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Tag Archives: Positivity

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,

Elsa

 

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

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:

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.

 

Soaking Up The Silence

 

December in the Pacific Northwest brings its own character-building atmosphere into play. I am finding each year I love it a little more than I did the year before. Enveloped in fog, kissed by frost, christened by the perpetual moisture in the air: rain, snow, sleet, mist or some combination of all at the same time. Cocooned in a perpetually dim cloud-covered dome of existence, only to be swept occasionally into the brilliant clarity of a piercing sunshine, visiting for a day or two before the cocoon of cloud cover wraps you again in its comforting cloak.

 

I feel a sense of peace, safety, and deep personal challenge here. There is something about the almost endless, deep, grey skies and the piercing clear moments of sun that break through. Almost as though the weather brings safety, challenge and clarity in waves, the same way I aim to do in relationship with my horses.

 

More and more I am realizing this work with horses is about being aware. Increasingly aware of why, when and how we do what we do. Nothing is meaningless; actions are tuned in as communication or are tuned out to be merely static and noise in the environment.

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The world gives high praise to trainers with “good feel and good timing”. What does that mean and how does one achieve that elusive “good feel and good timing”? Can it be learned or taught? Or is it something one is simply born with or touched by, like a whimsy from a supreme deity.

 

I believe feel and timing are skills that can be learned, and I believe my greatest work is honing those skills each and every day.

 

My work begins in a foundation of silence.

 

I am talking about the silence of harmony. If actions and movements are sound and everything means something, silence is how we find the spaces between words and hear the music play out of the static.

 

Sound has meaning in counterpoint to silence.

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Movement has meaning in counterpoint to other movement.

 

Every movement we make has a meaning, a sound, a song, a harmony or a deafening screech of meaningless static, like a radio dial that can’t find a station while we grasp desperately at the volume adjustment.

 

With your horse, begin with the silence. Before you play with the noise.

 

Soak up the silence, become one with the silence, let it tear you open and bare your soul to the world. Simply be.

 

As human beings I find we tend to try and fill all the silences, using words and thoughts and explanations to buffer us from feeling what actually IS in any moment.

 

That elusive “feel and timing” that great horse trainers have, it begins with a willingness to be quiet and soak up the silence. Only then can we feel our way through speaking with our horses in ways that bring us the relationship we seek.

 

This quiet I speak of, what does it mean? How does it apply with horses? It is about harmony, it is about reading the body language of the horse and knowing how to be, when to be, where to be, to speak or to be quiet.

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In order to be heard or to listen well, we need to first find the silences and learn to make the silences in such a way that allows sound to have meaning and clarity when it happens.

 

This is feel and timing.

 

Imagine a chess board in the space around your horse. You are an all powerful chess piece and can move in any direction at any speed from one spot to another. Your horse has likes and dislikes, preferences and comforts that you may or may not be aware of. Spatially, does your horse like you farther away or closer to? Does your horse like you touching them or not touching them? Each horse is an individual and has a different idea of harmony.

 

Can you be in harmony with what this particular horse enjoys? That is finding the silence.

 

Can your horse be in harmony with what you enjoy? That is finding the silence.

 

Once you have found the silence, can you simply be there? No noise, just be there in the silence.

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This is not a magical “feel the energy” type of thing, this is real and tangible and very learnable on a physical plane!

 

If your horse likes you five feet from their neck on the left side, can you simply be there for a while and read their body language to know you have not overstayed your welcome or worn out your harmony. When they walk, you walk; when they stop, you stop; when they breathe, you breathe; when they watch the horizon, you watch the horizon. Can you be in harmony with them? Can you soak up the silence together?

 

Then, can you move to another place of harmony, find another source of silence BEFORE the first one feels uncomfortable? This is timing.

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Every being on earth seeks comfort. In relationship one being’s idea of comfort is often another being’s description of discomfort. Feel and timing is finding where, when and how two beings are comfortable together, and then letting the nature of relationship stretch us and develop us so we learn and evolve into finding comfort in more and different ways.

 

Harmony is the silence. A voluntary being together of beings is the silence I encourage you to soak in.

 

Move from one spatial relationship to another with a feel for harmony. Don’t wait to be kicked out of the one you are in, don’t wait for your horse to pin their ears at you, or walk away with a determination to oust you out of the spatial relationship you chose. Find a new silence and another new one and another new one, each harmony of relationship a new place to bask in each other’s company.

 

Then, when you have found all the places of harmony and silence, make brief and temporary visits into the world of sound. Sound is the counterpoint to silence. If movement in harmony is silence, movement that is challenging is sound.

 

Move to a place your horse is challenged by, but don’t stay there. Move right on through to a place of harmony again. We visit the places of challenge and retreat to the places of harmony. Again and again until the places of challenge become more familiar and we can stay for a little longer, and then eventually familiarity begins to become comfort, perhaps even enjoyment.

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As a practical explanation of this, in the movie Taming Wild I was aiming to ride Myrnah in voluntary harmony. How do you take a wild mustang and convince them they want to be ridden, in harmony, with the whole process voluntary?

 

You start with the silences. You bask in the harmony of being together in ways that are comfortable. Then you challenge the comfort zone briefly by visiting the spaces that are less comfortable. That visiting of places less comfortable, that is the music of training and the evolution and development of relationship.

 

My point is, the music is only as beautiful and valuable as the silences we find in counterpoint.

