Episode 115: Using curiosity, receiving feedback and stages of relationship impact training your horse

What do these three topics have in common: a confident, dominant mare who doesn’t really want to connect, a two year old that pins her ears at certain movements, and a horse that wrings its tail when ridden. I’m answering these listener questions and tying them all together with the themes of using curiosity when training, receiving feedback from your horse and how the stages of the relationship change the dynamics.

Full Transcript

Episode 115_ Using curiosity, receiving feedback and stages of relationship impact training 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, I’ve decided it’s time for another season of answering listener questions, and it’s actually turned out to be one of my favorite things that I do on the podcast. So first, a big thanks to everyone who has called in a question. That could be you. You could go to the website and leave your question. And I think the reason that I’ve loved it so much is because sometimes when I teach just straight the concept and the lesson, I try to use examples. But I think sometimes when you hear like the question phrased in a way that might sound like something you’ve experienced or something that piques your curiosity, then I think you can listen in a different way. And I know that when I’m answering it, it makes me want to be a little bit more creative on how to take the details that are presented and wind them together into something that–you know, a logic stream that you guys can follow and hopefully put into use. So I have chosen to tackle three questions in this podcast. So I’m going to go ahead and play all three of them right now. And then I’m going to share with you kind of the common thread that I see in all three of them and then some specifics to each one.

Caller 1: [00:01:58] Hi, Stacy, this is Christy and I have a question about my three-year-old filly. She sounds very similar to your horse, Gabby, in that she has her own confidence. But I’m having a hard time getting her to, as you call it, buy in. And I wonder how you get a more confident, more dominant horse to buy in. I’ve been consistent working on the ground with her and some light riding following your program. And I just I think she still thinks she’s the leader. And so I wanted to know, how do you get that personality to actually buy in? I don’t know if I should just keep being consistent and it organically happens from being consistent with her or if I should try some new techniques or be a little firmer. So any advice I would appreciate so much. Thank you.

Caller 2: [00:03:06] Hi, Stacy. I’ve been really enjoying your podcast and looking at some of your videos, and I’ve always loved your bridleless ride on Roxy. I’ve recently gotten back into horses and I’m working with a two-year-old mare. And I guess I am a little bit confused about when the rope means to move and when I want her to be standing still accepting the rope. So if you could touch on that. And the other thing I’ve recently encountered is when I’m kind of mounting and dismounting a barrel beside her, she’s pinning her ears at me and I’m not sure whether to correct or just continue until she’s desensitized or what exactly to do with that, I’ve tried throwing ropes over her and she’s accepted all of that. I’ve–can be up high and lead her to me and she’s OK with that. It’s the up and down that seems to upset her. And I can’t determine whether it’s aggression or fear or what is causing it or what I should do about it. So I am curious what you would say about that. Thanks for all your help. Bye for now.

Caller 3: [00:04:37] Hi, Stacy, I have a question about what you should do if your horse wrings its tail or put its ear back whenever you’re asking them to work in the saddle. Do you go back to ground work? Do you ignore it and just keep on the same path and it works itself out? Just want to know how you handle that if you ignore it or if you address it. Any advice I would appreciate so much. Thank you for all you do.

