Skip navigation

The Project:

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

IMG_1254

The Goal:

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

 

Why am I Here?

Sometimes, everywhere I look, life seems filled with a profound misery: friends diagnosed with cancer, family struggling through divorce and betrayal, loved ones battling depression and questions of self-worth, and life throwing challenge after challenge at us all. Life can feel so hard! Too hard! Why are we here, why do we choose to get up each day and fight though these storms? How is it worth the pain? And what makes this journey smooth sailing for some, while barely tolerable for others?

I do believe we are hard-wired for difficulty. A challenge or seemingly insurmountable task is the sweetest focus, if we can BELIEVE it is possible. That reach, that just out of grasp, that thing we have to stretch for- that is life!

So what makes the difference between those of us who thrive on the difficulty, and those that are beaten down by it? Those who revel in the moment-to-moment evolution of self, and those who go to sleep at night, hoping against hope that they just won’t ever wake up again.

While we ARE hard-wired for challenge, IMG_1246what I believe we are NOT hard-wired for is feeling alone, disconnected, and without support. This connection or lack thereof is the very basis for our ability to thrive, survive or feel like we are failing miserably at life.

So, if that feeling of connection is what makes the difference, why is it that some of us have it and some of us don’t?

Some of us feel connected and supported though all of life’s ups and downs, while others of us can’t figure out where to get coffee in the morning without feeling sure the whole world is against us, and perhaps everyone would be better off if we just jumped off a bridge. I know that sounds overly blasé and Pollyanna positive on the one side, and melodramatic and ridiculously doom-and-gloom on the other, but both are perfectly normal, frequent human experiences. Like I talked about last week, we all live on a range somewhere between one extreme and the other; and stress levels are often the deciding factor on where we fall in that range on any given day. So what determines those stress levels? What makes or breaks us in the question of thriving or barely surviving in this life?

The feeling of connection: the more connected we feel, the more we can handle life’s stresses; the less connected we feel, the more life’s stresses drag us down. It really is as simple as that.

So then we must ask, What is the determining factor in feeling connected? One can argue nature or nurture all day long. Were we born with it; or was it developed in us? Is it brain chemicals; or a habitual patterning of the way we think? Why are some people resilient beyond belief, while others seem to crumple under the slightest touch? Does it matter which it is? Or does it only matter what we might do about it now.

IMG_1247

Right now is the only point in time we have the power to do anything! Right now, we can make this better or worse!

So when I ask myself, Why am I here? Connection is the answer.

If I can offer a light at the end of the tunnel, If I can reach out a hand, if I can be that small moment of connection for you that helps you find more connection and less stress, I am here for YOU.

Horses – they struggle with the same stress. Their need for a herd, family, IMG_1223connection and confidence of feeling can make or break them. The feeling of connection is vital to their well-being and while some of them seem born with an unbeatable attitude that can handle any stress thrown at them with undeniable grace, most horses, as with most people, could use a helping hand- someone reaching out to them to let them know they are not alone. We are in this life together, and, when we can truly believe that, everything becomes easier.

This feeling of connection is a two-way street. When we reach out to help someone else feel connected, we ourselves in turn get to feel that connection also. More connection equals less stress.

There are many brilliant minds out there tackling this issue of connection and how we develop the feeling we need to thrive.

Berne Brown and Johann Hari are perhaps two that have shed the most light on the subject for me.

Berne Brown

Johann Hari

I choose to work with horses – letting them help me find and feel what it is to be connected, because for many of us, animals can reach us and allow us to reach them, when everyone and everything else seems too far away.

This process Myrnah helped me develop in our first year together is all about connection. The connection that let me train her without force is the same connection that lets Myrnah feel better in her own skin and the same connection that lets me feel better in mine. This connection is what our documentary is about – horse training, and also so much more.

So please, take a look at our documentary trailer, and donate even just a little toward getting the film finished. This is for all of us, and the feeling of connection that gives us the ability to thrive!

Thank You!

