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

_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!

https://www.kickstarter.com

Collaboration

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.

_E0A2246

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.

_E0A2267

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.

_E0A2443

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.

_E0A2171

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

EquineClarity.com

_E0A2574

The Project:

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

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

_E0A0264

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.

https://www.kickstarter.com

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.

IMG_3286

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?

IMG_3287

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

EquineClarity.com

 

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_3291

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.

IMG_8618

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.

IMG_3296

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

EquineClarity.com

IMG_8746

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_3285

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.

https://www.kickstarter.com

 

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.

_E0A0199

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.

http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/

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

EquineClarity.com

_E0A0179

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.

https://www.kickstarter.com

 

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.”

IMG_2187

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.

IMG_2180

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

EquineClarity.com

IMG_2158 1

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 153 other followers