 

The language and interchange of ideas between horse and human is a beautiful thing. This beautiful interchange of ideas and movements is made more beautiful by a constant evolution of the harmony and effortlessness of being together.

 

This effortless togetherness, is the silence I speak of.

 

Bask in the harmony.

 

Soak up the silence.

 

Make music and develop new and exciting ways of being together from this quiet place.

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This is how relationships are built.

 

Wishing you depths of silence you have only dreamt of and brilliant counterpoints of music in the New Year.

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

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.

 

It Takes Time

 

I stood at Kypo’s shoulder, watching him pull dense strand after dense strand of vine out of the cacti to eat it with relish. Under his right front hoof was a sharp rock, and I watched him picking up and putting down his foot repeatedly. It was clearly uncomfortable, but he was so absorbed in his acquisition of tasty vines, the rock was just a small irritant, not painful enough to consider in the face of all that blissful vine eating.

 

On this Saturday in November I had set out to do a full day of passive leadership with one horse to see what happened. Ten hours together was my goal. Ten hours with no agenda other than to see what I could learn from him about passive leadership. Usually I have some sort of a goal with horses and while passive leadership is the basis from which I start, I quickly move forward to assertive leadership simply because it works and development of relationship is clear and beautiful.

 

What I wanted to know was, if I had more time and less agenda, could I do more with less?

 

Passive leadership is about proving my worth as a leader and earning trust with my partner simply by the choices I make about my own body in space around them.

 

Assertive leadership is about proving my worth as a leader and earning trust with my partner by causing them to move.

 

Dominant leadership (which is not the goal here) is about causing my partner to move and developing unpleasant consequences if they do not. (I personally include food rewards in this category, because I feel it is unpleasant for a horse when they know there is something they really want and the only way they can get it is to perform a task – the unpleasant consequence of not moving is subtle but quite clear.)

 

Here we were, halfway through the day of our training experiment and for the most part I had followed through with my idea of predominantly working in the area of Passive Leadership. Now there was this sharp rock under Kypo’s right front hoof, and he was too distracted by vine eating to do anything about it other than pick his foot up and put it down repeatedly.

 

As a passive leader there is nothing I can do about that, as an assertive leader I can help. So I gave up my passive leadership goal for a moment, rested my hand on his shoulder and nudged him over to his left a step so he could stand with all his hooves on flat ground. The instant relief Kypo felt was perceptible as yawning and licking and chewing with big deep sighs. The vine eating happily continued, and I returned to my lookout post.

 

A leader is someone who is willing to step in where no one else wants to, or thinks to. Leaders create trust in the partnership and they create this trust by proving again and again that they can make everyone’s lives better by stepping up and leading the way.

 

On this particular day in the upcountry pastures of Kula, Maui, I was in the middle of deep and profound experiential learning – learning that was more for me than for the horses, but powerful for all of us involved I believe.

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In the first hour I found Kypo to be entitled, pushy and impatient, and I felt stretched emotionally by his company. This was going to be a long day.

 

The second hour Kypo led me out on a merry walk, just the two of us with no other horses in sight. I was surprised and intrigued. Was he that comfortable with only my company? Or would he have done that all by himself if I had not been there?

 

The third hour, Kypo walked by a boulder I was standing on and invited me to go for a ride, which surprised and intrigued me even more. That had not been in the plan for the day. I swung a leg over his back, scratched him all over under his mane, which he loved, and then got off and back to my passive leadership roll. He then took me over the hill to join his mother and two other horses sleeping under a tree.

 

The fourth hour we spent in a field strewn with boulders, so my lookout points around Kypo often involved standing up high. I was blown away by how many times he sauntered over and lined his back up underneath me to let me sit on him.

 

The fifth hour found us under a shady copse of trees with Kypo and his mother, Spirit, flat out on their sides deep asleep, Ebe lying down softly asleep and Coco and me standing watch.

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The sixth hour I had to leave them and walk up to the house to charge my phone battery and get some water, which was actually a good opportunity for me to clear my head and think about everything that had happened so far.

 

The seventh hour found Kypo and me trekking up and down a rocky hillside, during which he gave me our longest ride yet. It wasn’t long, maybe five minutes, however I was doing my best to be passive and set us up for success so I was thrilled and elated I had gotten to ride as much as I did!

 

The eighth hour I held myself in check and simply scratched him all over when he would come over to stand under my current boulder perch. This day wasn’t about riding or how much I could get Kypo to do for me. This day was about sharing the day together and seeing how many different things we could do together passively enjoying each others company.

 

The ninth hour everyone headed back in the direction of the water troughs, and I followed along. First we walked, then we jogged, then they picked up speed to a canter and I tried to keep up, but I couldn’t. I settled to a walk and figured I would see them back at the water. I have to say, it was the sweetest surprise when I discovered them waiting for me around the next corner as if to say, “Come on slowpoke, what kept you?” They started off at a walk, then a jog, then a trot. I tried to keep up, but by the time we could see the water troughs, they were off at a gallop and I walked the last bit in.

 

The tenth hour with the whole herd reunited at the water, Kypo was determined that a new horse, Gems, was not to be tolerated in the group, and he was going to chase her off aggressively over and over. I decided it was time to put my passive leadership goals aside for a little while and step up to assertive to help smooth the group dynamic. I was quite blown away by how light and easy Kypo was to move. I chose a position near his shoulder and each time I would see his eyes wander over to the intruder, Gems, I would softly touch his chest and back him up a step, or touch his neck and move him over enough to redirect his attention to something less upsetting. I was amazed how easy he was with my redirection and how peaceful everyone in the herd became with my simple persistent help to one member.

