emails you may have received as we figured out how to link the languages. Enjoy!

Surfing the Emotional Waves

I had a great conversation with a student this week and she broached a subject that many shy away from. I, however, find myself intrigued, fascinated, and unable to stop thinking about it.

Are we at the mercy of our horse’s emotional state? What about that horse that seems to love you one moment and then wants to bite your head off the next?

What do we do with that in the realm of Freedom Based Training?

My answer is, yes, in Freedom Based Training we are at the mercy of the emotional current, because in this way of training they are free to feel the way they feel.

Giving your horse the freedom to feel however they are feeling allows us to know them at a much deeper level. These emotions are the way we are able to read our horse’s stress levels. Yet how we surf these waves of emotion has everything to do with the relationship that evolves out of it.


When you have a partner who is very emotional, there are waves of emotion they feel and will emote that can knock you down like the crash of a wave when you are not looking, or can lift you high and carry you. It is all in how you respond. Yes, I know that the idea that we could possibly surf the intensity of our horse’s emotion is hard to see when we have been knocked down for the fifth time and have come up spitting sand.

Stepping out of my ocean analogy for a moment, let us think about what most horse trainers do when a horse gets overly emotional.

The conventional norm is to let the horse know that their behavior is inappropriate by making “the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy”. That means, if a horse bites you, you do something it doesn’t appreciate, like making a loud noise to surprise them, or chasing them around the round pen until they wish they had never thought about biting you, or backing them up until they wish they had controlled themselves instead of striking out.

Therein lies the crux of the problem though. If a horse controls themselves and doesn’t strike out when they feel the impulse, the stress that was the energy underneath that emotional impulse doesn’t go away, instead it gets buried to be dealt with later.

So what do we do in Freedom Based Training when a horse bites you?

Well, if we are doing our job as a passive leader that will never happen in the first place. The study of passive leadership is all about being in the right place at the right time.

So that means, if your horse is feeling the kind of stress that might lead to an emotional outburst, DO NOT get that close to your horse!

There is so much we can do for our partnership without ever getting inside the strike zone that there is no good reason to still be standing there when the horse strikes!

Instead we do our work as a passive leader to lower the stress our horse feels until we see that the emotional climate is one that we want to step into.


What if we don’t want to be at the mercy of the horse’s time frame? What if we want to do something with our horse when they feel too stressed to say yes easily to us in that particular moment?

This is where dominance training is a beautiful thing. When we set up the extrinsic motivators correctly, the horse learns to put aside how they feel and simply go with our request. This is not wrong or bad; I actually think it is a good life skill for horses to have. The caution that goes along with dominance training is, how intense is that stress bubbling under the surface for your horse? Are they actually capable of holding themselves together and being open-minded about what you want to do? Is that stress going to explode all over you in a moment when their emotions cause the horse to tell you how they really feel.

A dominant trainer with good feel and timing will ask a horse to put aside how they feel for a moment and do what is asked. Then they choose activities with the horse that lower stress so that there are no pent-up emotions to explode unexpectedly later. A good dominant trainer will know that the causes for stress are many and varied and things like body pain or fear will have to be addressed for stress levels to go down.

A good trainer promises, if the horse is willing to put their emotions aside for the moment and not act with an excess of fight or flight, they will in return help the horse process whatever stress is underneath that emotion and let it go in a healthy way.

Now if we don’t have the tools at hand to dominantly ask horses to stop expressing the emotion they feel, what do we do instead?

Instead we work on the underlying stress with leadership and movement. When we take time to mirror, match, and be a partner to our horse while making good choices about where to be around them in time and space, this will lower the stress they feel. VERY gently and VERY slowly the horse will feel better and better until they have nothing to be overly emotional about.


This practice is NOT something that can be done once and then forgotten because stress is an ongoing evolution of events for everyone. Every day as a passive leader we have to walk into the relationship asking, “What is possible today; what, where, when, and how do I need to be to best effect this partnership for the long run?”

If my horse slept funny and their back hurts, they are going to be more stressed and emotional that day. Some horses will freeze up and not want to move, some will leap and buck more trying to work it out, and some will spook and jump out of their skin at every sound as their flight instinct comes up strongly in their state of vulnerability.

What I have found is that when I take time to be a partner to my horse in a way that allows them to feel however they feel and also not be alone, and when I do this in a way that lets them know I am attentive and aware and taking actions that keep us both safer, then their muscles soften and little by little they are able to breathe through and walk off whatever stress they were feeling.

The important thing to note is that in passive leadership I do not CAUSE the horse to feel better; I simply partner with them in good ways and wait for it to happen naturally.

What I find is, to the degree that they are willing to let their stress down, they will be willing to take suggestions from me, such as, perhaps if we take a walk together you will feel better. Or, perhaps, if I rub your back here the muscle will release and then you will feel better. I call these sorts of actions assertive actions, and they can only be received if the horse is in an emotional equilibrium that allows us to surf the emotions together.

To go back to the ocean analogy, if the emotions are at a reasonable level for my horse and me (the waves are not too big or overpowering), we can do something together and ride that wave of emotion until its intensity diminishes, leaving us both exhilarated by the experience. Emotion is a beautiful thing if it gives you the energy to do things together that make you both feel better when you are done!


If the horse is too stressed, then it is better if I simply stand back, let them know I am there for them, and act like a partner without interfering or getting close enough to irritate them. I find, with time and patience, the stress will go down, and THEN I will be able to step in more assertively and be a more direct cause for the horse to feel better.

As it usually does, the question of dominant or passive leadership comes down to the question of how much time do we have and how safe are we if we choose to let stress and emotion evolve naturally?

I am so excited to begin filming on the second Taming Wild movie seven weeks from now. This second project will give us a chance to explore the evolution of partnership with a horse including some of the time and safety constraints that affect most relationships.

In the first movie I was able to take a whole year in a very safe environment to work through the process of developing passive leadership until it evolved into assertive leadership, and those emotional waves were really something Myrnah and I could ride together.

