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Tag Archives: tamingwild

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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. 

 

“First you go with the horse”

I have so much respect for this quote from Tom Dorrance;

“First you go with the horse. Then the horse goes with you. Then you go together.”

I am not sure he ever meant the first part to be taken to the extreme I do, but I would like to imagine he would be intrigued if he were here looking over my shoulder.

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I chose Atlas to join me for this project because he had a reputation for being a dangerous aggressive horse, and I wanted to learn something about that. The interesting thing is, almost none of that aggression has shown up in our almost 75 hours of training we have done in the last four weeks. I fully believe if I do my job right, we never need to trigger those past habits of aggression. Instead we will perpetually strengthen habits of conscientious communication, until Atlas has no need to use aggression with humans any more.

When I read his body language and hear him tell me about his discomfort and then respond appropriately, then he does not need to yell at me about it with aggression. If you look at his ears, you can clearly see the distances Atlas is comfortable with here and the distance he is learning to tolerate.

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If I barged in any closer, he might feel forced to explain to me more clearly how he felt about it at this stage of our relationship. So I listen carefully and respond appropriately now, setting an example for Atlas of how he might do that for me later in our relationship.

In order to build the communication between us I have two different kinds of leadership I am using and a counter balance of flow and harmony.

During meal times and rest times we often practice going between:

1. Supportive leadership (using more movement or intensity around the horse to cause the horse to feel better).

and…

2. Passive leadership (the art of moving to different physical position in relation to the horse at the best possible time).

and…

3. Flow (The harmony and ease of BEING together). 

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Just like all of us, horses sometimes get stuck in patterns of thought that make them feel grumpy or irritated, or downright angry.

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With a little supportive leadership used at an appropriate distance it feels good to help Atlas find his inner zen again. The more we practice together the more I start to see hints of Atlas’ curious investigative side emerge. Sometimes so much that he gets himself in trouble a bit.

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It makes me smile to see him feel brave enough FINALLY to test his environment ever so gently.

If you are curious to know more about HOW all of this communication is building between Atlas and me, and WHY I believe we can strengthen his new ways of thinking so they completely eclipse his old patterns of being aggressive, please join us on Patreon.com for videos and more questions, answers and discussions. It is fascinating work and I love sharing it with you all! 

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

Plateaus

Fall is here in the Pacific Northwest and we are blessed with bouts of rain and sprinkles of sunshine intermixed. The leaves are starting to drop from the trees in a torrent of color, and Atlas and I watch all the changes from our safe little spot on the hillside.

 

It is good there are so many changes around us to watch because within the relationship it seems there are no changes at all.

 

I can step as close as half a horse length from Atlas, but it is always in the range of tolerance for him, accompanied by tight muscles, a wary eye and indecision, does he pin his ears and threaten me, or run away?

 

For the most part, I am able to read likely outcomes and adjust my position for the best possible development of feeling. Neither, the fight nor the flight materializes, and I adjust back out to a more comfortable distance on the best feeling/thinking moment possible.

 

We repeat this dance over and over and over. Investing hours in our plateau of progress.

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When I teach students, I explain that plateaus are so very important. We need them to build reliability and stability in new skills. Yet when I am living this one with Atlas I find myself wondering, is this it? What if this plateau lasts the entire year? What if I can’t get closer to him than half a horse length for the entire filming of Taming Wild Evolution?

 

It is important though to trust the process and simply do the work. Count my breaths, pay attention, and respond, respond, respond. This is how we build the foundation for everything in our future.

 

Day after day I walk out, and we spend hours practicing the fact that one and two horse lengths apart is completely comfortable now. We invest in living it, feeling it, enjoying it.

 

I school myself to revel in the success of this, instead of longing for the next variation of connection.

 

If Atlas were comfortable with me touching him already, that is what I would want to practice most. Instead, we have work to do still before I am allowed that next exciting step of progress. This plateau we are on currently allows me to fully invest and enjoy the distances of the one or two horse lengths we are good at now, that we were not good at when he first came. Every upward step of progress we make is going to need its plateau where we are not doing anything new, we are simply practicing what is recently new to us.

 

I counsel myself to count my blessings and believe in the power and importance of the plateau, and I am also human, so I worry this plateau is forever!

 

This week I was granted a little respite from the yearning for progress as it was time to go pick out the second horse for the project. A Mustang, as fresh from the wild as I could find. The travel and the excitement of possibilities thrilled me and yet, as I walked into the adoption facility with thousands of horses to choose from my heart broke and I braced myself against the waves of sadness that came over me.

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Why would I do this to myself? The majority of horse owners never set foot in a place like this. They never go look at the masses in need. Out of sight out of mind it isn’t their problem, it is someone else’s problem.

 

I found myself wishing I was home again peacefully standing with Atlas on our comfortable place of seemingly no progress. Yet here I was, at the Mustang corrals facing the fact I couldn’t do it all, I could only reach for the piece within my grasp, I could only help one of these horses in front of me.

 

If every horse owner in the United States adopted one mustang, there wouldn’t be enough mustangs to go around and I wouldn’t have this luxury of choice this week as I search for my perfect partner for this particular project.

 

As it stands, I have a luxury of choice and so I stood on the edge of the corral with a pair of binoculars looking through this group of 70-80 stallions for the one that might come home with me. They all must go somewhere, which one goes somewhere with me?

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The Mustangs I was looking at this week had been brought in off the range out of hardship. If they continued in freedom, lack of food and water would lead to starvation and death in numbers unacceptable to us. So, the government rounds them up and brings them into facilities like this. Here they wait for someone to adopt them or they get shipped off to spend the rest of their lives in long term holding.

 

If one is coming home with me, I have to choose it first. While every horse is as deserving as the next, I do have criteria that will help me find the right horse for my particular situation.

 

Eyes squinting through my binoculars I look for ease of movement, a horse that is basically comfortable in its body. Natural rhythm in movement is a sign of confidence. I want a horse that has that kind of confidence in their body.

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Then I look at height, because I have already chosen the other horse, Atlas, for the film and he happens to be tall, I would like this one to be relatively tall also.

 

Then I watch the interactions between individuals. Some of them make friends easily and seem to be loyal, always with the same small group. Others have many friends, others are loners and others have many enemies, though honestly I see very little fighting in the group. These horses came from hardship, and now here where they have plenty of food and plenty of water, their priority is to eat, drink and get healthy, fighting amongst each other is not a priority. I am looking for a horse that has many friends and seems to have some skill in relating to others.

Once I have spent hours weighing these factors I find I have written down a list of six numbers that I bring back to the office for more information on age. When the horses are run through the chute for branding, worming and vaccination they also have their teeth checked and approximate age written down.

 

The six horses I have chosen range from two to twelve years old, and I go back to the pen to watch some more. The two younger horses are out of the running, I need a horse I can potentially ride in the next year and I won’t put weight on the back of a horse still growing. Also, the younger horses still have the potential of being adopted by other people, beautiful horses with so much life ahead of them.

 

It is the older horses I am drawn to. In the eyes of most adopters these horses know too much, and they will fight training with much more determination and strength than the younger ones. That doesn’t bother me, I want a horse I will learn from as much as anything else.

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Two of the older horses are hard to see, they hide behind the masses of their friends and shy away from the camera. These two do not want to be movie stars.

 

My list is down to a buckskin horse and a brown horse. As I point my camera in through the rails of the arena the brown horse walks over to the hay feeder right next to me, pausing to look at me, look at the horizon, and then back to me. Picture perfect poses against a backdrop of painted hills. He eats a little food, turns to inspect me again, and then goes back to filling his belly and finding his health and strength for whatever comes next. Unconcerned even though he has only been in captivity for a couple of weeks, it becomes clear this is the horse that needs to come home with me. This is my partner without a doubt.

