Have you ever wondered if a horse would let you ride her if there was no threat of punishment or encouragement of a reward such as food? Would a horse let you ride her simply because you had built a strong relationship?
Elsa Sinclair had a friend ask her that very question one day and it sparked something in her.
“From the very earliest memories I have with horses I found myself questioning, could this amazing activity of riding and working with horses be done with less force and more willing cooperation? What would it take for a horse to really want to do all the things I want to do?” said Sinclair.
Sinclair couldn’t answer her friend's (or her own) questions. She researched, but she couldn’t find any real information – no one had ever given the horse the choice.
So she came up with a plan to prove it and it’s truly something you have to see to believe.
The Project: One mustang off the range, one trainer, no tools, just body language.
The Goal: To discover how far Equestrian Art could be developed solely using body language
I must start by saying Sinclair is no ordinary horse trainer. Riding since she was 7, Sinclair knew she wanted to train horses and so, at 16 she got her GED and left her home to travel the country as an apprentice to the trainers she respected while growing up. She studied every type of training out there: food reward, clicker training, round pen methods, natural horsemanship, classical dressage, body work, even telepathic communication and more.
“Everything had its benefits and limitations and I learned so much from every angle I worked,” she says.
To set-up the project, Sinclair received special permission from the BLM to adopt a Mustang literally days after being caught, so she would be as “untouched” as possible.
She wanted a horse who still had a “free will” and a “strong sense of self” to work with her. She chose a bay mare, whom she named Myrnah.
“I, at the same time, adopted another horse for a client who had been in the corrals for a few years. It was important to me that Myrnah have as much as a natural life as possible so she really felt she had a choice to work with me. By law, I had to keep her within six foot high fences in the beginning, and while I had managed to make a large space with high fences, it was not large enough for her to feel the freedom of space unless I kept the herd small. So it was just her and one other mare for the first while. As soon as I was able, I turned her out on the 100 acres of pasture with the large herd of horses we had on San Juan Island. I maintained as much freedom and natural life as I could manage for Myrnah while she and I worked out the details of our relationship together.” explains Sinclair.
What Makes Her Training Unique
I asked Sinclair if her training technique was similar to John Lyons’s or Monty Roberts’s join-up and what made hers special.
"I absolutely used the wisdom that people like John Lyons and Monty Roberts have given us. These ideas are not new, they are classic and legendary. I just took the time limit and force factors out. I insisted on giving the horse the ability to walk away, and kept the intensity low enough she always felt she had plenty of space and ability to leave me if she didn’t like what we were doing. The thing that is totally different from what others do, is she always had a choice in the work we did, and if she chose something I didn’t like, I had only minimal means of discouraging it. With no rope or stick or fence to push her against there was no fight, only an ongoing conversation between us. And on the flip side, if she did things I liked, I only had minimal means of encouraging it. Without bribes or food rewards, the only means of reward I had, was the way we felt when we were together," says Sinclair.
Sinclair admits that she wasn’t sure what would happen when she started the program – she had given herself one year.
“I really was not confident in my ability to successfully do the project I had set out to do with Myrnah. However, I was confident I had a truly worthy experiment at hand, that needed to be tested, and that no one else was offering to test it, so, I had to do it myself and see what happened," she says.
But it did work. These images are just a small sample of what she was able to accomplish…without any training tools or gimmicks – just a girl and her mustang.
It starts with mutual trust....
And lots of hours on the ground...
Giving Myrnah more and more experiences as she learned to trust new things...and Sinclair.
You can see a video of her work on her Kickstarter Campaign. Sinclair is working on turning this project into a documentary, a story that she hopes will inspire others to see another way of training is possible.
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“Less force and more cooperation is what life is at its best! The film is the telling of how I proved that to myself, and documented an unprecedented training process with horses.” She explains.
She is just a bit shy of her goal with two weeks to go, so if her story moved you the way it did me, donate so we can see the full story! Sinclair also plans on making training video showing in more detail the methods she used. You can also visit her website and see how you can train with her.