Episode 111: 3 reasons you’re afraid to set big goals with your horse


Are you going after big goals with your horses? How do you define ‘big goal’? What does that look like for you?
Here are three reasons I often see riders avoid setting big goals:
1) You are afraid of how it will feel to fail
2) You’re afraid of how you might treat your horse while trying to achieve the goal
3) You don’t know how to get there
In this episode I discuss how I see these show up and how you can overcome them!

Full transcript

Episode 111_ 3 reasons you_re afraid to set big goals with your horse.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. Here we are at the end of 2020, nearly at the beginning of 2021. And I know that goal setting at the beginning of the year might be totally cliche, but I have always loved it. I just love–there’s something about the concept of starting fresh. And for me, January 1st has always worked really well because it happens to coincide with my down season. And so the weather where I live puts the horse show season and the riding season kind of into a down season right now. So for me, it’s the perfect time to begin imagining warmer weather and my goals with my horses for next year. And in today’s podcast, I want to share with you 3 reasons that I often see horse people avoid setting big goals. And yes, it’s specific to horse people. You’ll see some of the overlap and you could totally apply it to some other situations. But keep listening. Beginning before I even jump into the 3 reasons, I actually want to start with kind of just identifying what a big goal is. Because to me, a big goal is personal for everyone. For someone, a big goal could be having their horse come running to greet them when they went out to get them from the pasture. And if that’s something that just makes you super happy to think about having because you don’t have it right now, then set that as your goal. If your big goal is to go on a dream trail ride, then pick that goal. And if your big goal is to show your horse, then go ahead and pick that goal. Although I’m not going to focus on it here, I think a great way to see what you would do without limitations is to just take a few minutes–it really like, easily you could set a 15 minute timer and do this–is just take a piece of paper and write for twice as long as you think you can. So my challenge to you would be like write one full page of things you want to do with your horse in the next year. Or ever. If you really are stuck, just write anything. And if one page is what I give you for an assignment, and that sounds really impossible to write a full page, well, then go with that one. If you think, I could do one page, double it, then do two pages. If you think you could do two pages, double it, go for four. Push yourself right now in the exercise of dreaming, push yourself out of your comfort zone here. And when you’re doing this, you know, let’s say that you’re at two pages and you’re like, OK, two pages. Sounds really hard to do. So I’m going to do that one, do it with no limits on time or money. Like, you know, keep your horse the same, keep you the same, but kind of be like, you know, if I could do anything next year with that, you know, I would, you know, pay these membership fees and I would go show and this and I would, you know, haul my horse over to here. And I would go on that dream trail ride or whatever it is, kind of just free for all. Write it out there again twice as long as you think you actually can. And then what’s nice about that is because if you do that on paper, not just imagining it while you’re driving in the car, because it might be tempting to listen to this podcast while you’re cleaning stalls or driving and just kind of feel like you did it in your mind, I’m telling you, the value is in doing it on paper for twice as long as you think you can. Because then after you survived that, because if you actually do it for twice as long as you think you can, you’ll have to do some work to get there and then go ahead and, you know, set it down, walk away, come back to it, and mine that thing for the smaller actions that you can take. Because sometimes the dreamy things that you write down there, when you go back and look at them another day later, you’re like, oh, those are all pointing towards a certain thing that I hadn’t really been super aware of.

Stacy Westfall: [00:04:36] So there’s a fun little tip right at the beginning. But what I want to dive into now is the 3 reasons that I often see people avoid setting big goals with their horses. I’m going to go over and quickly right here and then I’m going to go into more detail. Number one, you’re afraid of how it’s going to feel if you fail. Number two, you’re afraid of how you might treat your horse while trying to achieve the goal. And number three, you don’t know how to get there. So before I go into detail on these 3, which I am going to do, I do want to pause here for just a moment and remind you that in this discussion, there is a difference for me between fear versus danger. Now, here’s how they dance around. For me, sometimes fear is pointing towards danger. And so my quick definition in this podcast is going to be fear is something that you feel in your body and then you have to track it to your mind or to physical danger. Danger is when you have a risk of being physically harmed. And if you–if your fear is pointing towards something that you’re there like, yeah, I could see where I could be physically harmed doing that, then don’t go there. So an example of this would be like if I decided to go ride Presto bridleless today, then I would feel fear. Like I don’t even feel the fear right now because I’m not considering it. But if I forced myself to consider it, I would definitely feel fear because it would be pointing towards a high likelihood of physical danger because I haven’t been preparing for it. So even though I know the steps to take, and especially because I know the steps to take, I know that would be a terrible idea. So sometimes fear is pointing towards physical danger and sometimes fear is more in your mind. And most of what I’m going to talk about today is going to be the fear that you feel in your mind.