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

IMG_1788

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

IMG_1241

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

Thank you all for your support on the Front_Of_Card_ELSADocumentary. Take a look at the trailer here, and donate to the completion of the project.

https://www.kickstarter.com

All in a Range

 

I attended a lecture a while back – one that spoke to the very core of my work with horses, and as often happens, also the core of my life’s principles. That is how it is for me – this work with horses – it addresses much of what I have yet to understand about life, and becomes a testing ground for new solutions.

As Myrnah and I work through an idea, traveling through space and time, testing the merit of a concept, it also percolates into my life as a whole. This is horse training, but also it is so much more about living and understanding what it is to be alive, day in and day out.

This particular idea is based on a cycle we all tend to run.

Tension or Stress – leads to…

Injury – leads to…

Pain – leads to…

Bad Behavior – leads to…

Tension …and so on.

Hang in there with me – before we brace ourselves against the negativity of this theory, lets think about tension or stress for a moment and explore the possibilities.

Tension and stress at low levels are a beautiful adaptive process that creates learning and growth. When we work a muscle to make it stronger we must stress it a small amount, drawing the body’s attention to it to build something stronger; then, as the strength is increased, the tension or stress fades away leaving in its wake a new and improved version of what once was.

Tension and stress at increasing intensities can also be beautiful when we give them the support and time to heal IMG_1224and recover and build for the better. Tension and stress could be considered the fuel for building; we just need to remember fuel is often combustible, and if not handled with respect can ignite, leaving us burned instead of fed.

The only inevitability in life is change – with every moment of every day we are changing and nothing is ever truly static. Our only power here is to direct those changes into the creation of a better life – to be fed by our tension or stress, not hurt by it.

Yet we often find ourselves black and blue and exhausted as we fight hard against change, throwing ourselves against a wall of inevitability.

So coming back to the cycle I mentioned earlier.

Tension or Stress – leads to…

Injury – leads to…

Pain – leads to…

Bad Behavior – leads to…

Tension …and so on.

It sounds terrible, but let’s put the words on a range of intensity and see what happens:

Awareness / Tension / Stress – leads to…

Change / Remodeling / Injury – leads to…

Feeling / Emotion / Pain – leads to…

Motion /Action / Bad Behavior – leads to…

Awareness / Tension / Stress… and so on.

You can change the words to suit your experience, because each situation has its own unique attributes and we each experience life uniquely. Regardless of the exact words, the awareness of this cycle is a powerful tool for shaping our lives with perhaps a little less bruising.

In horse training the range and cycle is a very measurable, observable thing. We usually start with some sort of AWARENESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – which causes CHANGE in our thoughts which leads to FEELING something as we head into MOTION – which leads to AWARENESS in the horse, causing it to CHANGE, which causes it to feel and that FEELING motivates MOTION which leads to AWARENESS – and so on…. I wrote about this years ago in the blog post ‘Emotion in Motion’.

The key here is the range of intensity, how much intensity can any one individual handle positively?

If the range of intensity ends up too high it looks like this:

We might start with some sort of STRESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – which causes INJURY in our thoughts (this idiot horse is going to kill me if I let this continue!) which leads to PAIN as we brace every muscle against impending doom, Heading into BAD BEHAVIOR where we abuse the horse in the hopes of bringing AWARENESS… only awareness is on the other side of the range, the easy side… and it takes one wise and gentle soul of a horse to transmute our stress and pain into something positive. More likely our BAD BEHAVIOR will just cause more STRESS, leading the horse to INJURE itself or others, and when it feels the PAIN of that injury it cascades into more varieties of BAD BEHAVIOR …..

Intensity is where we have power, actions speak louder than words. IMG_1216Every time we take an action we must ask, does this lead to a manageable amount of tension? Do we have the wisdom to develop awareness from a terrible situation, or must we first lower the stress so we can coax understanding from this fight to the death.

