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The Project:

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

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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.

 

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

Taking the Challenge

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How can we exist with horses in a better way?

 

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

 

How can we live our own lives in better ways?

 

For now, I leave you with a little inspiration.

 

Here is Emma Massingale with “The Island Project”:

 

And here is Honza Bláha with “Open Borders”:

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

Freedom

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

And then miraculously, she turned.

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

I believe it can be.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

One Trainer

Many Students

Communication through body language

Tools used only for safety, never to train

The Goal:

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

 

Turning the Tides

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

One Trainer

Many Students

Communication through body language

Tools used only for safety, never to train

 

The Goal:

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

 

The Beauty of Backing Off

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Myrnah and I have been keeping up the halter practice.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Mustang born into the project, One Trainer, Many Students, Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train

The Goal:

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

 

Ratios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

The Year Finishes Up With A Bang!

 

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

 

Tonight was spectacular.

 

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

 

Galloping.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Did it really happen? Yes it did.

 

Was it that storybook magical?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Was it fun? You can only imagine…

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

 

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

 

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

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

Don’t Argue, Just Move

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Making Peace With The Things We Would Rather Not Do

Sometimes we have good reasons for avoidance or resistance; sometimes we avoid or resist simply out of habit. The bigger the habit of resistance, the smaller the reasons can be to cause it. Horses and people are alike in this way. This blog is about making peace with the things we would rather not do.

Myrnah and I are building a relationship and a training method together that relies heavily on the building of positive habits. Because I have no way of forcing her to do anything, I HAVE TO build a habit of her saying yes to my requests. She needs to make peace with the things she would rather not do.

Every time I ask Myrnah to do anything, I have to consider what her likely response will be. If I want to turn left and I think she has a reason to oppose that, I have to consider: Do I have enough pressure to change her mind from opposition to cooperation? If I don’t, I had better just wait for another time to ask. Otherwise we are building a habit of saying no, instead of a habit of saying yes.

Here’s the rub. This week Myrnah has had big reasons to resist and oppose, bringing our training progress almost to a standstill.

Reason number one for Myrnah to oppose me, I talked about in my blog a couple of weeks ago– simply low energy levels. Any mother who has ever lived through the first few months of nursing a new baby will empathize. As much as Myrnah loves working with me and is happy to carry me around, when I ask her to trot or canter, her enthusiasm is limited. I can see her muscle loss since Errai was born and the resulting weakness can be felt when I ride. He is nursing the nutrients right through her and leaving little behind for her own energy expenditures. When I ask her to take a sprint across the field with me, she has bigger reasons to resist than she has to move with me. Grazing and resting and raising her little one are her priorities for now.

I said I was going to try to supplement Myrnah’s diet to help her, but it has taken some trial and error over the last few weeks to understand that this newly domesticated mustang does not consider grain or pellets to be food. She will pick all the carrots carefully out of the grain and leave the rest behind. During the winter I did convince her to eat some hay pellets and vitamins, but, now that green grass is in more abundance, she won’t touch the concentrated feed. The only concentrated feed I have been able to get her to eat is alfalfa hay, and even that only in a limited quantity.

This brings us to the second big reason Myrnah has to oppose me lately. Concern for Errai, his safety and well being, take number one priority for Myrnah, as it should be. Yet, that means sometimes she is too preoccupied with being a mother to even walk away from the herd for a moment to come eat some extra food with me.

This week we introduced a new mare named Red into the herd. Errai, being the bold and inquisitive creature he is, was very interested in her. Nickering, he would gallop over to Red. Myrnah, not knowing if she could trust this new character, would gallop after, determined to chase the new mare away from her precious foal. Theo would then chase after them too, not wanting to be left behind. Then the four of them would gallop a lap around the field before Errai backed off, only to do the whole thing again a few minutes later. Errai looks as though he thinks this is a great new game to get everyone running with him. Myrnah looks frustrated, and Red looks a little overwhelmed by the intensity. I never know quite what Theo thinks, but he definitely doesn’t want to miss out on whatever is going on.

So, as you can imagine, my time riding and training with Myrnah has been altered somewhat by the demands of our environment.

The question remains: What CAN we do together during these times of challenge to keep progress going?

The working theory is to train the first step, to train the habit of yes, and to make the tasks easy enough to accomplish without too much of a fight. We have to make peace with doing the things Myrnah would rather not do, even if it is only those first steps we are able to practice right now. Even if we can’t travel exactly the speed I would like, we can often practice a couple of steps of speed, resting and rewarding each positive effort.

The first few days Red was in the herd I had to pick times when everyone was at their most peaceful, only then asking Myrnah to walk up to the trailer to eat alfalfa. I had to consider her taking a few bites a success, because a few bites was all she would take before she went running back to be close to Errai. Each day she gets a little more relaxed about the new herd structure and is willing to stay and eat a little more. Little by little she is making peace with the things she would rather not do, trusting this new horse, leaving her foal and trusting the herd to take care of him.

The riding Myrnah and I do follows the same patterns. I have to pick a time when Errai is not pulling Myrnah’s attention elsewhere. Then, if she can tolerate a little focus on me, we can work on training those first steps of turns, and trots, and canters.

Just like a person, Myrnah is going to weigh her options and decide if she has more reason to work with me or to work against me. The more practice she has saying yes to my requests (even if I have to keep my requests small to get that yes) the more peace she will acquire about doing the things she would rather not.

The more peace Myrnah feels about doing things outside her comfort zone, the more she learns. I could be frustrated when the environment throws challenges our way, or I could just take it as part of the evolution Myrnah and I are working through together.

Making peace with the things we would rather not do is part of the process for both Myrnah and me. She would rather not be pulled off her job of mothering when she is distracted by its challenges. I would rather not have to take our training so slowly. Regardless, here we are, and we are both going to learn from being outside our comfort zones- that is just the way it works.

Here is to making peace with what is.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

 

The Goal:

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

 

Summer is here and the living is sweet!

As the 4th of July came around the corner, so did summer here in the islands.

I will catch you all up on the stories next week. This week just enjoy the pictures.

Thank-you Karen for spending the time to come take them for me this week.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com