Episode 64: Improving steering & teaching neck reining, once in a lifetime horses

The Complete Guide to Improving Steering and Teaching Neck Reining is here!

My newest teaching course releases today and I’m really excited about the content. It’s my best teaching yet. I explain the stages of training that horses go through and the techniques and patterns that I use. 

To save you time, I’ve edited the information into short videos, printable PDF’s and even audios, similar to this podcast, that you can ride and listen to. I’ve made it easy to navigate so you can find exactly what you want to study. 

Later in the podcast I discuss the idea of ‘once in a lifetime’ horses. I’ve had three so far…at least in the public view. What does that mean?

And finally, I update you on my horses. I discuss getting started again after a break, Where I feel the ‘loss’ the most and the concept of finding the ‘holes’ in a horses training. 

Click Here For The Full Show Notes
[00:00:03] Podcasting from a little cabin on a hill. This is the Stacy Westfall podcast. Stacy’s goal is simple to teach you to understand why horses do what they do, as well as the action steps for creating clear, confident communication with your horses.

[00:00:22] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses in this season. I’m giving you some behind the scenes insights into how I use the techniques and ideas that I’ve been sharing with you on my own horses.

[00:00:39] And thankfully, unlike last week, I’ve actually ridden my horses. In this episode, I want to share three things with you. First, I’m going to share the project that I was working on instead of riding my horses. Then I’m going to discuss the idea of a once in a lifetime horse and then I’m going to share what it’s like to get started again, working my horses after a break.

[00:01:07] I briefly mentioned a podcast or two ago that I was working on a project, but I stayed kind of vague on purpose. But finally, it’s here and it’s a new course titled The Complete Guide to Improving Steering and Teaching Neck Reining. And I’m super excited because it’s step by step instruction for understanding the whole training process. And then each stage is broken down with video examples and mistakes that are made and, you know, learning correct rider position and all the steps that it takes to go from basically the first ride on a colt through neck reining. Yeah, it’s. It covers a lot. But because I’ve been teaching this for so long and because I’ve learned how to break it down, I’ve made these modules really digestible. And so like there’s four different techniques and four different patterns, main patterns that you’re using. And when you look at it, it’s actually like these four modules and they’re basically like 40 minutes each. But then there’s a deep dive section.

[00:02:28] Then if you want to go even deeper, you can do a deep dive. So basically, I’m just super happy because I know it’s my best teaching yet. And when I listen to it, it makes me laugh because it sounds like the podcast has come to life in video form. And then because I learn I like, you know, reading, I like drawing. You should see me before I show at dressage shows. I’m like drawing on pieces of paper. And so I’ve made printable PDF’s. And then I created something I’m calling an Audio Ride Guide. And since I made up that name, let me explain what it is basically like. Say you watch module two and you learn. You watch like one point, you know, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3. And you you watch all these little short videos. They’re all like under ten minute they’re little chunks. And you learn about the technique. You look at a pattern and then you want to go out to ride. But instead of just taking the printed pattern. Imagine if you were listening to something like this podcast. But I’m calling it an Audio Ride Guide for the specific technique that you just learned about on the pattern that you just learned about. So it was really interesting because I was experimenting with this idea last year and I sent it to several of the people that had come to clinics. And take a listen to this feedback.

[00:03:54] One person said, “The audio was great. I felt very comfortable and knew what you meant every step of the way, especially since I was just at your place and had just practiced those transitions, reminding me to breathe, roll my shoulders back, massage the mouth, move my hands back and forth and be aware of the head placement really helped me focus. I really enjoyed it. One thing I realized is that my focus was on what you were saying and applying it while it was riding, so I couldn’t think of anything else. Just on what was going on. Just on what I was doing. Kind of like yoga. Where you clear your mind and focus on what you’re doing.”

[00:04:31] And I thought that was really interesting because when I talk to her on the phone, she was like, yeah, it was great because instead of having those little nagging things where sometimes, you know, your mind wanders and you’re thinking about dinner or you’re thinking about something you need to do tomorrow. She said it just really helped keep her focused. And then this feedback from another person after listening to it, “I went out to ride and listen. I loved the relax and shoulder roll along with all the cues and timing was extremely helpful. It kept the ride consistent and held you accountable for leaning forward, being too quick with your hand and not using your legs. I would also do a before and after video or journal.It would be really neat to see the transformation from week to week. This is brilliant because it builds confidence, consistency and muscle memory. Love, love, love it!”