 

This eight-year-old, brown horse with rhythm and confidence to his movements, this is the horse that will teach me more about connection.

 

This horse probably isn’t the easiest horse to train. There are plenty of equally good Mustangs in front of me with more natural fear of humans. Those horses would be an easier choice, perhaps even a smarter choice for me.

 

There is something about this brown stallion though that reminds me of Myrnah, and how grateful I am for everything she taught me. So, I choose him for the fact that I think he will teach me more than I teach him and that is point of the project.

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Atlas, whom I already have at home, this new brown stallion and I will discover each other, and along the way we will also discover new ways to develop together. Then I get to pass all I learn on to you.

 

For now, I am back at home with Atlas enjoying the views from our lovely plateau of progress and dreaming of the day soon ahead when the new stallion arrives to joins us.

 

Once both horses are here I have this foolish idea that the two stallions are going to take turns having plateaus of progress and I will always get to have the excitement of the upward surge of skill with one or the other… I know that is likely not how it will work in reality, but a girl can dream.

 

I do hope you join us on Patreon for weekly update videos and an interactive group where questions and answers are pondered.

 

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

It is going to be exciting as we get rolling into the full project in the weeks ahead with both stallions home at Sanctuary Lane!

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, communication through body language, tools used only for safety, never to train.

 

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

 

Counting Breaths

Mouthful after mouthful of hay, ripped clean out of the hay net with hardly a pause, Atlas has figured out that eating here in his new home is good. The protruding ribs and hip bones are starting to look softer and his muscles are starting to take on curves they didn’t have a week ago.

I notice this, and I notice the raven flying overhead. I notice the deer walking through the yard to our right, and the late insects twirling around in seamlessly aimless spins through the air. I notice the leaves starting to change color on the oak tree outside, and the dead limb on the cherry tree that needs to be trimmed off.

This week I have found I have a great deal of time for noticing things as Atlas buries his head deep into his food and eats like there will never be another meal.

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On the one hand it is good that he is eating; he needs it before the weather starts to turn cold and inhospitable. On the other hand, there is a level of obsession that could use softening, and that is where I come in as a leader to help out.

In the first days, anytime I moved too much he would become very afraid and start to run and snort. So my job was to invest in as many hours as needed using purely Passive Leadership. That meant moving as little as possible and making very good decisions about how often to move and how long to be still.

As we moved from the first week to the second week Atlas began to sometimes show disinterest in my company by looking neither toward me nor away, and by completely focusing on what was in front of him as if I was not there. This was exactly the next step I was hoping to see and it gave me permission to start using Supportive Leadership.

Supportive leadership at this stage of the game means I am moving around more than Atlas is. It might be cleaning up the manure from the paddock, it might be trimming the branches of the trees, or taking a walk or stretching my body. As soon as I see a focus change I like (which is pretty much ANY focus change at this point in the process), I return to flow and harmony, matching Atlas to the best of my ability. He has the power to bring us together as partners, and he is learning how to use it.

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When Atlas takes that brief moment to look up from his hay, changing focus before reaching for his next bite he is taking an action that brings me back into flow with him, my feet the same as his, my body stillness the same as his, and my focus complementary and watching out for danger while he is vulnerable eating. This enjoyment of togetherness is something Atlas has learned to enjoy over the last week, and now he is learning that something as simple as a focus change is how he can ask for this flow in partnership with me.

Every yin must have it’s yang, and every like must have something in contrast that is less liked. So in counter to the Passive Leadership, pure flow and as little change as possible, we have Supportive Leadership which is movement and change, not a direct request for Atlas to do anything different, simply a set of actions that allow Atlas to realize he can ask for a return to flow and Passive Leadership with a positive change of focus, when and if he chooses.

At the start of this process it was easy to get the paddock cleaned of manure, because Atlas would dive deep into his eating and I would walk back and forth with a manure fork cleaning up and putting everything in the one pile I do hope he starts using more of the time.

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Then Atlas realized he had the power to ask me to be still and he started to use it. It also seemed he learned to count. I had decided eight breaths was a reasonable amount of time to be in harmony with Atlas while he fixated on eating hay. If I got to the eighth breath and he had not looked up to notice anything different yet, I went back to whatever job I wanted to get done, then he changed focus and I took one last step and fell back into flow with him. This was all fine until Atlas learned that looking up and around every seventh breath kept me nicely in quiet Passive Leadership with none of that less desirable extraneous movement.

Once Atlas learned that, it started to take me close to two hours to complete the paddock cleaning I had in mind, instead of the five minutes it should have taken. For ten or fifteen minutes at a time Atlas would remember to look up every seven breaths or so and keep me still, then he would forget and become immersed in his hay eating and I would get a little work done before he asked me to came back into flow with him again.

On the one hand I am internally cheering for him that he figured out the pattern and he knew how to positively ask me for what he preferred. On the other hand I was honestly frustrated with how long it took to get a simple job done.

It won’t always be like this though, later on I might have a six or four breath limit on how long I will stand quiet while he hyper focuses on his hay, or I might require two or three or four focus changes before I come back into harmony with him. For now, I have to keep the game simple and easy for Atlas to figure out the rules.

This is about strengthening Atlas’ desire to communicate in a thinking way.

When horses come from stressful pasts they know how to communicate with fight, or with flight, and while we have to listen and understand, that kind of communication is not the kind we want to nurture and support. The thinking kind of communication is what needs to be fostered.

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Before I start asking for anything from Atlas, he needs to know that he can ask for what he needs, in a way that is good for both of us.

When we take away all the tools that might be used to cause pressure or direct reward we have no way to manage the fight or flight anymore. In Freedom Based Training® our only course of action is to strengthen the thinking ways of communicating until they are so habituated and normal for the horse that fight and flight don’t feel like good options anymore.

This week I thought I was doing so very well with this process, and we had worked our comfortable flow distance down to half a horse length frequently. I could imagine the feel of Atlas’ fur in my fingers and I thought the touching distance was mere days away.

Then the incident with compost bin happened and I changed my mind.

I was standing a fair distance away, surveying the territory while Atlas dozed next to a big green plastic compost bin in his paddock. He decided to turn around, so I also decided to walk around him in a big circle until I could take the last step and find flow again. Only, Atlas misjudged his distance from the plastic bin and it ever so slightly brushed against his leg as he turned. The speed at which he went from sleepily turning to firing out with a hind hoof and putting it right through the side of the bin was shocking. The loud noise of the plastic breaking sent him in a snorting trot circle that brought him right back to stand next to the now broken bin. It seemed he wasn’t afraid of the bin, only the noise it had made when he destroyed it, once the noise was gone he could return to his nap.

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While Atlas returned to his nap, I returned to my watching of the territory, but this time with a newfound respect for the touching distance. I have taken a hint from the hole in the compost bin and I will not be brushing up against Atlas’ body casually any time soon.

When it comes time for us to touch it will be when he is fully awake and aware and has told me he is ready.

For now, I will count my breaths and watch the world go by as Atlas adjusts to our new partnership. Everything will happen when he is ready. Right now he is ready to explore these transitions between Passive Leadership and Supportive Leadership and I will show up consistently to play that game with him for as long as he needs.

There will be a point where he is ready for the next step and it will be natural and easy because I didn’t push for too much too soon.

Count my breaths, pay attention, and respond, respond, respond. This is how we build the foundation for everything in our future.

If you are curious to see the next piece of the relationship puzzle falling into place, I am thrilled to share the journey with you all!

