Episode 107: Training Cycles: Yearly, weekly, daily

I use training cycles to make my daily rides more efficient and productive. The same techniques work when I view my week month and year in a similar way. In this episode, I’ll explain the benefits of training cycles…and the importance of a rest cycle or less intense phase in the cycles.
Full Transcript

Episode 107 Training Cycles.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: [00:00:22] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. In today’s episode, I’m going to be talking about training cycles. Yearly training cycles, weekly training cycles, and even daily training cycles. And the reason this came up for me is I was out in the barn working my horses and I noticed that with Presto, who I’ve given some time off, like in the last 6 weeks, he really had like one week of work and it was a little bit spread out. So I kind of let him go into a, you know, less intense part of his yearly cycle. So bringing him out and getting him going, riding again, it feels a little bit like starting over again. And in previous podcasts, you’ve heard me talking about making my plans for next year, kind of ramping up to–my–I go along with that traditional goal setting time of year because where I live, it’s freezing cold. So January is a great time to sit inside and make plans for me. And so I can feel that I’m mentally ramping up to start again with some new goals and then with Gabby and Willow, because it’s also we got our first official real snow here. It’s cold. And it’s kind of funny to me that I automatically go back to the basics. I’m not even sure anymore if it’s like super conscious or or whether it’s just like, it snowed and so therefore, I want to do ground work because they all look really bouncy and perky. And I start pulling out the cavaletti poles again, the ground poles, I start lunging them over it. And so again, it’s got this starting again kind of a feeling which got me thinking about how important it is, I think for me, to view the entire year as a giant training cycle. And I’m going to bring this up right at the beginning, because depending on where you live in the world, because I have listeners all over the world, thank you for listening. Depending on where you live, you know, you’re going to be experiencing something different weather wise. But for me here in Ohio, it is snowy and cold. And I know I’ve already started getting emails from people in Canada and places where they’re like, it’s frozen, it’s really cold. And so I will be doing more questions when I jump into the new year. So if you’ve got questions, you can start ramping those up, calling them into the voicemail hotline. But what I’m doing right now is like there’s this cycle thing that’s happening for me because of the weather. So for me, it’s a little bit driven by the weather.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:16] But I love that I’ve got these things tied together because I’ve got this very predictable flow of this yearly training cycle that happens with my horses. Now, the some of the things that influence that training cycle would be the age of the horse. So, for example, when Presto was a two-year-old, it was little bitty cycles and there weren’t as as big ups and as big as–well, actually, they were quite big downs because the downs are kind of that more resting time. But I wouldn’t do nearly as much up. Like so when I’m ramping up to a show with Willow and Gabby now next year, it’s looking like that will be on Presto’s list. But basically, let me start with the idea of the full blown year. For me, the full blown year is a little bit dictated by the weather here. And with that being said, the winter tends to be a little bit more of a down season. When I was growing up in Maine and I had no indoor, the winter was very much a down season. And then the spring you would ramp up and then the summer was full blown riding and the fall was almost the peak of the riding season. And then it kind of came back down when the weather went down. Now, this similar idea for me, I like to see this happening on a monthly and a weekly basis also. So I’m not real rigid with it, by the way. So when I start looking at next year’s goals and start looking at this overall training cycle, I look at it like I know generally when horse shows will start up and I know when the weather generally warms up and when I want to be spending more time outside. And so those will be when the when I will consider the training cycle to go from that winter mode into that spring mode will be when that weather starts to change. And I want to be out there a little bit more. And, and so they’re kind of tied together for me. Does it have to be? Not at all. So if you live somewhere where the weather’s more stable than this or if you have the indoor and you don’t mind riding, you know, you could ride consistently year round. But what’s really fascinating to me and what Presto just reminded me of again and it’s fascinating that I can forget these things and then remember them and then forget them again is that him coming off from having almost six weeks off? It’s amazing how good he feels. And I think sometimes it’s a little bit like the idea where when I get into the mindset of like, say, me physically exercising or in this example, me exercising/working Presto, it’s almost like I get into this mindset and I go, go, go, go, go. If I choose to stop, sometimes it almost feels like, oh, man, you know, there’s a setback. I’m not doing it as regularly. So I’m so glad that Presto came off from this rest cycle, this down cycle, and feels so good because to me that is a reminder that they’re needed, which if you, you know, take up some kind of an exercise program, one of the things they’ll tell you consistently is that you need–that rest is part of, you know, improvement because for your body to get fit, it also needs that downtime to rebuild. And that was what I was feeling like Presto needed. And sure enough, now that I’ve started again, I can feel the results of doing nothing with him. So there’s your partial pep talk for anyone who’s living in a place where the weather or some other outside circumstance is keeping you from working the horses as consistently as you might want to. And my one confession, word of advice, is be careful that you’re not being too hard on yourself because like I started to detail out there a little bit, I can feel myself sometimes when I start giving them time off, I can feel the shakiness in that decision because it’s almost a little bit like scarcity. Like, oh, if I could just keep going with them versus like, this will be fine. They need rest and downtime and they’ll come back and, and so it’s it gives you an interesting chance to analyze your thinking there.