 

As the sun set and the light started to fade, Kypo and I found ourselves next to an old fallen tree where I swung a leg over his back and let him carry me around for the last half hour.

 

All those troubling impressions from our morning were gone. This horse wasn’t entitled at all; if anyone was entitled, perhaps it was me. Kypo was in fact one of the most kind, generous and authentic horses I have had the pleasure of spending time with.

 

This is a day I will not forget and the things Kypo taught me were valuable beyond words.

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I believe my biggest takeaway was that there is a time and a place for different kinds of leadership, and there are times to simply follow. If you give yourself time, you don’t need force; and if you don’t need to force things to happen, life gets increasingly more pleasant for everyone involved.

 

Here is to a good life!

Sending you all a gift of time from Maui,

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

  1. Here are the hourly update videos from the day of experimental training in passive leadership. If you are reading this blog by email, click on the title at the top and it will take you to the webpage where the videos are viewable.

 

Intro Video:

 

Hour One:

 

Hour Two:

 

Hour Three:

 

Hour Four:

 

Hour Five:

 

Hour Six:

 

Hour Seven:

 

Hour Eight:

 

Hour Nine:

 

Hour Ten:

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.

 

Joy and Pain

 

Throughout this blog I have a tendency to make life look like a bed of roses, because joy is what we live for.

 

Is life worth living if we don’t perpetually reach for joy?

 

Don’t answer that question, it is meant to be left as a quandary.

 

The part I sometimes leave out of my writing is how hard life is as well, for me at least …

 

Wherever there is joy, there is also the contrast of pain and sorrow. I want with all my being for growth to be easy; I want to evolve and grow and develop so sweetly and gently that life is all about joy.

 

There it is, there is my mission statement:

 

Freedom Based Training™ is about learning to have more joy in every moment, horses and humans alike.

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There does not need to be as much pain as there is in the world. Anything I can do to alleviate any of the pain that might happen in the future, that is my job. Even if it means diving into my own internal dark nights of the soul to do it, I will struggle so others can have more roses and maybe fewer thorns.

 

Helios brought one of those mixed moments of joy and pain for me. I felt myself magnetically drawn to do whatever I needed to do for him. I didn’t need another horse to take care of. I didn’t need the drama and chaos of building fences for a stallion enclosure, or ordering gravel and spreading it in the last moments before a possible record-breaking rain storm hit. It didn’t matter what I didn’t need though. The possible pain I might experience in doing what needed to be done was far outweighed by the possible joy Helios might bring to the world.

 

I have never regretted it. Helios has brought more joy to the world than I had any way of knowing when I did my mad-dash drive across Washington to pull him out of the jaws of the slaughter truck.

 

For all my lost sleep and corresponding emotional pain of feeling like I can never do enough, no matter how hard I try because there always seems to be more pain in the world than I can possibly beat back with the joy I know is possible.

 

It is all worth it when I step into Helios’ paddock and I feel him close to me. Like his namesake the sun god, being in his presence warms me to my core in an inexplicable way. Any pain either of us has is suddenly drowned out by joy that feels exponential.

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Too many 3AM mornings jumping out of bed to write before sleep and dreams claim all my good ideas. Too many 1AM mornings where I am still awake editing video and photographs. Too much caffeine and sugar used artfully to propel me into the next moment of learning. This hurts and the body cannot do it forever, and yet I live to learn, and every time I learn a little more and I share that to bring a little joy to someone else’s life, all the pain of getting there is washed away.

 

Taming Wild is a movie about joy and connection, however, it also has its dark underbelly of pain and frustration. Taming Wild was more about learning to tame the wild impatient impulses I have as a human being than it was about taming a horse. I can’t tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep thinking I had set myself a project that was unachievable. Who trains a horse without some sort of pressure device, or some sort of withheld reward? There were too many nights I was mired in frustration that Myrnah didn’t want to do the things I wanted to do, and making a movie about joyful connection with no means of force seemed simply an effort in emotional pain caused by perpetually pitting myself against the gut wrenching pain of disappointment.

 

We all want what we want when we want it! How do you build joyful connection from that selfish place?

 

What I have found is, the only way I know to get through that selfish place is to start with admitting it is there. That frustration, those tears, that anger are there because life didn’t shape itself to your desires fast enough.

 

Sit with that, feel the pain, and then do the work it takes to get where you want to go. What if “fast enough” wasn’t the operating principle anymore?

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What if the amount of joy in every moment was the measuring stick we held our progress to?

 

That wild frustration and the pain that goes along with it, that is part of being alive. We are not always going to know what to do to move forward toward our goals.

 

I am not going to tell you to just let it go. You get to feel however you feel, and sometimes that hurts. What I am going to do is put all my own past pain to good use by writing down the steps I took, making sign posts and markers along the path to joy, so maybe you don’t have to take the detours I took into dark places.

 

The last eight weeks of sharing Freedom Based Training™ in a systematic step-by-step way through the online course has been awesome.

 

I had ten of the best students do the course with me this first session, and, whether they knew it or not, they asked me some of the most perfect questions throughout our study together. Every question that was asked became a ray of light illuminating some idea that I knew was going to be unbelievably useful for others going forward.

