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Tag Archives: No

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Don’t Argue, Just Move


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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




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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Specificity and skipped steps


It seems Myrnah and I have reached a step in the process that is not as graceful as all the previous steps have been. Specificity is proving to be more difficult for us than anything we have done yet. I don’t know if I am excited by the challenge, or disappointed in myself for not setting up the course of learning better. A little of both I think.


Last week was all about traveling together, developing our ease and relaxation in movement. Myrnah more or less got to choose where we traveled; I just asked her to keep moving. Everything Myrnah and I have done together so far has had a large element of choice on her part. If I wanted to trim her hooves, I let her decide where she wanted to stand to have them done; and, if she changed her mind, I picked up my trimming tools, followed her to the new spot, and started again. If I asked her to turn, I wasn’t too particular about where we were headed so long as she yielded the direction asked. If I asked her to back up and she turned around in the process, that was fine too, so long as she stepped back for me. We were building a basis of communication, and I wanted all the pieces to feel easy. Little by little she became more accurate in her responses and I was thrilled.

This week I set up a pattern to build specificity. Walking together, rest in movement, the gate open between the woods and the arena, Myrnah could take me wherever she liked. New addition to the game: I added a couple of tires, double-stacked in the arena. If Myrnah was interested in investigating them, we could stop and rest there; everywhere else we needed to keep moving.


The idea is to teach Myrnah to sidle up to something (like a stack of tires) to let me get on. The first step in that is to get her to be interested in something tall that I can stand on. It worked like a charm and pretty soon those tires were like a magnet- the only place she wanted to be.


From the first step of investigating the tires to get a rest from perpetual movement, we built to my standing on the tires while we both took a break. Then on Wednesday I started getting specific; Myrnah needed to put her side to the tires before we could both relax. As soon as she was in position, I would sit down and take some time to just be still with her.


Getting Myrnah in exactly the right spot beside the tires was challenging for her. Anything so specific is new to us, and she didn’t want to do it. While I was happy to give it up and go walking instead, she didn’t want to do that either. She wanted to just rest at the tires in any position she chose, and so Myrnah started pinning her ears at me.


This is where I think there is a balance to be struck. “Confidence-in-one’s-self” and “confidence-in-others” need to be in balance. Myrnah has a great deal of natural self-confidence. When her confidence in me is lacking, it is easy for her to start being angry. Wednesday she had a perfectly good idea of what we should do together: (standing relaxed at the stacked tires) My idea of alternating walking and standing at a specific spot next to the tires seemed like a terrible idea to her. Too much confidence in herself and not enough in me lead to some angry gestures.


I am generally intolerant of anger, so I jumped right on it, and thought, what do I do with my other horses to build their confidence in leadership? I work on our yields: front-end, back-end, and sideways. Myrnah’s front-end yields are soft and easy; her back-end yields are relatively undeveloped. Back-end yields are something I kept putting off until our bond felt stronger. Well obviously here was a gap in her education and a missed step in the process.


What happened when I went to push her hind end away from me Wednesday? She told me NO. I pushed harder and she showed me she had feet to kick me with… hmmm, pushing harder obviously wasn’t going to get me anywhere I wanted to go. (and yes I was thinking all this would be so much easier if I had rope right now and could just make her do it).


So take a deep breath and break it down. We take a walk and then I play with gently putting my hand at the back of her belly to suggest she just look toward me with her nose. If her nose tips toward me, her hip will at least energetically yield, even if it isn’t physically apparent. The problem is she won’t even do that.  On this day a hand on the side of her belly puts Myrnah into a strong opposition reflex, sending me running out of the kick zone. So I yell and jump up and down and clap my hands and run in circles driving her nose away from me until she looks at me with curiosity, and comes back with her ears forward. Then I sit on the ground, breathing hard, and wishing I hadn’t put off this step in the training. Breath caught, we try it again.


Sometimes, if I get my tact just right her nose comes toward me when I place a hand on the back of her belly, and I quickly reward that by moving my hand onto her withers and simply walking with her. Sometimes my tact is off, (or hers is), and I get the opposition of her hind end suddenly thrown in my direction; then I have to resort to acting like a crazy person, running around, moving her front end away from me until she musters up the positivity to look at me and ask what in the world I am doing, and wouldn’t it be nicer if we both stopped and just hung out together. ( I always say yes to that)


A horse’s confidence in others is based on their respect and their respect is based on their willingness to yield physical space. Willingness equals a positive attitude. When Myrnah started showing aggression, I knew her confidences were getting out of balance and we needed to build a little more respect and confidence in me, her person, and hopefully her leader.


I wish I had spent more time teaching her to yield her hind end earlier in the game. Without rope or stick I wasn’t sure I could, but now I see it is a critical piece that is fundamental to later progress.


