Episode 114: Exercise: coach yourself to coach your horse



I’m wrapping up this season of the podcast and headed into season 11 which will be answering listener questions.
But before I leave this season I wanted to speak about a sometimes dreaded subject: Exercise.
Here are four ways exercise can improve your riding.
1-To exercise regularly you’ll need to coach yourself
2- Exercise can help you physically become stronger, more flexible and more coordinated.
3-Exercise can help you understand your horses mind…if you’re going to coach him to work…get good at coaching YOU to work. Your goal is to be more understanding and encouraging…not critical and judgement…see point number one again (learn to coach yourself, then coach your horse)
4- Exercise can improve your horses body…because a fit rider has better balance and is easier to carry.

Full Transcript

Episode 114- Exercise_ coach yourself to coach 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: [00:00:23] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. I’m wrapping up this season of the podcast and headed into Season 11, which is going to be all about answering listener questions. But before I leave this season, there’s one more thing I would like to speak about–the sometimes dreaded subject of exercise. Is it far enough past New Years that I don’t sound like I’m just jumping on the resolution bandwagon? Because I’m really not. Exercise is actually on my mind this time of year for me, because I recognize the opportunity that there is to improve during the off season. So if you remember, back in Episode 107, I talked about training cycles, and this is the time of year for me when my horses are in the lower phase of their training cycle due to the cold weather. And it’s also my choice, it’s not just blaming it on the weather. I’m just lining those two things up. It’s cold. I don’t want to be out there as long. I want them to have a down cycle because I believe it’s good for them to have a lower work cycle. And I’m choosing this time period. But I realize that this same cycle might not benefit me. And I remember realizing this about 10 years ago because I taught at Equine Affaire in Massachusetts. And I’m originally from Maine, and after I taught there at Equine Affaire, I went up to visit my family for about three weeks. And at the time I was home schooling the boys and Jesse drove the horses back to Ohio. We got somebody to watch them, and we all went up and stayed in Maine. And I stayed up there, like I said, about three weeks. And when I returned home and started riding again, I was shocked at how sore I got. And I had already found an amazing massage therapist that didn’t live too far away and I’d already been going to her, so I went and I kind of jokingly and I was just explaining the situation and kind of like laughing it off. And she was like, you know, you’re not 20 anymore. You can’t just sit down for three weeks and expect nothing to change. And I remember being kind of shocked by that thought. At that time, I would have been mid-30s. And so I should definitely explain right now that up until this point in my life, I had a saying and it basically said, if it doesn’t involve a horse, I don’t want to do it. So that meant for me growing up and all through my life, it was no sports outside of horses, no exercise outside of horses. To me, exercise was getting to the barn and getting on a horse. Sports were anything that involved riding a horse. And so I had never enjoyed exercise. It was not a thing I did. But I had also had the realization that I wasn’t getting a full workout when I was riding my horses. And that had been dawning on me. Really, the time that it really struck me was after I did the bareback bridleless ride that a lot of you have seen on the Internet. When I did that ride, I went home and the video you saw was in October and I had been practicing and showing and riding her bareback and bridleless doing reining. And let me tell you, there is actually a difference between bareback riding in general, which I also do, and bareback bridleless reining. It is not the same thing. Bareback is hard, but you can get in shape for it much easier than the bareback bridleless reining, which was just taking it all to another level. So, the only thing I could compare that to is like standing in a squat, because when you ride bareback and all of your cues are in your legs and your seat and the way you shift your weight, that means you can’t kind of catch yourself if you slip a little bit here or there because you’re going to be cueing a spin or a lead change or all kinds of things. So it is not similar to just riding bareback. It is…I’m telling you, it’s just not the same. It’s a little bit more like standing in a squat.

