Ep 75: Ranch Riding Troubles and Electric Fence Issues

Q&A: Ranch riding, ranch trail…the horror!
How to better prepare for the transition from home to show.
Preparing a horse for rider nerves.
Practice the pattern or don’t practice the pattern?
The battle with anticipation.

Q&A: While I was riding through a gate on horseback, my horse reached over with his nose and TOUCHED the electric fence.
Now I have issues opening the gate…HELP!


[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. And I don’t know if it’s the coffee or both of these callers questions, but I really have been enjoying them. They keep making me laugh. I’m very interested to know if they make you also chuckle. And I think they partially make me chuckle because I love learning about horses. But the learning is not always smooth. And both of these ladies leave messages where you can hear the not smoothness, but you can also hear their sense of openness and willingness and even a little bit of a sense of humor. I almost want to say when you when you listen to them. But then again, maybe that’s my take. But honestly, when you run into problems with horses, I would really, really encourage you to look at any of those problems in as much of a sense of humor with as much of a sense of humor as you possibly can, because the way that your feeling is going to change to the way that you act in the way you act is going to change the result. So you’ve got to be able to come up with an idea. And I think this first message summarizes it pretty well. So let’s listen to Amy qustion.

[00:01:44] “Amy calling again from California. I was so excited to hear your response on Wednesday and wanted to let you know it absolutely made my day. I think it’s really, really interesting. Your intuition was so correct in regards to being present when practicing at home. I know my mind wanders and I think my mare is not used to me being as hyper focused on her and where we are going as I am at the shows. Our home practice is very laid back and smooth. Funny enough, I was looking at this scenario backwards. I was trying to be less present at shows like I was at home and hopes my familiar energy would help relax her. This being less present works great in the ranch real class. And it works ok. And the ranch pattern class if I can pretty much do it on autopilot, but it does not work in the trail class because I’ll get sloppy in my maneuvers or I could go off course. I’ve had different experiences with ranch trail classes at different venues. The first venue lets you memorize the pattern a few days before, but then you may not practice it in the show arena. We had a few bobbles there, but maintain composure better in this format. The second venue posts the pattern about an hour before it’s setup and lets you go in and do an open warm up on the obstacles that is not judged. My first big colossal mistake was riding pieces of the pattern in the gates that were actually specified.

[00:03:04] This meant she knew what was coming next from one obstacle to another. And it resulted in a lot of rushing to get to the end. I wish I had it on camera even though it was cringeworthy. But since I don’t, I’m an email you my best description of how the class went down because I tried to fit this horror into 90 seconds and I just couldn’t do it. This last class was what sent me in search of finding a new game plan, and this is when I found your episode explaining the hug. Now I use the hug everywhere I can..In the arena to collect, on trail to slow and wait for our friends, And my favorite is that our own mailbox on the way home from trail riding as we let other riders walk up the driveway. This is the place that makes her battle the most anticipation. If you have any suggestions of how I can practice being present enough to raise the home energy to that heightened sense of awareness that we feel it shows, I would love to hear them. I’m also going to work on rewarding the daily responses I get. In the meantime, maybe these things together can help bring us back into balance again. Thank you so much for all that you do and all of your help. And I will look forward to listening every Wednesday.”

[00:04:12] Thank you, Amy. And Amy mentioned that she was also sending me an email because she couldn’t fit everything in. So I’m going to read part of it here because this is her summary of what happened that she the ride. She said she wished she had a video of even though it was cringeworthy. She says, “I entered the arena thinking we can do every maneuver with confidence. But bubbling up in the back of my mind is I hope she doesn’t get anxious. We walk over the bridge nicely and proceed to the gate as I asked her to side pass to the gate. I can feel she’s tight on the muscle and wants to walk forward, not side pass to push the gate. She holds it together, moves off my leg, opens the gate and helps me push it shut. But as I go to flip the latch to secure it. Her feet are starting to step in place. The dial is getting turned up. Now we back straight into a shoot of polls on the ground in like parking in reverse. Now she’s fully loaded with her hind and and she knows because mind you, I already did this in the warm up that we’re about to do a left lope departure from a halt. She comes out like a rocket. I briefly remember she’s bred for heading and then attempt to dial back before the lope over and continue around the corner to the extended trot on a diagonal line towards the out gate, which is not helping our momentum issue.