On the up side, Myrnah’s extreme opposition prompted my own desperate measures, which caused her to look at me in a new and curious frame of mind. Her ear pinning seems to be melting away, her specificity of standing exactly at the mounting block has improved dramatically, and her offers of focus, arc and softness in her body while we walk together are so beautiful they make me want to cry.

So thank you to the exercise of specificity for showing me our missed step in the process. I love everything I am learning through this, even if I don’t always get it right the first time.

Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

The Goal:

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

Wherever there is a No, there has to be a Yes nearby

This week Myrnah got confident. Confident enough to say no to me. That makes me smile, and also check my watch. These dialogs take time. When a horse tells me no in response to a request, I can do one of three things: I can make their life uncomfortable until I get a yes, or I can just look for where the yes naturally is, working gracefully back to my original request from a better perspective, or some combination of those ideas.

Myrnah and I started the week taking walks together outside the paddock. Beyond the high fenced area is a larger woods paddock fenced only by a single strand of dark green electric fence. The feeling of freedom is enhanced by the lack of visual fencing. Yet I have enough confidence in Myrnah’s respect for that electric line to know we will not wander too far astray in these first forays outside.

Myrnah hesitated at the narrow gate. Once outside, I put my hand on her withers and shadowed her movements, the two of us exploring the world together, side by side. There were little bits of grass to nibble and terrain to be investigated. The only limits I set were about the grass directly under the hot wire. She needed to adjust to my directing her at least a small amount of the time, and because I didn’t want her getting shocked by accident, those seemed like good spots to put off limits. When we got close to the fence I would use my hand on the side of her neck to turn her around as much as it took to head her away from the fence again. Interestingly, once there were a few spots off limits, those were the only places she wanted to go.

When I had her faced away from the fence, she would say no, she didn’t want to walk in that direction. So I looked for the yes. In this case, the yes was standing quietly, my arm draped over her back, my ribs against hers breathing softly together. It could be seen as a standoff; it could also be seen as an opportunity to practice being together, being still, being patient.
There are many times I would like my horse to be still and patient while I talk to a friend, or teach a lesson, or fix a piece of broken fence. If Myrnah wanted to practice that in this particular moment, I was prepared revel in the yes, while thinking about how to change the no gracefully in the future.

The next time out, Myrnah was slightly more exploratory, but after forty-five minutes got stuck in a battle of wills with me about the grass under the electric fence again. If I wasn’t going to let her eat under the fence, she wasn’t going to take me exploring around the woods anymore either. We again took the opportunity to practice stillness and patience for a while, finishing our time together by letting her follow me back into the main paddock and into the trailer for her breakfast hay. The following day I put a bucket with a few bites of timothy hay out in the woods for her to find in her explorations and I stuck a few brushes in my pocket. The bucket was fun for her to find as she was worried about it being in a strange place, and then she was happy finding she liked eating what was inside. When we would reach an impasse where she didn’t want to explore, and I wouldn’t let her graze the spot she wanted, the yes we could agree on was being still together, only this time I added grooming to our still times.

It was a great session… except for the end when I thought I would ask her to take me back into the paddock with me at her withers instead of me walking ahead of her. Myrnah said no, she liked being the one to pick the direction of travel when I was walking at her side. I can tell her where she is NOT going, letting her decide where she IS going from the array of other choices. However, our relationship is not evolved enough for me to tell her where we are going specifically, unless I am actually in front. So in this particular instance I settled for being able to tell her which direction to face, then, after an appropriate amount of time being still and enjoying each other’s company, I took the lead and let her follow me back into the paddock. It’s nice to know we have skills to fall back on, when the new skills are still in their developmental infancy.

So Myrnah decided all these exploratory walks were the new fun game. When I went to trim her hooves on Tuesday she again said no. Every time I ran a hand down her leg she started walking away, taking me to the gate, patiently letting me know she didn’t want to do hooves anymore- she just wanted to go out walking. Again I looked for the yes. If she wanted to walk, me too, walking together is an excellent game to practice. We didn’t take it out the gate, just in random patterns through the paddock- practicing turning and walking over and over until she offered a stop. When she did I would run my hand down her leg and we were off again. Forty-five minutes later she heaved a sigh and stood still and patient for me to trim all four feet. It takes time, but it’s worth it when I feel her make the decision to work with me, not because she has to, just because she has decided life is better this way. Luckily I still had time to take her outside the paddock after her hoof trim to end our session with the explorations she seems to be enjoying so.

Interestingly, Cleo is also letting me trim her front hooves with no halter or lead on, much more readily and quietly than Myrnah this week. It’s kind of nice to have them switch roles, with Cleo being easy and Myrnah making me work for the relationship this week.

They keep me thinking and I like that. Wherever there is a No, there has to be a Yes nearby.

Elsa Sinclair