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The Project:

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

Photo Sep 28, 10 54 06 PMThe Goal:

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


We all have less control than we think, and a lot more choices than we realize.

With horses we find ourselves in this magical situation where we can fly through time and space with a power and speed we could never have on our own. And we also find there is a state of calmness we tap into, simply being around them, that is broader and deeper and more easily reached than without them.

Millions of people are drawn into close relationships with horses every year wanting these feelings and experiences and then finding themselves up against the interesting reality that horses have choices in this too.

There will be those magical moments when the horse seems to want just what you want. Then there will be all the other moments, the sort of moments where you want calm and your horse is edgy or your horse wants to nap and you want to canter. This is where people start fighting for control.

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Somehow we think, if we take enough riding lessons or learn enough training theory or buy the perfect piece of equipment, we will find the means to control this thousand-pound animal into being the extension of ourselves we always dreamed of.

The sad part is sometimes we feel successful in gaining the control we thought we wanted. Our horse goes fast when we want to go fast and settles down when we want that too. Then we find ourselves longing a little for more of the magic that drew us into this relationship in the first place. We may have gained the control we thought we wanted, but we find ourselves wishing the horses seemed to want that relationship and these experiences as much as we do.

No matter how hard we try, gaining more control does not lead to the kind of magical connection experiences that drew us here in the first place. With intention and practice we may gain a great deal of control, but it will never be enough to get us what we really want.

Control is where we look into the past and wish we had done something differently so this moment would have turned out differently. Control is where we are concerned about what is going to happen in the future and think about ways we can make it turn out right. This might make us feel safer, but we lose the magic of being alive with all this control.

While we may have less control than we think, we tend to have way more choices than we realize. This is where we have the power to get what we want in life.

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Choice is about responding to current events.

Most of us make choices habitually without much thought, doing the things we have always done with only small variations on the theme.

So here is my challenge to all of you: Choose to consider your actions and your choices. For everything you do today, take a moment and think outside the box. Is there a choice you might make in this moment that you have never considered before? What would happen if you did? There are more options than you can imagine in every moment.

The choices you make today build what happens tomorrow, and, while you may have a lot less control over tomorrow than you think, you do have a lot more options today than you realize. When we start realizing that with our horses, that’s when they can be the partners we have been wanting all along.

Elsa Sinclair

Photo Sep 28, 10 54 48 PM

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_7138 1

The Goal:

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



Take a moment to put your self in someone else’s shoes (or hooves) and notice…


What might they be seeing?


What might they be feeling?


What might they be hearing?


What might they be smelling?


What might they be tasting?


And then step into your own shoes, if you are at all like me, this is more of a challenge than noticing what is happening for others.

Notice five things you can see….


Notice four things you can feel…


Notice three things you can hear…


Notice two things you can smell…


Notice one thing you can taste…


Then do it again. What’s new? What’s different? What’s interesting?










Elsa Sinclair

The Project:

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

Photo Sep 11, 8 55 48 AM

The Goal:

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


A Question Of Slavery

I spent some time last week in Nevada following wild bands of horses around, watching their interactions, and immersing myself in what it might be like as a horse to have freedom of choice.

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It is different than the feel I get from our horses and beautiful in its own way; yet I still found myself questioning how free they are. How free are any of us?


I do believe we ALL have this hierarchy of needs I have been talking about in previous blogs. For a horse, there is some trade-off necessary to have one’s needs met. Depending on how they feel about their safety, they are more or less slaves to their herd even if people are not part of the picture. Their herd provides some security in many minds working together to find food and water, safety in numbers from predators, community, appreciation from community as self-esteem is built. On the simplest level self-esteem is just the appreciation we each can be good at something and valuable in our own right. I feel like I see all these values play out even in wild horse bands.


And, it seems to me I also see trade-offs. This life is not lived alone for most of us, horses included. It seems we each accept the slavery that fills our needs as best we can.


In the wild bands there were some stallions who behaved aggressively and seemed to keep everyone in a state of agitated tension as they moved through the terrain, perhaps because I was there watching (I do realize I may have been the problem); and there were other bands who seemed to wander through life with a calm, accepting demeanor. All these bands were in the same general area; why would the mares not just walk away from the demanding, aggressive Stallions and join up with an easier-going herd?