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Every Friday for the duration of this project I will be posting a video of our progress on Patreon:

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

Dates are not firmly set yet, but within the next ten days we go pick up the Mustang stallion that will be joining Atlas and I on this journey. I am so very curious to see who stands out in the crowd and comes home with me to teach us all so much in the year to come.

Hooves and Heartbeats,
Elsa

Taming Wild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

Hurry up and Wait

“Taming Wild: Evolution” has started filming!

After so much planning and organizing and working to get all the pieces in place, the first horse is finally here. Now I wait with as much presence and skill as I can muster, for Atlas to realize his life is better with me.

Atlas is over sixteen hands tall (I roughly gauge that as I watch him from my safe distances) and he is rough as a horse who has been through the rodeo circuit as a bucking bronco has every right to be.

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When I met him he was living in a herd of stallions in a pen, all of them heading to slaughter shortly as the unwanted category of horses that don’t buck hard enough to keep working in the rodeo, and horses who are now too aggressive and distrustful of humans to find a place in gentle society.

Breaking my heart as it did to leave the others behind, I chose Atlas out of the group as the horse that might come home with me for the filming of “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Under extreme pressure some horses shut down and take all their feelings and expressions internal, they just stop relating to the world. That was mostly what I saw in the group of stallions that day. Atlas was a little different in that his ears and his eyes never stopped moving. He didn’t like us humans there anymore than the others, but he was willing to take action without provocation to put himself where he needed to be, while the others seemed to wait for a bite or a kick or someone to scare them into a response.

Freedom Based Training® is the slowest way possible to train a horse, and if I am going to film a movie about this incredibly gradual developmental process, I need to pick horses that are reasonably extroverted in their actions and emotions. Atlas fit the list of requirements.

The horse dealer that sold him to me was colorful on the phone, but a man of few words once we were in person and the recording started. On the phone I got, “that horse is a fucking psycho, why do you want a horse like that?” In person it was the more toned down version of “Like I told you in the beginning, I never ever let these kinda horses go out in the public, cause I don’t want no blood on my hands, I don’t wanna see anyone get hurt.”

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Loading, I watched the horse dealer skillfully keep himself safe on the other side of metal panels as he used a flag to push Atlas into my horse trailer. The very same trailer I used seven years ago to bring Myrnah home for the first Taming Wild movie. I have learned so much since then, and I have a feeling I am about to learn so much more.

This horse was afraid, with every reason in the world to be afraid. Now he and I just needed time to ease that fear, soften that aggression and start over.

The trailer ride home was supposed to be six hours in total, but we hit traffic and missed our ferry, so my day turned into a fifteen hour marathon of events from the time I stepped into the car in the morning until we unloaded Atlas into his new home in the dark of the evening.

I didn’t mind though, listening to Atlas snort his huge dragon snort again and again as he moved around his new paddock in the dark of that first day, I was glad he was safe. My exhaustion was a small price to pay for this chance for him to start again. He and I together.

Now it was all about feel and timing between us.

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In the morning I started outside the fences, making responses to Atlas’ movements. I needed him to learn that what he did mattered and I listened. My responses might be different from other people he had met in his life, but our communication would be consistent and he could count on me.

What I see often in horse human relationships is that people push a horse when they see it is already afraid or in flight, and when a horse gets aggressive or pushes into a human there is a momentary instinctual freeze or backing off in the human that gives the horse a moment of relief. This is how horses learn to be aggressive.

I need to change that conversation with Atlas from the very beginning, even if it only subtly from outside the fences.

Here are my ground rules:

If any part of Atlas moved toward me (eyes, ears, or any part of the body) I would move toward him.

If any part of Atlas moved away from me I would move away also.

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I needed to be smart and take small enough steps toward him that I did not provoke an aggressive reaction. Also I needed to be wise about taking big enough steps away from him that I remained working at a distance range that was acceptable to him.

Those simple rules, with good feel and timing, plus time equals success in partnership.

How much time? I don’t know yet, but I am going to find out.

On the first day we spent four hours together broken up into short sessions throughout the day. I worked mainly just inside the fence where I could duck through to the outside if I needed to, but I never did need that escape.

This conversation Atlas and I were having was a new set of rules for him, so there were moments where my decision making felt dicey like perhaps I had pushed just a little too close to him too soon, but I wanted to maintain my consistency stepping toward him when he came toward me. He would look at me and I would take the smallest possible slide of a foot toward him. I was being consistent, but tactful as the tension in his neck and back and eyes, along with the planted feet told me he would fight back if I pushed in too close.

It was almost as if he expected that one of us had to scare the other one. Either I was supposed to chase him, or he was going to have to chase me off. This conversation of subtle movements and distance changed all the rules he knew.

Day one was all about long distances, and only sometimes working in as close as two horse lengths from him, but mostly farther away than that slowly and gently working my way around his body in circles.

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Day two there was considerably more ease in his body language and I spent more time at the two and three horse length distances.

Day three there started to be some yield to Atlas’s movement and he was comfortable with me walking along with him (at an appropriate distance) instead of the circles around him from the previous days. He nibbled grass and watched the world go by while I stood guard next to him, vigilant about everything so he could relax. Occasionally we even got as close as one horse length of distance between us.

From hour to hour it doesn’t look like much is happening between Atlas and I, but if you know what you are looking at you can see a deep and meaningful language building.

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I am feeling the “hurry up” because I desperately want Atlas to trust me enough to trim those big overgrown hooves. Yet, I know I will wait for as long as he needs because overgrown hooves are nothing to worry about in comparison to the life we just pulled him from.

I will put in the time, and he will tell me when the time is right for us to take the next steps into doing more together.

For all of you who are curious about the process with Atlas and the mustang stallion that will be arriving in a few weeks, consider joining us on Patreon where I will be posting update videos each week and answering questions about all the details of the process as we develop together.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

There is so much to learn and I can’t wait to share it all as it evolves in “Taming Wild: Evolution”.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

Blind Date

Yesterday I went to a horse auction. It was a small auction with only twenty-two horses being sold, and it was not very far from my home, so it was a comparatively gentle opportunity to do this thing I had heard about, but never dared do. I watched the crowd measure up the animals and I watched the animals cope with the noise and the chaos and the dust. I watched, and I listened, and I learned, and I mostly kept the tears at bay.

 

There was a big sign on the wall, “all livestock sold by the pound unless otherwise stated – 73 cents per pound”.  I watched as a big untrained quarter horse mare came across the sale pen. No one seemed to want her for more than $400, and the man leading her around bluntly told the crowd, “Either one of you buy her for over $500 or I sell her later for meat.” The crowd stepped up and someone handed over the necessary $500 to take her home. She was a big mare, so I think it is possible that buyer turned around and sold her for meat at a profit later that day, but I hope not. I hope she has a chance to live the rest of her days in a pasture with friends.

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As I prepare for this next film “Taming Wild Evolution” I am searching for my horse partners. One Mustang stallion directly off the range that knows very little about people, and one stallion from the domestic world that perhaps knows too much about people and needs to learn to trust again. It is the search for the domestic horse that sends me on blind date after blind date, looking for the right partner and wishing I could save them all as I walk away again and again with tears in my eyes.

 

I am going to spend a year with this horse and spend countless hours going through pictures and video footage to tell a story. This horse can’t be too white or too black because that makes the filming infinitely more difficult to do in a way that is easy for people to see. It can’t be too young because if all goes well I will be riding at the end of the year, and I feel strongly about not putting weight on an undeveloped spine. It can’t be too introverted, because a horse that pretends everything is fine until it can’t take it anymore, only trying to kill you in a last desperate attempt to survive, that subtlety of character will film as a willing partner in most people’s eyes and they won’t see the danger I hopefully never trigger in the course of Freedom Based Training®.