 

That is what I live for – more light, more joy, and more positive connection in life.

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We can all do that for each other!

 

Pain is still going to be there, sometimes it is unavoidable; but, with a little help from our friends the way out of darkness just might be signposted, so just keep moving and joy will find you soon enough again.

 

This is where my joy and my sadness get all wrapped up and I don’t know which is which. I have the honor and joy of telling you Helios, who came through my life in such a powerful way recently, has found his person, and no, it isn’t me.

 

I will be honest, it hurts to let him go; but it hurts less when I see the joy emanating from him and Shelby when they are together. Helios gets to continue living at my barn, and I will still be part of his herd and be allowed to soak up some of his sunshine every day. I also get to be part of the joy Shelby and Helios emanate when they are together. That is priceless.

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I think Helios is an example for me of what could be. I have never met a horse so clear about his interest in being with you, and paying attention, and being part of a relationship, while still maintaining VERY clearly what he is and is not yet comfortable with.

 

None of my other wild horses have ever been this slow or this perpetually positive and joyful. It was a full ten days before Helios considered putting a foot back in the horse trailer. He got minimal hay meals twice a day in the doorway, and tons of hay available just a little farther in, if he would step in, but nope, he waited until he was fully ready and comfortable before stepping in to eat his fill. All my other mustangs were in and out a million times in the first few days (even Myrnah who had unlimited hay outside the trailer as well). My other mustangs may not have been comfortable yet, but they were willing to try.

 

Helios waited until he was comfortable and then proceeded to step in and out easily and regularly like he had been doing it his whole life.

 

Same thing with being touched. It was almost three weeks before Helios permitted anyone to touch him. He would touch us, but any hand outstretched to him past his nose was promptly and decisively evaded. My other mustangs were interested in the fact that I wanted to touch them within the first couple of days, even if they were unsure or apprehensive. Helios knows what he is ready for, knows what is too much, and throughout it all continues to be a beam of light in his positive attention and interest. He loves people!

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Perhaps I have something to learn about the timing of progress, respecting personal boundaries, and how that affects positivity, interest and joy.

 

I will leave you with that idea to ponder.

 

Here is to pain, and here is to the joy that makes it all worth it, and sometimes even replaces it completely.

 

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.

 

Why Freedom Based Training™?

 

This perhaps starts as far back as my childhood and that dang pony I couldn’t catch, that pony that no one could catch. There I was, ten years old, sitting in the pasture with a can of grain in one hand and a halter in the other.

 

A crowd of horses gathered around me wanting the sweet taste the rattle of grain promised, and the cute fat little brown pony way down at the bottom of the valley as far away from us as she could be, wanting nothing to do with me or the grain or the other horses.

 

Tears of frustration welling up in my eyes, anger surfacing as I chased the other horses away, determination pulling me up by my boot straps as I trudged after the pony yet again.

 

I spent innumerable uncomfortable hours in that pasture, focused on that pony as a disappearing dot across the expanses of grass blowing in the wind. The emotions ran rampant for me as every obvious failure to catch her slammed me in the gut as a personal accusation that I was unwanted and unliked. At the same time, I was drawn to her expression of freedom like the strongest magnet imaginable.

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Every other horse in the field would hear the rattle of grain or the snap of a carrot and would drop every personal intention they had for a sweet taste. Where is the self-respect in that?

 

My pony, Chocolate, had a sense of personal freedom and choice that the other horses seemed to have given up somewhere along the path of their lives. Or maybe they had never had it…

 

When it came to putting a halter on Chocolate and bringing her in for a ride, it wasn’t the lure of a treat that brought us together; it was instead our coming together on a much different plane. Don’t misunderstand, the carrots or grain was still necessary and helpful in the process, but it wasn’t enough all by itself. I had to dig deeper and relate to that pony as an individual with all her own wants and needs just like I had.

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Two unique and complex individuals coming together, neither one of us willing to give up our sense of self to adjust to the other, and both of us determined – there was no giving up!

 

I have come to realize, years later, it was Chocolate’s sense of freedom that I loved best. There was no chance of my giving up, not because I wanted to take any of that freedom away from her. There was no giving up because I wanted to be close enough to her to feel it too. I wanted to become part of her sense of freedom.

 

This was perhaps some of the beginning of Freedom Based Training.

 

Ultimately it came down to the question that started the project the movie Taming Wild was all about.

 

What if a horse had everything it needed: food, water, companionship, freedom, comfort. What if the only things I had to offer the horse were encased in the body I walked around in – no stick picked off a bush to use as a communication tool, no rope or halter to make myself bigger or stronger than I am, no fence to trap the horse up against, and no special food item that they can’t get without me.

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If I only used the body and intellect I was born with, could that be enough to cause the horse to want to be my partner. Maybe even enough to let me ride?

 

As far as I know, I am the only horse trainer alive who has attempted this.

 

Yes, it is possible.

 

Yes, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done.

 

Yes, it is worth it.

 

Importantly though, since the project and the movie, I have found that Freedom Based Training doesn’t need to exist to the exclusion of other kinds of training.

 

The work I learned to do with Myrnah I did because I had to. The honoring of your horses freedom, wants and desires, in balance with honoring your own freedom, wants and desires become crystal clear when you have no plan B.

 

What I have found is, when people choose to take a couple of hours a week or more to do some freedom based work with their horses, everything else gets better too.