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I am sure I can’t know all the intricacies of the decisions and choices a wild horse makes, but it did cause me to think about why. Why choose a life where everyone around you is covered in marks from bites and kicks, versus a life where everyone is glossy and sleek and seems to live with ease? These horses seem free in the sense that they are not entrapped by fences or halters or threatened with isolation, yet they are still enslaved to their sense of safety and where they think they can best get their needs met.

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Perhaps we all are enslaved to our sense of safety: at a base level, none of us have figured out how to go without food or water for very long, and so we are enslaved to whatever our personal timetable is to fill that need, and then whatever means we have to beg, borrow, steal, or trade for it. If we are lucky, we find ourselves in relationships that are reasonable where we can cooperate with those around us so everyone gets what they need. If we are really fortunate, we find ourselves in situations where everyone’s needs are readily met and we can collaborate to build better and better lives.

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Yet, this subject of slavery cannot be ignored. This week I went from following wild bands of horses around to spending time at the Palomino Valley facility where there were about twelve hundred wild horses held in pens up for adoption. While there is much controversy about this, there are some basic needs that are being filled, such as horses brought in from Idaho where the fires had burnt all their rangeland. When they have no food…. Do we just leave them out there to starve? Do we bring them food? Do we wait until they are skin and bones to help, or do we work proactively? Does it make more sense to gather them into one area like Palomino Valley where they can be fed and watered and made available for adoption by people who could fill their needs more consistently? I don’t have the answers to all these big questions. I can only ask myself, what can I do to help.


I know I can’t personally make myself a slave to all the horses everywhere, nor can I pay to have someone else do it. On a personal level, I can consider taking on one or two here or there. They would feel like they were enslaved and trapped by me for awhile, but I believe I have the skill to develop relationship with them and help them develop the skills to have positive cooperative relationships with people where everyone gets what they need.


Yet, I still find my heart breaking every time I am confronted with all that is needed and my small ability to contribute.


With all I have going on in my life, I am not sure I am ready to take on another horse yet. I would be fascinated by building relationship with any one of the twelve hundred horses I saw up for adoption, and every one of them is just looking for a way to have their needs met, in the wild or adjusting to domesticity. I will leave you with a couple of images that haunt me. Maybe you can help.

Photo Sep 12, 7 28 00 AMThis five-year-old Stallion from Hard Trigger HMA was gathered in the last couple weeks due to fires. He was in a pen of other stallions and walked though all of them in a bubble of calm. It was like he was the only horse there, untouchable in his self assurance.

Photo Sep 12, 6 46 32 AMThis eight-year-old mare was gathered when she was three from the Silver King HMA. She spent five years up for adoption, heading to long term holding shortly.

So many horses… Each one of them valuable in their own right.

Does that value make them potential slaves? Or a partners? Or somewhere between the two? How free are any of us?

I leave you with that question to ponder.

Elsa Sinclair,

Photo Sep 10, 11 44 12 AM

The Project:

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

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

IMG_5810The Goal:

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

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

And then we have the rest of life….

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

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

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

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

Being in the Zone.

Working in a state of flow.

Being defined by what I love.

Living in the now.

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

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

Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

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


The Goal:

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


Be Defined By What You Love

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Stage 1. Tolerating

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


Stage 2. Accepting

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


Stage 3. Enjoying

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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


Enjoyment is our birthright.


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


Be Defined By What You Love,


Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

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

_E0A2182The Goal:

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

Front_Of_Card_ELSABefore this week’s blog begins, I want to THANK EVERYONE who backed the kickstarter for the Documentary project over the last two months. If you have not joined us yet, click the link below, we have one last day of fundraising to go! Take a look at the trailer here! I am so excited we have such an amazing and strong group of people behind this film. The funds we have raised beyond the original budget are allowing us to complete the film in ways I had only dreamed possible. Thank you for helping this dream come into reality in the best ways!