Stacy Westfall: [00:06:48] So let’s go into more detail here. So, number one–and it is also the number one reason that I see people that are afraid to set big goals with their horses–is that they’re afraid of failing. And really, when you say you’re afraid of failing, it often means you’re afraid of how you’re going to feel when you fail. And what I mean is that if you knew you could set this huge goal and achieve it, think about how that would feel. You’d be like, heck, yeah, I’m going to do it because I’m going to get the result that I want and I’m going to get the feeling that comes with that result. And so, you know, the thing that pops up in my mind here is I’ve talked about it before on the podcast. But when I very first did my first bridleless ride with Can Can Lena, that was a really big goal. But I was pretty stressed out about it and I did end up failing. I did not do all the required maneuvers in the training pattern that I went in to do bridleless. And so I received a penalty zero, which is like a form of disqualification there. And so it really, I was–I was just like afraid of that feeling because the feeling that came up after that happened basically pointed towards how I was going to treat myself. And I did not treat myself really well. I really beat myself up for several weeks about how could I have made such a big mistake. And so it’s moments like that when a lot of times you’re trying to avoid that feeling that’s going to come up if you fail and, yeah, ironically, what happens when you’re trying to avoid the feeling of failing is that a lot of times you fail ahead of time, which is failing by not even trying. So, for example, if I had been real hung up on the fear of failing before I did that bridleless ride, I probably wouldn’t have done it. And then when I did do it and I did fail to receive a score that was, you know, above zero, because I got to zero. So if I–a score that would place me, then because I failed by the definition of that being my goal, because that happened, what happened right after that is I got to realize that I was really, really hard on myself. If I had seen all that stuff coming–a lot of times when people do, they’ll just choose not to try at all because it’s oddly more comforting–I think sometimes if I slow down and think about it, it almost feels like a form of control if you fail ahead of time. So being like, no, that’s just not going to happen, it’s like to me I can put myself in past situations and feel like I almost have more control by choosing not to even try. But I think it’s real clear that you have to, you know, evaluate why you want it and then realize that just choosing to avoid that feeling that you’re going to get if you don’t reach it is actually failing ahead of time. And that’s something that I’ve learned that’s helped me.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:18] Now let’s review reason number two a little bit closer. Reason number two is that I often see people are afraid to set big goals with their horses. And I don’t think they choose this consciously, but I think they’re afraid of how they might treat the horse while trying to achieve that goal. Let me say that again. I often see riders that are afraid to set big goals with their horses because they’re afraid of how they’re going to treat the horse on the way to that big goal. So, for example, if they set a goal to show their horse, if they even think about it, like I say on that dreamy piece of paper where you just brainstormed up all these different things, these two pages worth of stuff, let’s say that showing the horse at a big show–I’m going to use the Quarter Horse Congress because it’s right here near me–if that’s one of the goals, then a lot of times people will, whether they think of it out loud or not there, get a little bit afraid of doing something wrong, negative, not fair with the horse. Can you feel that? Can you find that anywhere in your mind where you’ve ever had that thought, like wondering if it’s fair and so that one is worth examining? You know, it’s interesting because if you don’t stop and examine it, then a lot of times I think people accidentally cause it, which is just fascinating depending on the situation. But let me just throw a couple in so that you understand where I’m coming from. Sometimes I see people who have a fear of injuring their horse by working their horse. And a lot of times people that have a fear of injuring the horse will work the horse a lot less or inconsistently. And if you think about it, a horse that’s not very fit, or worked inconsistently, actually has more of a chance of being injured. So isn’t it interesting that a fear of injuring the horse could lead to a less fit horse or inconsistency in the work, which would be actually raising the chances of the horse being injured? Or I see a lot of times people who are afraid of offending the horse or asking for much from the horse or requiring much of the horse. And what’s interesting about that one is that if you have that fear and you don’t address it, then a lot of times what happens is that the person will be a little wishy-washy about what they want because they’re not really clear. They don’t want to offend the horse or cause any problems. And then because they’re not clear, then the horses, a lot of them, depending on their temperament, will ask more questions. And then it creates this relationship where the horse is like trying to basically feel out what your role is. So they ask more questions. And then if anything, they are a little offended by your inconsistency because you’re like, oh, I want to be really nice, but, you know, you really shouldn’t step on me. But I don’t want to offend you by saying this in a way that you might not appreciate. And really, the fear of offending the horse is causes that inconsistency, which actually does offend the horse because most horses are shockingly good with, like, really clear, consistent boundaries. They’re just like, oh, oh, yep, totally. This is exactly what happens in the herd. Like, I know where I stand. I know what’s going on. And there we go. So it’s fascinating to me that those loops can happen like that. Now, here’s an interesting thought. Can you see how reason number one and number two could be related? So one way that I see this is that reason number one, the fear of failing and how it’s going to feel if you fail, see what that brings up a lot of times is it often points towards yourself talk or negative self talk, like in my example, and how you kind of treat yourself when things don’t go the way that you want them to. And I think sometimes without riders being really aware of it, like, say, for example, you tend to be really hard on yourself, I think sometimes unconsciously people avoid goals with their horses because that’s what triggers the idea, like, oh, man, if I treat myself like that, I don’t want to ever take the chance of treating my horse like that. That’s how I see this one play back and forth. Good news. I have some advice for that coming up after I talk about the third reason.