[00:05:19] So I set the course up so that you can see the training process from the horse’s point of view and you can see all the stages of training that build a solid foundation for a horse that goes off and does anything whether you want to trail ride your horse or you want as you’ve seen me do with my horses, to the reining pen, to the dressage pen, to the mounted shooting pen. Or again, you know how much I loved trail riding … I’m telling you, when I say it’s the complete guide like it was, it’s really thorough and I’m making it available from now until February 15th. And then on the 15th, I’m closing the doors. So anyone who becomes a student in this first launch period is going to be considered a founding member. And if you’re a founding member, then you not only get a discount, but what I’m super excited about is that I’m making founding member T-shirts and the T-shirts specially designed just for this course. So say that I see you at an expo down the road and you’re wearing this T-shirt. It’s going to be very clear that you were one of the founding members because that’s the only way these are going to be available anyway.

[00:06:30] Enough about why I haven’t been riding my horses. If you want any more info, you can head on over to Stacy Westfall.com to learn more about the course.

[00:06:41] Switching gears, I wanted to discuss for just a minute something that I saw in the news, which is also known as my Facebook feed, and that was that one of our Olympic riders, Laura Graves, had retired her horse that she calls Diddy. And what caught my eye was that over and over again, the articles kept referencing this being a once in a lifetime horse. And for some reason and you’ve heard my conversations with Ginny Telego and how I kind of will latch onto a word and really ponder it. And for some reason, it really just kind of struck me like once in a lifetime horse. And it made me wonder if that’s a helpful thought or not. And the way that it made me think was that I’ve also had horses referenced as once in a lifetime horse. But so far I’ve had three different horses that were referenced once in a lifetime. And so it made me wonder if when somebody thinks that they had a once in a lifetime horse, does that make it harder to think about having a second once in a lifetime horse? Or if I look at it from a different angle, you know, a question I’ve been asked a lot over the years is which horse was your favorite? And a lot of younger kids, when I’m at expos will ask me that question.

[00:08:12] And I ended up figuring out that the best way for me to answer it was to say that each one was like a best friend. And when I think back over my lifetime, I had different best friends at different periods of my life. And so it kind of makes me wonder if that idea is tied together a little bit with the once in a lifetime idea. Now, personally, I find the once in a lifetime a tiny bit more constricting. But then again, like maybe it works because each horse has its own unique story. So the path that I traveled with Roxy, which happened to be a time period in my life, was also very unique to her and I. So in a way, it could be a once in a lifetime horse. But the path that I followed with the horse prior to her, which would have been Can Can Lena, which I called Hailey. She was my first bridleless horse. And so she was this once in a lifetime horse before Roxy came along. And then Popcorn has been in my life. And, you know, we won the Road to the Horse together and we’ve done a whole bunch of other amazing things. And he’s been made into a Breyer model as well as Roxy and Yeah., another once in a lifetime horse. So I think there’s some kind of a dance there between the idea of the best friend versus necessarily the favorite and the once in a lifetime versus that one time in my lifetime horse. I don’t know. Think about it. Let me know what you think, because I just found it interesting. But, you know, I’m a little obsessed with playing around with words.

[00:10:06] Maybe one of the reasons that the idea of a once in a lifetime horse is also in my mind is because of the three horses that I’m riding right now, when I go up to the barn and I ride Willow, who I’ve been riding the longest. She’s also the oldest. She’s nine now. And I ride Gabby, who I started as a two year old. And I’m the only person that’s ever ridden her. And she’s five now. And then there’s Presto, who again I rescued, you know, got from the Last Chance Corral as a nurse mare foal. And I’ve had him since he was a very little guy. And I’ve raised him and I’m the only one that’s ridden him. And I think in the back of my mind, there’s this idea that if you go back many, many years, I think it’s kind of funny to think about people that met Roxy before Roxy was Roxy. So I was talking to my mom not that long ago and we were discussing the last time we ridden together. And it came up that when Jesse and I and mom, we’re all sitting around talking and we’re like, you know, it was that trail ride when we hauled the horses over to this one place and you rode Roxy and she’s like, “What?” And I’m like, “Yeah, you rode Roxy on the trail ride.”