The heart and soul of this project with Myrnah is really all about collaboration. What does it take to work together? What happens when she wants to do different things from me? What is force or coercion, and, if I stray into that territory, is it still collaboration or something else altogether? If I want to stay within the bounds of persuasion, what is persuasion, and how do I do it? How do I present myself as a leader she can trust? What actions would prove my worth as a good leader?

And then, importantly, once I address all these questions in my own mind, how do I communicate them to her using body language? I might believe telepathy is possible, and I might believe horses do learn to understand at least some of the words we speak, but this is a nuts-and-bolts physical process for me. How do I step into this relationship speaking Myrnah’s language?

Movement is the equivalent of words in this Horse/ Human relationship. A good conversation contains a back and forth flow of ideas with our movements being our words. Movements might be subtle: looking towards each other, looking away from each other. Or they might be more obvious: walking toward or away, forwards or backwards, reaching out to each other, pulling back from each other, body carriage high and tight or low and soft. Everything means something, everything says something, and then is understood as something by our partner.


How do we make this conversation a collaborative one? I believe it is all about where we take our rests, our pauses, our quiet moments. The message we convey, or understand, in the moment before a pause is the one that sticks with us and becomes the predominant feeling of the conversation. In the beginning we may need to stop everything completely and just breathe when we feel connection and collaboration. Later, as we get better at this, we may be able to simply match movements, stride for stride, breath for breath, existing together in movement as that quiet emphasis of collaboration.

What happens when my horse wants to do something different than I do? We talk about it, we move around the subject, and we keep conversing without fail until we find another point of agreement.

Points of agreement are the only moments that deserve a pause of quiet time. That is how we foster collaboration instead of dissidence in a relationship. That is how we prove the worth of our leadership.

A good leader has a goal and then adapts the goal to what his follower or followers are capable of doing, letting each success build on the strength of the previous successes. We hear it said, it’s all about the journey, not the destination; but what does that really mean? We may need a destination to lend us focus and purpose and clarity of conversation. Perhaps though, seeing the journey as a million small destinations along the path allows the journey to be as important than the destination.


When might a leader use force, or coercion? When might it be appropriate? Like I see most things, I see this on scale with persuasion on one end and force or coercion on the other end where we fall on the scale comes down to time limit. When we use persuasion we develop collaboration and that can take some time. When we use force or coercion we get varying degrees of cooperation or servitude, depending on the intensity. If there is an imminent physical danger threatening my horse (speeding cars, protective mother bears, cliffs or impending physical injury of any sort), it becomes important to me as a leader to step in with whatever means I have from violence to bribery – whatever it takes to avoid serious danger.

On the other hand, if my goal is simply to walk together from one side of the field to the other, what kind of hurry are we really in? There is clearly no need to invoke force, so what tools do we have to build collaboration.

We break the task down: Together, Walking, Field, Point A to Point B. Each of those elements is an opportunity to build collaboration, and to take pauses to appreciate the collaborative feeling. Collaboration is all about seeking out success. What CAN we do well together. Depending on the partnership, we may have to break that task down even smaller, either in time or in distance. We just have to remember, even if we break the time segments down, we can only rest on success, collaboration, and togetherness. If we can’t find those feelings, we have to simplify tasks further until we are able to find success.


So what happens if we don’t want to break this down any more, or take more time to develop it? What if we need to do this thing together today! Well, then it is going to come down to incentives, positive or negative; the clearer we are, the faster it goes.

Here is how I break it down: if the incentive for doing something is just the way WE FEEL GOOD TOGETHER agreeing on a course of action – that is persuasion.

If the incentive for doing something is based on avoiding a threat or seeking a reward to find a good feeling, that starts to stray into the territory of force or coercion in the relationship.

How much force or coercion we use has to do with how much time we have to get where we are going. How much are we willing to break it down and enjoy the journey with all its detours and meanderings? As leaders, how consistent and clear are we at only resting on success, never resting on disconnection?

These are skills to be honed and thoughts to be pondered. Horses give us an amazing workspace to develop our awareness, and then that awareness slowly spreads into everything we do and everywhere we go.