Stacy Westfall: [00:15:06] So reason number three, you don’t know how to get there. So you set a big goal and it probably feels big because you haven’t done it before or something you’re struggling with. So of course, you don’t know how to get there. And, you know, because a lot of times after you’ve done something, that felt really big, after you’ve done it, it doesn’t feel nearly as big. I remember back when I was getting my driver’s license when I was in high school, and that felt like a really big deal. And now I kind of take driving for mostly for granted. So there’s a lot of times at these things that feel really big when we set them and they’re new, they don’t feel as big. But it’s totally normal that when you first start setting these bigger goals, you’re not going to know how to get there. So. Let’s talk a little bit more specifically so that you can see where I’m going a little bit more so I can help you out with this process just a little bit. So, for example, let’s let’s say that you decide that your goal is to have a relaxing trail ride on your horse. Well, when you first set that goal and you go, I want to go on a relaxing trail ride in 2021 on my horse, and you can be as specific as you want because this is the good first step. But now you’ve got to figure out how to make it measurable. And I want you to get real specific, because how do you define a trail ride? My definition of a trail ride and your definition of a trail ride and someone else like an endurance rider’s definition of a trail ride–we could all have three different ideas of what a trail ride is. So do you have a specific route? You know, do you count riding around inside the pasture or does that mean you have to go to a specific place? Will you leave your property? Will you be doing it from on your property? Get really specific when you say you want to go on a relaxing trail ride with your horse. First, what is that trail ride? And now you’ve defined, let’s say you’ve decided exactly the route that you’re going to go on or maybe that becomes one of your action steps for this year is to define some routes. Maybe you go hike them before you even go ride them. If this is something that you’ve been, you know, working on and you have some fear around, so now you’ve defined what a trail ride is for you. And now you have to define what relaxing means. So how are you going to measure that? Does that mean you’re laughing while you’re on it? Does it mean that your horse has a clear gait like so there’s a walk and a jog, but there’s no jogging or prancing? Does it mean that your horse isn’t tossing its head? Does it mean that you’ll have light contact or a loose rein,? So be really specific, because even though you don’t know all the steps to get there, the more specific you get about the end goal, the easier it becomes to back into those things. So you’re like, well, yeah, I don’t I don’t want my horse to do any jogging while they’re on the trail. Well, that means you’re going to have to really work, you know, if you haven’t been trail riding, you’re going to work in your controlled environment–let’s say it’s an arena–on like a clear walk and a clear jog and you’re going to go back and forth between those two. If it means that, you know, your horse normally tosses its head but one of your definitions of a relaxing trail ride is that the horse is not tossing the head, then you’re going to figure out how to conquer that before you go on the trail ride. So all of a sudden, this one goal of having this specific route and this definition of how it’s going to be counted, then all of a sudden you can actually start to break all the little steps down that you need to get there. And even though you won’t know all of them, that’s actually the beauty of setting the goal, because here’s a spoiler alert. Even if you think you’ve read every single article on the Internet, all the physical steps, all the mental steps, everything. You are likely overlooking some of the unique challenges that you’re going to face, and that is the beauty and the frustration of learning. Ultimately each of you–and this includes me–we all get to learn these lessons individually for ourselves. And so that’s when when it feels like you really own something. When it really feels like yours is when you take that learning and you move it from in your head. And the concept that you’re that you’ve been learning by watching, you know, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, reading books and studying things, it’s going out there and executing it that then you get to start having that that first hand experience. And so, you know, it’s just I just love this stuff.

