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The Project:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMustangs directly off the range

Stretching the boundaries of training horses without tools

Understanding passive leadership

Learning, Listening, and Leaning into life together

The Goal:

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

 

The 3 Keys

Believing in something greater than one’s self brings a confidence to life. Be it Family, God, Country, Karma, or the existence of Love, it’s not so much what we believe in, as it is the existence of belief, a sense that we are part of a greater good.

I believe horses reach for that same belief. Instinctively they want to be part of something greater than any one individual can be alone. Movement within a herd exists to let the horse feel part of a greater whole. Movement is the horses’ form of conversation.

Here I am studying what it takes to work with the horses purely, and teach others to do the same. No food as bribe or reward, no whip as threat or punishment, no boundaries to push them against. Just bodies moving through space, and a shared desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. What are the keys to bring it all together?

1. MovementOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. Connection

3. Quiet

Movement is a horses conversation, movement of one individual is a monolog, movement of two individuals is a dialog. Horses move together to bond and build partnerships. So that is what I do too.

We move together until we can reach toward each other for connection. Then we are quiet together to savor that feeling.

As our conversations become more specific, more interesting, and more dynamic, our bond grows stronger. Yet it still needs all three parts: Movement, Connection and Quiet.

Today I want to write about the riding part of this process- specifically the connection and quiet parts of riding.

We all know about the movement part of riding, we are all familiar with- push with this leg, pull with that hand, make the horse go forward, backward, turn, and yield- all possibly good and beautiful, dynamic conversations to have between horse and rider.

What does connection look like?

I start the idea of connection with the horse reaching back to touch my foot or my hand- simple, bold and clear- an easy marker to be quiet after.

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Then, as we get better at this game of connection, we can feel them glance back out of the corner of their eye to check on us, and we can feel that contact reverberate through the two of us. We learn to use movement to ask for connection: a leg stretched down in a long embrace around the ribs, a finger tracing the neck above the withers. This only works as well as we follow the rules, following connection each and every time with quiet.

Quiet riding is being the best passenger possible. No requests or pressure anymore, just the flow and tempo of whatever the horses is doing- breath for breath, step for step, left for left and right for right- quiet, fluid synchronicity.

If the horse is unsure, we can drop down and hug them around the neck, willing to swing gently off if that is what they need to build confidence. Usually, all it takes is that hug to reassure them we are there with and for them.

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The movement is the mount, then we ask for connection- having the horse reach around to touch us- and then we sit quiet. Then we ask for movement forward, then on a turn. If they can glance back at us on that turn, we sit quiet and let them travel anywhere they want to take us, movement together- step for step, breath for breath.

Movement, connection, quiet, the three parts of the puzzle that connect us together. Riding, or moving side by side on the ground- simple or complex in movement conversation. It is beautiful and lets us feel the belief that we are indeed part of something greater than ourselves.

Whatever your style of riding or relating with horses, try it. You may find it reaps rewards you never dreamed of. IMG_3630

 

 

On a lighter note, here are a few pictures to make you smile.

Our new Puppy Breez is learning the importance of quiet time while riding.

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IMG_3561Our Cat Ahzizi believes quiet time an essential building block of relationship with the new puppy (though in all honesty she likes the movement part better and can’t wait to pounce on him when he comes in the door starting off an evening of rollicking rolling wresting fun.)

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Many of you asked about Errai. He is well settled in with his new family. He has a new name of Cay and seems happy in his new place with his new herd of horses and people. I get to see him every couple of weeks when I am there to teach and think he is a very lucky colt to have scored such a good home. And I am a very lucky girl that I still get to see him and enjoy his nuzzles every so often. I will include pictures of the young one in a blog coming up soon.

Thank you Arianna, Sofie, Cameron, Christopher, Breez, Ahzizi and of course Zohari, Saavedra, Myrnah, Cleo for the pictures this week.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

Mustangs directly off the range, Stretching the boundaries of training horses without tools

Understanding passive leadership, Learning, Listening, and Leaning into life together

19-20-13

The Goal:

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

 

Wait for it…

The warm breeze of an Indian summer lilts softly through this September day. Almost a year now since my last post on this blog and I would like to think I am a year wiser, a year clearer, and a year better than I was, well worth the wait.

After our intense focus on the Mustang Project, Myrnah and I needed some time- time for her to relax and grow up building the kind of strength only time will grant, time also for me to plunge into the rapids of an ever-changing life and evolve my own path.

A year later finds me living in a new town, building a new style of teaching, and learning from my ever-faithful Mustangs. I find myself building and blending the past, the present, and the future into a sort of primordial soup that feeds the person I want to be.IMG_3114

 

And the news everyone wants to hear, I also, most beautifully and unexpectedly, find myself in love with and engaged to the most wonderful Man I never expected to meet. Thank you Christopher Gough for being that facet of my life too brilliant to predict or expect.

