Episode 103: Is the phrase, “It’s all training”…a useful statement?

“It’s all training.” Is this statement useful to you as a rider? I see three ways that this statement can be damaging to individuals and to the industry as a whole. It’s important to realize if the thoughts we have are useful or not useful…because our thoughts will impact our actions…and our results. Are you slowing your progress with your thoughts?

Full Transcript

Episode 103- Is the phrase, “It’s all training”…a useful statement?.mp3
Announcer: [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.

Stacy Westfall: [00:00:23] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. In this podcast, I’m explaining why I dislike the statement, “It’s all training.” The reason this is coming up is because I recently wrote a blog post and also put it on Facebook and it was titled Training Time versus Riding Time. And one of the comments underneath there was, “It’s all training.” And it got me thinking, why do I dislike the concept of, “It’s all training?” And the reason for me is because it’s an oversimplification of something to the point where it might not be true. But instead of using true or false, I want to use this concept: I want to use the idea of useful or not useful thoughts. And so the thought, “It’s all training.” Let’s start to look at it through the lens of, is it useful or is it not useful? And when I think of a useful thought, that would be a thought that helps you move towards something that you want and then thoughts that are not useful are typically ones that are going to slow you down or block you from what you want. I’ll go ahead and give you an example here. If you have a thought, if you’re self-talk is something like, “I’m terrible at this.” That might not be a useful thought. And then if your self-talk is something like, “I’m learning how to do this,” can you see how that might be a little more useful during the learning process? So I want you to start being a little more aware of the phrases or the thoughts that you have and the way that they make you feel.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:31] So when we look at the thought, like let’s say you’re out there working with your horse and you’re learning a new concept, and inherently in learning, it means we don’t know how to do something. So that does typically mean there will be mistakes involved. So there’s lots of opportunity for the thought, “I’m terrible at this.” If I think the thought, “I’m terrible at this,” it is so quickly followed with the second one, “Why bother?” So it’s almost like my first thought, “I’m terrible at this,” automatically kicks me to my second thought, “Why bother?” I’m going to just point that out so that you understand how quickly these can come to you. Now, I’m going to go back to just the idea of, “I’m terrible at this.” If I think the thought, “I’m terrible at this,” while I’m out there working with my horse, I feel frustrated. I feel disappointed. I feel insecure. And those are just the feelings from A, part A of this, “I’m terrible at this.” That’s not even the feelings that come up when I quickly followed that with, “Why bother?” which brings up even more negative or not-so-useful feelings. So if we take that same concept, we’re out there trying something new. And again, mistakes usually happen inside of trying something new. If you’re out there and you’re working with your horse and that happens and you say to yourself, “I’m learning how to do this,” for me, if I say that phrase in the middle of making mistakes while training, I think to myself, “I’m capable of learning,” and then I can actually say capable is a feeling I have. So I might not be doing it correctly, but I feel capable of learning, at least even if I’m not necessarily capable of the task at hand. I am learning even through the mistakes. If I think the phrase, “I’m learning how to do this,” I tend to feel inadequate. Like I might not feel stellar, but I’ll feel adequate and I also feel more motivated because I am making some kind of progress. So let’s circle back around and think about the phrase, “it’s all training.” When I think about the phrase, “it’s all training,” I want to know, is it useful or is it not useful? Well…it could be useful if you think the thought, “It’s all training,” and that gets you motivated to go to the barn. Then, you know, if you’re sitting in the house or you’re at home and you have to drive to the boarding barn, if the thought, “putting in any time today is training,” if it is useful and it gets you motivated to go, then that’s when we’re going to say it’s a useful thought. Now, here’s interesting. When you get to the barn. I want you to think in your head, just run the scenario now, you’ve arrived at the barn, so the useful thought that got you there, “it’s all training.” Now you’re standing in the barn. Is the same thought useful or not useful? So now you’ve arrived and you’re thinking, “It’s all training.” And you hear how it almost makes it sound like it doesn’t matter what you do? And that’s where I think it can become a little more nuanced into, is it useful or is it not useful? Does it help you to do something productive? Now, if you’re not sure whether or not it does, there are a couple of ways you can actually determine this. If it’s kind of a gray area, let’s say you get to the barn and you’re having one of those days that I’ve talked about having where it’s like I’m not sure I’m in the mood to ride today. Am I thinking to myself, “It’s all training?” Well, there are–there could be a gray area where let’s say you’re going to just go sit in the stall, you’re just going to go sit in the stall with the horse. Useful or not useful?