 

You do not need to choose the all or nothing path. Just take some time to be with your horse in freedom, respecting and beginning to understand your horse’s needs and wants and how they correlate with yours.

 

Whether you take Carolyn Resnick’s chair challenge, or join my course in Freedom Based Training, or develop your own journey with your horse, choose to take a little time to consider freedom. It’s worth it, no matter how you do it.

 

Trudging around the pastures following my pony, Chocolate, at ten years old wasn’t something I consciously chose at the time, Looking back, however, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. That was the only way that pony could help me spend time with her in freedom, and I learned so very much about her and about myself in the process.

 

We all long to be free, and we also long to be together, learning to have both is what life is all about.

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Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

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The Goal:

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

 

Horses as a Spiritual Practice

 

Bugs! Swarms of little, tiny, annoying midges finding every nook and cranny of the body to bite and irritate. This year in Redmond, WA my pastures seemed to be infested! I was at my wits end and beside myself with worry for my horses. My three, Myrnah, Cleo and Zohari, seemed defenseless this particular year, and every day I saw bigger chunks of flesh peeling from between their legs and across their stomachs with swelling distorting their natural shapes and turning them into grotesque elephant-skinned versions of themselves. So uncomfortable, it looked like they waddled across the fields so slowly trying not to let their thighs touch. It had reached the allergic response stage I had watched clients struggle with in their horse management, but never personally dealt with. My boarder, the cute little paint-mare Kiera, trotted gay little circles around my three with seemingly not a bite on her. It wasn’t just the pasture with its swarms of midges; it was all three of my horses unable to cope for some reason this year. I tried every bug spray and lotion I could find to combat it (thank goodness for “Where’s that Blue Stuff”, a lotion for rain rot and scratches that gave them the only relief I could find and helped repair their abused skin).

 

Finally I could watch them suffer no more and I made arrangements to flee the swarms of devastation. Kiera went to board with a neighbor’s horses and my three loaded into the horse trailer and took off for the cool, windy freedom of the San Juan Islands.

 

My mother and my daughter live still in the beautiful valley where the movie Taming Wild was filmed. We call it Plumb Pond and it is about as close to heaven on earth for horses as any place I know. It had been three years since my horses had been there and it was like taking them home. A hundred acres of fields and ponds with fragrant cedar trees to sleep under in the heat of the day and nine other horses, all of them long time friends.

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Horses have complex social lives when we give them the chance, and I believe the glow of health I have seen blossom on my horses in the last month has been as much about the richly emotional interactions they have all day long with their friends as it is about the healthy living they do galloping up and down the hill every day across the wide expanses of grass together. Sometimes I wonder how I could ever have taken them away from this wonderful place.

 

In the past month I have traveled from the high mountain grasslands of Kamloops, British Columbia, to the tropical paradise of Maui, to the lush grass valleys of San Juan Island. I travel on the call of horses and people who want to learn some of the things Myrnah and my other horses have taught me. Each place I go I have found myself part of dynamic and interesting horse herds that differ from each other in more ways than you can imagine. This barrage of experiences has left me both brimming with ideas and peacefully empty and present.

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I am beginning to realize there has been a shift for me in how I view my time with horses. Once upon a time I was a trained professional and horses were part of a sport I loved. From Eventing to Endurance to French Classical Dressage to the levels of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, there was always another thing we were aiming to achieve skill in. How good one was at the chosen discipline was a gathering of skills, and the more skills one had, the more fun one could have with a horse.

 

While I still believe this, I find there is a new discipline that has become more important to me than any of the sport aspects one can explore with a horse. It is a discipline no one ever talks about, and I find myself wondering if I am the only one enraptured by this.

 

Freedom Based Training is what I call this thing that I do with horses now. It really is training as much for the person as it is for the horse. We all have an innate desire to be free and to want what we want while living our lives in pursuit of happiness. Training is the thing that naturally happens when we realize we want partnership as much as we want freedom. In every partnership we realize each partner is unique, and only if both parties are willing to grow and train and learn together can we find the hand-in-glove easy depth of connection we long for.

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Myrnah and I developed these ideas when we were filming the movie Taming Wild. In the movie we had one year and a very specific goal – to be able to ride together without any bribes or tools of force. This goal was so task-oriented it was still almost like a discipline of sport. I found myself mapping progress and making lists and pushing to develop skills so we could achieve our goal together. And yes, the more skill we developed the more fun it became.

 

The year of the movie was more about sport than spirituality because it was more about my wants and desires than Myrnah’s. It was by accident that the spiritual aspect of this process was born and I fell in love with a whole new way of being with horses.

 

What if we start from the basis that there is nothing that needs to be changed or developed? What if we start with the premise that the horse is exactly perfect already, and the person is too; the only thing in need of development is the depth of bond between them. What are the things we then do to create connection that honors both horse and rider’s innate desire for freedom of choice?

 

This, I find, is more of a spiritual practice than it is a sport.

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My horse wants to eat grass; I want to ride and run through the fields! My horse wants to sleep with the herd under the trees; I want to go for a trail ride, climb a mountain and explore the world. My horse wants to run with the other horses; I want to stand peacefully and watch the magnificent beauty pounding with incredible horsepower past us.

 

It sounds impossible when you lay it out like this, and that is why we have halters and bridles and whips and treat-pouches for training. We think we need to overpower a horse’s desire to be free and replace it with incentive to do the things we want to do. If one is interested in sport, then yes, most likely you are going to have to invest in incentives.