Myrnah and I began work together again this fall when she made the trip from the tranquil San Juan Islands to my new place in Redmond, WA. While seven acres of rolling pasture may not be the near hundred she had been used to on the island, it’s still a rare find for city horses, with brilliant views of the sixty-acre soccer fields below us, and endless entertainment of cheering fans, model airplanes, bottle rockets, and hot air balloons landing right next door. My four horses seem very happy indeed with their new life as they watch the world go by from their raven’s roost of a red barn on the hill.

Myrnah’s first year with me was all about passive leadership. What is it, how do I do it. How much dominance is too much (when she walks away and refuses to talk to me, I know I have crossed the line). In all horse training today, dominance is part of the process; even in clicker training the area tends to be confined so the horse can’t get away. My first year with Myrnah asked the question: Is it possible to train a horse with only passive leadership? The answer was a resounding YES! The results were above and beyond anything I expected. The horse Myrnah is today is the best partner I could hope to have.

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I wish every horse I had was started this way, and I wish I had the fortitude and time to continue purely down this course. Looking deep in the reflecting pool of choices, I find the results from the Mustang Project are everything I want with the exception of efficient.

So looking at the spectrum of dominant leadership to passive leadership as a continuum of choices, I choose to take middle road.

Some days I leave all the gear behind and work from a passive perspective. What will my horses give me of their own volition, no tools to control, no confined spaces to force them into relationship with me, no food to bribe them, just me and them and the spaces we exist in together.

Other days we bring out the ropes and the saddles, the bridles and the confined spaces, asking the question: If I speed up the process of training, do I still feel good about the results? If I lean into the territory of dominant leadership, do I still like the relationship we have from moment to moment? I will let you know how it goes…

So far, of all my horses, Myrnah is the steadiest even when we step into a more dominant leadership context. She is the quickest to adopt a brave attitude out on the trail, she is the softest to adapt to new gear like a bit in her mouth, and she stays in the barn long after the others have left for the far pasture, following me around like she would really like to do more. Those signs confirm for me that first year we took slow was well worth the time and the wait.

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So what happens now that passive leadership is part of a spectrum in my work with Myrnah instead of the whole focus?

I still intend to write from the passive leadership perspective. There are many trainers in the world who will help you be more effective, efficient, and dominant. There are far too few who will slow down and ask about the benefits of being more passive, allowing the relationship to evolve and grow naturally.

So I leave you with some teachings from Saavedra, Cleo, Myrnah, and Zohari in their liberty lesson with Sophie and Arianna this week.

To begin, we need to ask for connection as many times and in as many ways as we need to. When the horse reaches out to us, THEN we wait. What are we waiting for? We wait for comfort, for ease, for enjoyment of the moment. Those are the intangibles, the glue that binds us together.IMG_3451

Enjoyment, comfort, ease… you can’t ask for those, you can only wait for them to happen.

We set the relationship up by asking for something the horse craves- connection. Then we must wait for the horse to feel it, love it, bask in it.

Then we ask for a movement- forward, sideways, backwards, up, or down, because movement together and the conversation about movement builds that craved connection. Then we reach out to the horse again. Do they reach back to us? Or do they pull away, showing us that we asked too much too soon, driving them away emotionally? If we want this relationship we have to keep asking for connection again until they reach out to us, and then we WAIT. Wait for them to feel the satisfaction of being together.

That is the process. And this is the blog that will help me evolve and grow the understanding of what passive leadership really is.

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If you would like to join me and the horses to learn more, give me a call or send me an email. This liberty work is some of the most powerful learning I have every done with horses, and my door is open to anyone who would like to come learn with us.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

One Trainer

Many Students

Communication through body language

Tools used only for safety, never to train

The Goal:

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

 

Turning the Tides

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One Mustang born into the project

One Trainer

Many Students

Communication through body language

Tools used only for safety, never to train

 

The Goal:

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

 

The Beauty of Backing Off

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Myrnah and I have been keeping up the halter practice.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

Ratios

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

The Year Finishes Up With A Bang!

 

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

 

Tonight was spectacular.

 

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

 

Galloping.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Did it really happen? Yes it did.

 

Was it that storybook magical?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Was it fun? You can only imagine…

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

 

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

 

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

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

The Goal:

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

 

The View From Horseback

As I head into the final week of this first year with Myrnah, I am struck by how far we really have come. I started out not knowing if I would even be able to sit on her back; there were so many unknown twists and turns in the path ahead of us. Without any tools to control and manage her as she learned to carry weight, I didn’t know if I could convince her it was a good idea in the first place. Yet here I am a year later riding all over the fields. Really, it is a miraculous feeling. The view from horseback is a beautiful one, and there really is something about seeing the world framed by a pair of fuzzy, curved, black-tipped ears.

I reflect on all that has transpired from those first humble beginnings to the ease and simplicity of the partnership Myrnah and I currently have.

Here is a quote from my blog one year ago:

“We began with advance and retreat of gaze: looking at them when they were trying to avoid me, looking away when they were interested or curious about me. This led them to investigate me, nuzzle my coat, and taste my hair. Then we played with me approaching round about and without looking at them, spending time sharing space; then we played with me reaching out to them and retreating when they were willing to reach out to me in return. When Myrnah was ready for me to pet her, I felt honored to be given that kind of trust.”