In “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” we have set up some real-life situations where we are rescuing the horses from lives that have given them cause for stress, and potentially the kinds of emotional chaos that comes from that stress.


We are going to tackle the challenge of surfing those emotions together with our horses while trekking the width of a country.

Is it possible to safely allow horses to feel how they feel in a real-life situation like this? Honestly, I think I am going to learn how to surf a whole lot better as we go. Hopefully, I don’t come up spitting sand too often because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Wish me luck! And, if you want to be on the list to get a copy of the movie as soon as it is finished, you can pre-order it here!

This is going to be an adventure worth sharing!

Hooves and Heartbeats,



The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.


Movement and Trust Building


The rose hips bright red on the skeletal frame of winter rose bushes, the hawthorn berries in their dark red glory adorning the fairy trees around the pasture, the last withered apples falling from the high branches of the trees in the orchard and the grass slowly turning winter dormant under our feet. This is the backdrop for Myrnah and I as we delve into the meditation of the moment.


This meditation is about movement.


This meditation is all about the upcoming movie to be filmed in January and February and the pieces of understanding that will need to be developed around this project.


You see, there are two predominant categories of questions come up when people watch the first Taming Wild movie.


The first question is how much time did you spend with Myrnah in the year of filming the movie? The answer is from 3-6 hours a day five days a week. The follow up question is always what if I want to do Freedom Based Training but I don’t have that much time?


The second question has to do with history. Since you did this with Myrnah, who was a clean slate and didn’t have any bad associations with people, how does that apply for those of us who have horses from bad situations, horses who perhaps have good reasons for not trusting people. How can Freedom Based Training be applicable in these situations?


I find I can answer these questions in theory, but not in practicality because I haven’t had personal experience walking the path that would let me fully EXPERIENCE the answers to these questions.


“Taming Wild: Pura Vida” is the project that will allow me to dive in deeply and live those questions so I can experience all the learning that comes from them. I am doing the project for my own personal opportunity to learn and we are filming the project so that people all around the world can experience and learn from it too!


So here I am walking around the pastures of San Juan Island with Myrnah meditating on how those questions might be answered?


We ask: If a horse comes from a situation where they have little reason to trust people, can we use a freedom based approach to help them learn to trust people again? How might we apply our understanding of relationship to build that comfort, trust and, bonding to the best effect?


I believe that movement in partnership is one of the keys to lowering stress, and lowering stress opens the door for bonding and trust to occur.


In the first movie, Myrnah moved when she chose, and I worked in a passive leadership form around her using the movement choices in my own body to lower her stress. Then, when I thought her stress levels were low enough I progressed to assertive leadership where I asked her to do things with me.


For those of you who have seen the movie, you know I was not always accurate in my judgment of Myrnah’s stress levels, which meant sometimes I asked her to do things at times when she could only say NO to me. I accept that both of us were learning together and mistakes are often made in that learning process… besides my mistakes made for a potentially more entertaining movie for you all to watch.


“Taming Wild: Pura Vida” will be no different. Andrea and I will have ideas that we are working through with our equine partners. We will get it right sometimes and we will get it wrong sometimes, but we will give it all we have to give and learn every step of the way.


Yes, I literally mean that, every step of the way. This project is built around the idea that movement is one of our greatest allies in building relationship with horses, so we are going to do this work as we walk across the country of Costa Rica from the west coast to the east coast.


Wait you ask:

How is this Freedom Based Training if you have a proscribed path to travel during the movie? What if the horses don’t want to do that?


The answer to that question is one of those I am excited to explore. We are to some degree counting on the idea that horses in the wild travel and move a fair amount each day, and we believe we can use this natural instinct to support the trust we are aiming to develop with these horses.


Will the horses be completely at liberty?


No, we will be using halters enough to keep the horses safe in the human traffic filled environments they will be crossing and enough to make sure we do not lose them into the jungle never to be seen again.


Will they be at liberty sometimes?


Yes! As much freedom as we feel we can safely give them!


How is this Freedom Based Training if you are walking a proscribed path and using halters?


While the first movie was FREEDOM based training with the emphasis on the freedom idea, we were able to do that with Myrnah only because the environments we chose to work in were completely safe for horses.


In the second movie we will be using freedom BASED training. With the idea that we will be focusing on using freedom as our BASE of understanding and communication to the degree it can be safely experienced. For example ropes will be placed across the horse’s back as much of the time as possible, halters removed in areas where we won’t encounter traffic and can safely and responsibly do so.


I learned more in the one year of FREEDOM based training with Myrnah than I have in all my years with horse’s combined. I believe this second project will again be a dramatic development of knowledge for everyone involved. We will be focusing on freedom as the BASIS for what we do. Freedom will be the framework to understand how time and trust are intertwined in this partnership journey between horse and human.


Until we have boots on the ground in Costa Rica, and meet our new horse partners. I will be walking with Myrnah through our pastures here on San Juan Island, and meditating on what it means to develop trust through movement.


I promise to keep you posted on the things we learn along the way.


If you haven’t yet, stop by the Kickstarter for “Taming Wild: Pura Vida”. We have an amazing community developing around this project and I would love you to be part of it before the Kickstarter finishes on December 7th.


Hooves and Heartbeats,




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.


Finding Your Niche


As the rain sheets down outside in the wee hours of the morning, I am curled up on the couch with the dogs all around me and I am thinking about how I got here? How is it that this is my place in society? What were the actions that led to this moment?


Or perhaps it wasn’t my actions at all that brought me to this place in life. Perhaps it was the actions of all the tribe around me, supporting and propelling me forward as I learned.


When I help horses and people to develop their relationships, I have this theory I operate on. The theory is that each one of us has this wild streak inside us that wants what we want when we want it! All of us are perpetually making decisions about how independent we are going to be to chase after our wants, or how much we are comfortable dominating or motivating others to give up their personal wants to instead team up with our cause.


Here is the key thing to realize though. We all crave a community, and, to the degree the community is self-motivated and intertwined with us and our actions through free will, we are more content individually as well.


Horses crave a herd-life existence; I believe people do as well.

