Can you feel the love?

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Two weeks ago, horsewoman Elsa Sinclair embarked on an extraordinary journey with a dear friend, a film crew, and two rescue horses across the Costa Rican jungle.

If you’ve never heard of Elsa, take a moment to google Taming Wild, the name of her first documentary. This beautiful film has sent ripples through the horse world, a year-long experience captured on film while she challenged the age old question, “If given full choice, do horses really want to be ridden?” with the help of a mustang mare called Myrna who had literally come straight out of the wild the day before being trailered to her West Coast farm.

What transpired was as inspiring as it was astounding. She used no ropes, halters, treats, whips or coercion of any kind and they did most of their work together on 100 acres where Myrna was free to come and go as she pleased. In heart-opening moment after heart-opening moment, Myrna chose to come and stay and play and learn, eventually welcoming Elsa onto her back and away on many adventures.

Elsa named her work Freedom-based training, a method she now teaches worldwide, and is using with two rescue horses during her current journey across Costa Rica while she films her second documentary Taming Wild: Pura Vida.

Alexa and pups_9999_105 - CopyI highlight Elsa here for a few reasons. First, I had the chance to speak with her for a webinar for my Whole Horse Apprenticeship last year (see below for a link to this awesome conversation) and was overwhelmed by her generosity and gentleness, and completely inspired by her zen-like patience. As a horsewoman, I know how tricky it can be to walk the fine line between passive and active work with our horses and Elsa shared about this in ways that completely shifted my way of working with my mare and interacting with all horses. It is all too easy to shut down when things aren’t going our way, get angry and take those frustrations out on our horses, something that has been, in many instances, encouraged as a way to “get things done” and force the behaviour we are wanting. I, for one, am wanting to shift this way of being with horses, tired of abuse being disguised as leadership, dominance or the only way to solve a problem.

As in the case of Myrna and Elsa, there are, very obviously, other ways to create cooperation and collaboration if we are open to them. The documentary Taming Wild finishes profoundly, and although I’m not going to give away the stunning ending, Elsa achieves the dream of almost every horse person I know, a deep and effective connection with a horse without any tools – no bridle, no saddle, no ropes, no whips, no treats. I sat watching, jaw slightly ajar and tears rolling down my cheeks, my heart bursting with the possibilities that such a story presents. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was as if a part of me remembered what my horse-obsessed inner 8-year old always knew to be true.

My time spent with Elsa combined with watching Taming Wild inspired me to start working with my 18-year old Percheron-Morgan mare Diva to receive my signals without reins, crop or treats, a challenging yet brilliant exercise in connection. I love this feisty mare more than almost any living being in my life and even so, I have treated her unlovingly more times than I care to admit. My initial training with horses as a young woman had taught me to be dominant and aggressive to get what I needed from a horse, and it has been remarkably hard to unlearn. Even so, in our fourteen years together, Diva has been my teacher on what connection between horses and humans can look like when you shed all the harshness and harm away. I have challenged myself throughout to be open and willing to soften and shift my thinking.

Repeatedly, I receive the messages to do less, to give my horse the benefit of the doubt, to opt for gentle whenever possible, to breath, ground and balance myself first, and to get clear on my intentions before beginning. The more I listen and embrace expression, the more connected and cool our relationship becomes. The less I listen and attempt to control and oppress Diva’s expression, the more tension, resistance and disconnection arises. My constant question whenever Diva and I spend time together is this: “Am I being loving?” From this place, I can see where my biases and agendas begin, when my old harsh learning and conditioning rises up and I do my own work to unwind those patterns that are based in fear or a need to dominate.

Elsa Sinclair PodcastI invite you to commit to yourself and to your horse that you will do your darndest to come from a place of love. Remember, love isn’t always passive or gentle, but it is always connecting. I would love to hear about your journey to “feeling the love” with your favourite equine – Please comment below.

If you’d like to learn more about Elsa Sinclair, her documentaries, and her work with horses, she granted me permission to use our awesome and content-packed webinar together on my new Whole Horse Podcast, a podcast for horse lovers and their inner rebels. Listen to her episode at!

To learn more about Elsa head to

Horsemanship and Equine Assisted Programs & Therapies

I have been a professional horseman, trainer and instructor since the age of 17. At 13 years of age I was the youngest registered polo player in the United States. Currently, at 71 years of age, I have been a paid as a professional trainer and instructor for over 50 years. I was fortunate to have established my own small ranch on the island of Maui in the early 80s and began a horse trekking business into the beautiful tropical outback of Maui’s pristine north shore. This business operated for over 30 years. Prior to moving to Maui, while working as a riding instructor at large summer camps in N. Michigan, I discovered that if I taught the children something about the nature, language and psychology of horses, how to handle them on the ground, along with how to ride them, the entire experience was elevated into discovery about themselves as well as about life itself. A simple riding lesson became an exercise in developing self-awareness, kindness, compassion, integrity and mindfulness. Additionally, the skills of good leadership and how to have a successful team experience were also part of this unique learning program.