Stacy Westfall: [00:05:12] So when I listen to all three of these questions, the things that come up to me are the usefulness of curiosity in horse training and the interesting way that we need to learn to look at feedback that we get from the horse and the different stages that relationships go through. And so I’m going to talk about each one of these questions, but I’m going to keep bringing up that idea–curiosity, feedback, and stages of relationship. So let’s take the first message about the horse that is, you know, a little bit like Gabby, maybe. And if you’ve listened to some previous podcasts, the term that was used in the question was, you know, getting–getting the, the three-year-old mare to buy in. And what I mean by that is I have shared on the podcast before that Gabby is a confident and more dominant mare. And so it took a long time to get her to buy in. And when I say a long time, you know, it generally just doesn’t take me very long before horses are like horses are like, oh, yeah, like I can see the pattern here and I’m curious and I’m interested. And Gabby was more like me, I’m watching you, but I got my own thing going on over here. You’re kind of convenient when you feed me, but I don’t know that I really need you for much else. And so it was getting that shift for her to where she was like, interested and kind of like felt like she was on my team. I’ll call it buying in. There’s different ways because to me it’s kind of this feeling that you have there. And I think number 1, when you have a horse like this, it is interesting to look at it like, how how can I act in a way where I’m negotiating with her kind of? And it’s not that I’m necessarily giving up things. It’s that it’s more like. If you’re lucky, if you think about it like a relationship with people, a lot of times what you’ll find is that relationships with people are kind of interesting because you naturally will approach people differently as you recognize their temperament. And so, as you realize, you know, which ones tend to be more shy and which ones tend to be more bold and these different things, you’re also going to recognize kind of what is going to work for them. And so with a horse like Gaby, I think it’s interesting because I have to bring a confidence to the table, but also a curiosity and really not like a pushiness. Now, don’t get me wrong, like there is a firmness that goes with that confidence. But to me, what I’m actually talking about here, a lot of it lives in the rider’s mind because it is about how I’m approaching it. So it’s approaching it like thinking, OK, this horse is kind of like, basically her face says, skeptical. Like, yeah, I don’t really know that, like, you know, I don’t know that we need to do that. And so it’s almost like trying to take that and be like, OK, come on, here we go. And so there’s this–I bring a higher energy level, but in a positive way. And–and I get things moving. And I also find that with horses like this, I tend to be a little bit more I’m going to use the word unpredictable, because if you think about it, if you take a horse that’s the opposite way, like Willow who lacks confidence, I want to be super consistent with her. And consistency is good everywhere, don’t get me wrong. But there can be this creativity, there can be this–this level of mixing it up to where they’re like, oh, oh, I didn’t see that coming. Almost because there’s this curiosity that can come if you’ve got a horse that’s really confident and is also like kind of thinking they know all of it. And so I find that I will be a little bit more creative, a little bit quicker with horses that tend to have this kind of confidence. I love that you brought up the phrase, “She thinks she’s still the leader.” And again, in your mind, I would say let’s think about this from just the energy that you’ll bring to it. If you think of it like you’re going to take that leadership away from her, I’m going to phrase it that way, because that’s really not what you want. Actually, if you think about the beauty of what these horses bring, that confidence that they bring makes them really cool horses to be around because they tend to be the one that when the dog comes running, barking out of the woods, that they’re like, really? That’s what you’re bringing. You know, they they don’t react. Like Willow’s like—got to be–she’s like, we have to leave now. Like, I’m lucky if she sticks around long enough to have that thought. She’s just kind of like, go run. And Gabby’s like, really that’s what you’ve got? And so that confidence is actually something we want to create in a horse like Willow. But then once it’s there or if it’s naturally there in a horse like Gabby or this young mare, we don’t exactly–we don’t want to squash it. But in a way, you’ve got to wiggle around in your mind and find the phrasing that works for you. But it’s almost like I want her to still know she is a leader, and yet I want her on my team. So she needs to become this very valuable team member who is willing to take directions from another team member. Do you see how that’s a little bit different than thinking there’s going to be a day