Force and coercion are part of our lives every day, and are not inherently bad. Collaboration is just better, when we can take the time to nurture it.

Most of us work for a pay check and that could be seen as a bribe. Most of us fear lacking food to eat if we don’t have money; that could be coercion to work. Seeking reward, avoiding threat, these are facts of life and functional ways to live a good life if they are reasonable. Some of us may even feel we still need them as motivational forces shaping our lives for the better.

Just imagine, though, those moments when you go to work just because it feels good and you would do it even if you didn’t get paid. That is collaboration.

Imagine if you knew you didn’t ever have to do anything you didn’t want to do: you would always be fed and housed and loved and appreciated and have anything you needed, yet you still wanted to work for and with others just because it felt good. That is collaboration.

So as you go through your days this week, notice when life can be a conversation and a journey with a million small successes along the way -where the motivation is just about how good it feels to live. Also notice where there is something important that needs to get done, and the motivation of avoiding threat or seeking reward is useful to get that job completed in a timely manner.

It’s your life, you choose how you want to live it!

Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

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

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


The Goal:

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

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

Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


So when does my right trump yours?


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


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


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


Here is to everyone’s right to feel safe.


Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

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

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


The Goal:

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


When In Doubt, Breath Out


It has been a stressful week. Wonderful stress, but stress none the less, and this body is feeling the effects. The Kickstarter has hit eighty percent funded for getting the documentary done! The end of the fund raising is in fourteen days and the excitement is palpable in the last push. Front_Of_Card_ELSAThis movie is really getting made. Please click here to see the trailer and help us hit the goal in the next two weeks.


The art of balancing my every-day work with students, my work at the computer connecting with an ever-expanding community about the movie, the physical work of keeping my barn running, and the juggling work of scheduling all the right people to all the right places at all the right times is exhausting. Some days it comes easily, and some days I wonder how long the body can function correctly on a sleep deficit with this degree of challenge and stress.


I sit down to write this blog and wonder if it is fair to write at this moment when I am perhaps not at my best. This is my 100th blog after all! Then I have to rethink that judgment – what if this is my best? And who am I to truly judge? Sure, stress isn’t comfortable, but it has its time, its place, and its uses.


A student brought up that same question recently; she said to me, “I feel like my anxiety and stress are making my horse uncomfortable, and I shouldn’t even be here”. In that moment my heart beat a little faster, and I felt for her in her moment of pain. None of us wants to spread that feeling around. So the real question becomes: How do I make this stress functional- For me, for my horse, for anyone who has to share space with me as I live through this._E0A0231The answer is not isolation or segregation. We are community; we need to reach out and bond with each other; that is how stress is eased and comfort is renewed.


We know that stress creates growth, and we know if we feed and nurture ourselves in times of stress it is a beautiful force of development, sculpting our life into the art it wants to become.


In a discussion with a teacher of mine a few weeks ago, she gave me this phrase that has been immensely helpful in recent events.


“When in doubt, breath out”


I have always known breathing is one of the keys and doing it better helps everything, but how do we do that when it feels impossible?


In the middle of an acute panic attack, or in the simpler moments of running late for a meeting, or riding an unpredictable horse, I will often hear the advice: Breath deep, breath again, keep breathing. And I try, fighting for breath after breath and feeling like I am failing, with every breath seeming more shallow than the last no matter how hard I try!


Here is why: when we are stressed, we feel as if we can’t get enough air into our lungs. So we inhale rapidly, forgetting to exhale fully.


We forget, breathing is something that happens naturally; it isn’t something we have to control. The body wants to breath!


So… When in doubt, breath out.


Try it: breath out as far as you can and then a little more and a little more – every last bit of air you can squeeze out of your lungs until you really can’t get any more out – and then just let go. You don’t have to try to breath in; it just happens. And with that inhalation we didn’t have to reach for, or try harder for, comes a wave of relief and relaxation.


There is that idea again – work smarter not harder.


We know breathing better reduces stress, but we also know trying harder to do everything right increases stress. So, when it comes to breathing, just focus on the exhale and let the inhale take care of itself.