 

I find I am increasingly more interested in the core of this relationship. If we strip away the incentives, what is underneath? What are the things we can do together that build a bond that nurtures our freedoms and develops our desire to stretch and encompass the wants of our partners as well as our own?

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I am finding that sport and spirituality are not separate or exclusive, you can combine the two ideas in whatever proportion works for you. I am finding the more time one puts into the development of the spiritual side of riding, the better the sport side becomes as well.

 

The curiosity for me is the better I get at the spiritual side, the less often I am willing to put on a halter, or reward a behavior with treats in order to achieve an end goal. I find I am much too fascinated by the natural evolution of partnership in a spiritual sense, and the sport of achievement doesn’t hold the same thrill for me that it once did.

 

I still love my work as an instructor, helping students and horses develop partnership and achieve their goals of sport. Finding the right incentive to help partners stretch together is fascinating.

 

However, when I walk into a lesson, I find I no longer have any idea of what horse or rider should or shouldn’t do.

 

What do you want?

 

What does your horse want?

 

How do we make that work for both of you?

 

That is what matters to me.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com

 

I will be leading an Online interactive course on Freedom Based Training starting in September. I am only taking on twelve students and will be personally available for coaching on a one on one basis during each week between classroom sessions. Email me at Elsa@TamingWild.com or click here for more details if you are interested in taking part in this learning opportunity.

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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.

Love it, or Change it

 

What I do with horses is Freedom Based Training.

 

We all, horses and people alike, instinctively reach for freedom. Freedom is our ability to be unique and individual and reach out to live a life that suits us.

 

Training is also part of every day life because training is simply the development of habits. I believe habits form regardless of intention, and, if we can be conscious, then we can form the habits that may serve us. That consciousness and deliberation in training can at times feel restrictive and binding, yet, in a roundabout way, isn’t that more free than the alternative of creating habits randomly that perhaps do not serve us?

 

We are free to create the lives we want over time within the framework that life offers us developing one small habit at a time.

 

Watch your thoughts for they become words,
watch your words for they become actions,
watch your actions for they become habits,
watch your habits for they become your character,
watch your character for it becomes your destiny.

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Horses do not have words, they have movements – their movements become actions and actions become habits and habits become character and character becomes destiny.

 

I don’t know about you, but I want my horses to have the best destinies possible. I want them to feel their freedom and uniqueness of being and at the same time develop habits that serve them.

 

That is Freedom Based Training.

 

So we start with their thoughts… how do we know what a horse is thinking? We notice where they are looking.

 

I talked about this in a recent blog, Attention and Confidence

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is totally self-absorbed, ears relaxed and attention turned inward. As a skill, this is self-confidence.

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We know what it looks like when a horse is interested in their leader, ears and eyes following every movement the leader makes. This skill is confidence in the leader.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is watching the group, scanning from one individual to the next. This is confidence in the herd.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is watching and wanting to focus on and investigate all the objects and environmental variations around him. This is confidence in the environment.

 

We all know what it looks like when a horse is trying different things to get comfortable, the head coming up and down a little, the body adjusting left and right, the figuring out where in time and space one needs to be to get this right. That is confidence in learning.

 

Thoughts become actions (looking at something is an action) and this is where training starts.

 

If we can aim to build good habits in the action of attention, all the other actions follow that.

 

Here is the key: while all of us are individuals and long to be uniquely and freely ourselves, we also crave connection. We all seek someone who wants to do the things we want to do, we all want partners, we all want harmony and easy association with others around us.

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That feeling of ease between characters is dependent on the development of complementary habits.

 

I truly believe it is our nature to perpetually seek balance between our love of freedom and our love of connection.

 

Our intrinsic motivation to develop new habits or strengthen old ones (on the horse or human side of the equation) is based on one of those loves- freedom or connection… or can we have both?

 

It starts with Flow…. A harmony of being that sets the base line for this relationship. Most likely one of the partners in the relationship is going to have to voluntarily give up their freedom for a moment to match the other.

 

When I start with a horse I match them, I give up my wants and desires and just watch what they are watching and move how they are moving.

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Then, in order for my personal freedom to come into play, I have to ask the horse to do something I want to do. I have a choice, I can move towards a draw or a drive.

 

A draw is a suggestion, an option offered. I walk away and invite the horse to come with me, they can choose to or not.

 

If they give up their freedom for a moment and follow me, we have flow again. We are building habits that support deeper connection between the two of us.

 

If they ignore me completely they are exercising their freedom, but they are not developing reciprocal habits of connection. The horse in this case is in essence offering connection just on the horse’s terms; stand here with me and we are a team, do anything else and you are on your own.

 

Here is the challenge. Freedom and Connection are usually equally important, and I cannot get MORE connection by offering you MORE freedom. I can only get MORE connection by offering MORE connection. (I can often get better connection by offering you better freedom, but that is a nuance to explore in another blog). Simply- we get good at what we practice. Our actions become our habits.

 

Here is where drive comes up as an option. I am going to do something that is a direct request. My horse is going to feel pressure that increases until they do something that connects us more, and then they feel the release back into flow and partnership.

 

A halter and a lead line are a form of drive. I may be drawing away, but if they don’t follow me they will feel pressure until they make an effort to connect and do the thing I want to do.