Stacy Westfall: [00:19:58] So quick review. I just talked a little bit about the bridleless ride where I totally failed there. I actually had tried bridleless 10 years prior to that when I was in high school. And when I was in high school, I first of all, full disclaimer, I didn’t even see the danger part of working on bridleless riding back then. And so, yeah, try not to do that one. But I got myself run away with for quite a ways because I took my horse out of this combination hackamore gag bit that I had on because barrel racing people had suggested it to me when I couldn’t stop. And I was like, I should just ride in a halter on the way to, you know, my step towards bridleless. Yeah, that was a big, big, big step, which was actually very dangerous. And the secret to reaching these really big goals like that bridleless riding goal that I had was to actually break things down into smaller and smaller steps. Now, the very short story of that was I was scared to death because I got run away with. And so then there was this 10 year gap until I thought about doing it again. So, you know, these little tiny steps are very crucial, especially if–and I think that’s one of the reasons why sometimes people are like there is some physical danger when you’re riding on a horse–I mean, there’s physical danger when you’re driving in a car. And so, you know, the idea that you need to be aware of it, it’s different then, you know, the danger of, you know, hitting publish on something on the Internet and being afraid of, you know, people not liking what you had to say. There’s less physical danger there than there is when you get in your car and drive to the store. And so it’s kind of interesting, but the frustrating part can be you will get going on something new and you will know that you don’t know. And if you want to hear more about that, go back to Episode 5 of this podcast and that talks about the four stages of competency. And those–those first 2 are are really, you know, eye opening because there’s the–basically the first step was like me in high school. Like, you don’t know what you don’t know. Like, I had no idea that I was in trouble. And then as I was being run away with, I suddenly had more awareness. And now I knew that I didn’t know.