Stacy Westfall: [00:07:03] I’m here to tell you, it depends on the day. But, what I want you to start doing is I want you to start looking back over time. Because if you start practicing, looking back over time, let’s say that you’ve owned this horse for a year. If you start looking back over time, then you can start to look at the direction of travel that your relationship with your horse is going. Because if this is a relationship with the horse, it’s moving in a direction that’s either desirable or undesirable. You’re either making progress towards something or you’re losing ground. Let me go to one of the really common ones, are you, do you have a better relationship with your horse? There’s a lot of vagueness that’s built into that statement that I see become a trap for people. But let’s say that was one of your goals, a better relationship with your horse. And let’s say that you broke that into measurable bits, that you made that into one of those SMART goals and you thought a good relationship means he comes to me, I can catch him easily. I’m around him and we enjoy each other’s company. I haven’t been stepped on and he doesn’t try to bite me. And, you know, you can make a list of, like, much more measurable things. But at some point you’re going to realize that you’re either making progress toward something and it might be something that you have to work hard to quantify, like a better relationship, or it could be something more measurable, like, you know, your ability to lead him from point A to point B and go from walk to jog and jog to walk three times. And so you can start to make things more or less measurable. But somewhere in your mind, I’m guessing you’re measuring it, even if it is something a little bit more vague, like the relationship. Going to table that for another conversation, because, again, I think that we can work towards specific, measurable goals and improve the relationship at the same time. That right there might be a thought you need to unpack and feel whether or not you think it’s true. Do you think you can work on, let’s say, flying lead changes and improve your horses relationship with you? Or can you feel that when you think it, you think that they exclude each other, that you can either have a good relationship or a flying lead change, but you can’t have both. It’s just an interesting thought.

Stacy Westfall: [00:09:53] Here is another reason why the phrase, “It’s all training,” might be or might not be useful. So when I look at the phrase, “It’s all training,” and I see this played out when I go and I teach. One of the biggest side effects to someone working with their horse and thinking, “it’s all training,” is that they look boring. The human acts boring and the horse looks disinterested and bored, which is kind of an interesting thing. I’m the outside person watching it and the person wants the horse to engage more with them and let’s say that they’ve been using time and hanging out like sitting in the stall or, you know, just kind of like real low key hanging out as a way to build the relationship. But if I look at the horse and the human is there and the horse is looking everywhere but at the human, then the feedback from the horse to the human is, you’re not that interesting. Now, I think that if we put this into a human relationship, human to human relationship idea, it will quickly make more sense. So if you have a relationship with your parents, with your children, with your spouse, with your friend, pick one. If you have a relationship with another human, is all the time that you spend with them of equal value? So if you sit down and the two of you were there and you’re engaging in–in conversation. I’m picturing a small table, two cups of coffee, you can replace it with, you know, tea or water or something else. But like, you’re sitting there and you’re making eye contact and you’ve got body gestures and you’re really communicating something and you’re excited and they’re responding to you. And there’s this back and forth relationship that’s happening. I can go in, meet with a friend and spend 30 minutes there and it can feel like five minutes. I can spend two hours there and it can feel like ten minutes. That is one of the times that, you know, you’re both really engaged because you lose track of time. Now, if you go and you say that you’re going to spend time with somebody because you really value and time equals relationship building and it’s all equal. If that’s true, then you can go sit there and look at your smartphone and you’re not texting the person across the table from you, you’re just scrolling through something else, or maybe you’re checking email or maybe you’re on a different whatever platform, but you’re not engaged with the person across the table from you. And they’re over there doing the same thing. Maybe they’re reading a book. Maybe they’re talking to the person at the table behind you. At the end of 30 minutes or at the end of two hours. Do you have that same experience that your relationship is deeper and better and the time went flying by, or do you feel even more disconnected? So if you’re sitting in the stall with your horse, it could be engaging. It could be like sitting there with the cup of coffee, but you’re going to know it because there’s going to be a back and forth, an engaged type of a feeling that’s happening, even if you’re not sure you can start to watch because if the horse has his butt to you and is standing there scratching with another horse in the other stall, you’re not really working on the relationship, but you are spending time. I don’t know that time equals training. I don’t know that it’s all the same thing.