Early on, I learned about the significance of developing trust with horses. I love to ride but learning about how and why trust is so important to a horse, brought whatever I did with a horse to a higher and safer level. As trusting it is safe (survival) is paramount to a horse and the most important aspect to its life, developing trust with the horse became the first and foremost thing I did with all horses I interacted with. I began teaching ‘horse’ to all who came to work or ride with me.

In the late 80’s I heard about Equine Experiential Learning EEL) which was started by a woman named Barbara Rector in Arizona. I was very interested in ways of developing the horse/human experience beyond humans riding horses, so I signed up for one of her programs. This experience changed my life significantly. It was not long after that I began my own Equine Facilitated Learning (EFL) program called The Maui Horse Whisperer Experience. This was not a program that merely ‘used’ horses within its process. I wanted a partnership with the horses involved. This decision to consciously and intentionally, ‘partner’ and not just use horses, really set my program apart from many others that began to pop up around the country. My focus was not to only to develop a program that was beneficial to the human but was unquestionably beneficial to the horse at the same time. To accomplish this, I needed to be able to impart some basic knowledge of horses to the humans who came to me.

I had visited many other equine assisted programs in those early days and was often disappointed, and even angered, at what I saw. I frequently saw horses emotionally abused by humans who knew little of the nature of horses and seemed to care even less. I would question the humans providing these programs and was frequently told their focus was entirely on processing the human through the program and not about horses or teaching anything about horses. It became obvious to me that these people knew little of the real nature of horses. This was not their job was a refrain that was so often repeated to me. For a time, I became a publicly outspoken critic of these other equine facilitated programs. One had quickly become a nationally recognized organization. They did not care for me as I had gained some credibility and notoriety in the field by that time and was openly and publicly critical of them. Here is an example of a common exercise that made my stomach upset; they would give a halter to a human and tell them to go and put it on a horse. They never said anything about the horse or the piece of equipment. So here is a human with a piece of horse equipment and told to fasten it on to a horse and no information about the horse or equipment given. The facilitator would then proceed to psychologist that human based on the struggle the human had with the horse and task. Imagine if this was a 7-year-old child and the equipment was the shoulder pads of a football uniform and the adult had never seen a helmet, knee or shoulder pads used before. So now you have an adult struggling to put this equipment on the child and the child being made afraid by the struggling of the human. This is what I saw happening to the horse during these and similar exercises. A human who is unsure around them will often create fear within the horse.

In the beginning the normal model for an equine assisted program was for there to always be an equine professional present. Eventually, this requirement was dropped because so many folks doing this work felt they had all the horse knowledge necessary and the added expense of paying another person was unnecessary. It seemed that if someone had owned a horse in their life or ridden a fair amount that was all the horse experience they needed to do this work. This was and still is the norm in many places doing this work. It can be easily seen that the horse becomes a fearful victim because of the ignorance of the humans no matter how well-intentioned they are.

My intention with this short treatise is an attempt to motivate as many of the people doing this work that I can, to gain the experience and knowledge with horses to understand what it really means to develop a trust-based partnership with a horse doing any activity with a human and especially within the process of an equine assisted program. If a program is not as beneficial for the horse as it is for the humans involved, don’t do it. Be part of the solution in resolving this unfair and unsatisfactory situation regarding horses participating in any equine facilitated program.

Changing How We View the Horse


Horses have been improving people’s lives for thousands of years. They have pulled heavy loads, plowed fields, carried men into battle and on hunts, and have been used as a mode of transportation. Horses have sacrificed so much for the human race throughout all of this time.

Nowadays horses perform various sports, carry us along trails, do tricks and play games, and just plain make us feel good, and they still make sacrifices for our pleasure.

Humans have long taken horses for granted, and assumed the horse exists for our use and our pleasure. Thankfully, this view is beginning to change. More and more humans are changing their view of the horse, and the belief that is beginning to evolve, and which is my belief as well is:

  • The horse owes us nothing.
  • The horse is a kind and generous being, and we need to repay her with kindness and generosity.

Being with the the horse makes us feel good, and we owe her the same in return.
” The Power of Proper Riding”. The horse is an intelligent being and deserves to be educated using a kind and intelligent approach, as opposed to being trained and programmed.

  • The horse is deserving of our utmost respect, admiration and loving care.
  • The horse is a sentient being, and should be treated as such with kindness, caring, understanding and compassion.

There is much that we can learn from the horse, such as:

  • The horse does not lie, and is not deceitful. Therefore, she can teach us about honesty, truthfulness and integrity.
  • The horse does not judge and accepts us for who we are. Therefore, she can teach us how to be non judgmental and allowing.
  • The horse forgives easily. Therefore, she can teach us how to be more forgiving.
  • The horse easily accesses her Inner Healing Wisdom, and demonstrates this for us if we wish to learn to heal ourselves.
  • The horse lives in the moment and therefore, she can teach us how to be in the moment as well.

Our view of the horse is one of appreciation and love. “The Power of Fitness”.



To find out more about the BETR Journey, go to:

The Power of Proper Riding


There is no such thing as just riding. There is Proper Riding and Improper Riding, and that distinction must always be made, because Proper Riding benefits the horse, and Improper Riding damages the horse. The degree of damage depends on the degree of Improper Riding.