where she gives up her leadership? Because for these horses, it’s again, we kind of want to capitalize on the fact that they have this confidence. So when I think about it, it’s this curiosity that drives like, hmm, OK, I see where you’re coming from. You’re the leader. Not quite sure what I have to offer. Not quite sure that, you know, you need to go to work right now. They’ll question all kinds of things like, I don’t know. And be like, interesting. What if I do this? Oh, interesting feedback. What–what if you do this? And what if I do this? And so you kind of start–I think it feels a little bit like, not that I play chess, but I think it feels a little bit like playing chess where it’s almost like making a move and then they’re making a move. And then I get really creative. And again, little higher energy because these horses can tend to take it and be like, oh, what happens if we do this quicker? OK, left, right, stop back, turn forward. You know, whatever. That can be, ground work that can be riding, that can be walking from the stall out to the paddock. And, and so you become creative, which–which a lot of times can invite that horse in and they’ll start to be like, oh, interesting. And it’s–it’s just a…I think you need to consider a thought shift on, like, what you’re looking for there. Because I think it’s a little bit different than when there’s a horse like Willow who’s really insecure. If you’ve been around horses like that, the cool thing is when they buy in, they kind of desperately need you. And, and Roxy was actually like that. And so since she was a more insecure horse when she bought in, that–that like, oh, you’ve got a plan. I’m definitely with you. That was helpful. After a very long road of building up her trust. That’s a different path, a different relationship than when I was training my stallion, Vaquero, who was much more confident, much more like this confident mare is. And so, again, with him, it was more like inviting him to be this team member and getting him on board. But he never had, nor did I need him to, have that like desperate need for me. And I think, again, those are just recognizing the differences in the horse’s natural temperaments. So bring your curiosity when you look at the feedback that the horse gives you, when they kind of give you this, like–I always have this feeling with Gabby that she’s looking at me with these like half closed, like slanty eyes, like, you know, when you picture an alligator kind of peeking out of the water. Not quite like that, but it’s a little bit more like some days I’m like, we have a little Clint Eastwood-like question going on here. Like there’s all these little, little looks that she gives where you can tell she’s like, hmm, I think I know what movie you’re about to make next. And that can be good. But I also want to keep her thinking. And so there’s this consistency that’s there, but creativity also so that they can stay on board so that they can stay engaged and they can think, oh, well, maybe, maybe you do have something to offer. Oh, you have a ball? OK, what are we doing with the logs today? OK, I could–I really thought we were just going to go out here and do, you know, ten circles here and ten circles there. But now you’re changing it up and we’re kind of changing over here. And so, yeah, be a little bit more creative. The techniques are going to be a lot more about like that creativity and then the firmness is something I would say rock the boat back and forth. The one thing that’s interesting about these really confident horses like that is it’s a little bit counterintuitive, but a lot of times just going straight at them is–like with with like a lot of pressure–a lot of times are like, hmm, is that all you got? It’s not necessarily very effective, even though a lot of times people have that, like, inclination that because the horse feels confident and tough that they want to bring it, bring a high energy at the horse. Now, when I say I bring a high energy, let’s picture that in like ground work, that means like in ground work, I’m going to be like I’m going to move and be big with my own energy, which again, is going to come up here in in a minute with another one of the questions. But it’s not necessarily energy at the horse, which could be an entire podcast in itself. But think about it. Have you ever noticed when somebody walks into a room that they bring a certain energy level with them? You like sometimes somebody will walk in the room and it just feels like electric because you can feel the excitement, the energy they bring and they’re not necessarily even speaking. It’s just how they show up. And so I think when you look at this as like curiosity and you can have higher energy, I think that’s going to peak this horse’s interest in you. And it’s not, again, going after the horse or the higher energy. It’s like being like, oh, we’re going to work. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. And it’s more of almost like an encouraging but high energy vibe, which for me, like with a horse like Willow, that has taken a very long time to get to where when I bring the energy up to that high, that she can be relaxed in it. It’s still like she tends to get want to get into the flight or something reactive mode when that energy comes up. We’re seriously like out on the trail or riding, if a dog comes out, Gabby’s more like, turn and face naturally. Like I didn’t have to train her to do it. She’s more like, uh-huh. Bring that. You know, she’s just–that’s how they respond. So that’s what I want you to think about. Curiosity, the feedback. Maybe she’s telling you a little bit like, let’s see what you have to offer here. Make–be like–be very interesting. And think about the stages that relationships go through. One more thing on that subject, and that would be one interesting thought I had when I was thinking about this question and Gabby and Willow, is that this confidence that was natural in Gabby, it was just kind of there right at the beginning, like with my stallion also, is something that was there. And then with Willow, I had to work to build her confidence. But interestingly, once she became confident in our relationship, that’s when some of these almost dominant looking behaviors, almost these some of these questions that look a little bit more like a dominant horse would ask them actually will come up with a horse like Willow once she’s really comfortable in the relationship. And I find that really interesting, because–if I think about it, though, if–if these horses were just out so let’s say Willow was turned out with some, like, really mild mannered horses that she could move around or push around and basically be the leader of. That’s when you would see her start stepping up and acting more confident, more dominant and showing some of those different physical traits, those different…that feedback. She would start acting a little bit more like a dominant horse. And so you’ll actually see–I see that shift happen when the horses have their confidence built up and then you still have to deal with it. So at some point, ideally, you’re having to figure out how to be like, yes, I’m the leader and yes, you have a valuable role here on the team. And yes, your opinion is noted. And here’s the job we’re going to go do. And so it’s an interesting shift in your mind where you’re not trying to get rid of that that confidence that you’re actually trying to funnel it into something productive instead of into them kind of saying, like, I don’t know about you. So there’s some food for thought on that one.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:27] Now, let’s jump over to the question about the two-year-old horse, the two-year-old mare. And inside of this one, I heard two different things. The first one was about ropes, when to move, when not to move. But I’m going to put that one aside for just a second and talk about the ears, ear pinning. And so the reason I thought this kind of fit in to these three questions is, again, when you tell me that you’re getting up and down on a barrel beside her and you notice that she’s pinning her ears, it makes me really curious because I start thinking, oh, interesting. This is some interesting feedback from the horse. And that’s what I heard you asking in your question, because you were like you were like, you know, is it aggression? Is it fear? What should I do? And and so, first of all, I’m super glad that you were curious. All the questions came from curiosity. So that’s a great sign for you guys who are leaving them. You’re curious enough to be asking me. And so what if you looked at it like feedback from the horse and it’s like, hmm, interesting. Could be aggression. Could be fear. And I love that you said you had experimented a little bit with leading her like, you know, she’s away from you, you climb up, you bring her close to you and she’s fine. So you’re up high and you lead her over to you and she’s fine. I love that you had that realization because I want you to do some more experimenting with it. I want to know if, for example, if you stand beside the horse and you jump up and down like you’re gonna–like you’re standing beside the saddle and you jump up and down or stand anywhere, I don’t care. Stand ten feet away from her in front of her and jump up and down. I’m wondering if it’s a…there’s kind of a limit, at least for me, how slowly I can move to get up on top of a barrel. Kind of involves, like a jump for me. And so I’m curious to know if it’s the height of you being up there, which you kind of said it isn’t because you lead her over. So I’m going with it’s the movement of up and down that would make me want to take like a plastic bag on the end of a stick and string or anything like a flag of some sort and go up and down and go kind of up and down and over, because a lot of horses do get a little reactive to things going up over their head. Like if you’re…if you’ve got a bag on the end of a stick and string, like a lot of times horses will kind of raise their head up and they’ll–they’ll some of them almost appear to like naturally just pin their ears. And sometimes I wonder if it’s like, you know, kind of the same questions as you. Is it a little bit like–is there a little bit of aggression there? Or more like, you