In life we often try to do too much, work too hard, and control every aspect we are aware of. This is what makes stress overwhelming and damaging. When we can look at everything like breathing, focusing on the piece we can change and then letting go to let life propel the rest, That is when stress is a beautiful sculptor of our lives.


Our output of energy into the world is like our exhale. We can pour ourselves into life with every ounce of energy we have, and then there is a moment when we must let go to see what comes back in naturally. That letting go allows us to take a moment, sit back and see what is being created. When we can see some changes happening, then the stress starts feeling functional, and we can focus our next effort, guiding life where we might like to go.


There is a rhythm to this confidence in life. Breath in, breath out. Heart beat steady, footsteps sure. When this rhythm starts to feel too difficult, we know the stress – that can be a beautiful force in our lives – is losing functionality. When that happens we have to work smarter not harder. Breath out – fully, and then let go. Work hard – fully and then let it happen.


Here is to breathing being easy, and stress being beautiful! Let it roar! And then let life in!


Elsa Sinclair


The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range, One Trainer,                                               Many Students, Communication through body language,

Tools used only for safety, never to train


The Goal:

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

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


Holding Space

Holding the job title I do of Trainer and Teacher, there is an expectation everywhere I go to create change and evoke growth. Last week’s blog – “Focus, Persistence and Confidence” – was all about how that comes to pass for me. This week, however, I find myself thinking more about the basis for that growth and change.


I believe we are only willing to grow and change to the degree we feel safe and stable where we are.


In this culture we are taught, “you have to get out of your comfort zone to grow” and “being uncomfortable is an important part of learning something new.” I do agree with these sentiments if our goal is to change fast; if we aim to get from where we are to where we are going quickly, it might indeed be uncomfortable.


That discomfort, though, tends to lead to students resisting and fighting the very growth and learning they are seeking. Adult humans can rationalize, talking through the uses of discomfort so they learn to tolerate or even seek it. Animals and children, though, tend to fight ever harder when their feelings of core safety are threatened by discomfort.


It is often Animals and Children who teach us to live fully right now!_E0A0233

What if this life is for living and enjoying with the full breadth and depth of who we are NOW… instead of who or what we seek to be.


Change is inevitable, growth happens, whether we seek it or not. We are all constantly evolving because it is simply the nature of being alive.


As a teacher and a trainer I find myself at this balance point: my job is to create growth and foster learning, and yet, I find the best way to do that is to start from the premise that my student, horse or human, is already perfect.


Right now, in this moment, they are exactly what they need to be – not lacking or “less than” in any way!


My first job is to let them feel safe, connected, and supported exactly how they are, because that is how a love for learning and growing is fostered.


Give any of us enough safety and base of support, we learn to love and seek our own evolution.


How do we do that?


We hold space.


This piece written by Heather Plett says it best.

I often feel as Heather does about holding space:


“It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, give them advice, or judge them for not being further along the path than they are, but I keep trying because I know that it’s important.”


It is important we know we are really okay however we are right now, because right now is our jumping off place for everything we are about to become. When I teach or I train, I endeavor to build this base of support. It seems a little counter intuitive, my job being to change things for the better, and yet I walk in first saying everything is perfect just as it is. Why would you need me if that was the case?


You don’t need me; that’s the point. I just have the tools to make the inevitable growth and evolution of being alive way more fun. Because I can do that for you, together we discover. The more fun you think learning is, the more you will seek it and reach for it and change, in fact faster than if I had pushed you hard to grow in the first place._E0A0331

So here are the keys to holding space that let a person or an animal feel they have a strong enough base of support to leap into what they are becoming.

  1. Give others permission to trust their own intuition and wisdom.
  2. Give others only as much information as they can handle.
  3. Don’t take their power away.
  4. Keep your own ego out of it.
  5. Make them feel safe enough to fail.
  6. Give guidance and help with humility and thoughtfulness.
  7. Create a container for complex emotions.
  8. Allow them to make different decisions and to have different experiences than you would.


Heather goes into more details, I encourage you to read her piece.