 

I need an extroverted stallion, over five years old and coming from a background of human handling that has led the horse to lose faith in humanity.

 

The problem is not that they don’t exist in America, the problem is there are too many that fall outside my particular parameters. Too many horses that call me out on blind date after blind date and I have to see them, hear them, give them my time, my space and my blessing, while I still have to walk away and hope they land on their feet with someone kind.

 

As I watch the plight of so many sad horses, I am not proud to be human right now, but I am determined to be a little bit of light in this human world, in the best way I know how.

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Last week I made the effort to train and hone my skills with a rescue horse I had never met before. This was an effort to pour considerable time into a relationship with a horse I did not know, and I might not meet again. I wasn’t there to change him or train him, I was only there to get to know him, while I developed my own skills of feel and timing.

 

The SAFE organization was happy for me to come and spend a day with Mason, a beautiful red bay thoroughbred, out in his paddock and they were happy to tell me as much or as little as I wanted to know about this blind date we were setting up. It was a relatively kind situation for me to walk into because, while Mason showed a body full of scars that spoke to a hard life in his past, his future was bright. He was a horse who seemed to resist training with difficult explosions of flight when he got overwhelmed, and yet he was one of the lucky ones who had found a person who wanted him in their life regardless of his difficulties. Mason was currently living at the rescue, but would be soon moving to his new home.

 

I was there to learn from Mason, and I had the calming knowledge that he had a person who cared greatly about him and would be there for him, even when I walked away at the end of our blind date.

 

In this particular situation I had seven hours to spend with this horse before he went into the stalls for dinner, where guests were not invited to linger. My normal training challenge this past month had been eight hours spent with one horse in one day, but there was no particularly good reason for this time frame, it was just an arbitrary number. Seven hours was going to teach me a significant amount also.

 

It was important to me that I listen to the horse in the current moment more than I tried to understand any of his past. I didn’t mind that I was told he was explosive in flight when too much pressure was put on him, but I didn’t need to know why. I could see he was covered in scars, but I didn’t need to know the stories behind the scars. I simply needed to be present with this horse, asking nothing of him, while I listened to him deeply and made choices around him, so I could hone my personal understanding of feel and timing to a sharper point of accuracy.

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Now at first I started by harmonizing with Mason from a medium distance while he grazed, perhaps a horse length away from him or a little more. This is my most comfortable distance and it is where I feel I have the best rhythm in my movements as I respond to the thinking twitches of ears and subtle shifts in mental awareness as the horse looks from one thing to a different thing.

 

Mason seemed reasonably comfortable, sometimes getting close to a fence and letting me know I had stayed on that side for a bit too long by forcing me to choose a different place. Other times edging closer and closer to me as we stepped our way into a touching distance. He for the most part ate grass and seemed to accept my presence, only occasionally giving me any attention at all.

 

His pasture mate on the other hand almost seemed to be in competition with me (I have no idea if that assessment has any place in reality, I am only relating what I felt as I observed). I would match Mason’s feet positions and steps from where I stood about a horse length away, and repeatedly Mason’s pasture mate would step neatly between us matching his feet to Mason’s as well, while making sure my only next choices could be farther away not closer to his friend.

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I noticed more often than not they matched each other in mirror image, opposite hooves moving in harmony like kids running a three-legged race instead of the left foot – left foot, right foot – right foot I feel like I usually see in horse partners.  I don’t know what significance this holds if any, but I made a mental note to keep my eyes open for the kinds of situations that seemed to bring out one way of partnership versus another.

 

A few hours into the project Mason was moved from the grazing pasture to the dirt lot with hay to eat and a larger group of horses to interact with. In the new space I spent an hour or so partnering at my most comfortable distance and then I decided it was time for me to experiment with my distance partnership.

 

Distance is not usually something I practice, because I love being close to horses, and most of my horses love being close to me. However, I know the new stallions for this next movie are not going to start out that way, and I need to hone my distance partnership skills!

 

Mason ended up being the best teacher I have ever had in this distance partnership. As soon as I was on the far side of the paddock it was like his brain unlocked. His ears started gently and easily changing focus all the time, his eyes started seeing things and changing focus categories with effortless ease. All of a sudden Mason was a million times more involved in being part of life around him. I had thought he was perfectly happy with me at the medium and close distances, but only when I stepped out to the farther distances did I see him really come alive and dynamically enjoy the world in a different way.

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Now, on this particular day it was interesting to note, it wasn’t just me, it was the other horses also. When they were close, Mason shut down a little. He did not seem unhappy, simply less involved in living. When Mason had space, it was like his brain woke up and he could fully enjoy everything he saw and heard around him. He liked his friends, he just changed who he was a little and seemed to become smaller and less involved when his friends were close.

 

I have never seen anything quite like this in any of the horses I have spent time partnering, and for me it was the perfect experience to hone my skills in the area Mason seemed to most enjoy my company.

 

In hour number five, I am often most tired, so when Mason stepped under the apple tree to take a deep nap, I let myself step in close and work at my happiest distance, almost touching. For about an hour I stood or crouched next to Mason while he slept, watching for nonexistent danger so he could feel safe, and changing position around him to assess the safety from a different place each time he flicked an ear.

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Then Mason woke up and I saw that the slight freeze habits of the morning were greatly minimized after his long freeze of napping and rest.

 

In this optimal state of rested awareness, Mason and I were joined by the people at the rescue who love him and care for him, and I was able to share the things I had seen and learned throughout the day.

 

I continued to work my partnership from the far side of the medium distance, while his other human friends played with partnering him from various places of closeness and we talked about his responses.

 

You could see how stepping in close led to an instant freeze and his eyes and his ears slowed in their responsiveness to everything, as if his brain was working through peanut butter.

 

For the rest of the day I talked theory with the humans who came to join Mason and I, and I think I was able to shed some light on perhaps why he explodes into flight when he feels the pressure of training, but it seems his brain is stuck in slow motion. If you can’t think your way to a solution in training, the only option that seems left to relieve pressure is to run like hell or fight back. Luckily for everyone Mason wasn’t a natural fighter, he was more likely to run like hell. He wanted to be with people, he seemed to like people, his brain just moved really slowly when they were close to him and that caused him problems trying to learn the kinds of things people expected him to learn.

 

I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Was Mason born like this which led to people abusing him? Or did people create this by causing Mason so much stress every time they were close that he developed a habit of freeze that then led to him getting abused more. I don’t know, and I am not sure I need to know. I simply know that we can help.

 

With good feel and timing Mason can learn to think as clearly in close partnerships as he does in distance partnerships.

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This process of Freedom Based Training® where we help horses be the best version of themselves voluntarily is slow to develop, but it often works where other types of training have failed.

 

I know I learned a huge amount from my blind date with Mason, and hopefully I left a little light and understanding in the hands of the humans who work with him every day.

 

Now, I just need to find my partners for the Evolution project so I can put all I learned from Mason into practice in a long term experiment for the world to share with me. I want to show how Freedom Based Training® can be effective in rebuilding broken trust or building trust to begin with. Domestic or wild, untouched or abused, the concepts apply equally regardless of the horse or their history. I want to show how good feel and timing and a deep well of patience can be applied to create the kind of relationship with horses we all want: collaborative, voluntary, deep and rewarding.

 

For any of you who might want to watch the Evolution project up close from week to week, I did just open up a Patreon platform where I will share weekly videos and insights on the process with the two stallions. I would love for you all to join me on this adventure.

https://www.patreon.com/tamingwild

 

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

ps. for those of you receiving this via email, I do have a short video attached to the end of this blog post that you can see at EquineClarity.Org

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

Unapologetically Happy

When was the last time you were completely and totally unapologetically happy?