It really all has built from there, one simple step at a time. I still use those first games of contact; their application has just become more sophisticated in our evolution. One simple step at a time, Myrnah and I have built our relationship to this place where she and I are happy to go out riding together.

This week I wanted to show you all a bit of what I get to enjoy everyday with Myrnah.

Her energy seems to be coming up again and this week we have been trotting all over the fields. Somehow I find that fun and miraculous that we can trot up and down hills with such balance and ease and rhythm that I can sit back, both hands on my phone, taking pictures as we travel. I know without a shadow of a doubt Myrnah has everything else taken care of.

Errai is always around somewhere, but hardly ever travels with us. He has his own life to live, and knows his Mum will be back sooner or later.

For those few moments Errai does join us for, whether it be for a short canter together or a momentary snuggle, are precious. Errai is growing up altogether too fast.

If we are traveling a meandering trail…

Or a path through the bushes….

Or a bee line for the trailer at breakfast….

Myrnah makes the rides so lovely, yet, noting how far we have come in such a short time, there is a great deal that has happened to build us up to this point. Knowing all the steps we have taken together to get to this ease   ….wherever we go, that view from horseback with Myrnah is an incomparable joy.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range

One trainer

No tools

Just body language

 

The Goal:

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

 

 

 

 

What Kind Of Hurry Are We In?

 

Two weeks from now is the one year anniversary for Myrnah and me. The one year anniversary for a one year project is a monumental moment. As we bring this year to a close I find myself in consideration: Did I accomplish more or less than I thought I would? The answer is both I think. The project took on a life of its own and led me along a path I couldn’t have guessed at. On the one hand, I have been pushing all year long to prove how much could actually get done without any tools to force cooperation in the training process. On the other hand, every day the question arises between Myrnah and me: What kind of hurry are we in? Do we really need to progress any faster than we are? If we are always hurrying on to the next thing, what lesson did we miss out on in the moment we just left behind?

 

I think if I have learned any one thing from this year with Myrnah it has been: given the choice to hurry and push for progress, or wait for change to evolve in its own time while I attend the moments and smell the roses along the way… the latter choice is always the more satisfying.

The beauty of the mustang project with Myrnah has been the requirement to always show up. Rain, shine, cold, or heat, day in and day out, I have a commitment to a project. I have a blog to write each week, photographs to organize, video to capture and edit, and the ceaseless question: How much can I do in one year, training a wild mustang off the range, with no tools to pressure her into working with me?

 

The beauty of the mustang project has also been its limitations. Without any tools, I can only push so hard. I have been forced by the design of the project to wait for change to evolve in its own time while I attend the moments and smell the roses along the way.

 

I have pushed and hurried Myrnah as hard and fast as I could to learn and progress. Given the limitations of the project, that wasn’t very hard or very fast. Overall I would say I am thrilled with the balance that has been struck between rushing ahead and enjoying the slow unfolding of the moments.

At the start of the project I wasn’t sure if Myrnah would ever let me ride her. She did let me ride her, and so much more.

 

I dreamed that perhaps at the end of a year we might be able to ride a dressage test, or jump a jump course, or take a trail ride, or ride with other people, or trailer to a strange location and work together in unfamiliar territory. Each one of those things Myrnah has done a little of, for and with me. Perhaps not to the completeness I envisioned, but really, what kind of hurry are we in?

 

Within a year this wild mustang mare has learned to follow me and carry me. She has offered to walk, trot, and canter with me on her back. She has started offering the precision of dressage with turns and changes of speed on a mark. She has learned to jump a small jump with enthusiasm. She has walked out on long trails with me, and carried me on short trails. She has carried me in group ride situations. She has even traveled in the trailer to work with me in a strange location. All of those things have been successful, and while I will always want more… what kind of hurry are we in?

 

Everyone asks: What next?

 

My answer is: More of the same, with less of the hurry.

Myrnah and I will continue to work without tools to train. I will continue to blog about it each week. Only now that our first year has proven what it set out to prove, we will push less, hurry less, and settle back to enjoy the evolution of the process.

 

In the coming year I will add the use of a halter for safety situations. Anywhere cars create a hazard, Myrnah and I will add a halter to our connection- a safety net allowing me to know without a doubt I can keep her out of harm’s way.

 

We will also add a saddle to the equation. As we add time and distance to our riding practice, a saddle will keep it comfortable for both of us, distributing my weight across Myrnah’s back on a broader surface than my two seat bones.

 

Other than that, all will continue along the same lines.

 

Myrnah has taught me so much in the last year, I can’t wait to see what she brings to my attention in the year to come.

 

I can’t wait, and yet, really…. What kind of hurry are we in? The more I sit back and enjoy the evolution of each moment, the more satisfied I am on the whole.

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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

 

Don’t Argue, Just Move

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

The Project:

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

The Goal:

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


Making Peace With The Things We Would Rather Not Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is to making peace with what is.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

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