know, like kind of getting out of the way like some of them look like? I’m not sure if you’ve got control over that thing. And so, you know, something–something very repeatable like that would be interesting. So I would–I would do some of that where I can wave things. I would, if I had a horse where I could pony, you know, because the thing about ponying that would be different is you could– you could get up and down. You could you get up on the horse, but you could–you could move yourself around a little bit more like side to side and waving your hands and some different things. When you’re up on the barrel because you said you can be up and lead her over to you and she’s fine, is she weird when you just get down? So I would be like, interesting. Is she only weird when I’m getting up? Or is it–so–when I’m–obviously you’re saying, I think, when you’re–when she’s beside you and you climb up, she’s reacting. But–so–but you also said that if she’s far away and you bring her to you, she’s not. So I’d be like if I jump down, does she have a reaction? Huh. Interesting. And so really try to break it down and look at it with curiosity. If I see other signs of aggression, then–then I get a little bit more concerned. Like, are they stepping towards me? Are there any other places where they’ve shown aggression? So that matters to me. If I’ve been lunging them and I’ve noticed, jeez, they’re really pushy with their shoulder, especially on the on side. You know, some of those things will point me more towards a pattern of aggression and a pattern of fear can also be, you know, that they’re–they tend to be leaving or going away. I would say that I would look at it more like it’s a question and then I would get curious about, OK, I know for sure I can trigger it getting up and down, off the barrel. Now, I’m going to look at, you know, the flag up and down and around and I’m going to look at just jumping down and I’m going to look at, like, what other things can I do that move when I move faster around here? Like, so if we jog and I make her jog beside me, does she get a little bit pinny eared? Is there a question about the energy level being higher? Because your energy level is probably higher when you jump up on the barrel. Is there a question in her mind that when the energy level goes higher, she needs to get a little defensive feeling? They can learn those things in the pasture from other horses and then they just apply those rules to you. So I get really curious about some of those areas, like–when it–because if I look at it on another level, I could say when you’re–you’ve got her close and you jump up on the barrel, your bubble and her bubble are kind of close to each other. And so that would be that’s how I’m coming up with some of these things. I’m thinking if you jog beside her, here’s an interesting one, have your horse jog beside you and then reach out there and pet them on their neck while you’re jogging. That’ll freak some horses out. And it takes a little bit of coordination, but it’s worth it because a lot of times they–they’re just like–they don’t know what this means in this higher energy because maybe in the pasture, maybe this is a more, you know, mid-level or dominant kind of horse or wherever it is in the in the pack. Maybe this horse is like, oh, no, do I need to defend myself right now? You know, do I need to start driving this energy, being you, away from me? And so that’s that’s a few of the things that I would consider with this. And that’s why I’m saying let’s take your curiosity and the feedback from the horse and–and let’s see what we can do with it. Now, a couple other thoughts before I answer your question about the rope. When I’m looking–so let’s say that consistently, when I jump up and down in her bubble or take the bag on the end of a stick and string up and down, when I move that kind of quicker, consistently, she kind of takes her ears back a little bit. To me, the opposite of their ears going back a little bit…like, let’s say she’s not moving. So it’s not like she’s running away from you, although you’re about to expose, kind of, which one. So she’s not running away from you. She’s not running at you. Kind of the only thing you’re seeing on the surface is the ears kind of going back. And you’re like, my general feeling is she just kind of is like, yes, I don’t like this, eck. I’m not scared, not exactly angry, just eck. So what I want you to do is go ahead and be moving like so whether you’re jumping up and down, whether you’re taking that flag up and down, something you can do slightly repetitively would be better, but you might even have this answer after you jumped off the barrel. I’m curious. And don’t jump straight at her, please, because–because of this: when you–when you take your energy up and down, so let’s say you jump up and down and it kind of lightly triggers that same like slightly ear’s going back, I’m curious what happens if there is a little bit of startle that’s involved. And when I say startle, again, don’t go after the horse when you’re doing this. But it’s almost like if you’re up on the barrel and she’s fine and, you know, if she’s