A Proper Rider comes at least close to the following ideal of perfection:

  • Remains Totally Relaxed and perfectly balanced.
  • Is able to be extremely subtle and ultra light with both her seat and rein communication.
  • Has the ability to coordinate seat and hands in perfect synchronicity with each other.
  • Has a high level of body awareness and body control.
  • Feels everything that is going on in his/her own body every instant as well as everything that is going on in the horse’s body every instant and responds with instant split second timing/precision.
  • Never over faces the horse either M/E or physically.
  • Constantly hones problem solving skills.
  • Checks his/her own body first if a problem arises.
  • Matches his/her own size and weight to the horse’s strength, in particular the level of strength in the horse’s back.
  • Does not cause the horse discomfort.
  • Enjoys the time in the saddle.

When a horse is being ridden Properly he/she:

  • Is Totally Relaxed and balanced.
  • Is Properly Skeletally Aligned.
  • Maintains Proper Posturing both laterally and longitudinally.
  • Is strong, flexible and Properly Conditioned.
  • Has been Properly Prepared on the ground before ever being ridden.
  • Is Properly warmed up for each ride both on the ground and after being mounted.
  • Does not suffer discomfort.
  • Enjoys being ridden.

After being Ridden Properly, the horse feels good and relaxed and as if she just had a massage.
After being Ridden Improperly, the horse feels like she NEEDS a good massage.

Last but not least, I would like to address bitted vs. bitless bridles.

Can one ride Properly in a bitted bridle? Absolutely, but few do.
Can one ride Improperly in a bitted bridle? Absolutely, and most do.

Can one ride Properly in a bitless bridle? Absolutely, but few do.
Can one ride Improperly in a bitless bridle? Absolutely, and most do.

It takes much studying, time, dedication and practice to become a Proper Rider, but if you want your horse to be happy and comfortable and even more sound than if she wasn’t ridden at all, then it is worth the investment.

In the photo abve, Sweetie shows the physical benefits of being developed and conditioned with Proper Riding (see my previous article entitled “The Power of Fitness”.)


To find out more about the BETR Journey, go to:

The Power of Fitness


Whether horse or human, being fit has many benefits.

The biggest reason for this is the physiological changes that the body experiences as a result of becoming conditioned and fit from a Proper exercise program.

The word Proper must go in front of everything we do. So Proper exercise enhances health and soundness, whereas Improper exercise can actually do damage.

Here is a list of the physiological changes that horses experiences as a result of becoming conditioned and fit from a Proper exercise program.

1. The muscles increase in size and strength, and body fat decreases.

Active muscles are excellent for dealing with food energy, both fat and sugar. Sedentary muscles are less able to absorb glucose, so there is a higher risk of Cushings and founder in horses.

During exercise the blood vessels in the muscle dilate, letting in more oxygen. With regular exercise the ability of the blood vessels to open up is dramatically improved. The tissues themselves change, with an increase in the number of mitochondria in each cell, which are the powerhouses of the cell.

Exercise also stimulates the body to produce more antioxidants to mop up free radicals.

2. The heart is also a muscle so it becomes stronger as well.

The more fit a body is, the less hard the heart has to work. By the same token, the less fit a body is, the harder the heart has to work.

Because exercise strengthens the heart, and therefore improves its ability to pump blood, it can deliver more oxygen to the cells which also improves the removal of waste products (toxins).

During exercise the heart expands more and contracts more so the amount of blood pumped out increases. With regular exercise, the heart gets larger and its wall gets thicker and stronger.

3. Tendons and ligaments become stronger.

Ligaments connect bone to bone and stabilize the joints. The stronger the ligaments, the stronger and more resistant to injury the joints become. Tendons connect muscles to bone. Strong tendons contribute to overall strength and protection from injuries such as muscle strains.

4. Bone density increases.

This makes the bones thicker, stronger and more resistant to injury. Years ago I used to hear cowboys refer to a horse who was fit and conditioned and ready for hard work as being “boned up”.

5. Improves lung function and respiratory health.

During exercise, the body breathes faster and deeper which assists the lungs in cleaning out stale dead air and mucus, both of which are the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. This greatly reduces their risk of respiratory infections/disease.

6. The body becomes more flexible.

A flexible body is less likely to suffer torn muscles, tendons or ligaments.

7. Exercise bolsters the immune system.

8. Exercise makes the body produce endorphins, which creates a sense of wellbeing.

9. Regular Proper exercise especially benefits hot horses.

The controlled, extended activity uses up energy while consistent, steady rhythm relaxes them.

10. Last but not least, it feels darn good to be fit and conditioned!

The following photo is Sweetie, taken in the winter. In the winter, I ride just enough to keep the horses from completely losing their fitness and conditioning so I don’t have to start completely from scratch in the spring. Plus being at least a little fit is healthier for them than not being fit at all.

Strong-Topline (2)

The following photo is Sweetie, taken in the summer. Spring, summer and fall the horses are ridden enough to be quite fit.

Strong-Topline (1)


To find out more about the BETR Journey, go to: