Episode 1: Fear vs Danger: Riders can improve if they know the difference

“Fear is something that you experience in your mind. Danger means that you are actually in physical danger.” Stacy Westfall Share on X

Welcome to season one of the Stacy Westfall podcast. I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’ll be teaching you why horses do what they do and action steps for creating clear confident communication with your horses. In this first season, I’ll be discussing issues that frequently affect the way that riders think.

I use a tool called the four square model. The purpose of this model is to simplify complex problems and break them down into smaller actionable pieces. The four quadrants include the rider’s mind, the rider’s body, the horses mind, and the horse’s body. Season one will focus on the rider’s mind. Today’s episode is about fear. I talk about how it is different than danger and some of the ways that it affects riders.

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“We teach our horses to face their fears, because we want them to know that not all fear equals danger. The same thing is true for us.” Stacy Westfall Share on X

Show Notes

[00:34] Season one will be about issues that frequently affect the way riders think.

[00:47] One of the tools that I use is the four-square model to simplify complex problems by breaking them down into smaller actionable pieces.

[01:05] The model is created with four quadrants which include the rider’s mind, the rider’s body, the horse’s mind, and the horse’s body.

[01:43] This first season of the podcast will be focusing on the rider’s mind. Today, I’ll be discussing fear and how it is different than danger and some of the ways that it affects riders.

[02:30] Fear is something that you experience in your mind. Danger means that you are actually in physical danger.

[02:59] Melanie writes in about having a fear of riding.

[03:51] Think about having fear and anxiety about riding.

[04:21] Fear in people’s minds is frequently because there isn’t a guaranteed outcome.

[05:08] There’s no guarantee that your riding experience will always remain the same.

[06:11] Letting fear hold us down guarantees we won’t achieve what we want.

[06:14] An email example about another horse owner not riding because of fear.

[07:18] If you really want to do something, don’t let the fear of not having a guaranteed experience stop you. Otherwise, you are guaranteeing pain.

[08:57] Even when you have fear, you will live through it and at least you know you tried.

[09:45] One of the greatest ways to learn is by making mistakes.

[10:51] Other people are also experiencing fear.

[11:07] We literally teach our horses to face their fears, because we want them to know that not all fear equals danger. The same thing is true for you.

[11:34] What is one step you can take to face your fear?

[11:54] Sharing your fear in a comment can be one small step towards facing it.

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“When fear stops you from even trying, you've already lost.” Stacy Westfall Share on X

Links and Resources:

The 4 Square Model Stacy uses when approaching horse and rider challenges.

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  1. Rowan on July 28, 2022 at 9:41 am

    I just found your podcast and I am so grateful I did! This first episode really hit the mail on the head for me, as have the following episodes that I have listened to so far. I am returning to riding after almost 20 years. I’m still young, but I’m much more aware of the dangers of riding now.

    Moving from the “dreaming” phase into the “learning” phase: I just started working with two very hot horses- one older and trained, the other fresh off the track. The trained one tried to throw me at the end of our first ride and I am shook.

    I know I have little to fear as long as I go slow, start with ground work, and make sure I work in my confidence zone. It was such an important reminder that just as we train horses to literally face their fear, humans can do it too.

    I’ve worried that my fear means I shouldn’t ride; that my body is telling me this isn’t the right path for me. But I love horses and this work so deeply, and this love deserves a chance.

    Thank you!

    • Rowan on July 28, 2022 at 9:47 am

      I forgot to say- my fear is being seen as silly, ridiculous, or incompetent- by others, but mostly by my own inner critic.

      I quit riding 20 years ago because I was told that it would never be considered a “real” career choice. I had to choose something else and give up riding.

      This messaging is still in my head. I’m working to soothe my inner child who was told their dreams weren’t important, and who was told that in order for an activity to be legitimate, it had to be a money-making endeavour. Neither of these things are true!

  2. Elzanri on July 6, 2021 at 5:15 pm

    I had a horse who had a terrible bucking problem. He would not stop until you were of his back. I had a bad fall with him, now every time when I get on a horse I have a fear that they will buck me off. I am an experienced rider and have been riding my whole life, but suddenly I fear for my life when I get on the back of any horse. I do not know how to get this better.

  3. Cheryl Van Herk on December 24, 2020 at 10:00 am

    Well this podcast was liberating. I fear a lot of things in life but your talk made me realize that the fear of losing control of my car or horse and getting seriously hurt is the paralyzing fear that bothers me most. More than being widowed, more than losing my parents. Makes me feel kind of selfish, but that is what it is.
    What makes it liberating is that the rest of my life, where fears are not about physical harm, I feel like I can have victory.
    So now I need to deal with the biggy, fear of physical harm and control.