 

For me it happens in the early mornings as I am walking out to see the herd of horses. The fog is slowly lifting and sunlight is filtering through, bringing us all into the bright sunny day ahead.

 

For me, the more deeply I feel I know and understand the horses, the better I can find my place among them and the richer that happiness feels.

 

A couple of weeks ago I set myself a weekly challenge to spend eight hours in a single day with one horse. I started “The Eight Hour Challenge” with Cleo who I know well. Then the second week I continued, “Playing with the Foundations of FBT”. I did this with a horse that belongs to a friend of mine; this horse Lily has deeply fascinated me for a long time.

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This week it was time for me to return back to my roots and the horse that started it all: Myrnah.

 

Here is the funny thing about me, I feel like I need to earn my happiness, and work at increasing it perpetually. I fully believe everything in life waxes and wanes in natural cycles and we get more of what we pay attention to.

 

If I want more happiness in my life, I need to pay attention to the things that foster happiness.

 

Connection with Myrnah was my focus for eight hours on this beautiful day in August, however I wasn’t going to do it the easy way, I was in deep for learning!

 

When Myrnah and I are close together or touching our connection feels effortless and her focus changes are so fluid and easy as she does whatever it is we are doing together.

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When I am farther away Myrnah seems to ignore me completely and while it doesn’t feel like she is overtly pushing to get closer to me, or trying to get away from me, I often find myself somewhere completely different than I had intended to be and I was never quite sure how that happened. On this day I was determined to practice this thing I wasn’t good at!

 

I would stand in flow with Myrnah about twenty feet away, watching her with my peripheral vision to see any changes of focus that would signal me to move slightly to my new place of harmony with her. When she walked I would do my best to walk with her holding my relationship in space with her… yet somehow I found myself on her right shoulder about six feet away over and over again. It was funnier than anything to see how deftly Myrnah put me where she liked me.

 

I persevered and kept using my supportive leadership and walking to find my distance flow again. After a particularly good stretch of harmony, I would relent and drift in closer to that six foot distance or touching that Myrnah and I love so much. Then when I could I would drift back out to the challenging distance again. I walked and walked and walked all day struggling to establish distance, and while Myrnah didn’t seem to object, she certainly didn’t make it easy for me to do.

 

As I watched throughout the day (one hour in the early morning, and then seven more hours in the afternoon and evening) I saw how much more social Myrnah is than most horses. She drifts around the herd in continuous close partnership with one horse partner after the next and she LOVES her friends. The interesting thing is she particularly loves a friend who will push her a little. When a horse would approach with pinned ears and a nod of their nose, Myrnah would pin her ears too and grumpily move her feet to accommodate their push… and then the two of them would settle, staying in perfect flow with feet matching stride for stride, step for step for ages. It was like the push was the glue that stuck them together, and that togetherness brought Myrnah so much peace and contentment.

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Now, I had taken the task on of being her partner passively and supportively with as much distance as possible, and since there was no push between us it also felt like there was no glue. I didn’t feel unwelcome, but I felt completely unnecessary to Myrnah in this endurance day of partnership.

I persevered, because I really felt like there was something important for me to learn from this.

 

I watched and mirrored, and found new places of harmony on the thinking moments I saw in Myrnah. When she did not let me hold my chosen place of harmony I walked and walked and walked until I saw a thinking moment that might yield better success for us feeling the flow together.

 

By the end of the day I felt more connected to Myrnah than I have in a long time.

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It was perhaps one of the most challenging eight hours I have ever spent with a horse. I could see how perpetually happy Myrnah was all day with all her various friends, and I only seemed to make the friend list if I was close enough to touch her. I wanted more connection with her than that; I wanted to mean more to her than everyone else seemed to! I had to laugh at myself as I realized I was in that trap of wanting what I wanted when I wanted it! That wild streak in me needed to be tamed and I needed to show up and pay attention to building what I wanted, one small success at a time.

 

When I walked out into the early morning fog to see her the next morning that unapologetic happiness for us seemed deeper and cleaner than ever before and I think it wasn’t only me, it seemed deeper for her too.

 

I am eternally grateful for everything Myrnah has taught me, and continues to teach me. Connection with her is my unapologetic happiness.

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What is your source of unapologetic happiness? What would you do to foster it and let it grow?

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

 

TamingWild.com

(for those of you who get this by email, click on the title at the top to see the video on the blog site)

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

Playing With The Foundations Of FBT

My beautiful dapple-grey partner for the day was subtly and gently displeased with me, and I was not sure why. From reading her body language I knew she was displeased with me, because there was no yield in her movements, and I was working hard to figure out where to be in the spaces around her to find the partnership where yield became easy between us.

I was standing about twelve feet from her shoulder, out in an arena that was next to the stable where she had been eating hay for the last couple of hours. Lily was watching the neighborhood around her paddock and I was watching it with her.

Without any warning I could see, Lily turned directly spinning on her haunches so that suddenly I was at her tail and she was walking away from me. That was a movement I had no way of keeping up with, and there was no way for me to continue to hold the spot twelve feet from her shoulder that I had chosen to be, so faced with this communication from Lily, I walked around her (in the opposite direction of the spin, so I was not chasing her head as she turned) and look for my next spot to choose, hoping that it would be a place she appreciated my company more.

If I got it right I would know because Lily’s movements would start to show yield and become softly easy for me to match step for step. This is the simple quiet communication horses are always giving out.

The horse says to us: If I make it easy for you to move with me, or stand with me, you are in a reasonable place in relationship to me and you know this because of the yield in my movements.

If I move in a way you cannot hold the place in relation to me that you chose, you chose the wrong spot, or you chose to be there too long. You will know this as I try to get away from you and show some small degree of flight, or I push into you and show some small degree of fight.

I believe horses broadcast these messages to each other and us perpetually, but sadly, often, no one is listening.

On this day, I had decided to give myself fully to understanding Lily and listening to her for eight hours.

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Why eight hours? Because it was a length of time that challenged my stamina and skill in a reasonable way, and I have found something often changes for me and the horse together in a particularly beautiful way somewhere between hour six and hour eight.

In this particular moment of our session (about two and a half hours into the day together) we had spent most of our time in the stable as Lily ate hay from the hay bag on the wall, and interacted with the horses around her. Now we had taken a walk out to the arena for a moment and Lily was telling me that all my choices of place were wrong, or too long.

I determinedly tried to do better, circling around her until I saw that change of focus or ear flick that gave me a hint she was thinking more, and I might be in a spot that was acceptable to her. When I saw that flick of an ear from Lily, I came back into flow matching her feet and her focus, only to see her spin slowly away from me again letting me know I was wrong. Wrong place Elsa, too long.

Each time I walked a circle around again looking for the right place and thinking I had found it I would come back into flow, and again Lily would spin slowly away from me.

Frustrated with my lack of understanding as I listened to Lily, I kept trying to get it right and after five attempts to explain it to me, Lily decided to get more direct in her communication. Turning her quiet flight away from me into fight towards me, Lily pinned her ears to her neck and marched directly toward me in a threatening way, forcing me to put my arms out to defend myself as I skirted past her.

Then the light bulb of understanding turned on for me. I was too close!!! My adjustments from twelve feet away to fourteen feet to sixteen feet and from left side to right side and back side were all good tries, but not actually the right answer. Lily at that moment wanted me a good sixty to a hundred feet away.

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Why didn’t I figure that out sooner!

I fully believe if I had intuited that “right decision” of where to be and taken that choice of place, then Lily would have felt like I really was listening and I really understood her in that moment. As it was, we had to work at communicating until we figured out how to be together peacefully.