[00:05:41] The extended trot is not happening, but now this new fancy Charro Trot, is it? I didn’t even know we had this gear. Now it’s getting crooked and ugly because I hadn’t at this point figured out how to hug her with my legs. So we’re just kind of fishtailing and two, tracking. And I think we did a piaffe in there somewhere. I’m not even sure what happened, but I’m sure it wasn’t pretty. At this point, the judge is holding back laughter. I know the judge is holding back laughter because he’d already commented how lovely our extended trot was in the rail class as I beamed with pride. Now, I’m also sure that we’re going to get drug tested. We make it over the trot logs, do a decent back, and I can literally feel her exhale, exhale a sigh of relief because it’s over. I’m catching my own breath because I haven’t been breathing since the lope over. This was embarrassing. We have some serious holes. As I leave the arena, my wheels are already spinning about how I can move on and fix this and if I have wine at home, so. Oh, okay.

[00:06:43] You can see why I’m why I’m finding humor in this because thankfully Amy is finding humor in this because again, it really is important. That is, you know, keep yourself safe.

[00:06:52] So Amy doesn’t sound like she was actually, you know, scared for her physical. There was no physical danger happening. It was more just like this is really uncomfortable and not going the way that I want it to. So let’s let’s unpack a little bit of this, Amy. First of all, in your message, you mentioned that you were riding at home, laid back, and then you were going to the show and and trying to stay laid back, and I’m going to tell you that you’ve actually you’re onto something here. So I know you thought you were off track, but I’m telling you, you’re half on track here. Here’s my thought. What I tell people to do is I tell them to practice nervous and show calm. So can you see how that’s reversal? You were trying to practice calm and show calm, but you’re not going to show up the same at the show. Now, I understand this might sound a little bit strange, but when I say practice nervous, what’s interesting is if you do go ahead and videotape yourself at one of the shows, you will probably discover and you might even be able to stop and think back that you probably have some ways that you have like little nervous tics. I think those are kind of called tell’s or something like. But there’s little things that you’ll notice that you do like, for example. I know a lot of people in the reigning world, they’ll straighten their saddle up.

[00:08:16] Well, some of that comes from a practical sense, meaning like if you just did four spins and you stopped in, your saddle shifted slightly, that you’ll shift it back. But a lot of times you’ll see that riders will get in the habit of like doing four shifts to the left. And then, you know, there’s these little habits. So when I say practice nervous, you need to figure out what some of the things you do at the show are, even including you know, I know it sounds weird, but putting a little bit of tension in your body, because I know that when I go to show, I sit up a little bit straighter and that is a form of tension. And so I’ve got to practice that at home. Fastest, easiest way to bring the show pan nerves back to home is to videotape. Second fastest way video. Videotape. I mean, next layer up, I should say, not second fastest next layer up videotape and plan on sharing it with someone. I’m I’m willing. Send me an email and especially if you have another description like your previous one. And so, you know, videotape with the intention of sharing it with somebody because that will ratchet up. But this one’s the key. Pick any of your old patterns that you’ve ever done at a ranch show or go online and find it.

[00:09:35] Pick a ranch pattern and do it at home and do it the best you’ve ever done and then practice it. And this is going to sound weird, practice it day after day after day and practice different pieces. And as you’re practicing those different pieces, you know how you said that you had practiced backing in to the polls and then immediately doing a left lead departure and that it caused a problem? Well, what you need to figure out is what that problem is, and it’s actually not what it appears to be. The problem is not the polls or that sequence. The problem is her anticipation of something. So in a way, we could look at it like she’s avoiding. She’s trying to avoid a cue. So, for example, in that one piece, you back her in and then she’s again, this goes back to some of the previous podcasts where she’s trying to help you out. It’s like anticipation. One of the podcasts on anticipation talked about. They’re really just overly helpful horses. They’re like, hey, I can help you out here. I know the next thing coming up is a left lead departure. Let’s go. So this overly helpful horse. But what she’s also doing is she’s avoiding. She’s avoiding you, letting you do the hug, which granted, you’d said you didn’t have that yet. But those are what you’re looking for. You gotta be looking for. Yes, she’s being helpful. So we understand where she’s coming from in a positive light. But it’s what is she avoiding? And one of those things could be she’s trying to get ahead of the leg you or ahead of the seat cue or ahead of the voice cue.

