Horsemanship By Alexa Linton 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. I 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. I 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 www.wholehorse.ca/episode5! To learn more about Elsa head to www.tamingwild.com.