I also believe that this community living is an endless dance between the personal wants of an individual and the wants and needs of their partners. You see these wants and needs are many and varied, and this is the original barter system we all live with.


You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.


There is this funny thing I see in my herd of horses that illustrates the challenge. We have both Arabian horses and Mustang horses mixed together in a herd and their needs and wants are very different when it comes to scratching each other’s backs. Mustangs have fairly tough skin and really like another horse to dig in hard with the teeth and give a good deep scratch. The Arabians on the other hand are fairly thin skinned and like an easy gentle itch. When a Mustang and an Arabian stand together to itch each other’s backs you will see the Arabian cringing as they drop their back lower and lower away from the vigorous attention of the Mustang, while the Mustang itches harder and harder as if in an effort to show their partner how they would like to be itched.


In their effort to get what they want, both horses are left somewhat incapable of giving their partner the right attention.


Now as human beings I think we get ourselves in these kind of binds all the time, and it is a task of our intelligent brains to sort out how to give our partner what they need or want while communicating our own needs and wants. We are all different, we are all unique, and that is what makes our world so very interesting and diverse to live in. It is also the very crux of every challenge we face.

As it is the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, I am inspired to thank all my teachers and all my students who have helped me understand this diversity and beautiful mosaic of characters that make up my community.


I couldn’t do what I do today if it were not for everyone who has taught me along the way. Yes, EVERYONE, I have interacted with in all different levels of the intensity spectrum has given me an important piece of the puzzle.


This gratitude I speak of is very important to me, and I feel I need to speak of it given the extremely gentle and quiet nature of the work I do with horses now. Sometimes the community I am in would ask me to disown or march against the more dominant methods of training horses and that is not my style. I do not believe in a “me-against-the-world” model of living. I believe I am learning from the world as I interact with it and make my own choices.


Every day I am learning from my community and every day that is making me a better part of my community. I will always have my own personal wild streak that wants what it wants when it wants it. I will also always have my heart and my intellect to help me tame that wild streak into something that helps me be a beautiful part of my community, and that is something I want perhaps even more than the personal wants and needs.

There is an evolution of being for all of us and the right teachers and students appear at the right times to help us carve our own niche in the community.


I am profoundly grateful to my early Pony Club teachers who taught one perception of what community with horses might be, and my time with the Linda Tellington Jones community as they showed me what community with horses looked like from their perspective. The French classical dressage masters, and also the more German perspective on dressage, the event trainers, the endurance riders, the Centered Riding, Feldenkrais and Alexander technique practitioners. The huge range of communities that bridge every variety of perspective, from clicker training and Friendship Training to behaviorists, ethology, and telepathic communication. The Natural Horsemanship trainers from Tom Dorance and Ray Hunt to John Lyons, Parelli and Buck Branaman. This list is by no means exhaustive and I am grateful to all of them and many more for what they taught me. There are videos on the internet of my studying Parelli skills, and, while that is not the kind of work I do with horses anymore, I would not be able to do what I do now if it were not for the education I have had in the past and all the teachers who showed me what they know.


I am grateful to all the teachers who have discovered their niche in the community and then shared it with me. I only hope to be able to do the same and share who I am in my community through the niche I have built around Freedom Based Training.


Freedom Based Training is just one perspective out of many; it is not more right than anyone else’s perspective. However I do believe what I do and what I teach will, in its own way, help shape the larger equine community. If I can add a little bit of beauty to the world while I am here, then I have done my part.


For all of you who enjoy Freedom Based Training with me, I encourage you to take it in, make it yours and let it become a vital part of who you are in your unique niche in the world.


I don’t hope train anyone to be exactly like me. You can be YOU, with your own wild streak and your own ways of taming your wild streak to find your niche in the community.

I am here cheering you on, appreciating you for being part of my community, glad I am a little part of yours sharing so much good in the world.


Hooves and Heartbeats,



P.S. If you haven’t had a chance yet, please stop by the Kickstarter for the second Taming Wild Movie and take a moment to support it. I really need all my community to propel this movie through to the finish. Thank you! ~Elsa

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.


A Sense of Belonging


A question came up recently that strikes right to the core of what I do and why I teach.


“How do you reward behavior you like in your horse?”


My answer in true therapeutic form is to turn it around and ask you the same question with a twist: “How do you reward any behavior that you like from any of your friends?”


I would bet you can think about that for a little while and consider the ramifications of how differently we treat animals than we do humans. You might even think to ask why that is?


With our human friends we don’t have a bridle to release the pressure on as a reward (at least not in the social circles I travel in), and it’s generally thought a little strange if we hand out candy every time someone makes us smile.


So what do we do?


Maya Angelou suggests there are four things that we are asking each other all the time:

  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I am special to you by the way you look at me?

When the answer is Yes, we have a sense of belonging that makes us feel safe in the world.


This need for safety in our community, and the feeling of belonging where we stand in time and space I believe runs true for humans and horses and dogs… and most likely many other species as well.


This need I believe is the driving force for developing intrinsic motivation to do any of the things that get done in life.


Now let’s talk about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for a moment. If we strip away the obvious and familiar EXTRINSIC motivators of pressure and metered reward, what we are left with is our body movements and personal choices in time and space.


When I find some way to express to my horse that:

  1. I see them.
  2. I care about them being there.
  3. They are enough as they are, or there is something within their capability they can do for me that makes them enough.
  4. They are obviously important to me by the way I act.


My expression of those four points would be EXTRINSIC motivators for a horse to choose to be with me. I have filled their needs and satisfied them with a sense of belonging with me.


Now, in Freedom Based Training we do our best to take all that a step further – INTRINSIC motivation.

INTRINSIC motivators are feelings that come from inside one’s self that seem to have no obvious source. INTRINSIC motivators are triggered feelings that come from the habitual patterning of the brain.


In other words, when EXTRINSIC motivators consistently cause good feelings, the brain patterns in such a way that all similar circumstances will tend to evoke the same good feelings for seemingly little or no reason.