[00:11:14] So that means that’s the area that needs work on. That’s the voice cue, Like you, whatever the cue is that she’s trying to avoid. Now, one thing I’m going to throw out there, but I’m not going to go into detail on right now, is that there is a pretty big difference between my horses and elementary school, high school and college in the way that the cue systems work in that when I am asking the horse as they go up to the upper end of high school and into college, it’s super cool when the queues move into a release. So, for example, instead of a lead departure being, let’s say you’re standing still and it’s got to be, you know, you just add a backup and then backup halt and we departure forward or backup lead departure forward. So when you’re backing up, let’s say there was a momentary halt in their backup, halt, lead departure. When that horse has to go from up into that lead departure, it starts to make a difference. The temperament of the horse and how that cue is delivered. But the majority of horses, they kind of like to work on this almost like a release. So instead of them, a lot of people will, let’s just say, like in the lead departure, a lot of people might kind of, you know, use some kind of emotion that would be a little bit aggressive like they want it right now.

[00:12:41] So they’re backing up. So they when they go to put their leg on, they’re like, go. And so it’s got a little bit of a goosing feeling. I’m not saying it’s hard and but some people might be quick, hard, fast with their leg on accident or their spur. But this can be any aid because it really just it matters with the horse’s perception of. Is it? Perception of it is. And that’s why I was saying, you know, you’ve got to go back and build a rock that teeter totter back and forth. When I answered your question originally in episode 73, and that’s where you start to add those laid back things in. But, point being the when the horses go up to a college level, it’s kind of cool because the cues can get softer and softer, which can then make it easier for them to accept them being used over and over again. Let me just make one more illustration of it. A lot of times in lead changes. A lot of times what people will do in a lead change because of the person’s level of training is they’ll be loping on the right lead and they’ll want to change the left lead and they’ll just take their right leg and just bang into the horse and then the horse will pop over onto the left lead. But if you think about it, there might be a few days where that feels a little bit necessary, because when I say bang, you can imagine that that leg doesn’t have a spur on that.

[00:13:57] It’s not really that big a deal. But the problem is that’s not gonna be a good long term cue. It might be a temporary one on a certain day, but it’s not gonna be a good long term cue. So later on you’re gonna figure out how to make that so subtle that it’s easier for the horse to ignore, which is what I was talking about in episode 73. But it’s also less likely that they’re going to get a lot of anxiety from it. So a lot of times for the rider, the challenge between the beginning side of high school and the upper side of high school is for the rider themselves to start to. Understand that the refined queues are going to get smaller and smaller and yet at the same time stronger and stronger. And that’s a mental thing right there. So now let’s just unpack a few of the other things. Like you mentioned that some of your shows, you know the pattern ahead of time, but you can’t practice it when you get there. And you said that seemed to go pretty well. And then this one in particular, they showed you the pattern. They set it up. And when I was taking notes on it, it was like it all happened fast. You had a short amount of time to learn it.

[00:15:09] There was a time to practice it. I’ve been in that situation before. Those always feel a little bit rush because everybody’s in there trying to figure it out. And then you said you made the mistake of practicing where the gates were required. And in a way, I will agree with you. So I’m going to partially agree with you there, because at the shows it’s a little bit more like a lot of times in those paid warmup situations. Those practice situations, those are the places where I might add a little bit more of a hesitation or I will basically rock the teeter totter a little bit the opposite way of what the horse naturally wants to be. So your horse naturally wants to be a little hot. So I would have been rocking the teeter totter a few degrees to the cooler side in my warm up because that’s like literally about to happen. But again, at home, at home, this is where your question about the mailbox and the driveway. That was a great example, by the way. I love that you’ve found the hug and that you’re using it in so many places. And you said that the biggest one you can feel is that coming home from a ride, you stop at the mailbox. You used the hug. She’s a little antsy. Everybody else is going up the driveway. That’s a great example of what you’re doing there is you’re actually you’re setting up the problem. So look at that as exactly the same thing as if I said, okay, go set up those polls back into them and lope out, back into them, lope out, back into them, lope off.

