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Tag Archives: Safety

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Safety Before Comfort


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


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


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


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


The question I think I get asked most often is:

“Where can I practice Freedom Based Training?”

In the pasture in the middle of the herd?

In a separate paddock?

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

While they are eating grass?

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

Or in the woods…

Or in the field…

Or with my dogs playing underfoot…

Or quietly alone?


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Feel and Timing is what relationship is all about.


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


Safety is the foundation that comfort and enjoyment grow from.


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

Hooves and Heartbeats,


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer, Many Students,

Communication through body language, Tools used only for safety, never to train

IMG_5810The Goal:

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

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivators

Last week we talked about the basis for motivation, that essential building block of FEELING safe that we all seek, horses and humans alike.

This week I want to talk about Motivators, and the difference between Extrinsic and Intrinsic.

An Extrinsic motivator is just like it sounds, motivation that exists externally to ourselves. We get something in exchange for doing something. This system of motivation can be a good and beautiful thing and leads often to wonderful cooperation between individuals and groups.

Intrinsic Motivators are all about how we feel. We believe we already have everything we need, the only thing that would make life better is Self Actualization. We feel motivated to do something purely because of the way we feel doing it, regardless of what anyone else says or does in response. When individuals or groups are inspired to do things together because of intrinsic motivators, that is when real collaboration happens.

I wish that I could claim to live and work purely with intrinsic motivation, but like any of us, I operate due to a number of different motivators. Being aware of patterns and cause and effect is the thing that fascinates me though, because I know understanding allows me to tailor my life, slowly adapting things so I get more of what I love.

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I know that intrinsic motivation is the best feeling in the world, and, knowing that, I want to know how to get more of it – so what are the factors that get me there?

Primarily, do I believe my basic first four needs are met?

  1. Physical needs.
  2. Security needs.
  3. Connection needs.
  4. Self-Esteem needs.

If not, I will find I instantly have extrinsic motivation to action. Faced with my basic needs, I have two choices: One – figure out what I need to do so that others cooperate with me to help me get what I need. Two – change my perspective so my perception of what I have feels like enough, instead of having to go get more. Either one works, option one is just usually easier that option two.

Once I have the first four needs met, then I am free to reach for self-actualization, and that is where Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s chart comes in handy.


Any skill I have wants to be challenged; that is how I grow, and that growth is craved when it comes in just the right amounts. That feeling of getting better at something is internal to me; no one else can give me that. However, others can help set up the environment so that growth in the right amount is likely. When you have two or more individuals coming together to set the stage for optimal growth at comfortable speed, that is collaboration!

There is the ideal! All basic safety needs believed to be met, followed by seeking a state of flow and that feeling of being in the zone that comes when skill and challenge are matched for optimal growth. Intrinsic motivation – where what we do is its own reward.

And then we have the rest of life….

Real life is filled with variety and contrast and many arrows that hit shy of the bulls-eye as we develop our focus. Those arrows off the bulls-eye are important and valuable; they are how we figure out what is needed to get closer to the target. What I am saying is extrinsic motivators and cooperation are important in our development of intrinsic motivation and that beacon that often flickers just out of reach, collaboration.

In the training project with Myrnah, there was a lot of it that hit square on the bulls-eye for me. My skill in understanding horses, was challenged just enough that time sped by in flashes of intoxicating satisfaction that had nothing to do with the outcome of the project, just moment to moment appreciation of how it felt to be rising to each challenge.

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I also was wise enough to know more often than not that I was going to need external motivation to get up and get the job done every day. On those days I had to link the project to my safety.

  1. Physical safety- my project and blog and understanding of horses documented and growing allowed me to earn client’s trust which meant I got paid and could put food on the table.
  1. Security- I knew the harder I worked to understand this horse and know how she functioned and what she needed, the less likely I was to get physically hurt. Everything I didn’t know was a potential danger, and, if I got caught standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, I could be hurt badly in a very real physical way. I was in a sense working against the clock to learn enough to stay physically safe, and that was external motivation to show up every day and try harder.
  1. Connection- As much as anyone, and perhaps more than most, I crave connection. I want to feel that I am not in this world alone. The better Myrnah and I got at reaching out to each other the safer I felt about my connection needs being met. Spending time with Myrnah working on the project was obvious external motivation to show up every day.
  1. Self-Esteem- Blogging about the project and putting it out there on a weekly basis was a large part of what kept me motivated through good times and bad. No matter how things were going, I knew I was going to need to write about it and put it out to the world -supreme external motivation to show up and do the work no matter how I felt.
  1. Self-Actualization- There is the target hit head on! All the external motivators could be there or not… the feeling of being in the moment with Myrnah was more than enough to make it worth showing up and that is internal motivation.

Being in the Zone.

Working in a state of flow.

Being defined by what I love.

Living in the now.

The challenge? Walking through those steps of safety myself, and at the same time, setting up the environment to walk Myrnah though her process and belief in her own safety factors. We all use our external motivators to develop the ability to feel that perfection of internal motivation. When we find two or more individuals who can truly collaborate on a task and work from a place of internal motivation…. That is both magical, and entirely possible!