Each situation and partnership has its own unique answer to that question. With Myrnah I am choosing to train without any fence, or halter, or bribe to hold her close to me. So for us, if tension becomes too high, she will simply walk away. Myrnah has a release valve on the intensity she feels is functional for her.

If I am training with a halter, I have a means of trapping the horse to stay with me even if the tension gets uncomfortable. The connection of a rope gives me the power to say, you are stronger and more adaptable than you think, trust me, stay here and watch the feeling and the change as it unfolds for us. That is why training with tools is faster than training at liberty.

Training with tools though, if we are not careful, often can cause a great deal of what we consider bad behavior in horses. When we cause too much stress and the horse cannot get away, it will fight back: Biting, kicking, bolting, pushing into pressure, refusing to yield… all these things are last resort efforts to avoid pain (emotional or physical) Yet these actions one might call bad behavior are usually not controllable by the one doing them; they are just gut reactions striking out in self defense! Sadly, too often the more we fight, the more we feel we have to fight, and the cycle only intensifies into an unmanageable range of suffering.

So what do we do to change the intensity of the cycle? We lower stress, and we take actions that coax us into less and less tension. IMG_1239With horses I find the simplest answer is walking. We even hear it referred to often in our common speech. “Walk me through that so I understand” and “Walk it off! Walk off the pain!” and “Walk with me?”. Meaning – spend time with me so we get to know each other better.

It is said horses in the wild walk fifteen to twenty miles a day sometimes to find food and water. I believe that walking together is often what facilitates the bonding of a herd into their functional family unit.

I often find bonding and feeling like we are not alone is the key for easing tension and stress. Whether it is a walk together, or a massage, or an easy conversation, we all crave the bonding and the peace it brings us.

Perhaps that is why it is so much more than horse training for me; it’s all about my personal journey into being healthy. The condition of being bipolar has no cure, and often feels very dysfunctional and isolating. STRESS, a desire for something to be different than it is – causing INJURY in my thoughts where everything about me is wrong and worthless, which leads to PAIN as I brace every muscle and become a searing bundle of nerve endings with no escape from this body, which leads to the BAD BEHAVIOR of addiction, self medication, self abuse… all out of my control at that point, just gut responses to seek some form of relief…

In seeking, sometimes with the help of our friends, or our horses we find ways to change our cycles. Finding our way out of insanity, finding ways to lower stress, and learning tools to bring our range of living into a functional beautiful pattern again.

When I wrote the blog last week, I was touched by how many people reached out to me and seemed to understand. Intensity of emotion and the crippling affects of unmitigated pain is not an experience reserved for people with depressive disorders; this is a very human experience, and perhaps to some degree, an animal one as well. We all live somewhere in the range of intensity, cycling through life to the best of our abilities.

My personal journey, and experience with pain gives me an intense motivation to find actions that lead to living a life with some degree of peace and grace. If I can pass my hard learned lessons on to help others, I will consider this a life well lived!

May your life be filled with just the right amount of tension and growth for you!

IMG_8716

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

Meditations on Equestrian Art

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. ~Mary Oliver

 

The Project:

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

_E0A8021

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

Semicolon

And it begins again….. Perhaps it never ended, only paused for a brief moment. Life is like that, with horses and everything else.

Our pause, on the blog here, has not been completely still; it has in fact been quietly moving. Myrnah and I have been working, in slow evolution along with Cleo and Saavedra and Zohari and so many others. One small tendril at a time reaching out to embrace another student, dusty arenas and grassy pastures holding us as we delve a little deeper- deeper into what it is to walk with a horse, shoulder-to-shoulder feeling that bond of choice and understanding with another being while delving into one’s self.

LieDown

I often find myself asking why? Why do I do THIS work with horses? The practice we walk here seems sometimes too permissive, too allowing of behaviors that other training practices would cut short. Yet, being here with the horse, allowing her to be authentic and true to herself is the most healing work I have ever done. Yes, healing for me. The development of the horse though this training, while profound, has always been secondary to the peace is brings ME, time and again.