[00:16:35] So basically both illustrations of that are are setting up an end, kind of like asking for the problem. Now what I want you to make sure you think about here is what’s the point of asking for the problem? Well, the point of asking for the problem is that you need to be able to actually know kind of how to answer the question. So it sounds like you’re doing some really good things with the hug on the trail ride. Now, when you’re practicing for the show and at the mailbox, so you can set this up because you legitimately can answer this. This, I hope, sounds a little familiar to you as in when I was talking about Presto spooking, which is an elementary level version of all of this. To me, this all fits into the same kind of a thing, but the elementary version of it is what I was talking about with Presto, which is that when I think I’ve got enough control over him, I’m going to go towards something that could be a problem, which for Presto was the spot on the ground, the light spot on the ground or someday. I always like the first ones. I don’t really ask for. They just kind of present themselves if you ride long enough. And that was when I was telling you about the truck driving out of the driveway and the noise and the end of the arena.

[00:17:55] And the first time that he really spooked and the first time that I get to really find out whether or not I can answer that question, will that cycle is turning over a little bit quicker and a little bit quicker now? Because I’m I’m challenging myself a little bit more, even though I’m in the elementary level. What that means is maybe I’ll leave a door open. So he’s like, whoa, what’s out there? And I have to bring his focus back to me or, you know, maybe I’m riding him when there’s more activity going on. So basically, like, I’m causing the little problems like you’re doing at the mailbox because I know I have enough control to to answer them. Answer those questions. So for me, this is like that ability to make contact with his face and given that hug and have him draw back into me, which I’ve described in other podcasts. So this is when you start to be able to kind of welcome the problems because you’re like, okay, I’ve got enough control and it really sounds like you’re pretty much there. So let’s go back to the example of backing in and loping out, backing into the polls and then loping out at home. I would encourage you to explore the thought of what problems you can set up a home that don’t become dangerous, but they do become almost annoying. And then you can then work on the teeter totter in that spot.

[00:19:10] So in a lot of people will avoid, for example, changing leads in the middle of the arena if they’re reining horse people because the horses get to where they anticipate, like we’re gonna do three circles to the right and we’re going to change leads in three circles left because that’s every reining pattern, all of them. So the problem is because it is every reining pattern, always. I find it more. Advantageous to change the leads and be like, yeah, that’s true. And you still have to wait for me. So it’s almost like I’m going to Yeah.. I’m not going to change leads in the middle every single time from the first time I ever change leads on. But I’m also not going to pretend that my horse is never going to figure out that these things equals certain things in the arena because they do. And my horses are smart. And I’m going to say like I know that you know this and you still wait on me anyway. So maybe you back in there and you lope off and you do that three times and then you back in there and you practice walking four steps forward and then then you start changing it up and go like because basically backing in loping off, what you’re doing is you’re rocking the teeter totter towards like what? She’s gonna lean towards the hotter side. Then you’re gonna back in. Set up that same situation and you’re gonna do something different.

[00:20:27] You’re gonna make her walk forward. You’re gonna make her walk two steps, halt with the hug squeeze thing, walk two steps, halt with the hug squeeze thing. Your day to day riding needs to be rocking the teeter totter back and forth. So you should be able to gain control over the day to day riding before you start doing this really whittled down version. That means that you should be able to say you’re going to ride Monday through Friday. If I told you that I wanted you to have your horse feeling really mellow and laid back on Thursday, that means you should know how to accomplish that with this particular horse, without drugs, without exhaustion. Saying that because your drug tests comment, which was also really funny, but without, you know, anything like that, you’ve got to know what exercises you do that put your horse in a little bit more of a monotonous, relaxed state of mind, even though that won’t be your snappiest, most precise state of mind hers on on that Thursday. But if you can’t rock the teeter totter and the big things, then it’s gonna be really hard for you to rock it on the little things which the detailed thing of backing you and loping out is much more detail. So I hope that helps you out a little bit and then I’m actually going to roll. A second question into this, and I think there is a relation to them. So let’s take a listen to Fiona’s question.