[00:14:12] Now, one more point that I want to make here is that I think, as you can hear, it’s kind of misleading to some people. I say to some people, because I realize that at the root of it, the idea is that time matters. But the idea that all training–all time equals training, almost has built into it the concept that it is forward motion. Can you hear that if–if it says, “It’s all training,”– even though we know it could be like training that is poor or training that is positive, it’s almost misleading when it says, “It’s all training.” And maybe this is most evident with someone who’s new to horses. And I want to know–have you ever heard this–this statistic? Years ago they did a study and it said that the turnover rate for people getting into the horse industry, getting started and getting out was about a 5 year cycle. Five years from buying their first horse to getting out of the horse industry. And if you look around, it depends, I think, on what you’re surrounded by, whether or not you can see the statistic, because I’m quite sure that you can go to some boarding barns that are really well established and have primarily people that have been long term horse owners. So if you’re standing in that barn, your view might be different. But one of the places where I could really easily see that statistic over and over and over again is going to horse expos. And I’ve done that around the country and around the world. And there are some that I’ve gone to very repetitively every few years. And what is fascinating is that it feels so true. Like they can rotate you through and you can be there and then you can skip a couple of years and go back and there’s this massive new audience and then you can skip a couple of years and go back and again, massive new audience, because of the turnover that’s happening. And so if you go to where people getting into the industry would go you are more likely to see how fast that turnover can be. And so I think that the idea of oversimplifying it to the point where it sounds so easy that you just put in time, I think that could be harming our industry as a whole. And I know that sometimes goals aren’t popular with people. But I’m telling you, everyone has a goal when they’re with their horse, every single person. And when I want to argue with that, with myself, I think, what is the most basic or what is–where could that maybe not be true? And that would be somebody who says, I want to buy a horse and I just want to enjoy them. I don’t expect anything of them. I’m just going to feed them and care for them and enjoy them. But when I look at that, safety is implied because owning a horse has a basic level of handling them, even if it is to get their feet trimmed every 6 weeks, even if it is for when the vet comes out to treat them. At some point, there is a level of handling that has to happen. And the most basic idea of owning them to enjoy them, it actually implies some level of safety. And that, I think, is why people that get into the industry end up getting hurt. Because they’re spending time, but they don’t understand why things are getting dangerous. They’re just thinking time equals training, implied that it’s good training because why would anybody invest time into bad training? So that’s why it’s an implied thought. It should be working, is what they think. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but if you owned horses for a while, they’re kind of expensive. So you’ve got somebody over here who’s thinking, I’m spending time, I’m spending money, and now I’ve got a hospital bill. Is there something someone’s not telling me? And that is a really frustrated person when you get a chance to talk to them. Because they really a lot of people in that situation–and they’ve done some studies on like people will, a lot of times, they’ll cycle through 2 or 3 times of getting hurt before they get out of the industry altogether. They’re kind of not happy because they do feel like there’s something they don’t know, and they’re right. So I think that’s why I’m a little bit touchy about making sure that these oversimplifications don’t hurt our industry. Because if it hurts our industry, it’s not useful. It’s not useful, and it’s not good for horses long term. Because when I say, our industry, maybe somebody reacts to that and thinks, well, the horse industry has some bad things about it. Yes, but you erase enough of it and there’s not a world for horses to live in with us. So I am definitely a proponent of the horse industry going in a positive, useful direction.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:02] Now, let’s say that you’re an intermediate rider or you’ve had horses for quite a while and, you know, you’re like, hey, I’m safe around my horses, I’ve totally got the enjoyment and safety down. First of all, if that is what you want, kudos to you. It is awesome. If that is what you want to do, some of you will have other goals that will pop up when you get to that stage. A lot of times I meet people who have the original goal of one thing and then when they reach that, they naturally kind of go to the next goal. And so this is where it’s kind of important to understand that, “It’s all training,” is maybe not the most useful thought if you’re trying to reach for goals. Because you’ve already got the level of safety, which is great, but now let’s say you’re going to go for this. Now you’ve got this level of safety and you’re like, I really want to improve my steering. I’m riding my horse, I realize my steering isn’t great, I really want to improve my steering wheel. First of all, it’s kind of like, it’s kind of specific. Because, you know, improving the steering, we’ve identified some things, but it’s kind of vague because we don’t know when we’ve arrived there. But here’s the trap: you steer every time you get on. Well, probably–you probably–you hopefully, probably steer your horse every time you get on a ride. So this is where, again, “It’s all training,” might not be the most useful answer if you just go ride your horse and you practice not such useful techniques. But if in the back of your brain you’ve got this idea that it’s all training and you’re steering every time you get on, well, surely the answer must be to add more time. But that’s not necessarily true. There are lots of horses and people, they get to that stage and they actually head downhill, even though they’re steering every time, because the technique might not be useful and the timing might not be useful. And so all of these things are possible. So I just want you to track down, what are you thinking? And is it useful in helping you or is it holding you back?