 

Positive reinforcement training, best known recently as clicker training is a lovely sort of drive. The pressure the horse feels knowing you have a cookie to eat and he has none is eased, if he gives up his freedom for a moment and follows you, so that the cookie may be shared. That is drive.

 

In a more subtle drive, if I stare directly at my horse with all my focus and intensity and don’t give up, eventually the horse will do something. If that something is something I like, connecting us together, I reward it with Flow. A matching action of me looking in the same direction my horse is looking will be a preferable feeling for the horse. Repeat that enough times and you have a habit.

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We are changing our habits all the time, and we are reinforcing our habits all the time. We are, all of us, comfort-seeking missiles. Living in a world where we find comfort in two apparent opposites, connection and freedom, is a rich environment for learning and growth.

 

The greater variety of things my horse and I can do together the richer our life experience will be. The only way to grow our skills is through this dance of Flow, Drive and Draw.

 

We do what you love, then we do what I love, then we do what you love, then we do what I love… and then as habits become established, we find we love the same things… or we change again.

 

Love it or Change it, one small piece at a time.

 

Here is to Freedom and Connection. We really can have both, that is what Freedom Based Training is all about.

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Elsa Sinclair

TamingWild.com

EquineClarity.com

 

Ps. If you want to learn more about Freedom Based Training, there is an internet based course in the development process right now that will be offered starting in September 2016. If you want to work with Elsa and Myrnah directly in this online format, email Elsa@TamingWild.com for more information or to get on the list of participants. We will be keeping the participating groups small and the format adaptable to the uniqueness of each horse/human pair.

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.

Attention and Confidence

 

The last blog I wrote set off a wonderful train of events and brought up so many corresponding questions. There is always going to be something new ahead, the world is rich and full and we will never get it all done. However, there is something powerfully alive in being on the cutting edge of what we understand and watching it grow.

 

Leadership and Friendship I believe are two sides of the same coin and really we want both in balance and ever increasing detail with our horses. Both Leadership and Friendship have taken on some negative connotations in horse training. Some feel that, in an effort to be a leader, cruelty becomes condoned. Some feel, if you are a friend to your horses, they become spoiled and difficult and can never really trust or be trusted.

 

Perhaps in an effort toward positivity in this work we might rename these goals or attributes Trust and Companionship.

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I want to build ever more Leadership with my horses, and I believe that is the same thing as building ever more Trust with my horses.

 

I want to build ever more Friendship with my horses and I believe that is the same thing as building deeper and more bonding Companionship with my horses.

 

So how do we do that?

 

In my last blog “step for step, breath for breath,” I explored the idea of being willing to ask questions that might have “No” answers. Leadership comes from the ability to work through those “No” answers and turn them into “Yes.”

 

Moving from discord into harmony is a skill. When we can prove our ability to move the relationship from difficulty to peace, we prove our trustworthiness.

 

Unfortunately we have to touch that discord in order to prove we can be trusted to help life get better. We have to be willing to let life get a little messy in order to prove we can be trusted to bring the relationship back to comfort.

 

This takes some wisdom because there are some situations that are beyond our control. If we try to turn a “No” answer from our horse into a “Yes” and we fail, that doesn’t make us seem very trustworthy. That just turns into an unwinnable fight.

 

We have to have some wisdom about when to be a friend and offer companionship and understanding without changing anything; sometimes emotions are running too hot and too fast to be easily changed.

 

Sometimes we can step in with some pressure because we know a little change of perspective will make everything feel better and prove we can be trusted to lead the way out of discord into harmony.

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Both of these have equal value and I believe are two sides of the same coin.

 

Like a coin however, I think there are some other dimensions also.

 

There are five confidences I aim to continuously build in my relationships with horses. (Thank you to the Parelli organization for bringing these to my attention years ago)

 

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

 

You can see these building by watching where the horse is looking; what are they thinking about?

 

We get better at what we pay attention to, and like most of us, horses tend to like paying attention to what they are already good at. Or, they pay attention to the thing they desperately need more skill with. The first builds confidence; the latter tends to be a day late and a dollar short. We can help them with that by encouraging them to pay attention to their weak skills in calm moments, in times of ease, when stress levels are low and emotions are running smoothly.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is totally self-absorbed, ears relaxed and attention turned inward. As a skill, this is self-confidence.

 

We know what it looks like when a horse is interested in their leader. Ears and eyes following every movement the leader makes. This skill is confidence in the leader.

 

We know what it looks like when the horse is watching the group, scanning from one individual to the next. This is herd confidence.

 

We know what it looks like when the horse is watching and wanting to focus on and investigate all the objects and environmental variations around him. This is environmental confidence.

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We all know what it looks like when a horse is trying different things to get comfortable, The head coming up and down a little, the body adjusting left and right, the figuring out where in time and space one needs to be to get this right. That is confidence in learning.

 

Sometimes one confidence is so strong it makes up for others that are weak, like a blind person having greater perception in other ways to make up for lack of sight.

 

I believe though, the more we can build and encourage these skills in balance, the better quality of life a horse has.

 

We need to build the skill of leadership, because leadership is synonymous with trust. Our horses have to trust us if we are going to help them strengthen their weaknesses and become the best versions of themselves.

 

Asking our horses to pay attention to us and build confidence in us as a leader requires a sensitivity of timing.

 

Sometimes we need to just be a friend and companion, allowing them to pay attention to the confidence that feels most important to them in the moment.

 

Sometimes we need to put pressure on them to pay attention to something they would rather not, so they become stronger where they were once weak.