  4. Jennie on November 10, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    I just started riding lessons again after not riding for 10 years. I also just purchased a yearling that I plan on training myself.

    My fear is…. I will never be good enough to advance to my riding skills. I will never achieve the ability to FEEL where my horses feet are. I will never a achieve the ability to apply TIMING to that FEEL. And to be truthful… That fear hurts. But I’m willing to show up & keep trying because being in the same and not trying hurts worse.

  5. Charlene on September 15, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    Wow. Either of those letter could have come from me! Thanks for encouraging “the smallest step.”

  6. Kerry on March 10, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    Ha, ha, Jen!!! I feel ya!. My mustang mare and I had a mountain lion and kitten take down a cow elk RIGHT IN FRONT OF US in Mesa Verde. I don’t think we had time to be scared, just “Let’s get out of here.” My ‘stang mare took such good care of me and we just trotted FAST to a safe distance. I’m like, “Yep girlfriend. We’re going!”

    On another note.. I have SO many older friends afraid to canter. Some buy gaited horses saying “Cantering is over-rated.” Same mare came to me so unbalanced that all she could do was gallop (speed for balance… think motorcycle or bicycle) on a straight line. It WAS scary. But she needed it for her own well being and healing. I found safe places… like along an irrigitation canal, where she could open up. On a loose rein! (Argh!) Fresh mustang! What I discovered is that she seldom went more than a hundred feet, and it was another layer of trust building. Of course you have to be ready to turn that around if it goes bad… but mostly those baby step gallops were just that. It’s taken three years to get a relaxed, soft canter out of her and we’re working on that 20M circle. A lot of that was rehab. But a lot of it was trust.

  7. Jan on December 15, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    I am sharing my fear of the canter/lope. It has been a year since this podcast, and I have listened to all your podcasts (most more than once) Thank you. They have helped me along my journey more than you could know. So it is time I write down my fear but also my accomplishments. I get tense and nervous when cantering, even in a lesson situation, which in turn makes my mare nervous. I will focus on what we have gained this year – attended clinics, camping with my horse, lots of trail riding, and attending local obstacle competitions. These have all help boost our confidence (mine and Annie). I am 68 years old. I ask myself – Does it really matter if I conquer the canter/lope with relaxation and confidence? Yes I would like to, but for now I will enjoy My favourite things – trail riding, camping, obstacles, and working on body control (by the way I have your CD’s on Body Control and Bridleless- Love the cloverleaf pattern) and building on our confidence as a team,

  8. carrie on July 22, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    my fear is kinda real i have an issue my husband calls blanking out. You could be talking to me and I have no real understanding of what you are saying mostly brought on by stress and new people situations. Veterans association put me on two medications that didn’t react well with each other and now my horse who recently bucked me off is getting bored just eating and walking around. My husband doesn’t like horses and my friend hates mares. i am at a loss because another friend rode her today. i do understand the difference between fear and danger. I am afraid of getting bucked off again. Husband said she is too unpredictable but shouldn’t training and a better saddle she has Mullen withers erase that unpredictability

    • Stacy Westfall on July 25, 2019 at 11:15 am

      It does sound like your ‘blanking out’ could put you in danger. I hope you find a way to overcome that!

  9. Jen smith on February 15, 2019 at 12:23 am

    What does real fear feel like? It feel like riding a three 1/2 year old horse threw the water, up a mountain and into the path of a bear standing on it’s hind legs looking u in the eyes, and after my life children ect , past before my eyes I said oh shit !!! And the bear runs away and my little mustang mare turns around and walk back down the mountain lol and the next day I run my horse up the mountain again

  10. Joanne on February 12, 2019 at 11:35 am

    My deepest fear is of making a fool of myself in the show pen. So grateful for this podcast episode which made me realize this. Can’t wait to get started on changing my attitude and hopefully helping my horse have a better experience as a result!! Thank you!

    • Stacy Westfall on February 12, 2019 at 3:33 pm

      I hope the podcast helps! Sometimes I ask myself what mistake I could make that hasn’t been done? I watch the finals in major competitions with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line and the riders make mistakes. They count the wrong number of spins, they lope off the wrong way, they make the wrong transitions in the wrong place. Sometimes this lowers their score and other times they are completely marked out. Yet it happens every year. When I see it I feel the pain AND I know that it’s possible I’ll be in their shoes someday. The more I show the more chance of mistakes there are…but the more chance of growth and success too!

      • Joanne on February 13, 2019 at 9:13 am

        Yes, the podcast really helped! My horse sometimes spooks randomly (at least to me) and I thought most of my fear was about coming off and potentially getting hurt (neither of which have happened yet). However, listening to you talk about fear/performance anxiety versus actual danger made me realize that the majority of my fear revolves around what other people will think of me if/when something goes wrong in the show pen. But you are right – anyone who has shown a lot has had things go wrong in the arena and most people are probably sympathetic rather than judgemental. Going to focus on taking myself a lot less seriously this season. I think my horse is going to be very grateful! Thank you!