Stacy Westfall: [00:22:25] Now, I talked about beginner, I talked about intermediate, or owning a horse for a while, and now I want to talk a little bit about advanced. And this one’s kind of fun, because if you’ve been training horses for a while, I think that the idea that, it’s all training and it is a little bit more…it’ll resonate with you a little bit more, like where that’s helping you and where that’s hurting you. But one thing that’s really interesting is that at some point I think that that idea of the time concept being wound into that into that accidentally, like it’s all training, I think that the concept of how long it takes to train certain things can actually start to slow you down if you’re not aware of it. So if you’re an advanced rider and you’ve been training, whether it’s, you know, liberty work on the ground or whether it’s training the horse to a high level in the saddle, I think it’s interesting that you can actually learn how to do things faster and faster. Now, as I say this, I realize I need to put the caveat on there. And this is definitely where I live. A lot of the ridden work that I do with my horses, a lot of the training I do with my horses, the things that slow me down the most is that I recognize their fitness level. And the fitness level is the slower thing to change typically. So for me, I can change things quickly from a training standpoint, but the limit is always on the physical. So, for example, Willow’s been playing around with Canter pirouettes. So, of course, I want to start playing around with that with Gabby. And but Gabby doesn’t have the strength that Willow does. And so that level of fitness is going to hold her back. But what is so cool is that I think that you have the ability to kind of gallop ahead in your own learning. If you start looking at like how could you go even faster and get even more training in, you know, mentally, can you read more books? Can you audit more clinics? Can you study more physically? Can you take some lessons on a different horse? What can you do to keep your learning moving forward, even if your idea, your mental idea, your–what you can conceptualize in your mind gets a lot further ahead than what you’re even practicing with your body. And here’s why I think this is kind of interesting. I think it’s interesting because, what if you could engage your horse mentally in ways that made them smarter and faster at detecting patterns? Because at the end of the day, that’s what training is. The horse starts to see patterns in the rewards and patterns in your behavior. And when they get really fast at detecting that–that’s the early podcast that I did on horses learning how to learn–when they get really quick at detecting those patterns, then they start learning everything faster. So that means that I could engage Gabby’s mind in ways that she could see patterns quicker and that will help the Canter pirouette come along quickly when her body has developed that strength. So let’s put that into use like so you could do liberty training, you could start doing some things, you could sit in the stall. But you could make it engaging. So wrap your mind around the idea that it’s that level of engagement, that it’s that level of that conversation that builds that relationship. And those–that horse learning how to detect those patterns and read your body and understand. That’s ultimately what develops what most people want for that relationship, which is that seamless communication with the horse.

Stacy Westfall: [00:26:28] So, Amy in Ontario, Canada, this is the very short answer to your winter question. I will need to do a podcast, a longer one, about winter stuff. But you can do some really creative things when you’re in the cold winter months. Even if it’s in a small space like a stall, you can start to teach a lot of very small minute movements and get the horse very engaged without having all of the space that you’d need a lot of times for the riding things. So here’s what’s really interesting if you do that. Did you know that that puzzle, that faster detecting pattern thing for the horses, that’s what goes on with your mind also when you start reading more books about something that you’re interested in? Like for me that’s been dressage, I can start reading and reading and reading and reading, and then I can start seeing the pattern in what is being told to me. And I can see the pattern of responses. And it’s when I can start to see those patterns really quickly that all of a sudden things will click together. And so I always want to be pondering things that are more advanced than what I’m doing with my horses. It’s the same thing for me as it is for the horse. We start to detect patterns quicker. But I’m not so sure that happens if we both just sit there disconnected and spending time. I know that the longer version that some of us understand with, “It’s all training,” is the concept that it’s all training, either good training or bad training. Can you feel how useless that statement is when it’s set out like that? It’s all training, either good or bad, like, I don’t know, for me it just strikes me as like when the sun is out, you can see because it’s light out. It’s like, I only need to know that, like once. I don’t need this repeated to me as a mantra. “It’s all training” accidentally implies that to people who don’t know more that it’s all going ahead in a positive direction. And once you know more about it, that it’s all either positive or negative, it becomes a useless statement to ever hear again. So it becomes like, let’s go deeper. Let’s think useful thoughts, useful things. And if it gets you to the barn, that’s great, but analyze it as you go throughout your entire time. Is it all training? Sure. Is it all useful? Not necessarily. Thanks for listening. I hope you got some useful information out of this episode, and I’ll talk to you again in the next one.

Stacy Westfall: [00:29:25] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Episode 27: Horses Can ‘Learn how to Learn’


  1. Courtney Thompson on December 17, 2020 at 6:42 pm

    This was a really interesting episode- I never really thought of my training time this way. I’ve always broken it into “training time” and “fun time” so it was an interesting perspective to wonder how all time can be considered training time and if it should be. One of my favorite things about this podcast is that it always leaves me with something to think about- it’s not just entertainment or “assignments.”

  2. Evon Kurtz on December 16, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    Great one! It’s much more than you would think the title represents. I will be listening to this one again. My favorites in this podcast are Positive Internal dialogue, overcoming boredom, Self doubt, the cycles of barns and trainers, and much more. One of your best in my opinion. I learned a lot from this episode. Mainly the different perspectives. This one is like our Martial Arts Mat Talks at dojo. Definitely a must listen to episode. I will be sharing this episode. I listen to your episodes while lunging horses because it’s good input instead of the pole-it-Ical BS on social media. Your podcast is fuel for the horsemanship soul. Thank you Stacy!

Leave a Comment

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.