There are the physical aspects of this work: the breakdown of how to walk through the practice, the introduction of the ideas to new students, the organization of film footage, and the launching of the Kickstarter this week. The documentary is finally in it’s homestretch! Please take a look, help me spread the word, and help us fund the completion of the film with the fullness it deserves.

Then, there is the personal side of this story: the heart and soul of this project that reaches deep into who we are as people, who we are as horses, who we are together, and the longing that gave birth to this project.

The title of this blog is not used lightly. I usually play my cards close to my chest in this part of the story, sharing only the parts of myself that might be publicly digestible and acceptable. Today I am going to take some advice from Brene Brown; “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” Myrnah, and this project, Meditation on Equestrian Art: this has been me writing a new ending for myself.

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”

lookWhen I was sixteen I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There is a shame that comes with emotions one can’t control, and that shame leads quickly to a double life. The person we want to be, the one who is lovable and can engage with the world, all charm and beauty intact, then, there is the other person- battered by inexplicable grief. Emotion so deep with an undertow so strong, all rational thought is lost for a time.

As a society, we live for emotion, every movie and novel is a chance to live vicariously though someone else’s emotional experience. These are packaged nicely, with a beginning, middle and end, with a rise and fall of intensity, and with the comfort of being able to know it was just a story, and one can step neatly out of it, back into a rational experience at any time. For a person with a depressive disorder, there is no stepping out of the story. The emotion becomes the only thing that exists.

You might be surprised how many of us walk beside you, work beside you, are your best friends, lovers, children, and you have no idea the internal war that is waged, day in and day out.

Our shame is a powerful thing as we battle to stay in control of emotions we can’t be in control of. Often each battle we win, only makes us feel closer to losing the war. We never own up to how often we stand on the edge of a bridge, wondering, Is this the moment I jump? Or drive our cars wondering how fast we would need to go, and what solid thing we would need to hit to end the pain.

To admit those things would be to hurt the ones we love, and this isn’t about hurting our loved ones, this is about surviving ourselves.

I consider myself to be high functioning. I love my job, I love the understanding I bring to people and horses. It means the world to me that I bring this light to others. On the flip side, it is my family who has often paid the price as I sort through how to survive being me.

I am loved and I love deeply…. And yet still, when a spouse or a lover comes around the corner in the kitchen to find me curled in a corner, knees pressed to my chest, rocking back and forth as I quietly sob out a sadness that seems to have no origin, it takes a toll on them. And when it repeats too often…. and intrudes in too many ways, in too many places, I find myself trying even harder to separate into two people- one public and one buried.

We all long for a happily ever after, but this disease often doesn’t end well. Three out of five people diagnosed with bipolar disorder end in suicide. There is no known cure for this, only an array of drugs to dampen the intensity with the hope that that is enough to get us through each episode.

I have always chosen to live without drugs- to feel every moment of each high and each low, because I want to experience the fullness of every moment of life I get to live, or am able to survive. Perhaps I am just one of the lucky ones who can survive this course without drugs. I think, though, it’s the horses.Kiss

The horses have always been there for me. They have been strong for me when I was weak, and fast for me when I was slow, and my stabile when the world rocked under my feet.

When all I can feel is soul searing grief that rips me to shreds, the horses, they lean in, their shoulder against mine, their weight and warmth there for me to lean on until this passes, because it always does. In the wake of such grief, there is a clarity that comes to be and an awareness of how poignantly beautiful life really is.

Myrnah and I may have embarked on a revolutionary training process, clarity and purpose brought to life; and it may have been successful beyond what I had ever imagined. Yet, beyond that physical process, this story is also very personal. This journey is about healing and heartache, authenticity and rewriting the end of my story, one hoofbeat at a time.

It’s not over yet. The best is yet to come.

Elsa Sinclair

EquineClarity.com

IMG_8743

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.

IMG_3658

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_3532

 

 

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.)

IMG_3521

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.

IMG_3390

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.

IMG_3377

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.

IMG_3410

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 128 other followers