Reach for that feeling because it is worth everything you can pour into it.

Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang 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.


Be Defined By What You Love

When I started this project with Myrnah it was an abstract idea, a simple question of, is this thing possible?


When we take away the round pens and ropes and halters and bridles, bribes and obvious incentives, what is left?


It wasn’t long before I realized this project was much bigger and broadly reaching than I had anticipated. I had thought it would be just a year of experimental training with a horse, an interesting period of time that would come and go as a chapter of my life. Instead I found it reached into me and changed who I was.


Myrnah taught me more about horses and life in one year than I think I have learned in all my previous years combined.


Now I do need to take a moment and thank all the trainers who poured themselves into me for all the years prior to Myrnah. Without you I would never have had the basis of understanding to even begin this experimental type of training. Thank-you from the depths of my soul for preparing me as well as you did. If you are reading this, you know who you are. Believe me, I remember each and every one of you with profound gratitude!


Throughout the process with Myrnah _E0A2131I have found I have needed to draw on both horse-training principles developed over centuries, and ALSO principles of human development.


With animal training throughout history the motivation factors have been extrinsic. Do this to get that, or do this to avoid that. There isn’t much developed in terms of training using intrinsic motivation factors. Do this just because it feels good. So when it came to searching for ways to develop intrinsic motivation, I had to dig into human-development theory and see if we could apply it to horses. Hang on though, I am getting ahead of myself; next week we will dig deeper into the ideas of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.


This week is about building the basis for motivation! In order to build this basis, let’s touch back to the blog from two weeks ago, “Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe”. I brought up the idea that there is a FEELING of safety that horses and humans alike will instinctively defend as if it were an intrinsic right. That feeling is built with five stages of belief.


  1. Physical needs met.
  2. Security needs met.
  3. Connection needs met.
  4. Self-Esteem needs met.
  5. Self-Actualization needs met.


I am suggesting that, to the degree those five needs are believed to be satisfied, there is a FEELING of safety. It gets interesting when one considers we all are individuals and somewhat unique, so the physical reality of meeting each need varies somewhat from person to person and from horse to horse. The constant is: To the degree they BELIEVE the needs have been met, they will FEEL safe.


How do we know how safe someone feels? I propose we can know by how they define themselves. And that defining of one’s self goes through three stages. As life ebbs and flows though various situations, we will all revisit the three stages again and again. When we can meet each stage with understanding, life evolves with a beautiful rhythm.


Stage 1. Tolerating

Or not tolerating as the case may be; this is where we don’t feel safe yet and we will defend our rights to feel safe. Emotions run rampant, or depression takes over. We become defined by everything we don’t want, or don’t like, or can’t handle.


Stage 2. Accepting

This is where we can see what makes us feel unsafe, but, instead of defending ourselves from it so strongly, we can acknowledge it and look for its opposite, using the contrast to define what we prefer and letting the lack of safety propel us. We become defined by both what we hate AND what we love.


Stage 3. Enjoying

This is where we feel safe enough to keep reaching for more of what feels good. We believe our basic needs have been met and there is no pull to be defensive. That leaves us free to define ourselves by what we love, what we want, what we enjoy, and the best of everything life has to offer in that moment.


We all will experience all of the above, we are designed for a broad and diverse experience in life. I am merely suggesting that with some understanding and appreciation, we might move through the first two stages with more grace, and be able to look ahead to how good life gets when we feel safe enough to define ourselves by what we love instead of what we don’t.



So here are a few keys to help us move through the stages smoothly, horse or human, it works the same way.


Tolerance – Marked by high emotionality, defensiveness, and defining one’s self by everything one does not like. Key- break it down, take life in smaller bite-sized pieces, rest often, move forward and back away, advancing and retreating gently until you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Acceptance – Marked by a more steady nature, defensive and also searching for what is needed to let go of that defense. Defining one’s self by both what one likes and what one does not like. Key – stick with moving forward toward what you need, keep at it, keep thinking about it, keep working until there is more attention on what is wanted than on what is not wanted.


Enjoyment – There is no mistaking this stage. When you define yourself by what you love, there is nothing better.


Enjoyment is the encompassing FEELING of safety when all our needs are met.


Enjoyment is the magical feeling of being in the “zone” or the state of “flow”


Enjoyment is our birthright.


So here is the challenge: In our horses and in ourselves, can we see and support the stages of tolerance and acceptance? The more we pay attention, the better we get at it, and the better we get at it, the more time we get to spend enjoying life.


Be Defined By What You Love,


Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang 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.

First, thank you all for your support on the Documentary, this amazing week we met our funding Front_Of_Card_ELSAgoal! Take a look at the trailer here, and join us as a backer to make the best movie ever! Any further funds that get donated allow us to invest in filming the Mustangs in the wild. That is really where this journey started and the better we can illustrate that, the more completely we can tell this beautiful story.

Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe

It was only a matter of time before this Blog needed to be written; though perhaps it really should have been one of the first blogs I ever wrote. You may think you know what I am going to write, but you may be surprised to find that my view on safety digs a little deeper than what is usually talked about.


We talk about safety a lot in the world of horses, saying things like: wear your helmet; walk carefully behind a horse; coil your rope in your hand correctly so it doesn’t get caught; wear correct foot protection; don’t do this, always do that… the list goes on and on.


I don’t disagree with those checklist points; we can do many physical things IMG_3294to help in the efforts of safety. I would like to dig a little deeper though and think about what underlies all that. What does it take to really FEEL safe.


This FEELING of safety, I believe, is crucial and central to the issue, because as the saying goes: “hurt people, hurt people” and I think it can be extrapolated farther: hurt horses, hurt horses…. Or people, or dogs…. Or…. The list goes on. We hurt others when we are hurting, because feeling safe is an instinctual need.


Feeling safe is a core and universal concept that each and every one of us feels we have to defend, and sometimes defending ourselves seems to require hurting someone else. If for some reason we suppress that defense of feeling safe, that is where the hopeless unbearable crushing depression is born. Life begins to feel pointless.


Look around you; think about the people and animals you know with a sparkle in their eye and spring to their step. Somehow they are anchored in that feeling of safety. Their life is firm and sure because they FEEL SAFE.


_E0A0242So for those of us who struggle with depression or anger management or panic attacks or anxiety disorders or social frustration, how do we find a feeling of safety again? I think every one of us has felt that insecurity at some point, and every one of us can see it at times in the people and animals we love. As a society though, we often lack the tools to move past it ourselves or help the ones we love in moving forward to a sense of safety.


The spiral of insecurity can feel like a death trap because, when I feel unsafe, the instinct is to protect myself and defend against anyone threatening my safety. In that defense I in turn threaten someone else’s safety, and they feel the need to defend as well; so they lash out and the cycle is born into a cascading downward spiral.


Why does this happen? Why can’t we support each other instead of always defending ourselves? I believe it is instinctual and not actually within our control, until we understand it more.


So let us touch in with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as they give us a good understanding of how this all fits together.


  1. Body/Physiological needs- air, food, sleep, stimulation, activity.
  2. Security/Safety Needs- security, protections from threats.
  3. Social/love and belonging needs- love, friends, comradeship.
  4. Ego/Self-Esteem- Self-respect, personal worth, autonomy
  5. Self-actualization/Fulfillment needs- purpose, personal growth, development of potential.


We FEEL completely safe, to the degree we have all these things. It isn’t black and white, all or nothing. It is only greater or lesser. The negative spiral begins when we start sacrificing ourselves, or others in fundamental ways in order to move up the scale.


Yes, that is a big statement, read it again.


I am saying, for example, if we lose track of the basic body needs – air, food, sleep and exercise – to gain security or protection from threats… it can’t work. Sooner or later that security or protection from threats is going to fail, because its base of body needs was neglected. This continues up the chart; our next step is only as secure as the one before it.


It gets complicated at step three. We all deserve love, friends, comradeship; however, if I reach for those without taking care of steps one and two, I can never really feel safe enough in being loved. If I don’t feel safe, I am going to get defensive, because it is my right to feel safe. If I don’t get defensive, I am going to get depressed, because what’s the point of living if I don’t even get to feel safe.


Spelled out like that, it is simple right? We just build incrementally and everything will work out perfectly; and I believe that is absolutely true to the degree we have the patience and perseverance and fortitude to live it.


With horses we build a relationship that is usually centered on OUR needs. Let’s just say my day is going beautifully, my body is well taken care of, I feel pretty safe from obvious threats, I have good friends and am loved, I feel good about who I am and my personal worth, and now I am ready to tackle fulfillment and purpose. So I tack up my horse to go start training because I want to feel that development of potential.


Sticking point – did I ask my horse how safe they felt today?


Often we may know their physical needs are taken care of… but then the horse is jumping out of their skin every time the wind blows because they don’t feel secure. When that happens, we find it really gets in the way of the dressage pattern/jump course/ trail ride, etc. that we want for our fulfillment needs!


Dang it! Get over it, it’s just the wind!

(Or whatever it is that is bothering your horse that day)


That puts your horse in a predicament. If they give up their need for overall safety (in this case the specific step of security) so you can pursue your goals of purpose and development, they end up depressed or angry. It is their right to feel safe. It is everyone’s right to feel safe.


So when does my right trump yours?


Check the list, Body needs first, then security, then social, then self esteem, then purpose and development.


Our work with horses is a good place to practice this awareness, but we will find it inevitably present in all our relationships. The feeling of safety comes from our entire hierarchy of needs being addressed, one step at a time. Every day a layer at a time as we understand and develop and become who we are.


It isn’t always easy to be patient and clear and take life one step at a time, but it is simple.


Here is to everyone’s right to feel safe.


Elsa Sinclair