Once I adjusted my position to one much farther away, Lily’s movements became much easier to flow with and she let me know I was on the right track to understanding her in that moment.

However, just to be sure I got the message, Lily did something I have been noticing frequently when horses don’t want to have a close partnership with someone. Lily went and found her other friends, Mouse and Koa, and she placed herself directly between them in a way that made it very difficult for me to even try to get closer. Message received loud and clear Lily, I am listening and I will respond in a way that lets you know I am listening.

Because Lily was in the stable at that point, I chose to be her partner from outside, standing in the aisle of the barn. I was outside the bars and I did my best to move positions on the momentary signs of thought I could see in the flick of her ears, the theory being that noticing those thinking moments and responding to them with finding a new place of harmony, before I wore out my welcome in the place I was standing, was perpetually proving to Lily I was listening and I was responding to her. Even from outside the bars of the stable, I can listen to Lily, and I can respond. If I do it right, and I make the right choices, Lily will let me know by showing more and more yield in her movements so we can go places together when she chooses to move. If I do it wrong, there will be some degree of fight or flight letting me know I need to make better choices if I want her voluntary partnership.

Over the next month or six weeks, as I work to develop my personal stamina for my next year long Taming Wild project, I have decided to take one day each week to spend with a new and different horse.

During this day I am not aiming to change to help or develop the horse I am with, instead my goal is simply to hold space for them and be WITH them in the best ways I know how. My job is to observe them deeply and learn who they are in each moment we are together. As I grow to know them better, I can anticipate what they might choose to do next and I can place myself in the best location to partner them in their moment-to-moment choices.

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The theory of Freedom Based Training® starts NOT from a place of changing the horse, instead we change ourselves and hone our skills of where and when to be around the horse so that they become more and more interested in partnering with us.

We are attempting to change our own skill of body placement around them so they are in the frame of mind where they start to voluntarily develop into easier partners.

Later, from that foundation I will be able to more directly ask a horse to develop good partnership skills. Today’s task with Lily was simply to hone my own partnership skills while listening to Lily’s feedback deeply.

I noticed that Lily started the day in self-focus and I was making my responses as she made subtle focus shifts from one version of self-focus to another. Such as, pulling the hay out of the hay bag in one moment, to chewing the hay she had just pulled out in the following moment. Even though there was no obvious change in the ears or the eyes in the difference of those two actions, I would chose to respond to Lily’s small change of thought, moving to a new place around her.

If I could change places around Lily in a moment I thought there was more thinking, I would move only briefly returning to harmony as directly as possible.

If I had no thinking change from Lily and I had to move for any other reason, I would continue to walk around her until she showed me a thinking moment to let me know, THAT spot of physical relationship is one that might work for us.

My job was to listen to Lily and do my best to respond to her subtle body language conversation. I was not just doing whatever I felt like around Lily, I was taking small actions in response to her positive communication.

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What happens all too often in relationships is we do what we feel like until someone gets irritated enough to yell and get our attention that we should have made a different choice. In contrast to that, passive leadership is about making responses to positive communication (those subtle thinking moments) because I believe if we deeply listen and respond to the positive communications, there is less and less need to for the louder communications of fight or flight.

Lily showed me this throughout the day as she was mostly self-absorbed and did what she felt like as I shadowed her to the best of my ability. Every once in a while, Lily would put herself in a place that irritated Lovey, or Koa or Mouse and would get chased or threatened with some intensity. I could see it coming and would be for the most part walking away before it happened (leading Lily by good example that she could choose to follow or not).

Horses crave social interaction, and they seem to often feel much better after some conversation with each other. The problem is, if no one makes the effort to respond to subtle positive communication, they are going to have to push on each other harder to get any attention from their friends.

After every negative interaction with her paddock mates I observed Lily markedly happier with more thinking moments and more focus changes, with signs of licking and chewing and yawning and deep breaths. In a strange way irritating her friends into chasing her was rewarding for Lily, because she felt much better after they paid attention to her and gave her some response.

My job was not to change this, my job was to observe and learn and continually show Lily that I was responding to her small thinking moments, so she didn’t have to get loud or irritating to get my attention.

Throughout the day, slowly and surely, there was more and more yield in Lily’s movements, less and less pushing on and irritating her friends and each of my next responses to Lily started becoming easier to gauge and choose correctly.

The important thing for me is that I was not trying to make this change happen in Lily, I was trying to train my own awareness and responsiveness to her. Lily’s positive changes were an accidental by-product of my practice.

It was hugely gratifying in this situation to see the partnership with Lily grow easier for us both as the day went on. From the deep self-focus of the morning I watched Lily vary in thinking patterns, changing between patterns of more or less diversity as she focused around herself on a greater or lesser variety of things. As I observed and responded I saw a gradual overall change in the way Lily thought about and considered the world.

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As Lily’s thoughts became more diverse and had a wider range of interest, it became easier for me to be in the right place at the right time. I could see the eyes and the ears change first, and then the feet would start to move following her thought. This was very different from the beginning of the day where thought changes were very subtle and Lily’s feet seemed to move, propelled with no thought or plan behind the movement. In those moments I felt forced into supportive leadership where I had to keep moving my feet until I saw some sign of thinking change again, that led me back into Flow and Passive leadership.

Every moment I could see clearer thinking from Lily I wanted to jump up and down and cheer, and then I would remember, that isn’t the goal today that is the side effect of this work. The goal is for Elsa to get better and better at responding to the positive thinking and yielding signs. What Lily chooses to do with that is not my job to change; it is simply feedback on how well I am doing making my perpetual choices around her.

Still, when I get positive feedback that the general trend between us is better… I want to jump up and down and cheer.

But I don’t.

Instead I breathe, and match Lily, and think deeply about how I might do it better in the next moment and the next moment and the next.

This is my work, and I love it.

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

The Eight Hour Challenge

How deeply do any of us know our horses?

 

I once read that to feel loved is to feel known and I think there is some truth to that. To really know someone requires an intense curiosity and an experimental willingness to take action and adjust action depending on the response received.

 

I believe there is some degree of love in every relationship, including our relationships with our horses.

 

In most horse training we ask a horse to know us and pay attention to how their actions and choices affect us as humans. We expect a well-trained horse partner to be in the right place at the right time and to adjust their behavior to suit us perpetually.

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In Freedom Based Training® I start from the other side of the equation. How well do I know my horse? How well can I express that understanding to my horse?

 

If I know my horse doesn’t like it when I stand too far away, then a short amount of standing far away may be interesting to them, but if I stand far away for too long or too often, my presence becomes a burden on their experience. If I deeply know my horse I will know how long it is appropriate to do anything, and where the line is between interesting and irritating. I will be able to take action before I become irritating, and I will be able to regain our state of harmony in good places and ways frequently.

 

To really know my horse, I have to put aside my personal desire that my horse know me. In Freedom Based Training®, I have to trust that what I give will come back to me. Or more directly, once I have given enough of my attention and I know my horse deeply, I have earned the right to ask them to know me in return.

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This depth of relationship building is the foundation for what I do in Freedom Based Training®, and I have found there is an awesome side effect to this work. The more time spent really knowing a horse, and taking actions in a way that prove to them that they are known and understood, the more they seem to make this same effort towards others. Then all their relationships improve, both with people and other horses. This deeply affects the quality of a horse’s life with the other horses in their herd.

 

This week I noticed my mare Cleo had gotten in an emotional rut. I don’t know why, I just know that as I was watching the evidence of action in the herd, I was seeing a downward spiral. Cleo was angry and quick to pin her ears and push the others, then instead of yielding to her and finding harmony together, the other horses in the herd would simply walk away from her to find harmony with someone else instead. Cleo was so grumpy and unpleasant no one wanted to be with her, no one wanted to be curious about what she needed and no one wanted to help her lower her stress by being her partner. The more disinterest the horses showed, the more ugly Cleo’s behavior became and the more ugly her behavior was the more disinterest it created in her friends.