I believe to the degree behaviors are INTRINSICALLY motivated they are stronger than behaviors that are EXTRINSICALLY motivated.


These are the theories that drive Freedom Based Training.


In the beginning of a relationship and periodically throughout a relationship with a horse I find it is very important to give them what I call Free Flow.


What this means is, they do not have to do anything to deserve my being in harmony with them. When they step, I step; when they look at something, I do also. While I offer this Free Flow to my horse, the four ideas are in play.


  1. I see them, and they know this because I respond – everything they do is important to me and responded to or anticipated!
  2. I care about them being there, and they know that because I watch their body language and I see where I should stand next and when I should move so their comfort levels perpetually increase.
  3. They are enough as they are, that is what Free Flow is. The horse does not need to do or change anything to earn my harmony and partnership.
  4. They are important to me, and they know that by the way I scan the environment and watch carefully for danger when that is what they need, or, if we agree there is nothing stressful, I fully match or complement where their focus is. What is important to my horse is also important to me.


This list is obviously a list of things we can do to Extrinsically motivate horses to enjoy our company. How do we turn that EXTRINSIC motivation into INTRINSIC motivation? The answer: We repeat it often enough and, most importantly, we end every interaction on the best feeling possible.

You see, the brain is constantly recognizing and interpreting experience, and the last perception to occur in any sequence is what the brain grabs hold of and remembers best about that situation.


In Freedom Based Training that is an important concept we use perpetually. If I can CAUSE a good feeling (EXTRINSIC motivation) in any interaction and have the lasting memory of that interaction be good. then next time a similar interaction occurs, the horse’s brain will automatically fire off a good feeling through the body and they have instantly rewarded themselves (INTRINSIC) for participating in that interaction.


That brings us around to the original question.


“How do you reward behavior you like in your horse?”


Regardless of how we choose to live, life has to have the yin and the yang, the black and the white, the pleasant and the unpleasant because it is contrast that shows us the richness of life. Reward has to have a counterbalance of “lack of reward”.


When I spend time in Free Flow with a horse I am giving the horse exactly what they need in every moment (to the best of my ability), and during that time I am making a catalogue in my mind of everything that appears challenging for that horse – the things they would rather not do for very long. The better I know my horse, the better job I can do to shape our relationship into one where we both enjoy our time together to the utmost degree possible.

Then slowly and gently I can start using my personal choices as EXTRINSIC motivators. When I see a behavior I like, I reinforce it with Flow (harmony between the horse and me) doing something that is well within the comfort zone. This is no longer “Free” as it was earlier because the horse earned it by doing something I liked. Then, when the horse does something I don’t like, I am going to step into doing something challenging for my horse all the while looking for that moment when the challenging thing feels a little better than it did, at which moment I will go back to Flow with my horse. (Remember, building good feelings about challenging things is how we build INTRINSIC motivation for the horse to try challenges with you.)


You see it is all about the timing of when we take action that is different or challenging in some way, or when we take action to step back into Flow.


Using Flow and harmony as a motivator with your horse only works if you have done enough of it for free and they know they like it and want it.


If you are going to offer something as a reward, make sure it is something that has some degree of INTRINSIC good feeling attached to it. And if you offer something as a reward, there has to be a counterbalancing lack of reward somewhere in the experience. This is how motivation works.

Now that you know how this works, your choice is simply the degree of intensity you choose to use in any of your relationships. How much pressure is felt and how much reward is offered in contrast is up to you!


Freedom Based Training is all about subtlety and awareness. We are all training each other all the time whether we understand it or not.


Think about it next time you are with your human friends. How are they answering your four questions, and how are you answering theirs?


  1. Do you see me?
  2. Do you care that I’m here?
  3. Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
  4. Can I tell that I am special to you by the way you look at me?


How is your brain patterned for expectation? And does that patterning and expectation of good feeling affect how much you want to be with those friends?


Can you see the balance between reward and lack of reward that gives us motivation to make certain behavioral choices?


If there is enough of a sense of belonging, we will do almost anything for our friends; and when we have the understanding that some small behavioral change will earn us more of a sense of belonging, we will do even more for our friends.


Horses are like this also.


The ways we express ourselves with horses will of course be different than we do with people, but I find the core values are very much the same. They might be prey animals while we are more predator like, but we are both herd creatures!


If you enjoyed this blog, please stop by the Kickstarter for Taming Wild’s second movie and take a moment to support it during November 2017!


I can’t wait to take all the theory that has been developed so far through Freedom Based Training and take it into action down the trail as we cross Costa Rica. The two horses who take that journey with us will teach us even more I am sure, and I can’t wait to share it in the movie “Taming Wild: Pura Vida”.


Hooves and Heartbeats,


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.



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


What might be important along the way?


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


Let’s talk more about focus.


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


I think it breaks down into five stages of learning.

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


  1. Change of Focus

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

  1. Using drive to change focus

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



  1. Clearer focus changes

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

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

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




  1. Using Draw to change focus

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

  1. Holding focus

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


Elsa Sinclair


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.


Positive Stress

Sitting on a train on my way to the Brussels airport where I will fly to Portugal for the next workshop, I have a few moments to write down some thoughts.

This teaching trip has been an amazing opportunity to see the work I do in Freedom Based Training through different eyes yet again. Though I am teaching the same ideas I learned with Myrnah while filming the movie Taming Wild, every place I go and every group I share with asks questions that help me see things from a different angle. The more teaching I do, the better I get at explaining the ideas. I always joke that by the time I am ninety-years old I will be very, very good at this!

For now I will share what I know. I will share the things that have worked for me, and all the while I will watch my students carefully and take note of the things that work for them.

The students in New Jersey are different from the students in Ireland, and different from the students in the UK, and different from Belgium and Portugal. Yet, even with all the variation, there are more commonalities than differences, and those commonalities let me know I am on the right path teaching what I am teaching in Freedom Based Training. We all simply see things from slightly different angles.