  11. Nancy Trombley on January 20, 2019 at 6:21 pm

    I really appreciate this episode Stacy. I loved, took care of and rode my beloved horses with confidence for 17 years. Life took a turn and 20 years later I am trying to get back to riding. I feel like I am constantly questioning my decision to buy a horse in retirement. Can I do it, will I get hurt, is this the right horse for me, am I to old. I have gone for lessons, and have had my horse evaluated to see if he is a good match for me. Honestly, I know in my heart I am more than capable of doing this but the doubting becomes fear. Some say I’m to old at 66, some say I should get an old horse, some keep telling me I could get hurt. More than anything I want to get back to trail riding but I find myself searching for the confidence to move forward in a positive way. Your podcast heled me put things in perspective. Thank you so much,

    • Stacy Westfall on January 20, 2019 at 9:03 pm

      You’re very welcome!

  12. Kathi Shapka on January 8, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    WOW. Just … WOW! I am sitting here after listening to this, with tears streaming down my face. I feel like you have just been sitting here in front of me, talking directly to ME. The fear is real. But darned if I know why I fear the things I fear. I fear – riding alone, meaning without my daughter or friend with me. Because if something goes wrong – who will help me? If I’m ‘doing it wrong’ – who will help / correct me? And that is part of the fear … Doing It Wrong. What if I don’t correct my horse in the right way? Or don’t correct her at all? And then I just mess her all up … Or what if I correct her when it was me and not her? What if I ‘hurt’ her? What if I’m just not good enough for her? My mind is spinning … It’s very rare that there is literally nobody else at the place I board and ride. With all the horses there, there is usually at least one other person riding – so I wouldn’t technically be alone. So, in the past month, I have ridden exactly 4 times … because if my daughter or friend cancelled on riding plans, I just stayed home too. And now, I believe what you are saying, is to ‘pull up my big girl pants, and JDI (Just Do It!). And so … armed with Stacy whispering in my head, I think I will go change into my riding gear, grab a bottle of water … and go ride. Or at least drive to the barn … catch my horse … and at least start with grooming and some ground work. Thank you Stacy!!!! I needed this … A Lot!

    • Stacy Westfall on January 9, 2019 at 9:11 am

      Kathi, I’m so happy that the episode helped you! Fear is real and it is no fun. I think that you are now ‘unstuck’ and can work your way through this! I wish I could say you won’t cross another obstacle or a few along the way…but you have proved already that you can make new decisions- so go forth and conquer!

  13. Jenny on December 25, 2018 at 7:49 am

    My fear is of getting hurt after a long and difficult recovery from a double knee replacement. I did it so I could ride they way I used to most of my life, mostly English & jumping. While I ride regularly, I am still fearful riding in my English saddle. Sometimes just dismounting makes me panic. Riding in my western saddle is fine, but I want to show English again.

  14. Catherine on December 25, 2018 at 7:48 am

    Hi all.
    Firstly, Thank You Stacy! Your timing with your podcasts is impeccable.
    Christmas day has almost come to an end here in Australia, and I may not finish commenting in time to enter the competition. I tend to rant a bit so may not be finished by the time y’all start unwrapping your presents from your loved ones ?
    I have always wanted to make a career out of starting and training horses, but, about 12 months ago I realized that I wasn’t pursuing my dreams or my goals, because of a fear of failure. I know that I am capable of working with horses, however I have not always chosen sound techniques with different aspects of my riding. This was mainly from lack of knowledge and understanding. And luckily I have only worked with my own horse, which I’ve had since he was 6 months old (he’s now in his 20th year). I know that every glitch he has, has come from my hands and I have feared that I have failed him. However, I have recently been able to focus more on the positive things that I have instilled in him. Which is helping me slowly gain confidence in my ability.
    Every one of your podcasts has resonated with me. And the last has helped me immensely with taking the next step needed to follow my dream and achieve my goals.
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
    Dreamer in transition, mother of one.
    Jack of all trades, master of none.
    Merry Christmas

  15. Krista on December 25, 2018 at 12:07 am

    This is my first podcast so I enjoy your tech blunders as I learn how to follow this podcast. When you described the difference between fear and danger, I recognized what was holding me back. A few years ago I was working my young horse and he was very aggressive, I felt in danger when we worked. I sought professional help with success. However due to some life commitments I have not ridden since he was trained. I am not afraid of him now but my fear is of failure. Failure to give the correct cues or failure not to keep my commitment to spend more consistent time working him. I realize now this fear of failure is preventing me from following my desires. I really needed to hear this and understand the difference thank you.

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