 

I do work with Cleo for an hour or so each day, but my usual Freedom Based Training just wasn’t seeming to make much of a difference to Cleo in the rest of her life this week.

 

I decided this was my perfect opportunity to prove my worth as Cleo’s partner and see what happened with some intense investment in attention from me.

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The challenge:

 

Eight hours in one day spent in the best mirroring, matching, flow and harmony I could manage.

 

The means for me to do this were based on the first two leadership styles in the leadership spectrum:

 

Passive Leadership and Supportive Leadership

 

Passive Leadership is the most important, because it is where I am curious about how to shape my actions around Cleo to know her deeply.

 

Where can I place myself in harmony with Cleo and then when it is time to change, where is the next place I can place myself in harmony with Cleo. If I know her, I can make decisions of where to stand and they will feel good to her, if I do not know her well enough, she has to move her own body until I am in a place that works for her. By deeply knowing a horse we take the pressure off them to make themselves comfortable and we take the responsibility to be in the right place at the right time. The more consistently we do this, the more they feel they can trust us and the lower their stress levels become.

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Sometimes though, I am going to make mistakes and the place I choose to be will cause Cleo to make a counter decision to let me know I was in the wrong place for the wrong amount of time. That is when I would get moved into supportive leadership.

 

Supportive leadership is where I start taking action, by walking around my horse (or stroking or petting or rocking my horse), experimenting with distance from my horse and my style of action. As I experiment with all this I am aware of the surroundings and being deeply curious about which place I am in when Cleo starts to think more and show better feelings. When she does that it is my clue to come back into harmony with her.

 

If I deeply knew Cleo I could have gone right to that spot directly before she got uncomfortable. When my feel and timing is off, Cleo shows that discomfort by moving in ways we cannot move together. However, knowing someone is always a process of experimentation, and if we don’t know where to be we have to simply try things until we get positive feedback from our horse that we are now in the right place where harmony can resume.

 

Every “right place” we choose to be with our horse has an expiration date. Our job is to change places of harmony before the one we are in becomes stale.

 

This process of choosing the next best place of harmony and flow with a horse perpetually is an awesome challenge. Try doing it for eight hours and you might be amazed with what you learn.

 

Now, this is not normal behavior in a horse herd or between a horse and a human because this intensity of perpetual awareness and responsiveness is exhausting. I actually have only attempted this intensity of training and relationship a few times in the many years I have been doing this. Even when I was in the depth of training in the first movie, my norm with Myrnah was between four and six hours a day, not eight.

 

Watching the development in Cleo blossom in this eight hour challenge this week changed my mind about my personal willingness to dive deeper and work longer. The results were so interesting with Cleo, I find I want to try it again, with different horses and see what happens.

 

For the first four hours Cleo was often grumpy with her horse friends in the herd, and I moved often and experimented heavily to find the right places to be. After the first hour, I was exhausted from the effort so I chose to go have a bit of a nap in the shade of the hedgerow. About fifteen minutes later I was wakened by a soft nuzzle from Cleo on my leg. It was interesting to me that of all fourteen horses in the herd, Cleo was the one who came over to wake me when she felt I had slept long enough. I stepped back up to my challenge and resumed my efforts in matching, mirroring, harmony, and flow with Cleo.

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Then, all the horses took a nap under the deep shade of the cedar trees and my job got much easier, standing in harmony and flow with Cleo as she slept. When all the other horses chose to leave the shade and move off to their grazing on the other side of the pond, Cleo chose to stay in the shade with me, sleeping longer than everyone else. I believe it was my company that allowed her to stay longer and rest more, without me there I don’t think she would have taken that time as I have never seen her off by herself, she always goes where the herd goes.

 

After that nap Cleo’s mood improved dramatically and she seemed appreciative of a greater variety of things. The better her mood was the greater likelihood I had of making the right choices and being at the right place at the right time. We rejoined the herd and then Cleo spent the rest of the afternoon taking me away from the herd to graze in odd corners of the pasture away from everyone in a way that seemed very unlike her normal behavior. We would be off by ourselves for twenty minutes or so and then wander back and pair up with one of the others for a while, before wandering off by ourselves for a few more minutes.

 

Cleo’s mood and positive outlook on life seemed to perpetually improve all day. By the time it was getting dark and we were in the last hour of the challenge Cleo seemed happily paired up with her best horse friends in a way I felt deeply good about. It was time for me to walk away, find my bed and think deeply about all I had learned.

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I hope my personal challenge inspires you.

 

How well do you know your horse?

 

How many hours would you be willing to spend with your horse without asking anything of them, and challenging yourself to your best feel and timing, resulting in the maximum amount of flow and harmony possible? What would you learn if you did that?

 

Are you willing to take the eight hour challenge?

 

Or perhaps six hours, or four hours would be a good challenge for you?

 

I picked ten hours the first time I did an intensive session of passive leadership; you can find the blog about that here:

https://equineclarity.org/2016/11/29/it-takes-time/

 

Eight hours seemed more manageable this time with Cleo.

 

Just remember, this work can be subtle, and sometimes you won’t see much change in the first few hours. So if you are interested and you can dig a little deeper, spend a little more time, and see what happens.

 

If you find yourself inspired to try it, I would love to hear how it went for you. Perhaps you could write down your experiences and share them here as a guest blog?

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

TamingWild.com

 

The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

The Uniqueness of Now

I have been on this incredible teaching tour through Europe for a little over a month now and I have only a few more weeks to go. Nine clinics in seven weeks across six different countries and so many interesting horses and humans to study everywhere I go. I am in my element and I feel like I am being flooded by a sea of new ideas and understanding every day with every new situation I get to be part of.

Then, amidst all this brilliant travel and learning, while in the outstanding beauty of Ireland, I got a cold. One of those “tickle in your throat” that starts and you are sure it will just be momentary, and then the words coming out of your mouth start to break up and rattle and the frightening truth comes up hard in your face. The gift of being able to talk isn’t granted permanently, it can be taken away.

What happens if I lose my voice? I still have four more clinics scheduled, what if I can’t talk and no one can hear what I have to share? What if I have to cancel and let everyone down?

I would love to tell you I handled all this gracefully, but I didn’t. I excused myself early in the evenings and tried to sleep as much as I could, however, I also found myself in the usual trap of shame and guilt. I thought if only I had slept more, had more water to drink, eaten more carefully, exercised more, this would have never happened. If I had been a better person, I would not have been looking down the throat of failure. While all that may have a grain of truth, in those moments of trying to sleep and attempting to find my health again, it wasn’t helpful.

Then I arrived in Portugal and the wave of heat that met me outside the airport doors was like a new lease on life and my stuffy head started to clear.

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As with most things, once we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we can see how to get there. What if I treated this as a unique experience? Not something I was afraid would last forever, ruining everything. What if I could be truly curious about what I experienced? I can breathe out of my left side, but not my right… interesting… but when I turn my head something shifts and it changes, I feel like one side of my head is a big as a balloon, while the other feels normal, interesting.

However, it can only be interesting if we start to believe it will not last forever. What if this tightness in my throat was a unique experience? What if today was the last time I got to experience it in my entire life? Would that make it more worthy of study? Instead of worrying that it would keep getting worse until it killed everything good in my life, what if I treated it as the only time I might ever get to experience this phenomenon of being human.

Here is where my personal revelation bridges into my work and something I have been thinking about a great deal over the last couple of weeks. This is where I get to step back into my comfort zone and start talking about horse training again.