 

Here is where it gets interesting. This is a partnership – horses help us as much as we help them.

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How do we set it up so we notice where our attention is? We notice where their attention is, and together we strive to become stronger in a balanced way.

 

How do we learn when to push each other to try a little harder and when to just be good companions letting things be just as they are?

 

Here is to attention and confidence!

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

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.

Step for Step, Breath for Breath

 

This is my favorite part of being with horses, that time when we move as one being. Time and space enveloping and embracing us like a single being instead of two. This is the time I feel least alone in my life, and I find I crave this like nothing else.

 

Honestly, the faster we can go in this unity, the happier I am. The more energy I can feel flowing through us the better. At one point I thought it would be so much fun to be an exercise jockey for race horses. When I spoke about this in a dreamy youthful way to my trainer at the time, she asked me if I liked the shape of my nose? Hmmmm, yes? Why? Because, she explained, jockeys have a tendency to have their noses broken by young horses throwing their heads up and smashing their riders in the face with the tops of their heads.

 

And then my dream came crashing down to reality. Those young racehorses were not doing something they were comfortable doing, those young horses were being pushed to the point that they hurt people in their anxiety. That was a world I wanted no part of.

 

I crave unity. I crave the feeling of moving in harmony, step for step, breath for breath, to whatever degree of intensity I can find that still allows everyone to feel safe and comfortable.

 

I think horses crave this too.

 

When intensity comes at the cost of someone’s comfort though, that’s when beings start hurting each other. A line gets crossed from fun into anxiety, and how do anyone of us set a boundary before someone gets hurt? What is OK and what is not OK?

 

Here is where the subject becomes touchy.

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Leadership vs Friendship.

 

We all want to be our horse’s best friend. Those of us who want to work positively with our horses cringe a little at what we know gets done to horses in the name of “Leadership”.

 

This I believe was actually my biggest failure in my ongoing project with Myrnah. Yes the project was a huge success on the whole, but moving forward, this is the piece I would do better.

 

I don’t like asking for anything that might be answered “no”. The vulnerability of that position makes me feel the separateness of our beings in a painful way, when all I want is unity and harmony.

 

If you give me the right tool – bridle, whip, spur, carrot or grain pan – I can set the situation up so I am much more confident in getting a “yes” answer from my horse and unity stays intact.

 

If you take away all my tools (including food rewards), The probability of my horse saying “no” when I want to do something gets really high and actually frightening for me.

 

Here is the thing I do when I am frightened: I stop taking risks. Instead of asking for things, I just exist in whatever harmony I can find. If Myrnah wants to stand still, we stand still together for hours; if Myrnah wants to walk around, we walk around together; if she wants to drink water, we splash in the water trough together; if she wants to eat grass, I move with her from bite to bite in harmony and ease. If she wants to move faster than I am comfortable with, I get off and give her space. All of this is beautiful friendship, but it is not leadership.

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I find, after long days of working to be a good leader for my students and their horses, all I want from Myrnah is friendship. Step for step, breath for breath. I don’t want to be vulnerable anymore; I don’t want to practice being a leader; I don’t want to risk asking for things that she might say “no” to.

 

A great deal of time spent building friendship means Myrnah and I love being around each other; I think that time might be some of the best moments of our day. We crave each other’s company, and that is good!

 

I also find, when I don’t practice leadership with her, she becomes much less steady.

 

A leader is someone you trust. A friend is someone you like being with. The two, being a good friend and being a good leader, are separate skills.

 

When you have a leader and you have trust, you can do more things; you can step out of your comfort zone more. You find random events in life don’t frighten you as much because you have someone you can trust at your side.

 

I believe I have spent much more time with Myrnah building friendship than I have leadership, particularly in the years since filming the movie. The downfall of too much friendship and not enough leadership is over emotionality and sharp boundaries.

 

During the times I have been practicing being a better leader, I find Myrnah is more willing to try things and be positive about new experiences. I find she is less afraid of strange noises and shapes moving in the distance.

 

When I am a better leader I find she is more relaxed and adaptable.

 

So what does practicing leadership look like? It looks like setting goals that require you to take actions that might get “no” answers.

 

Good leaders find the space between failure and success, the space between yes and no answers, and take the risk to ask.

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Good friends spend time enjoying each other’s company without asking much at all.

 

Bad leaders ask a lot of questions with “no” answers. Bad leaders ask for too much too soon.

 

Good leaders don’t ask for too much, but they do dare to ask. Asking for things is what creates a leader. Asking for things builds trust. Asking for things builds stronger bonds and makes everyone feel safer.

 

I may crave step for step and breath for breath, I may crave harmony and unity and I may get all those things in friendship with Myrnah.

 

When intensity finds Myrnah and me, like the night a coyote appeared all of a sudden on the dark path in front of us and we found our hearts pounding in unison, flooding us with adrenaline, and putting us on edge, that was a moment I was glad for every bit of leadership I had ever practiced. We could face it calmly and wait for it to go on its way, even though we were out of our comfort zone.

 

Our boundary with the coyote was adaptable; there was no need to turn and bolt into the darkness away from it, but I could feel Myrnah wanting to. I could trust her to hold her ground and wait out the discomfort, but only barely. Those are the moments I vow to spend a little more of my time asking for things and being a good leader, and maybe a little less time just being with her as a good friend.

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Here is to finding the balance – friendship and leadership.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

TamingWild.com