facing you, we’re going to call that 12:00 o’clock. Maybe you jump off the barrel at three o’clock. And if she’s facing you and you jump off at three o’clock, then that’s going to be actually on her “on side” or the side you normally lead or her left hand side. I would observe what she does during that, because the tendencies tend to be that they’re either going to stand and kind of prick their ears forward, like, whoa, what just happened there? Or maybe she’ll be a little bit more, eh, and maybe she’ll pin her ears. Maybe it’s a little bit more aggressive. Or maybe it’s it’s actually like, she leaves. Like maybe she spooks and tries to leave. And so she’s either going to kind of, you know, spook because she’s a little bit scared and she’s going to go or there’s going to be a curiosity like, oh, that got interesting. I did not expect you to do that. Or it’s maybe going to bring up a little bit more of that aggression that you’re questioning. I would also, you know, get that answer on that side. But I would also jump off the barrel at nine o’clock and get that same kind of a feedback, kind of a loop like that. Again, I suspect that you’ll be able to answer some of these questions about whether it leads–leans towards aggression or fear based on all the other interactions you’ve had with her when you were leading her or brushing her or saddling her or any of these other things. So keep those in mind. When you ask the question and you say you’re confused about when the rope should mean move or when the rope should mean stand still, I’m not–I think what you’re saying…I think rope in this–I think when you say this, I’m going to call it the stick and string. The rope on the stick and string, although technically you could throw the end of like a long like a 24-foot like lunge-line-type rope over the horse. Either one could be interchangeable here–confused about when the rope should mean move or when the rope should mean stand still. and–and but I’m just going to use this, the rope on the end of the stick and string, as an example. And so early on, when I’m looking at that stick and string and teaching the horse, I want to teach that horse it’s almost like an extension of my hand. And so I want to be able to rub the horse all over with the stick and string, which also means I want to be able to flop the rope over the horse’s back. And so in that case, it doesn’t mean move. But then just like you can imagine that if you’re in the stall and you want to move a horse over that, you know how you can kind of push on their sides or you just apply pressure with your hand and the horse moves away from that pressure, then I want to know that they can move when I cue them with either the top of the stick and string or the rope. And so the biggest thing that starts to make the difference between when they should move or when they should stand still, to me, at the end of the day, the biggest piece of that is the energy you contain in your body. So does your body say relaxed, quiet, but you’re–but you’re moving the rope around, so I’m tossing it rhythmically over their back and, you know, and it’s just kind of got this relaxing vibe in the air going on with it. Because that’s a different type of energy than when I pick up my–my energy in my body and I–and let’s say I cluck and I send the horse, so I point with my one arm. And so there’s this motion and then I start making the motion with the rope, meaning the stick and string, the rope on the end of the stick and string. And I start bringing up the energy. And that’s so what I’m ultimately after is that the horse is reading that change in the energy level. Now they’re going to make mistakes when they’re learning it. But the biggest thing that I want you to understand right off the bat is that you do need to get clear about when you want the rope to mean move and when you want the rope to mean stand still. And so what’s going to happen is that it’s going to change where you release. So, you know, if you raise the energy and you start, you know, swinging the rope and the rope is hitting the ground and she moves a foot, you’re going to release and she’s going to be like, oh, there you go. That that’s what that –it went away. Or if you’re tossing it over her back and she stops moving, you’re going to take it away. And she’s going to be like, oh, well, that was easy. It just goes away. It didn’t even mean anything. That’s weird. And so there’s a curiosity with it. But you will find that you’ll need to have a specific intention in your body to get a better, more consistent response from your horse, and that’s going to change as your relationship grows because their level of understanding changes and–and you’re going to see those changes in the horse because it’s amazing how subtle the horses will get when they really understand what it is you’re after. And at the beginning, you know, they’re kind of like, I don’t know, and they kind of default to what their nature, what their natural temperament would tell them to do. So for Gabby, that would be like stand and look at me. And for Willow, that would be like, we should leave now. And so then you start from there.