Stacy Westfall: [00:05:01] So let’s say you ride for 45 minutes. It’d be like standing in a squat for like the whole entire time that you’re doing anything except for standing still on the horse. And then on top of that, do that same squat while riding in the bed of a moving pickup truck. So it’s like balancing yourself, trying not to lose your balance and move, trying not to cue and yeah.. I actually have ridden in the back of a pickup truck doing that. So anyway, it’s very tiring. But it’s also interesting because it’s not a balanced muscle building thing. And when I first went to this massage therapist, it was because I went to her and I said, my lower back is in agony. I wake up multiple times a night. I’ve gone to the chiropractor as many as 4 times a week. I just–it doesn’t feel like it’s chiropractic, but I don’t know what else to do. That’s what had led me to find her. And just to complete the story with the bareback bridleless riding, the reason I realized it was something of probably being induced by the riding was because I’d actually told my husband that after the Congress, where I showed her bareback and bridleless for the last time, Roxy, I was like, I’m going to need to go see a specialist because I must have some advanced, chronic, debilitating disease because I am in pain all the time. And what was interesting is came home from the Congress and just, you know, whoosh the whole let’s end the show season, that definitely is like the–the like rest period comes on. And so I just rested and, you know, just really didn’t do much of anything for a couple of weeks. And magically my debilitating soreness went away, which is how I made the connection that it was actually coming from the riding. And that’s also when I found Barb and started going and getting the massages. And that’s when I told her that I had this excruciating back pain that would wake me up and not let me sleep. And she basically diagnosed me with, your thighs are really strong and they’re having a tug of war up through your your hips and your lower back is losing the tug of war. And this is why. And so basically, again, my muscles weren’t balanced out. And so this was how I got started with the thought that maybe exercise would benefit my riding. See what I did there? I still had to make it about horses because otherwise I just wasn’t interested. And so I started walking. I started jogging. I started watching YouTube videos because you can find lots and lots of exercise videos on there. That’s when I first found my–my good friend Rodney. That’s my yoga video that I’ve been talking to now for ten years. And, and so I started looking a lot more at my own physical body. And that’s what I’m suggesting you might want to do, because I’m telling you, the benefits are enormous, both in the riding realm and kind of just in the general realm of life. So what I want to do now is read you an email that I have written and sent out and had lots of feedback on. And I’m going to first read what I wrote and then read you some of the responses. Here goes.

Stacy Westfall: [00:08:30] It’s all a mental game. Life, that is. In my first 5k race I realized that I felt guilty when I passed someone. Huh? It’s a race. It’s the whole point, right? Or is it? I ran another 5k, same thing. Guilt, plus at the end of the race, I overheard some people complaining about runners who started to slow and then messed up the pacing. I thought, is that a thing? Can an uneducated runner mess up a race? I had started to slow, which is why I was challenged with passing people. I almost dropped out of my third 5k. I woke up with a massive headache that immediately went away when I decided not to run. Five minutes later, when I felt the connection, I knew I needed to step into the fear and do it anyway. I could feel a lesson ripe for the picking. Strangely, the decision to quit gave me better perspective, I decided showing up and running my own race was the point. That meant that if I crossed the starting line, I’d already won. Bonus points for every step after that. I committed to no guilt. Winning was starting, and finishing was optional and a bonus. And I ran a personal record. I ended up taking four to five minutes off my previous two runs. What? Really? Yep. Running my own race made me run better. Spoiler alert, I did not win the time bracket. I was not at the front of the pack. It was not easy, but I beat back fear. I made a decision to start. So really I had won before the race ever began.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:23] Ride with faith and run your own race, Stacy Westfall.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:28] So. The response that I got to this email was really kind of shocking, and listen to what I wrote after reading some of the responses. Your response to the email was huge. I had no idea so many of you were running, working out or even inspired to begin after reading my email. Thanks for the feedback. I love hearing from you, especially when I send out emails like this where I can feel doubt sitting on my shoulder saying they don’t want to hear about you running. They came here for the horse stuff. Yes, that happens to me, too. So if you’re on my email list, this might be a little reminder. And if not, it’s a really kind of a cool list to go through because I just give little blurbs like this, although they’re generally more horse related than this one. But it was really interesting to send this out because I got a lot of response from it and it got me thinking. So first, let me read some responses.