If you had told me six years ago this life of international travel and worldwide friends would be my way of life, I would have laughed. Six years ago I was a small-town single parent with a small-town horse habit that I supported with a small-town business of teaching and training horses and people to the best of my ability. I had no plans or thoughts of ever building a life that was bigger in any significant way.

Even when a student asked me those pivotal questions that became the birth of Taming Wild and everything that was to become Freedom Based Training… even then I had no thoughts beyond my small quiet and personal experience. I started writing a blog that I thought a few people might read, and then I made a movie that I thought a few people might enjoy.

Even when the movie picked up momentum and I started to teach a few people the things I had done in the movie… even then I had no real understanding that this all was becoming so much bigger than anything I had ever imagined or anticipated.

Here I am six years later finally embracing the reality that all this is so much bigger than just me and my simple quiet life tucked in the northwest corner of the United States. And so, as life gets bigger and more complicated for me, I am finding myself considering the role that stress plays for all of us. For horses and humans alike, life sometimes gets bigger and more full of events than we had ever anticipated.

Sitting in a pub, late in the evening with Nicole in the UK, we were talking about stress and the positives and negatives, and how that is unique to different individuals. Why is that? What is it that makes stress a good or a bad thing?

I believe stress is a continuum and some stress is the vitality of life. Stress is the thing that causes us to be interested, to seek answers, to play. Life without any stress would become stagnant and uninteresting. Some people would simply call the positive side of the spectrum “interesting” instead of stress; however, something interesting to one person (or horse) is terrifying to another person (or horse). So I think, if we can call the complete spectrum by the same name, we gain understanding of how others feel when it is different from how we feel.

I believe we can see the level of stress a person or a horse is feeling by how they exhibit Fight, Flight or Freeze: Depending on where for them this stress is on the spectrum, they will be more or less functional in relationship with others.

All of us have a moving target of how much stress might be a positive factor in our lives, and how much stress might begin to feel like too much – threatening injury and destruction instead of the growth and development we all hope for.

I believe this is a very simple equation.

  1. Too much stress will drive us apart from others and cause us to feel alone.
  2. The right amount of stress will foster and support bonding and relationships.
  3. Not enough stress will eventually become stressful in it’s own way as growth is what helps us connect to others.

Like almost everything I teach and believe in, the essential concepts are simple, but the depth of understanding is profound.

The right amount of stress for any individual is going to depend on more factors than we will ever be able to control, so, as any good horse trainer does, I look for the controllable factors.

  1. Any experience outside of the comfort zone is going to increase stress.
  2. Leadership and movement decrease stress.
  3. Harmony, Flow, Matching, and Mirroring make the most of the bonding opportunities, building relationships with our horses when stress is at a functional level.

So that brings us to the question, how do we read our horses stress levels and see what is developing so we can take appropriate action with appropriate feel and timing?

These coping mechanisms are familiar to almost everyone: Fight, Flight and Freeze.

What I think are not talked about enough are the positive and beneficial sides of Fight, Flight and Freeze.

Flight can be displayed functionally when a horse simply and easily moves away from pressure or discomfort. It can also be displayed in a dysfunctional way in the form of bolting at high speed with no thought of what obstacles lie in the path of travel.

Fight can be displayed functionally when a horse is playful. It can also be displayed in a dysfunctional way as an attack of hooves and teeth.

Freeze can be displayed functionally when a horse pauses for a long moment to think before taking action. It can also be displayed in a dysfunctional way when a horse becomes catatonic or rigid or unresponsive to all outside stimuli.

Stress-coping mechanisms exist on a range and what is functional for one horse or human is not for another. These ideas will need to be adapted to the uniqueness of any partnership.

When we see the physical manifestations of stress, we need to ask ourselves, on a spectrum is this stress getting better or is this stress getting worse? For this unique relationship that I am in, does this amount of stress foster and support our relationship?

As we assess this from moment to moment it gives us a gauge of what we might do to help develop a better relationship with our horses.

Quite simply, if the stress is positive and enhancing the relationship, we need to offer the horse more harmony, flow, matching, and mirroring behaviors.

If the stress is becoming less functional for the relationship at hand, we need to offer more leadership and more movement.

This need for leadership causes us to ask what is leadership?

I believe leadership is the ability to make decisions that result in more harmony in a relationship.

Most horse training is done in a dominant way to some degree, where there is a building of pressure of some sort until a horse finds harmony with the human. When this is done well it is the fastest way to lower stress and find common ground in the relationship.

Freedom Based Training is about coming at the relationship from the other side: Passive leadership. This concept of Passive leadership is where we make decisions for our own body until we find ways to develop harmony with the horse, without needing anything from the horse. This is the slowest way to develop leadership and lower stress, however, the benefit in going slow is we have a better chance of having good feel and timing and being successful, even if it takes longer.

The higher the stress level a horse has, the better feel and timing a trainer must have to be successful at lowering stress to a place where bonding and connection are possible. If you choose dominant leadership, your skill might need to be very good indeed to be successful. If you choose Passive Leadership, it is the slower path, and all you need is mindful persistence of when to make decisions and when to flow with your horse.

In Freedom Based Training we learn how to read our horse, matching and mirroring them any time they are making efforts to lower their stress and connect with us more deeply, and offering them more good decisions any time they need help moving their stress in a better direction.

I believe relationships are all about feel and timing: when to be a leader and when to be a partner; and, regardless of which we choose, the overarching goal is always to have a positive level of stress and a better relationship as a result.

The better our relationship gets and the more functional the stress habits become, the more we can operate in a give and take easy back and forth of partnership and decisions. Those are the moments I live for with horses.

And then, at the end of the day, when I am sitting on a plane or a train and sorting out all the differing stresses in my own life, I have to consider perhaps this is not just about horse training… Overall in my life is this a functional stress level for me? Or am I starting to feel more alone and isolated in my stress? No matter what the answer is, I just spelled out the solutions.

Too stressed and isolated? Start making more and better decisions…

When I feel just the right amount of Fight (playfulness) Flight (adaptability to pressure) and Freeze (thoughtfulness), then my job is to roll with it, Harmonize and Flow with my life….