Stacy Westfall: [00:08:08] So over the yearly theme, over the yearly cycle, to me the biggest 4 pieces I see are, you know, I’ll have that more down time in the winter or like with a horse like Presto, he just kind of came off that chunk of downtime. A lot of times with younger horses, I will actually work several down time cycles like that in. And as I mentioned, I won’t go quite as high up on the monthly or weekly cycle. So it’s got this, you know, kind of 4 part cycle that happens within the year. And then what’s really cool is the month has that four week cycle also to it. So I’m also going to work my horses typically, you know, like that first week of the month. Maybe if I’m scheduling it out or looking ahead, I’m–that might be my slightly easier week. And then I build up in that. Next week’s a little bit harder and I build up in that next week’s a little bit harder, and then I build up in that last week of the month is my hardest ride, and then I come back down and go a little bit easier again. So that’s the kind of cycle I’ll do over a monthly basis and something I’m going to do over this winter that I haven’t done before, but I’m really interested in testing out is that because I just did the online World Show for the Western Dressage, what I’ve also decided I’m going to do is I’m going to videotape at least one ride, like so basically have a little mini show, but right here at home and and set that as a goal to do like once a month with the horses. Because it was a really good reminder of the fact that the shows–the reason I like showing horses is because I like that–that test that I’m going to go take. And so for me, I really enjoy that. And then basically learning that I could really, really, really take that test while at home and actually even videotape it and get a judge and feedback. I was like, mind blown. This is really good. So I’m going to work that in because I can really set my calendar to make that easier week and then a little harder, a little harder, a little harder, videotape, and then maybe we take a little time off at the beginning of next week. So that’s one of the things that I’m planning on doing to keep myself motivated over the winter, because it does get hard when the weather is sketchy.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:54] So inside of the yearly and then inside of the monthly, then we go down to the weekly. And I do a similar training cycle inside the week where I start out easy, I expect a little bit more, a little bit more, a little bit more, and then I actually kind of come down just a little bit and then they get a little time off. So I manage to work that cycle into weekly. And then on top of it, I actually do this many times in my daily. Now let’s just use 4 as an average, but I think that each ride should have these cycles in it. And the reason it’s so important to me to have these cycles built into an individual ride is because this is where you can really play with the idea of the physical cycles and the mental or emotional cycle. And for me, what that means, and I actually have a video. You can watch it on YouTube and I will link to it in the show notes. But back when I did the Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Episode 13, I actually show the physical and the mental emotional cycle going on. And this is something that is actually going on in these bigger cycles: The yearly, the weekly, the daily–It’s going on inside of all of these things, but it’s most visible inside the daily. But. If you really start using it, I’m telling you, my horses catch on to the cycle and whether they catch on literally to the cycle where they’re actually like thinking about the cycle themselves, probably not. But what they definitely are reading on, they’re picking up on my intention when I go out there. And so I’m quite sure that when I go out there, they’re like, OK, we’re going to have a little more asked of us today. Oh, there’s going to be a little more asked today. Oh, OK, today, a little bit more and then, oh, OK, today a little less. So the beauty of that is that inside of my week, for example, when the horse can see those ups and downs happening inside the week and when the horse can have a week that goes up like, say, I’m getting ready to do one of my videotaped shows in January and say I’m really trying to tune, tune, tune, tune, tune. And then I’m going to videotape on, let’s say, Friday. And then that’s going to kick off kind of a more down cycle for that first week of the next month. Then what happens is the horses actually start to realize, yep, sometimes we go up and they ask me for a lot. But you know what? It’s followed by down. And so one of the most common mistakes I see riders make overall, kind of in general, is that if they were to document their rides over, let’s say, a one month period, they tend to be very what I would call, flat-lined, which is just the very similar, you know, the rider goes out, does about the same length of ride. So let’s say 45 minutes and about the same amount of physical activity. So the same warm up routine, the same middle, the same end. And so because it’s also same, same, same, I call it flat line. And one of the biggest problems with that is that if you have a young or a creative horse, when they start seeing that–the–sometimes they’ll actually start messing with you. Now, there are older horses that will totally like appreciate that kind of a cycle a little bit more, but I still find the training cycle of where you’re asking for more kind of in a building up kind of a way, and then having that down. Overall, it becomes a mental state of them understanding that they can go up and down. Now, let’s go back to this one-day example in Episode 13 of Jac. So what is super cool about that is that you can actually see this horse where I’m going to put him through and explain to you a physical and then a mental emotional cycle. And I actually show 4 cycles back-to-back in that one training session. And I think sometimes when I first say that, let me say it again, and I want you to think, what is your first thought when I say I’m going to work this horse through 4 cycles in this one ride? Let me tell you what they are. So they were a physical cycle where I had them in the round pen, moving him around, controlling his direction and speed. And then I had him stop and I introduced the bridle for the first time. And then I took him into another physical cycle where I sent him around and moved him and I used the tarp as a training tool. So basically kind of like another lunging cycle. And then I stopped him and did a mental/emotional cycle so it was less physical for him. And we worked on leading and then put him into another physical cycle of lunging. And moved him around and then took him into another, less physical, more mental emotional cycle where I introduced the rope around his middle where he would be cinched up because he hadn’t been saddled yet. So I introduced that training and then I put him back into another physical cycle where I lunged him around me again with the rope around his belly. And then I did another leading session with the rope around his middle until he got quiet. So when I say I did all that with him, I think sometimes what people automatically think is that, wow, that’s a lot of work for a horse or some version of that. But what’s so cool about using a training cycle like this is that 4 cycles inside of this session does not mean 4 times as much work for the horse. Because something that I have noticed with the horses is that a lot of times, especially, again, let’s use, you know, this horse in this video or, you know, my horses today, they’d had a couple of days off and they were really fresh because it snowed and it’s cold and they stayed in the stalls last night. And so when I take them out as I work in those different cycles, they know what’s coming.