Stacy Westfall: [00:33:43] And then finally, we’re going to talk a little bit about the horse, this wringing its tail, and the question about like when a horse puts their ears back or rings their tail when you ask them to go to work in the saddle. You know, do you go back to ground work? Do you ignore it? You stay on the same path? Can you guys see how I’m using this curiosity and this feedback from the horse as–as kind of this this loop of the horse is giving me some feedback. The horse is asking a question, and some of those questions sound a little bit like, yeah…I don’t know. I’m not really, really sure you got much more for me. What are you offering me? Or and some of them are like, wow, what just happened? And some of them are like, you know, there’s just all these different variations of what could be going on here. So when I think about a horse that’s using its tail or ears when asked to go to work, one of my first things is going to be like, making sure that you’ve addressed anything that could be a potential pain issue. So that can be saddle fit, dental, it can be those kind of things. So if you have any reason to believe that it’s any of those things, then definitely look into physical pain. One of the fastest ways, because you specifically mentioned work in the saddle, one of the quickest ways that I like to kind of figure out which part of this is temperament based on which part of this might be a physical problem is to look at it in three different ways. You’re already mentioning it when asked to go to work under saddle. I also want to know, does it exist and to what degree does it exist during ground work? And then I also want to know, does it exist and to what level does it exist when turned out in the pasture with other horses? Or stalled next to another horse? So basically what I’m looking at when I look at all three of those areas is if I start to see consistently that when the horse is communicating under saddle and during ground work and out in the pasture, that it uses its tail a lot, that tends to be a habit that I see stay across the board. So Gabby uses her tail a lot and she uses her tail out in the pasture. She uses her tail a lot. She used her tail a lot during ground work. And if I introduce anything new, then she will kind of go back to it again. It’s almost like as she processes with her brain, some of it comes out her tail. But interestingly, when she moves from…I think about when you’re learning something you don’t know, it’s the stages of competency that I did a whole podcast on. And it’s like you don’t know what you don’t know. And then, you know, you know, you’re like aware that you don’t know something. So it’s like unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, consciously competent, and unconsciously competent. It’s a good podcast. You should go back and listen to it, I’ll link to it in the show notes. I believe horses go through these same things. And if you think about it, when you’re in the stage of you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s not super pleasant because you’re like, what in the world is happening around here? Especially if you get this more dominant personality like Gabby. Like, she’s like, what? Who’s making these rules? I can make better rules. I got these rules, what are you doing? And so that’s kind of her attitude in the pasture. That’s her attitude when she was doing groundwork and, you know, first being ridden, and then as she started to buy in, there’s this like unconsciously, you know, I mean conscious incompetent. She was like, OK, there’s a system here. I can see the Stacy’s using a system. I don’t understand the system. I’m a little bit not happy that I don’t understand the system, but at least I see there’s a system. And then as she moved to consciously competent, where I could see that she was like, I see the system and I think the answer is this: I could see a major change in the use of her expressing herself with her tail in particular. I find the horses tend to have a go-to, like some go with their tail, some go with their ears, some go with, like a nervous energy that wants to come out and pawing, some do it with head tossing. And a lot of times when you see that, you’ll actually see it kind of across the board in those three places in like turn out or pat or stall or pasture in groundwork and then in riding. So if I see a horse that’s using its tail a lot in the pasture and during ground work, odds are, going to do it when I first put it under saddle. But what I have noticed is that as they go up through, as they become consciously competent and especially as they become unconsciously competent, that’s where I see a major improvement in any of those expressions because they just seem it’s just the way they’re processing must shift just enough that it doesn’t show itself. Now, interestingly enough, I have a video on my YouTube channel that I’ll also try to put in the show notes. It’s also interesting to see other times that the horses will use their tails, like for different things. Like Gabby is so funny to watch when she runs and plays because her tail is like out of control. I had some ladies here that had Endurance Arabians, and they were like, are you sure she’s not an Arabian? Like, she can curl her tail with the best of them and does all these flagging things with it and all kinds of stuff. And so she’s very expressive with it. Also, when she is excited, when she’s angry, when she’s happy, upset, like it’s just there everywhere. And so it’s also I think it’s interesting that, you know, it’s not just, you know, like in response to my leg, which is what everybody wants to blame it on when they get on their back. But, you know, she’s got it all over the place. But for sure, definitely check on soundness things and stuff like that and look across the board to see what it is and see if you notice that as the understanding level goes up, those signals go down. That is how I use curiosity to look at the feedback that the horse is giving me to become even more interesting around the horses, which generally, as I become more creative and interesting, makes them give different feedback because they’re like, are you OK? What’s going on with you? That’s one of my favorite things to get Gabby to do, because instead of her being like, yeah, I don’t know about that. she’s like, are you OK over there? Like you’re jumping around and you’re waving things. And–and then even though I’m saying that’s what she’s saying, she does, she, she now, she sees the pattern between, you know, what I’m doing and what she’s doing. And she looks for that feedback loop from me, because to me the whole conversation is a feedback loop. I’m doing something and I respond when she does something and she responds when I do something and I respond when she does something. And as our relationship grows up through the different stages, it gets better and better. And one of the ways it gets better when I say that it gets more subtle. And that’s when the beauty of all of this work comes together, because that’s when start things start to look seamless, which is what you reference when you mention the ride with Roxy.

Stacy Westfall: [00:41:20] So if you are listening to this and you have a question that you would love to have answered, please visit my website and leave your voicemail. There’s an orange button on the right hand side. And a note to some of you, if you’ve left a message in the past and you haven’t heard it used, occasionally the messages come through and they’re either really hard to hear or they’re a little bit digitally kind of garbled. So if I haven’t answered your question, then please feel free to leave it again or send me an email and just mention that you’d love to have it answered on the podcast. That’s what I’m doing this season. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:42:05] 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:

Why do horses swish or wring or use their tails? With and without riders…


  1. Sami on March 26, 2021 at 11:08 am

    I’m curious about the podcast you mentioned you did about the stages of competency. I would love to listen to that one if you could point me in the right direction.

  2. Kathleen E Frank on January 28, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    I especially liked your take on “allowing” her to keep her leadership, but join the “team”

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