The Horse Whisperer
Ever meet someone who trains wild horses with only the positive power of her mind? Get ready - because you're about to...
story and photos by Jeff Clark
Elsa Sinclair leans against a bay mare gently pushing it to a new location. Words are not spoken, but communication is definitely taking place. She stoops down and in one fluid motion has the horse's hoof and foreleg in the air bending the knee and then placing the hoof on the ground before moving to the next. All these moves are part of Elsa's new routine with Myrnah, a three-year-old mustang who is only two weeks removed from the wild in Oregon.
Training horses and teaching horsemanship are nothing new for Elsa, a founding member of the Plumb Pond Equine Sanctuary on San Juan Island in Washington. She works extensively with the cooperative of students and horses at the sanctuary and also teaches throughout the greater Northwest. In addition to working with domesticated horses, Elsa has also adopted and trained a number of mustangs. But Myrnah is different. Elsa has established a special training method and a one-year timeline for her.
"In this project I'm working with Myrnah who is new to people to see what we can do in one year without any tools of reinforcement. No ropes, no sticks, and no pens," Elsa says. "Now obviously I have to have big fences here, but I never push her into them and I always give her an exit route."
For this project, Elsa needed a horse unexposed to humans so a wild steed made sense. Plus she's adopted mustangs before, and they are her favorite horses to work with and ride.
"I got my first mustang about five years ago, and she ended up being pregnant so I got a foal about five months later. It's been an incredible experience. So of course I wanted to do it again." Then when Elsa found herself at last year's Oregon State Fair, she had her eye on a wild horse up for adoption at the BLM booth and corral. She continues, "I said listen, if anybody else comes and wants the grey filly you have for adoption, then she goes to them because I have too many horses. Nobody did. So on the last day of the fair - I only had 10 minutes to load the horses in order to make the ferry home - if the filly didn't hop right into the trailer I wouldn't be able to take her. And she jumped right in."
Elsa looks over at a few of her horses walking freely. She says, "Over the next few months working with my now domestic mustangs, I came up the idea of taking a mustang directly off the range, and training her for one year with no tools - just body language - to see if we can work cooperatively while learning and growing in a human-equine partnership."
Elsa acknowledges there have been trainers throughout history who have done what she is attempting. However, she knows of none who have done so without the use of tools to dominate at any stage of the process. And certainly the process has not been documented.
"For the next year I will be posting once a week on my blog to document Myrnah's and my progress in this collaborative journey. The process is going to be filmed for a documentary to be made after the year is over as well. It should be a fascinating project," Elsa says as she gently pets Myrnah's head. "It's already been pretty amazing watching her work cooperatively with me. Her choice, no force involved."
To follow Elsa's project you can read her blog at http://equineclarity.wordpress.com
To learn more about the BLM wild horse adoption program and to see horses available for adoption, please visit http://on.doi.gov/uMB6rv