But honestly, training horses is so much easier than managing my own life. 😉

Hopefully this is good food for thought as you build your own relationships.

After Portugal I know I can’t wait to be back home, feet in the dirt, feeling fur in my fingers and the breath of horses on my neck again.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Decisions and Choices

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


Hooves and Heartbeats,


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

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

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Safety Before Comfort


In Freedom Based Training the thing we learn most about is Feel and Timing. This elusive Feel and Timing concept is talked about throughout ALL horse training, and its value applies universally to any training system regardless of how brutally fast you choose to train or how peacefully and slowly you choose to nurture evolution.


When we take away all the small spaces and all the tools (including food rewards), what we have left is a relationship with a horse where they are willing to be fully honest with you, as their partner, about how good your Feel and Timing is… and how much personal development you need to invest in.


Freedom Based Training slows down the horse training process in a way that allows us to read the horse and see clearly what we did right, and what we did wrong, and make the personal changes to our actions. Learning Where to be, When to be and How to be to make life better for horse and human together!


The better your Feel and your Timing, the faster you will be able to train a horse quickly, and the deeper a relationship you will be able to build slowly. I am more interested in the latter.


The question I think I get asked most often is:

“Where can I practice Freedom Based Training?”

In the pasture in the middle of the herd?

In a separate paddock?

In the round pen where my horse can’t see anyone else?

While they are eating grass?

When they are on sand or gravel with no grass around?

Or in the woods…

Or in the field…

Or with my dogs playing underfoot…

Or quietly alone?


The varieties of locations we can be with our horses will always have an effect on how things go. Depending on the challenge we feel in the location, our feel and timing is going to need to be adequately on point to accommodate any anxiety that is produced by where we are together. The challenge that is posed by any particular location is going to be the sum of what the horse feels and what the human feels because that is the partnership in development.


If I am very confident, then I can support a horse that is less confident, and that also goes the other way around. A horse that is very confident can support me if I am feeling unconfident.

Confidence usually leads to good Feel and Timing, and that understanding of where to be, when to be, and how to be together is what relationship depends on.


So where do we practice? Where do we work? Where do we train? The answer to those questions is always, where you are most confident. You in this case refers to the collective confidence of both you and your horse combined.


Start there, because confidence is safety, and safety always comes first.


Later, test out your Feel and your Timing by going together to places that hold more tension or anxiety for you to work through together. Choosing where to work or train is the first question of Feel and Timing. Knowing WHERE to be.


This week Myrnah and I discovered a location we hadn’t considered before, and I have to admit that it stretched my comfort and confidence in an uncomfortable way, but I am going to share the story with you.


When I read a horse, I can see lack of confidence in clear ways (if I am paying attention). This lack of confidence, a feeling of being unsafe, or emotional unstable, is always going to show up as either fight, flight or freeze.


Fight can be as subtle as the ears pinning for a moment or the tail angrily swishing… or it can be outright dangerous as in a strike, bite, kick, or attack.


Flight can be as subtle as a horse that continues to turn or shift abruptly so they have the last word on position relative to their partner… or it can be as obvious as an outright bolt.


Freeze can be as subtle as a fixation on any particular point of attention… or it can be as obvious as a horse unable to breathe or move until they faint or fall over.


This week I discovered that Myrnah and I work well in amongst the other horses, and we work well as soon as we are far away from them. However, there is a “WHERE” that we have always chosen to push through without addressing – that in-between place where you have begun to walk away from the herd but you haven’t left completely yet.

I noticed this is where “fight” comes up for Myrnah, which tells me, she doesn’t feel entirely safe walking away from the herd with me. It’s not terrible, I can go out there without any tools, without any food rewards, and ask her to come with me and she will, but the pinned ears as we walk through that in-between no-man’s land leaving the herd is unpleasant for her until we get far enough away to feel confident again.


That place of leaving the herd is our challenging location – the WHERE that will help us grow together.


I hate to admit that something as simple as this is tripping me up as a trainer. Clearly this is where my Feel and Timing need to be more on point so that Myrnah learns to feel safe here, to trust me in this situation, and eventually to enjoy walking away from the herd as my partner.


Safety comes first, comfort second, because a horse can only be as comfortable as they feel safe.


How do we make a horse feel safe? By acting like a leader. Passive leader, assertive leader, dominant leader, take your pick and choose your time frame. The horse doesn’t mind which you choose, but they do need to feel they have a leader they can trust in order to build a sense of safety.


With Myrnah, my biggest fascination is the passive and assertive conversations. Those are the leadership roles I want to be best at. A passive leader develops trust so slowly you can barely see it happening, but the end result is something so deep there is nothing quite like the connection that comes from it.


The assertive leader can only come into play when both partners are reasonably stable emotionally. If there is too much fight, flight or freeze, the choices must become more passive or more dominant to help a horse feel safe.


Being assertive is asking for things in a way where when you accept the “yes” answer from the horse that means you are the leader and the “no” answer from the horse means you are now the follower. If a horse is unstable emotionally, they do not want a follower, they want a leader to make them feel safer. So every time you ask them for something assertively and they say “no”… you have just made them feel less safe. How does a horse say no? By showing you some degree of, Fight, Flight or Freeze.


So here Myrnah and I were, walking away from the herd together and I finally confronted the fact that I was not addressing her ears-back demeanor. She was showing me a small degree of fight, and I was not willing to become more passive or more dominant. I just kept pushing through it assertively every time I asked her to leave the herd, and every time we walked away from the herd, she told me she felt unsafe doing it.


I needed to hone my Feel and Timing in this situation!

Where to be, When to be and How to be.


So I worked on being a passive leader and making decisions around her that caused her to feel better. I waited for the right moment when her confidence was highest, and I had appropriately rewarded that good feeling in her. Only then did I ask her to take a step away from the herd, and if it was a confident step, I made sure to reward it with partnership in the best ways I knew how.