I think this fear of something lasting forever and ruining everything is one of our biggest problems in relationships.

Whether it is a horse running and bucking and pacing endlessly because it wants to be somewhere other than with you, or a horse that stands like it is made of stone seemingly oblivious to your company, these sorts of situations seem to bring up the fight in people. I will be honest, they bring up the fight in me as well.

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I find I want to fix it, I want to make it change, I want to do something that makes the horse want to be in a good relationship with the human. I want to sweep in like the knight in shining armor and slay the dragon of bad behavior so horse and human can live happily ever after.

But that isn’t how Freedom Based Training® works, and I have embarked on a different journey here. Not one of knights, princesses and fairy tales, but a journey where we get to be deeply curious about whatever is currently happening. We get to pay attention to it, and respond to it until the inevitability of life happens and things change. I truly believe that paying attention and responding appropriately will nurture any experience into slowly becoming better. We don’t have to fight the bad to win the good, we just need to pay attention and nurture what we like in life.

What if we don’t like anything? What if it seems like there is nothing to nurture? What if it seems like it is only getting worse, not better? In these situations the instinct to fight or to freeze and give up becomes strong.

The solution? Fight needs to gently be nurtured into curiosity. Freeze needs to be gently nurtured into thinking.

How do we do that? Pay attention and count.

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If we see the horse is running then we walk back and forth around them. If the horse is standing without acknowledging our presence then we stand next to them. Regardless of how we need to be around them, we count our breaths. We need to be curious, how many breaths will it take until the next change in the situation?

Be in the present moment with curiosity and thoughtfulness and respond to every subtle change. The more responsive we are to change, the more change we will start to see.

If you have trouble like I do sometimes, wanting to fight for faster change, or wanting to give up and disappear because it feels hopeless to make any effort at all, consider this:

Every experience is unique in some way. This is absolutely the last time you will ever experience this moment. If you don’t pay attention and notice every detail, it will be lost forever. This is your one chance to experience this particular event.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to take the instinct of fight and turn it into play… or curiosity. Take the instinct of flight and turn it into yield where you make room for (and pay attention to) whatever is happening instead of running away from it. Take the instinct of freeze where you give up and disappear in your mind and turn it into the thinking and awareness your mind was designed for.

When you start to reach for the functional side of the stress spectrum you will find life gets better, and as it gets better and you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, then you will know where to go and what to do next.

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To quote Mary Oliver,

“Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

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The Project:

Horses from many walks of life, 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.

 

Coming Home to Freedom Based Training

 

This is the hundred and fiftieth blog written for Meditations on Equestrian Art, and it seems momentous. Because of that importance I have sat down to write it a million times and a million times I have stood up and decided I have something else that needs doing.

 

After filming “Taming Wild: Pura Vida” and walking across Costa Rica, my public persona went a little quiet as I pondered, Who am I and what exactly am I bringing to the world?

 

After Costa Rica I found myself on a teaching tour through Australia and New Zealand and then back home to the lush green of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, all the while pondering, Who am I, and what am I sharing?

 

Here is what it comes down to.

 

I will be me and you will be you.

 

Out of that a relationship will develop.

 

The horse is perfect just the way it is, regardless of whether the horse is happy or unhappy, more stressed or less stressed.

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The human is perfect just the way it is, regardless of whether the human is happy or unhappy, more stressed or less stressed.

 

How is it that I can have a job if everything is perfect just the way it is? What is my role in the world? When I teach a course or a clinic or a workshop, isn’t my job to create change for the better?

 

That is often what I have thought, but I am coming to realize my job is not to create change. Change is inevitable; in fact, change is one of the few inevitable things in the world.

 

My job is simply to shine a light and develop the awareness of options.

 

Specifically, I choose to shine a light on the options that most people do not talk about in horse training: personal choices. Not the choices we make for our horse, but the choices we make for our own bodies.

 

When most people think about training horses or developing relationships, the goal is to change and develop the horse into being more of the horse you want. It becomes about limits, boundaries, direction, and teaching the horse right from wrong.

 

Often humans want the same kind of learning structure. They want to know the right or wrong actions to take in training their horse.

 

Freedom Based Training is different though. It isn’t about changing the horse or changing the human. It is instead about finding the harmony between horse and human exactly as they are.

 

THEN and only then do we start to consider what personal actions we might take that evolve and develop and grow the partnership into a greater variety of harmonious Flow states.

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This is the slowest possible way to train a horse because the primary focus is not on changing the horse, or even on changing the human. If neither the horse nor the human changes, we find there are actually a very limited amount of things horse and human would choose to do together.

 

So this is why I filmed “Taming Wild: Pura Vida”. I wanted to show the human world that I understood human needs with horses: to set a goal, work towards a goal, and achieve a goal, all within a shorter time frame.

 

I learned so very much in the process of doing that!

 

Exploring the grey areas of what is, what might be, or what could be, when we use tools to get a partner to an end goal with us, I realized I wanted so much more Freedom for the horses in my time with them.

 

I don’t want to have to make it to camp by nightfall, I don’t want to figure out the best way to manipulate the horse so that it makes it to camp by nightfall. I don’t want to use everything I know about lowering stress in horses to then take advantage of their lowered stress to cross terrain that possibly should never be crossed with horses.

 

Did I do all those things? Yes.

Did I learn important things by putting myself in that position? Yes.

Am I glad I did that? Yes.

Would I do it again? No.

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Now I feel a need to take a step back into who I really am and what Freedom Based Training really is.

 

I want to live a life where my horse is in a safe enough situation that they can make their own choices about what they want, and as the human I work within the range of what I want for my own body in time and space. Eventually, those choices I make for my own body will prove my worth in the relationship and I will earn the right to start asking for things from my partner.

 

The together part of the equation where horses do things that humans want – that goal is still there, but in Freedom Based Training the time frame gets taken away and we figure the relationship takes the time it takes.

 

This is the most important piece of Freedom Based Training for me. Taming that wild streak inside myself that wants what I want when I want it.

 

Costa Rica was an amazing adventure, and I am so glad I learned so much doing it. Now I am settling in to the purer practice of gentle evolution between horse and human.

 

My wild streak wants the world to appreciate the slow process with horses right now. My wild streak wants to please people and give them answers that train their horses faster. My wild streak wants to take the slow process of relationship evolution and make it faster. My wild streak is contradictory and wants all the things right now!

 

My wild streak is perfect exactly the way it is, and slowly, as I tame that wild streak that wants all the things it doesn’t have yet, life gets more enjoyable. Slowly.

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As I get ready to leave for the European teaching tour I am feeling the conflicts of my wild streaks. I want it all, and I want it now. I want to teach people that setting limits and consequences for our horses is one way to teach them, but not the only way. I want to shine light on all the options for training horses and building relationships that do not rely on boundaries, limits, and time frames. At the same time, I want to make people happy and help them get their horse to stop eating grass all the time so they can do more things together.

 

How do I accept everything as it is, shine light on what it could be, and work towards the possibilities without telling anyone they are wrong or bad for wanting what they want? Horse or human! Both the horse’s wants and the human’s wants are valid, even if the horse only wants to eat grass and the human wants to do something more interesting.

 

Between the human’s wild streak and the horse’s wild streak is where the art of Freedom Based Training is.

 

Everyone gets to be exactly who they are with their own personal wants, needs, and wild streaks, and I get to explore all the options for developing endless varieties of harmony between horse and human while letting them all be exactly who they are.

 

If any of this piques your interest, I hope I get to meet you and we can share some of the evolution of Taming Wild.

 

Hooves and Heartbeats,

Elsa

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