[00:17:56] Well, that first cycle, like if I go out and I lunge them before I ride them because I think they look pretty fresh that first cycle, let’s just say that that first cycle takes out, you know, kind of like knocks the edge off from there. And let’s just say–let’s just say it’s half of their energy. That’s not that’s kind of a sloppy use because we’re not going to zero at the end. But let’s just say that half the work they’re going to get for the day comes in the first cycle. Because they’re fresh and they’re running around on the lunge line or something. What’s cool is that that second cycle, they’re not nearly as fresh and they’re more like, oh, what are we doing? How can I conserve a little bit more energy? So even though the first cycle might take 50%, the next one might only take 10%, and then the next one 10% and the next one 10% or something like that. So it’s a really efficient use of your time when you start building it into cycles. The other thing I really like about it is that if you don’t build it into cycles like this, if you go out there–and I know because I did this when I was a trainer and I and we had, you know, 17 to 20 horses in full time training at that point–there’s so many horses to ride and so much to get done in a day that it was very tempting to go out, get on, go straight through. Go, go, go, go, go, go, go. And then be done. But do you know what that does to them mentally? A lot of horses will get on board with that and they’ll be like, OK, you throw a leg over and this is all, go, go, go, go, go. And that might work if you’re going to be in a discipline and you enjoy that kind of a mindset, but if you’re like me and you want to be able to go up when you want and then you want to be able to come down when you want and have a horse that’s like totally chill with standing there quietly, or you can go out on a trail ride and ride alone or ride in a group or go fast and then go slow because all of those things require the up and the down–well, the cool thing about the training cycles is that you’re going up and down and the thing you need to be careful of, if it’s cold and you really want to get done riding, but you’ve made the commitment to ride, you have to be careful that you don’t rush through the training because then rushed will become the state of mind that your horse learns.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:31] And so, again, when you start looking at these like, let’s say, 4 cycles inside of one ride as just kind of a baseline, you start to get really clear about how to have a down cycle in the middle of your ride. When people come to clinics here at my house, I have them dismount to represent that. And so I think you’ve heard me joke before, there are times when people get done with the first day of a clinic and they would not be able to tell you how many times they got on and off their horse, because I really want to get it into their mind. But even almost more importantly, I want to see their horse have that light bulb moment, because if their horse has that light bulb moment, they will also catch on to the fact that when they–they accomplish something, stop, dismount, take a breath, walk over, write some notes in your notebook, and then mount up and do it again. And so the horses start to look for this cycle and that’s how you can use these things to train those so much more elusive things. It’s like you wouldn’t necessarily think that getting on and just riding straight through would have a long term consequence if you don’t stop and think about it. But it does because it teaches them to kind of rush through their job and then get out of work and go home. Wait a minute. Has anybody else experience that in life? So maybe we can identify with what’s going on here. So, again, for those of you who might be taking the winter off. I would suggest that you look at it as natural and a chosen part of the cycle. And what’s super cool is that you could use this physical downtime with the horse or some other things, like you could choose to focus on the rider’s mind, or you could also choose to focus on the rider’s body. And, you know, the holidays are here. We all have to think about January coming. And that is the official exercise season, right? Isn’t that when everything spikes? So you really could look at, you know, the rider’s mind or the rider’s body. Even though you’re not riding, you can still actually be improving your strength and all that stuff, even when you’re not riding. Not nearly as much fun, but totally true. I now exercise not counting my riding because I can feel that I was losing some of my strength and I want it back because I want to ride really well for a lot longer. That’s what I have for you for this episode. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next one.