I would love to tell you my feel and timing was so perfect that I only asked at the right times and we accomplished this task of walking away from the herd in complete and full confidence, but that is not true. I am learning, and sometimes I asked at the wrong time, and Myrnah told me about it with ears back showing me how she felt. So, I would back her up a step closer to the herd and ask her how she felt now. If she still felt unsafe, we would back another step closer to the herd, continuing on one step at a time until she felt better. Then I would work on strengthening my passive leadership until I felt it was strong enough for me to ask for a step away from the herd.


I spent three hours working on this project this afternoon, and I am thrilled to say that slowly, gently and surely we made it from the far pasture through the blackberry bushes all the way up to the water troughs away from the herd, and then walked back to the herd again together, and all our steps forward were confident and positive. If they were not, we backed up closer to the herd until it felt better and then tried forward again at a better time.


I believe, by taking the time to hone my Feel and my Timing like this, I become a better horse trainer. At some other time, if speed is essential and I need to step into a dominant conversation with a horse, I will be able to do it better because I took the time to learn where to be, when to be and how to be with horses.


I encourage you to take the time to learn when you can. Use your understanding of location to challenge the skills you have built in places of confidence, and let those challenges perpetually strengthen the bond you have with your horse.


Feel and Timing is what relationship is all about.


Using your feel and timing correctly builds a sense of safety.


Safety is the foundation that comfort and enjoyment grow from.


Enjoy all the moments you spend developing with your horse, and regardless of whether you choose to train faster or slower, hone your feel and timing of where to be, when to be, and how to be, so that everyone feels safe. That is what I wish for everyone.

Hooves and Heartbeats,


The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Confidence and Learned Helplessness

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


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


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


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

I believe this feeling is effective passive leadership.


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


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


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


How do you foster collaboration and confidence in partnership?


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

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


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


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


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


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


We lead by example.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


We are all in this together,

Hooves and Heartbeats,


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.


It’s all in the Timing


I just returned from a teaching trip to San Diego and then Costa Rica, and yes, the joke could be that my timing was perfect to escape the abnormally frigid temperatures that hit the Pacific Northwest during those two weeks. Thank you a million times over to my dearest friends who stayed home and took care of all my animals through the cold. I really didn’t time it this way on purpose; this particular timing was just lucky.


What is interesting though is how much of my trip was about honing and developing timing as a conversational tool with horses.


It is said in horse training that the hardest things to teach are feel and timing. So what have I done? It seems I have made that my mission in life, to teach the un-teachable and to train what is most difficult to train. There are a million brilliant horse trainers who might help you with everything else, and everything you learn with horses will lead you to some understanding of feel and timing because the interesting fact is, all those training methods are only as good as your personal feel and timing as you apply them.


Feel and timing are often considered sort of magical qualities that one has or does not have. That may be to some extent true, however, I also believe if you don’t have them yet, they are very learnable skills.


What Freedom Based Training does is slow everything down to a natural horse’s voluntary speed of conversation.



Conversation with a horse is made up of movements, and when we slow those movements down we can really start to see, hone and develop our timing and feel.


Feel is knowing where and how to be around a horse to direct the conversation to what you had in mind.


Timing is knowing when to move and when to be still. Timing is knowing when to harmonize with the horse and when to let your movements be in a counterpoint or in disharmony with them.


This is what I teach.


This is what I am perpetually learning more about!


The thing that I really was able to focus on deeply on this trip was in looking at the three different versions of conversation we tend to have with a horse.


In San Diego (Bonsall), at Horse Spirit Ranch I was given the most wonderful diverse set of students and horses to work with. Everyone seemed fascinated with Freedom Based Training from beautifully unique points of view. Every time I get to walk in someone else’s footsteps for a moment and see things from their point of view, I see this work in new light.


When we talk with a horse on the passive scale, it is slow, it is quiet and I believe this is the majority of what normal conversations are between horses who live together in a natural calm environment. On the passive scale of communication, connection is not readily apparent, it is instead build deeply, gently and so gradually you almost can’t see it happening.          `


When we talk with a horse on the assertive scale, it is about asking for things – they ask us, we ask them, and it is a back and forth discussion of movements. Assertive is the middle ground between Passive and Dominant and leads to a more quickly apparent connection between conversationalists.


When we talk with a horse on the dominant scale, it is about asking for things and setting a consequence if we don’t get what we asked for. This is the scale most people are familiar with in horse training. It is also the most obvious connection-building and potentially the quickest.


Now just to be clear here, the dominant scale does include R+ training. If I have all the cookies, the horse knows that and wants them. Then when I ask for some movement, the consequence for the horse not performing the movement is they don’t get the reward. It may be a kind and positive way of training, but it is still dominant, and based on consequences associated with resource guarding.


So if you are in conversation with a horse and there are consequences set when movements are not made as asked, congratulations, you are on the fastest track to feeling connected with your horse. You are also on the most challenging path in terms of feel and timing. Do you have it?


Having feel and timing when you are talking with a horse on the dominant scale is important, because if you are even the littlest bit off on your feel or timing, your horse will set consequences for you. They will push on you, they will startle you, they will intimidate you. When you see the bottom of both hind feet in the air in front of our face, yes, they might be playing, but they are playing a Dominance game in which that threat of a kick in your direction is telling you your feel and timing of movements are off, and the ball is in your court. Do you then set a counter-consequence for them? Or do you switch to a different scale of communication?


It all depends on what your goals are. If your goal is to feel as connected to your horse as possible, as soon as possible, then playing the game of consequences with them with good feel and timing is the way to go.


If your goal is more like mine, to develop better feel and timing while taking the slow and deeply profound road to connection, take a step down on the intensity scale and develop your passive conversation. You will never regret the things you learn in the slower passive conversation, even if you choose to step back up to the dominant scale at some later date.


What I teach in Freedom Based Training is about Passive and Assertive leadership, simply because Dominant leadership usually requires tools. As human beings we lack the strength and power to dominate well without a tool to help us.


I have found that a horse developed through Passive leadership is usually fairly kind and gentle as you struggle through your learning process of feel and timing. Even if you get it wrong, your horse tends to tell you gently.