[00:11:26] And she’s like, “I rode Roxy?” And it’s funny because, you know, before a horse is super famous… they are a horse in the barn. And if you really know them like I knew her from the time she was born all the way up through. So I knew her personally. But someone coming in. So my mom lives in Maine and I’m in Ohio. So she wasn’t in the barn every day and didn’t know all the horses personally. And on that day she would have remembered it was Roxy. But looking back a decade, you know, it’s not quite as memorable because Roxy wasn’t Roxy at that point. So I’ve got this idea in the back of my mind when I’m working with my horses. I’m very aware that before Can-Can Lena was the famous Can-Can Lena, she was still a horse in my barn, and before Roxy was famous Roxy she was a horse in the barn and Popcorn before he even had a name was, you know, just the horse running around in a herd. And and then he becomes Popcorn and he becomes a Breyer model. And that could happen with one of these horses. And so that’s what’s really cool is because when I’m out there working them, this is real in my mind because it could be real in anybody’s mind who was working for because there was once a day I was Stacy Westfall.

[00:12:47] And when I first won that very first bridleless ride, which would have been the 2003 NRHA reining futurity freestyle. It was really funny because the next morning. And by the way, I wore like a duster and I had a red bandana over my face and the name Stacy can be a man’s name or a woman’s name. And when I went down to breakfast the next day, it was kind of funny because my husband. Right. You could hear people talking about whoever that was who won the freestyle last night. So even I had that time before I was known. And so it’s just kind of interesting to kind of be able to live on both sides of that fence. But one thing that this makes me think about, probably because of everything that’s kind of rolling together right now, which is the the awareness of the idea of a once in a lifetime horse because of reading about Laura retiring hers. And then the idea that I’m making these videos and that I’m using my own horses, as well as some horses that, you know, from other barns inside of these videos so that I can make sure I hit all these different stages and show all these different problems.

[00:14:02] And I find it really interesting that Roxy is in my old DVD. So it’s kind of funny that Roxy is in my Bowing DVD. And it’s just interesting to me to think that as much as I known as much experience as I have, I couldn’t tell you right now whether Willow or Gabby or Presto will ever be another one of those lifetime once in a lifetime, horses or not. But I find it really fascinating to be documenting them because it’s just fun to look back. But what I learned this week, taking up riding my horses again, some of the things that I want to share with you that I’ve kind of referenced before in the podcast, but I want to share how they work for me is that the first thing that I notice is that time off with the horses taking time off and me taking time off because it’s not like I kept on riding in and just didn’t ride those horses. I wasn’t riding at all and they weren’t being ridden. And what I notice is that the very first thing I lose a little bit of is the top, so it feels a little bit like a top down loss. So if you picture training like a pyramid and hopefully you’ve got this big solid base of emotional control training and then you’ve done like let’s just use like the training pyramid, like from dressage. And so then you’ve got like rhythm and relaxation.

[00:15:30] And so that’s pretty hard wired in. So that’s that’s pretty solid. And then you go up through and you’ve got like connection and impulsion and straightness. And so before I took time off, I was working on fairly advanced things with at least the older two Willow and Gabby was working on some lead changes and some things like that. But I was also working on the basics because the better your basics are so like a walk-canter-walk transition is really good for working on your lead changes. So I’m not just changing a ton of leads. I’m working on things that work on the changes. But what’s interesting is to notice when I jump back in after a couple of weeks is that, you know, it is a for me it’s a top down loss, meaning that if I’m going to lose it, it’s like I’m losing that, let’s just say the top 10 percent so we can go on and get on the same page. But then when I look around and I look at other horses, so one of the horses at the barn that I went to do some video for this new course at when this horse kind of starts to fall apart. One of the one of the thoughts is like, so when a horse is struggling, you have to look at whether they never learned that sport. So they never really fully understood it or whether there’s something else going on there.