Announcer: [00:23:18] 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:

Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac-Episode 13-Training Cycles in horse training: Physical and Emotional



  1. Cheryl Van Herk on December 24, 2020 at 9:44 am

    I love your insight on training cycles. My mare is smart and she knows that when a certain amount of work is done, we head out the gate and so the gate side of the ring is always a challenge as she wants to head on out always a bit to early. So the idea of cycles with in a day’s training session will help greatly with this.
    Here is Canada, winter can be difficult and resented as those of us without indoor arenas feel like we are losing precious riding/training time. Looking at cycles from your point of view helps take the guilt out of a rest cycle that is inevitable.
    Your different cycles also reminded my of the Biblical cycles-weekly sabbath, monthly new moon, spring and fall feasts, the 7th year of release and the 50th year-Jubilee.
    We as our horses, do well with cycles as they involve the expectation of work…it’s climax and rest. I love both.
    Thanks for sharing your insight.

  2. Leslie Roden on December 20, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Hey Stacy,
    I’m relatively new to your site. I need information on buddy/barn sour and how to deal with it. I’m sure you already have a segment on it. Where can I find it?

    Thank you so very much!

    • Stacy Westfall on January 29, 2021 at 7:03 am

      In my podcast I have an entire season dedicated to the horses mind. The information is sprinkled around different posts and podcasts. If you want to call your question in for the podcast…I could answer your specifics!

  3. Kim Kelly on December 19, 2020 at 9:40 am

    This topic came at just the right time. During the Christmas season I feel conflicted about having enough time to do all the Christmas stuff and still having time for my horses. Christmas for the mom of the family is like adding a new part-time job to an already full schedule. This podcast took the guilt away. It’s ok to give my horses a break. It’s a Christmas present for them!!

  4. Courtney Thompson on December 17, 2020 at 6:44 pm

    I am such a listmaker!! This was a super helpful episode to help me break down training into cycles. This was one I want to listen to again and take notes! I also shared it with a few friends.

  5. Nikki on December 17, 2020 at 6:33 pm

    Stacy, Your podcasts are so helpful Thank you!

  6. Evon Kurtz on December 16, 2020 at 10:57 am

    What I learned from this podcast is that horses are athletes and treat them so. Don’t let them get bored, burned out, or discouraged by keeping things simple, consistent, and not too difficult for them.
    What Liked most is Stacy’s outlook and strategy in keeping her horse engaged and interested in their job.

  7. Evon on December 16, 2020 at 10:19 am

    Thank you for your insight on training cycles. We actually do something similar. I like how you explain it and break it down. Would love you to do another podcast on it going deeper into a training week showing how the cycles work over a week. Your philosophy falls right in line with ours this is why I enjoy listening to your podcasts. I feel like I am in the room with you or we are having a phone conversation. Very personable with no visual distractions that allow the viewers mind to wander off.

    At our training facility, we treat our horses like athletes and make sure their works are consistent under 30 minutes, mix it up in cycles & days: for example obstacles, cattle work, flags, down the trail, reining maneuvers. This ensures they don’t get bored. We also don’t let them know they are being trained on (no checking and We don’t drill until they get it right). Thank you Stacey!?

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