When you work with a horse accustomed to conversation on the dominant scale, you may find they set harsh consequences for you when you get your feel or timing wrong.


I don’t know about you, but I know I want a horse that is going to fill in for me a little when I am having an off day. I want a horse who is going to be kind and gentle with me as they help me develop better feel and timing.


Here is where this blog gets interesting, because in the second part of my trip I got to step into the student role for a little while, unlike my normal way of working with horses.


I was invited to the Leaves and Lizards Retreat in the Arenal region of Costa Rica. If you ever get a chance to go, do! The jungle experience is phenomenal and the retreat is breathtakingly beautiful.


While I was there I put on a very well-received screening of Taming Wild for mostly Costa Rican locals. (Thank-you to all of you who helped me get the Spanish subtitles done in time.) And I was able to help with an up-and-coming documentary about the connections between horses and humans. Check out the trailer for the film “Sans Attache”; it looks like it is going to be beautiful! Thank you Audrey Pages for inviting me to come up and interview with you for the film. I felt honored to be included in the project.


On a side note, I was invited to show some of what I do with Freedom Based Training while exchanging ideas with Debbie Legg and Sally Nilsson about the similarities and differences in the EFL work they do at Leaves and Lizards.


Now this is really interesting to me, because I believe as a professional in the horse world it is best if I keep learning and stretching myself, stepping outside of what I know and being open to learning new things. If you have any interest in EFL work with horses, I think Sally and Debbie do a brilliant job of it and I would encourage you to take a trip there and experience one of their workshops for yourself.


In the EFL work we did together I was encouraged to work with the horses and look for their feedback, using them as a mirror to see my own emotional blocks and hindrances to communication both in the moment and in the rippling ramifications through my life outside that moment. Really interesting work and truly a whole blog of its own for another time. It is deep and powerful for those interested in personal development.


What spoke to me most though was again this issue of timing. When do we move, and when do we choose to be still, and how does that affect the direction of our relationship? Why do we make the choices we make, and what are the pros and cons of any choice?


In EFL work, if a horse pins their ears at you, that is information that can point to a place to stop and talk about. What was the feeling you had in that moment – was it the emotion in you hidden under the surface that the horse was pinning his ears at? EFL is about delving into that information and learning from it. I found this fascinating and different from what I do.


Freedom Based Training on the other hand is about learning the timing. How do we on a very physical level learn where to step, where to stand, how to ask so that we don’t get pinned ears? In Freedom Based Training I would never choose to stop on the note of a horse pinning their ears at me because I am aiming for harmony in the relationship.


The places we pause reinforce the last thing that happened between us.


In Freedom Based Training I am perpetually looking to hone the timing and find pauses on harmony and positive feedback from my horse.


In Freedom Based Training I encourage my horses to train me with positive feed back, yes, do more of that – that feel and timing was right. Those are the moments we pause and rest. When negative feedback happens from my horse we just keep moving through it. I hear them express that I got my feel and my timing wrong (or perhaps from an EFL point of view my emotion and energy was off) but we do not dwell on it. We keep moving past it to something better.


I want to believe that the powerful learning and work we can do in EFL is somehow combinative with what I do with Freedom Based Training, but for now I have to admit, I don’t know enough to know if it can be combined well. It will absolutely be something I consider more as I move forward through this work.


From Leaves and Lizards I moved on to do a week’s workshop with Discovery Horse Tours near Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica.- stunningly beautiful and a very different jungle from what we had experienced up in the Arenal area.


I have to say Discovery Horse Tours set up the workshop with a brilliant ease and comfort in everything we did. I also have never met horses so open and interested in the passive leadership conversations as this herd was. Wow they were fun to work with!


We started with a demo where I walked through the beginning steps of the foundations in Passive Leadership conversation, and then one at a time each horse seemed to be waiting at the gate for their turn to give this new conversation style a go with their person for the week.


Session after session after session I was blown away by how fully these horses were interested and engaged in it all.


I don’t know if this was a group of students with particularly good feel and timing, or if it was that the horses were particularly open to the ideas of downshifting from the more normal dominant spectrum of conversation to a passive one. I have a feeling it was a healthy dose of both which came together for a spectacular week.


Day one everyone worked one on one with their horses in the round pen, and then in the afternoon we rode through the fields and jungle to the waterfall to play.


Day two we all worked together with the horses as a herd in the pasture, building on the first day’s conversations. In the afternoon we left the horses to play with each other and headed out on the river to watch incredible feel and timing between Costa Rican men and a few special crocodiles they had befriended over the years.



Day three we took off from the horses and hiked through incredible jungle with hanging bridges and the sort of waterfalls you think only exist in fairy tales.


Day four we did an intensive day’s work with the horses, the morning spent working one pair at a time in the round pen (again the horses seemed so eager each one of them for their turn) and then the afternoon out in the pasture with all the herd together honing the skills learned in the morning.


Day five we completed our week of Freedom Based Training work and I believe we left everyone wanting more, as I like to do.


Day six we started with a zip-line tour through the jungle, and then, once everyone had spent their adrenaline reserves, we headed back to the horses for a long and beautiful exploratory ride through the jungle.


A huge gratitude to Andrea Wady for setting up this workshop so smoothly and for inviting me to come teach! I am sure this is just the beginning of more Costa Rica fun to be had I am sure in years to come. Definitely keep Discovery Horse Tours in mind if you are ever in the area, or simply escaping the northern chill like I was. You will be entranced.


As for me, I am happily home again pondering the merits of various types of conversation with horses, getting ready to finish up my winter online course session with some amazing students, while also in conversation with new students I can’t wait to know better as we gear up for the spring Freedom Based Training online course.


As all this comes together and I revel in my own continued learning with my horses, there are great plans on the horizon for an amazing teaching tour in May, and a few fun destinations for workshops and screenings before and after. All the dates are up on the website with links to where you can get more information.


I look forward to so many great conversations ahead in 2017. Passive, Assertive, and Dominant – there is a time and place for everything and I am fascinated with every variation.


Hooves and Heartbeats,