[00:16:53] So one of the horses that shows up in the video, it’s really interesting because I think sometimes when horses are getting trained, I’m going to call it paper-thin. And let’s just use the the words where we’ve got elementary school, high school, college, or just some kind of a some kind of a progression like that. But let’s just throw in grade level. So let’s just throw in like, you know, we’ll just go one through ten and we’ll call that grade levels. Well, what happens sometimes is that when horses are getting trained, I think that maybe one, two and three get done and then four is done. But kind of. I’m gonna call it paper thin. So is it done? Yes. Is it done? No. And so it’s kind of paper thin. But then, you know, they go ahead and build and they build five. And maybe that looks OK. And then they build six. But at some point on the way up through those layers, what starts to happen is those little weak spots, they make a shaky foundation. And so one of these demo horses was doing a great job of demoing the shaky foundation. But that’s also what I experience when I lose that little bit on my horses. But what’s interesting is when I go in, I lose like the top 10 percent with my horses. It feels very top down. So it’s got this like I’m very far away from the safety line falling apart. But when I have horses show up to the clinics, there’ll be times that it’s like the horse almost looks like it knows how to neck rein,, but then it almost looks like it might rear.

[00:18:27] Those are two extremes because a horse that is rearing to me is showing signs that it is in elementary school. But then you’ll look at it and you’ll like, yeah, but it kind of neck rein, around there for, you know, a couple of laps and it looked okay. And it’s like, yeah, but something in there is paper thin. And that’s where sometimes I’ll use the expression that horse has holes in it. And in my mind there’s just this visual of this pyramid Yeah.. It’s in my mind and not in my mouth. So there’s this visual of this pyramid and then it’s like it’s got holes all through it, like Swiss cheese. And so it’s like, yeah, the horse is neck reining, but the horse has all these other foundational holes and that’s where you’re seeing that’s producing the rear. But what I’ve realized is that because of two things with my training, first of all, obviously I have a lot of experience at this point, which is amazing. I’m I’m I love that all these hours have been put in because it is really enjoyable to know the whole system. And then on top of that, when I do this starting and stopping with my horses and during that, you know, two week period, I think it was a tiny bit longer than two weeks. I didn’t look at the calendar before I set down a record. But what happened in there were there were these random days that I would pull out one of the horses and use them for a video.

[00:19:48] So it’s like, you know, here’s Presto with 50 something rides on him and then he’s standing in the stall, not in the stall, because I’m turning him out and he’s doing whatever. But he’s not being ridden trained like he’s playing with the other horses and getting turned out and all that stuff. But essentially, he’s not being ridden. And then. Pulling him out and I’m like, okay, let’s demo such and such. It’s a great way to find your holes. And so he’s my greenest. And so you could see the wobbles there which make for great video. And then the same thing was like Willow and Gabby. So it’s kind of convenient that they weren’t at the top of their game. Although some of the video footage is from different time periods. So it’s kind of nice that you could see some of the wobbles so that you can see like a horse that wobbles at the elementary level looks different than a wobble at high school level, which looks different than a wobble at college level. But I think the main takeaway with my horses this week is that in going back and pulling them out, think about this. I’m recording stuff so I can show you the stages of training and I’m showing you the stages of training in the order that I would have started a colt. But now I’m showing you that same exercise on Willow, who’s in college. And the super cool thing.

[00:21:07] I’m very aware of is that my horses have benefited from me demonstrating all of those stages on them because it’s so easy to take a horse like Willow and never go back to the elementary stage, never go back to the early high school, never go back. And I think overall that is a huge problem because the horses can’t practice it if you don’t give them a chance because you’re their coach and their instructor. I haven’t caught mine in the pasture yet. Practicing some of the stuff. So if you have, please grab the video camera because we’ll all get really, you know, a lot of enjoyment out of watching your horse doing 10 meter, 20 meter circles shoulder in all that stuff. I know that you can see random lead changes changes. I’m talking about the specific stuff. But anyway, the horses don’t practice. If you’re not the one sitting there coaching them and I know that my horses have benefited from me pulling them out during a clinic or pulling them out for an expo and saying, this is stage one, this is stage 2, this is stage 3. And and explaining that and then I find the little wobbles. So both Willow and Gabby contributed to the mistakes videos that are in the course by making mistakes on simple things. This is not making mistakes on a lead change. This is making mistakes on the same exercise that Presto barely grasping. But Willow’s going way down the level and there’s still a little wobble there. So that’s what I would say I was doing.

[00:22:44] I was doing lots of the spiral in the spiral out, the counter bending and all these different things that you’ve heard me talk about. Because remember I said it’s like the podcast Come to life in a video. That’s all I have for this week. Thanks for joining me. And I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.


Links mentioned in podcast:

Stacy’s new course: The Complete Guide to Steering and Neck Reining

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