Stacy Westfall: [00:11:30] Here’s one: Wow, this was a whole lot of info. Going to be thinking and living this one out for a while now. Thank you, Stacy. Here’s another: First about racing, when I ran my first marathon barefoot, I passed a fellow about my age, mid 50s at the time, who loudly made a comment that me running with bare feet was stupid, and I never saw him again. Haha. I guess my stupid was faster than his smart. This was from the author of Why Does Grandma Run Barefoot?, which we got into a discussion about back and forth through email, which is why I know it. And I bought the book and read it and I really enjoyed it. And if you like the idea of barefoot horses, I really recommend reading the book about why it’s titled, Why Does Grandma Run Barefoot?, and you can get it on Amazon, because I actually saw a lot of correlations and–yeah. And it was a really good read. So here’s another feedback: I’m a runner. Started running at fifty, ten years ago. Crossed a lot of the bridges you’re on now. I run half marathons that I thought I would never do. It’s time I got on my horse. Your email about running reminded me of when I first started running. I thought I would never be able to run five minutes consecutively, yet I just kept plugging away, even on days I didn’t feel like running. It made me realize I need to do the same thing with my horse. So your email was very inspiring to me and I’ve been on her three times now since reading your email. OK, that’s all the feedback I’m going to share, although there were lots more.

Stacy Westfall: [00:13:02] And, first of all, just in case I haven’t already said it, I’m not a doctor and I’m not giving out medical advice beyond the idea, exercising is going to help your riding. So whatever that means to you and I’m, I’m talking a lot specifically about running today, but I also listed all the other things I’ve done: the yoga, the cross training. There’s all kinds of different things. But what I really want to plant in your mind for seeds to consider are these four points. Number one, exercising can help you learn to coach yourself and your mind. That’s what I’m talking about, the rider’s mind. Number two, exercise can help you physically become stronger, more flexible, more coordinated. Can you hear how that’s the rider body? Number three, exercise can help you understand your horse’s mind. If you’re going to coach your horse to go to work and improve, it is a really good idea to get good at coaching you to go to work and improve. So your goal, in my opinion, when you’re exercising and working out, is to understand how to be more understanding of yourself, more encouraging of yourself, not critical and not judging. That’s my dare to you. You go out, if you decide to go out, and try some exercise, watch your mind and see if you’re being critical and judgmental of how little you do or how it feels or whether you decide to skip it that day. Because remember, you got to go back up to number one, exercise can help you learn to coach yourself. Because your mind is going to come along with you when you go to work your horse. Learn to coach yourself, then you’ll learn to coach your horse even better. So can you hear how this exercise is even affecting your–the horse’s mind and how you approach it? And then, number four, exercise can improve your horse’s body. Yes, because when you ride, your horse is giving you a piggyback ride and a balanced rider is easier to carry and easier for the horse to find their balance. A fit rider is less likely to be out of balance, which throws the horse out of balance, which can oftentimes feel to the rider like resistance when it’s really just feedback from your horse saying, like, what are you doing up there? How am I supposed to do that? Like you’re all over the place. And so it is fascinating for me to consider how impactful exercising is. How impactful the rider’s body, and we always want to think–I’m tempted to just talk to you about aides and when to use this rein, and when to use that leg–and I’d totally gloss over the fact that this is not a sport or discipline. That if you want to be successful riding, you can’t just study it in books or a podcast. You have got to go put it into physical action if you want to improve the physical riding. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can totally you can take it to the max with the rider’s mind. You can study and study and learn and learn, and you can become amazing at understanding a lot of stuff. But if you really want to change how you ride, it becomes a physical sport. So I have had to redefine my hate-hate relationship with exercise and realize that it’s really a love exercise because I love riding my horse, and I really want to do it for a long time, so I better develop a good relationship with exercise so that I can give myself and my horse the benefits that, oddly enough, are going to be both mental and physical. There’s my slight rant on why we should all take up looking at rider fitness. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:17:32] 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 107: Training Cycles: Yearly, weekly, daily


  1. Stacey on January 21, 2021 at 6:24 am

    I had a 20 year gap in my life where I did not have horses. So coming back to riding in my mid-40s was rough physically. I fell off a LOT!!! My riding instructor said I needed to develop more balance. At the time, I was using a personal trainer and told him i needed more balance. He gave me a set of new exercises, which I still do almost daily today. Starting with standing barefoot on one foot. Then I begin a series of yoga from there.

Leave a Comment

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.