Growth and learning make us feel alive; I simply question, how far out of our comfort zone must we step in this reaching for life?


How might we instead revel in whatever is felt now, as we support it and build firm ground under our feet so we grow into the delight of tomorrow with grace.


While holding space for people is a concept that is gaining traction in the world, I am now putting a bid in for people to also learn how to hold space for their horses.


Now is all we really have. I am voting in this “now” to foster safety and security and a stable learning base from which to push off into the future fearlessly.


Elsa Sinclair


IMG_2176The Project:

One Mustang directly off the range,

One Trainer,

Many Students,

Communication through body language,

Tools used only for safety, never to train.


The Goal:

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


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


Focus, Persistence, and Confidence


I saw a beautiful quote this week from John Lyons.

There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle; one is a sense of humor, and the other is patience.”


I got to thinking about emotion, and, while we may strive for humor and patience when we are with the horses, what do we actually need to DO to feel those things?

Emotion is an end result of the thoughts we consider and the actions we take. Trying to control the emotions when they are already happening is a very difficult proposition. So what can we actually DO to find ourselves in that place where what we feel is patience and a sense of humor.

We need a plan and some keys to focus our thoughts and our actions so that what we end up feeling is good.

Key number one: Focus.

IMG_2202 1This is all about the thoughts we think. We observe where we are, we have an idea of where we want to go and we think about the possible steps it takes to get from one to the other.

Our focus is the encompassing of thoughts around where we are, where we want to be, and what might happen between.

Focus is the ability to stay with those thoughts instead of the myriad of other things we might think. Focus is the ability to see many different options of what might happen between point A and point B. Focus is our mental plasticity and flexibility without distraction.

To take us back to an earlier blog, The Three Keys, focus is the movements we make as we work our way from where we are to where we want to be.

Key number two: Persistence.

If focus is about thoughts and movement, persistence is all about action and connection.

When we work with a horse the important word is WITH. Any meaningful action is all about Connection!

The action of connecting is all about persistence!

Don’t give up until you feel that connection, stay with it, keep moving, keep trying things, keep thinking, keep working, keep playing, keep on and on and on with unfailing persistence…. Until you feel connection.

Then be quiet!

Key number three: Confidence.


Confidence is the quiet where you revel in that phenomenal experience of connection.

The only movement associated with confidence is the rhythm of being alive, the in-breath following the out-breath with inexorable reliability – the metronome feeling of foot falls and breathing, of heart beat and pulse.

In being quietly alive, in a feeling of connection, we experience the confidence that is perhaps the most important part of horse training.

I say that confidence is the most important part of horse training because horses respond to confidence more than anything else! I can say with all my heart, regardless of anything else you do or don’t do, BE CONFIDENT!

Confidence is followed like the strongest magnet. Confidence is revered and pursued. Confidence is yours for the creating! Confidence is your birthright, your superpower, the ultimate key to anything and everything.

So, no matter what the world throws at you, find your confidence again and again and again.

These three keys are just stepping stones for finding that important confidence, because as Ray Hunt once said,

“Confidence is knowing you are prepared”IMG_1226

I am saying, the thing you most need to be prepared for is finding your confidence, and here is how you do that.

The steps for finding our confidence are:

The thoughts that become movements taking us from where we are to where we want to be, one step at a time – FOCUS.

The actions we take definitively that cause us to feel connected in body, heart and soul, because we were designed to thrive in connection. Don’t give up until you feel it – PERSISTENCE.

The quiet where we simply exist in the rhythm of being alive, breathing out, breathing in as we appreciate the moment and the journey we took to get here. That quiet appreciation is – CONFIDENCE.

I can give you the keys; now your job is to go live them because as Bill Dorrance said:

“You can’t teach feel, you have to experience it!IMG_2163

Focus, Persistence, Confidence

Movement, Connection, Quiet.

Take these keys, try them out, and I bet you will find the emotions John Lyons is encouraging you to seek:

There are only two emotions that belong in the saddle; one is a sense of humor, and the other is patience.”

Just remember, it all comes down to confidence in the end, and that is yours to create.


Elsa Sinclair

IMG_2158 1


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