[00:21:57] Hi, Stacy, it’s Fiona from Australia. I need help with the situation I have created. My horse understands pressure and release. He has a good foundation as he knows about lateral flexion and disengage the hind end and separating different parts of his body. Problem I went for a ride. I opened a gate and he reached over and he put his nose on the electric fence. Yep. Got a shock. Now we have a problem at the gate. I let him go away from the gate. Every time he looked at the gate I relaxed and let him stop, we would go away and when he moved his feet, I’d let him. And then when he would look at the gate and I would relax and would stop…he would lick and chew. And then I got off him and relaxed at the gate and did similar things. Like some groundwork. He still has worry. Is this something that I’m just going to have to do, like. Rinse and repeat? Or do you have any other suggestions? Thank you for listening to this. And hopefully we can resolve this. Thank you.

[00:23:20] Now, Fiona, you’re in a little bit of a different situation. The only reason yours made me laugh is because I’m not joking. Presto, just did this. No, I wasn’t riding him, but I was leading him in from the pasture, which I do every day. And that’s one of my questions to you. Is this a gate that you take him, the horse in and out of a lot? Because that’s gonna make a difference in the question. But Presto. I go out and I get him usually twice a day out of this fence, but most of the time for sure, once a day. But I go out. I put the halters on. He’s tall. So he has this tendency to stick his head over the gate, which doesn’t have electric. But he stands right beside the edge of the wooden fence that has electric on the inside of it so that they won’t chew it. And he gets so close all the time that it makes me cringe. And sure enough, the other day, like I went out there and I was I put a halter on Gabby and him there standing there, side-by-side. I start to swing the gate open. And yes, I have heard the horses can smell when the electric is on. But I’m starting to question if when they’re smelling for when the electric is on. Whether this must be a learned response, because I’ve seen a lot of them reach out sniffing and touch it. I’m guessing someday down the road some of them figure this out, but I’m always like, why are you reaching for the fence that I know has bitten you before? So that’s what Presto did.

[00:24:43] Like, we’re getting ready to leave. And he reached over. Same thing, touched the fence, jumped back. But this is this is interesting because this is why I think this ties together with a it’s a different version of what I was just answering with Amy, because when the horses have that reaction, let’s look at a couple different things. First of all, the individual horse matters. So Presto is pretty tough when I mean tough. I mean, like when he’s out in the pasture with if other horses want to move him. So if Gabby wants to move him, he doesn’t move off from a really subtle cue. A lot of times he does, but only if the other horse has drawn blood. And I don’t mean that to sound as bad as it does, but it’s literally his thinking. He ends up really marked up by horses until he decides it’s worth moving when they tell him to move. Otherwise, his default is that if a horse says move, he says, Are you gonna make me? And if they don’t make him, he doesn’t move. Or his second favorite thing is to just walk over the top of them. Because a lot of most of our horses are smaller than him. So he just walks straight through them so they legitimately have to usually kick or bite enough to leave a mark on him. So when I say he’s tough, that’s what I mean by tough.

Links mentioned in podcast:


  1. Karen Bockus on April 27, 2020 at 9:24 am

    Oh Stacy, podcast 75 I can so relate to, as I do Cowboy Obstacle Challenges. I use video all the time and I can see myself get straighter, more tight, and more aggressive cues, which just sets up for a POff mare, at the shows.
    In fact I often take off my spurs in competition if I’ve made her edgy, and she will settle easier with out them.
    No I need to find your HUG, podcast and apply it.
    Thanks so much.

  2. Gretchen Ruffin on April 23, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Stacy! Love all your podcasts.
    Which podcast discusses “hugs”?

    • Stacy Westfall on April 25, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Any of the podcasts that discuss ‘hot’ horses.
      Try Episode 73, Episode 70, 67, 66, 64…

      And I would guess that in Season 2, The Riders Body, that I touch on it in several episodes.

      Check out this YouTube video also. I demonstrate the hug at the end: https://youtu.be/JdiYKk99SPo

Leave a Comment

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.