Stacy Westfall: [00:22:30] Oh, now what I want to do is I want to answer these 3 for you. I want to tell you a little bit more about how you can move forward with these 3 things that hold people back often. So number one, I see a lot of people that are afraid to fail because they’re afraid of that feeling, how it feels to fail. What is so interesting about this is that you get to decide what was a failure and what was a success, and you get to decide what you make that mean. So for me, that 2003 bridleless ride that I’m calling a failure where I went in and I showed my horse at the Quarter Horse Congress, and I did not do all the required movements, so I ended up with a score of zero. That was a failure because I did not get a viable score that would place me in the class. But what’s so interesting, the reason it doesn’t hurt for me to talk about that anymore is because what I’ve learned is that you can replace the word failure with learn. So instead of saying you’re afraid of how it will feel to fail, what if you say you’re afraid of how it will feel to learn? So now for me, I’m not afraid of how it’s going to feel to learn. Don’t get me wrong, like when I have blunders, which I still do. I mean, that first year 2 years ago when I started showing in dressage and I was showing at the live shows, I was afraid of the bell ringing when I, you know, if I went off course. And then I think I had happened three times in one weekend. So, you know, a great way to get over your fear, especially if it’s one of those ones that’s not a danger. Remember, a fear like that is to have it happen multiple times because all of a sudden you’re like, well, I live through that. Bell rings and we go again, bell rings and we go again. And guess what? There’s the bell again. And you know what I did? I learn a lot from those mistakes. So number two would be you’re afraid of how you might treat your horse while trying to achieve a goal. Now, I’m going to guess that that resonated with half of you. And half of you were like, no, that never even occurred to me. Now, here’s what I’m going to say. The great news is that sometimes people will intuitively know they’re hard on themselves and they’ve got a really defined wall against being hard on their horse. And, and so that might have been why you didn’t have a reaction about being afraid of what you might ask of the horse, because you’re like, no, I’m really clear, I’ll never do that. But here’s what’s interesting. Maybe setting a goal with your horse will help you learn how to be kind to you because you’re going to bring that kindness that you already bring with your horse. If you’re listening to this podcast, I already know you are interested in building a relationship with your horse and you’re at least considering working on achieving more results. But you might just be a little bit afraid of that relationship being broken by the results. I’m telling you, the key is when you can figure out how to be kind to yourself through mistakes, because if you can be kind to yourself through mistakes and learn how to push yourself, then you’ll know how to do the same when you’re with your horse. And that’s when the magic starts to happen. Because really, my horses love going to work. I know that sounds crazy, but OK, come on, they stand in a pasture. They’re like, uh a little bored over here. They like going to work. Do they love every minute of it? No. Do I love every minute of it? No. But we definitely keep building a deeper and deeper relationship and it is awesome. And they do come running to me in the pasture. So I’d say it’s working in the way that I measure it. Number three, you don’t know how to get there. And the magic of this is you don’t need to know how to get there, you just have to commit to the goal. Now, when people are committing to goals, a lot of times I would definitely recommend that you do–you’ve got to make sure you find one that feels like it’s yours, you know? So I think sometimes when we first got started, it’s easier to pick a goal that someone else has or that a friend is doing or something that you heard or you read about. And there’s nothing wrong as long as that resonates with you strongly. And what I mean by that is that. Let’s say that you decide that you’re going to pick a show goal because a friend did. So you watched the friend and she decided she was going to show and you saw her ups and downs and you saw the success and you’re like that, that would be a goal. That would be a stretch. I’m going to do that. You’ve got to really know whether that feels like something you’re willing to commit to. One of the things that I’m constantly telling people when when they approach me and they’re talking about, you know, getting into an equine career of some sort, is that a lot of times people imagine the perfect days of riding. They don’t imagine mornings like this morning when it’s 20 degrees or days when it’s 100 plus or dusty or whatever else. So when you’re picking these goals, you’ve got to make sure that they resonate with you. They got to excite you if you had it done and they’ve got to excite you to go do it. They’ve got to–you’ve got to be excited about the work you’ll put in on the cold days and the hot days and the long days and the short days and the all of it. Because if you are just kind of grabbing something that just sounds shiny because somebody else was like, hey, this is what I did, it might not resonate with you. And that’s going to be a tough thing to keep up with when you’re out there on the really cold, really hot, really not as ideal days. So next week I’m going to share with you my 2021 horse goals, and I’m going to talk to you about how I got there and all these different things. What I’d like you to do is consider taking this next week to set some of your own goals and see what comes up for those fears and see if you know any of what I said resonated with you. Do those three things, you know, do you run into them? Can you see where you’re maybe avoiding a big goal because you’re afraid of how you might feel if you fail to reach it? And can you see how you might be afraid of something you might do with your horse if you try to achieve a goal? Like, keep in mind, you can have relationship and results. And so see where that dance might be true. Like maybe you’re maybe you’re so afraid of the goal because you don’t even want to set one because you value the relationship. What if you could have both? And then the idea that you don’t know how to get there, that is just the truth if you’ve never done it before. But the way you learn is to commit and go forward. So that’s what I have for you this week. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:30:22] 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 5: four stages of competency when riding your horse


  1. Kim Robitaille on January 10, 2021 at 5:24 pm

    Hi Stacey

    Love this podcast!! As a person who works with people to help them create a more respectful productive relationships, I relate to #1 except I’m more concerned with how prospective clients will see me when I fail. I say when not if because I know and accept that I will fail during journey with horses.
    I’ve accomplished a lot that I am proud of, yet I still struggle with this, at times.
    Keep the podcast s coming!!
    Take care
    Ontario, Canada

  2. Linda Turner on December 30, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you so much Stacy for this great, encouraging Podcast. I am going to work on my 2021 goals this week…

  3. Lori Bradley on December 30, 2020 at 12:02 pm

    Questions about choosing new prospects! I am about 2-3 yrs away from the actual purchase. But I wish you could fill an entire season talking about bloodlines, where to begin your search, Resources for learning, what factors about the rider should be considered, what factors about the seller should be considered, what factors about the new prospect should be considered. I’d love to have Jessie weigh-in on all of this too. Generally speaking, does the budget you set for buying a horse impact what goals you can achieve (how far you can go)? I have so many questions! Such a large topic! You’ve touched on this briefly in past episodes. But I’d love to see you unpack the entire topic.

  4. Lori Bradley on December 30, 2020 at 11:54 am

    I have so many more questions. I started drafting my goals for the next 3yrs. Then realized my horse will be coming on 18yrs old. Thus, I penciled-in a new prospect. I don’t know if my fear in using my current horse is burning the relationship rather than pushing her beyond where it may not be fair to use her in order to reach my lofty goals. This makes me feel selfish to use a horse being stiff and sore to reach my goals. Should I take my horse as far as she can handle before considering a new prospect? And, if my horse loves working with me, how fair is it to retire her to pasture? I’m so conflicted.

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