Episode 117: Challenging Conversations with Your Horse

 

Episode 117: Challenging Conversations with Your Horse

Today, I’m answering two listener questions that at first might not seem related. And in the broader sense of the term, maybe the broadest sense, they both fall under the category of challenging conversations with your horse.

Listen here are some of the questions that were asked:
How much say do you let your horses have your two way conversation?
What types of things do you allow the horse to say?
I love the idea of listening…but I’m getting a lot of backtalk… maybe I’m being too easy on her?
How do you build emotional control with a horse who gets frustrated and defensive to your corrections?

It’s truly amazing to me how much ground I can cover in spoken word. The transcript for this episode is 16 pages…and that is NOT double spaced the way you might have turned in papers in school!

To make a longish-story short. Very short.
Yes, when you are learning to converse with a horse…and you invite them into the conversation…you might not always like what they have to say or the questions they might ask.
I don’t know about you but I find this to be true in more than just my horse conversations…if they are with someone I want to build a deeper relationship with.
In tomorrows post I’ll share a video that highlights this.

Full Transcript

Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. Today, I’m answering two listener questions that at first might not seem related. And in the broader sense of the term, maybe the broadest sense, they both fall under the category of challenging conversations with your horse. Let’s take a listen to both of them and then take a closer look.

Caller 1: [00:00:54] Hi, Stacy. I’m so happy that you’re doing this season’s podcasts on trail rides. I have a question for you. I’m hoping that you can help me with my 17-year-old gelding who is having some difficulties going through the typical trail gate that you see before you get into horse trails. There’s a reserve back behind our house, and he’s– he’s a really great horse on trail. We’re just having some trouble getting through the trail gate itself. Just so you have a little background on him. I got him when he was seven and we showed in reined cow horse for ten years. We’ve been very successful. We showed in the finals at a world show. We’ve–we’ve been really all over the United States. So I really feel like his training level is high and he’s honestly a great horse as well. I have ridden him all throughout his life of being shown and that sort of thing. We usually go on trail rides once a week, but we recently moved and bought our own place where we could bring him home. And one of the reasons I like this place is because it had trails at the back. But recently he’s decided that he doesn’t want to go through the gate, so I’m hoping you can help me give me some ideas on how to get him through the trail gate. Thank you so much, Stacy, for all you do and all your help.

Caller 2: [00:02:21] Hey Stacy, it’s Shelby again, your answer to my question was spot on. Thanks for reminding me that all leveled horses can still have holes in their training. I have more questions. The first one is on a concept that I’m hoping you can shed some light on. I read a reining article that mentioned a difference between helpful riding and corrective riding. Can you talk about the difference there and how to make this transition? I would love for my mare to be more honest and not need me to babysit her. My next question is how much say do you allow a horse to have in your 2-way conversation? And what types of things do you allow your horse to say? I love the idea of listening to what the horse is saying, but I feel like I’m just getting a lot of backtalk from my mare. Maybe I’m being too easy on her. I know I need to build her emotional control, but how do you build emotional control with a horse who gets frustrated and defensive to your corrections? I hope you have some more input for me. Thanks. Bye.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:25] The first question I have for you is, can you hear how easy it would be in a way to answer these questions with something like, well, use more leg when you’re approaching the gate? Or maybe she wouldn’t be as angry if you used less rein over here. Can you hear how there could be the temptation to strictly look at this as a cueing system or leg aides or something like that? And definitely there are pieces of that that are true in different situations. But the reason that I like the idea of looking at these questions as conversations with a horse is because at the end of the day, the mind controls the body and the body informs the mind of what’s going on. And so it’s kind of this interesting back and forth. And I think a lot of times seeing things from the horse’s point of view is what shifts our timing as riders and informs us as to how much pressure or when to add pressure or when not to add pressure, but totally taking pressure out of the situation, how to see and be more creative and hear how these horses are asking us questions and giving us feedback. So now let’s go ahead and look at one of the questions in a little more detail.

Caller 1: [00:04:56] I Stacy I’m so happy that you’re doing this season’s podcasts on trail rides. I have a question for you. I’m hoping that you can help me with my 17-year-old gelding who is having some difficulties going through the typical trail gate that you see before you get into horse trails. There’s a reserve back behind our house, and he’s–he’s a really great horse on trail. We’re just having some trouble getting through the trail gate itself. Just so you have a little background on him, I got him when he was seven and we showed in reined cow horse for ten years. We’ve been very successful. We showed in the finals at a world show. We’ve–we’ve been really all over the United States. So I really feel like his training level is high and he’s honestly a great trail horse as well. I have ridden him all throughout his life of being shown and that sort of thing. We usually go on trail rides once a week, but we recently moved and bought our own place where we could bring him home. And one of the reasons I like this place is because it had trails at the back. But recently he’s decided that he doesn’t want to go through the gate. So I’m hoping you can help me give me some ideas on how to get him through the trail gate. Thank you so much, Stacy, for all you do and all your help.

Stacy Westfall: [00:06:22] Ok, first, I love the amount of detail that you gave me about your horse and the background. And here’s why I love it. I love it because we can approach this question from two different angles. Well, technically from four different angles. That would be the four square model. The rider’s mind, the riders body, the horse’s mind, the horse’s body. But I’m going to focus mostly on the horse’s mind and the horse’s body right here. So let’s take a look at your horse and his past employment history. So I’ve written two job descriptions, and I would like you to guess which one sounds more like this horse’s former occupation. That’s for all of you who are listening. So job description. Do you like working in a fast paced environment? Are you good at making quick decisions under pressure while remaining calm? Are you good at problem-solving in a constantly changing environment? The job also requires travel. Or there’s this job description. Do you enjoy a quiet work environment with dependable work hours? Do you have good communication skills and an even temperament? Do friends describe you as orderly, efficient and laid back? I think when I was sitting down to answer this question for you, I like to play with how we can look at things from the horse’s point of view, and I think that when I hear your question and I look at your horse’s work history, it would not surprise me at all if you have a very smart pony there. And the reason I say that is because very smart ponies figure out how to play the game and go all the way to the world show. And so part of the game, the first thing that pops into my mind is actually describing this a little bit more in terms of dogs. But have you ever watched a border collie at work? I mean, those are some awesome videos to watch on YouTube, whether they’re actually out in a work environment, in a field actually working a herd, or whether they’re doing, you know, any kind of agility or anything like that. You can see the intensity and their brain and their thinking. And that does not mean that they aren’t good dogs to have around just to have around and be a little bit more laid back, but there is one thing that’s interesting about them. The people I know that have them say they are very…their mind is going. And one thing I notice when I work with a lot of my reining horses is that they have been bred over the years to be very a little bit like border collies, I would say. And the–and if you have got a horse that does cutting and cow work, they’ve got an even more intense like Border Collie herding-ish thinking. So think about it. The horse is asked to make quick decisions, is given a lot of responsibility, is given the challenge of problem solving. And hey, here’s the deal, I want to move this over here, and then I want to say I’m going to leave you alone and you don’t let it go there, ABC, like, literally the horse is trained to see this whole system and then work its piece. And what’s really interesting is, I think for you is that this is going to be a little bit of a detective game for you, because some of the questions I want you to answer are, did this issue with riding out of the gate, did it sneak up on you when you look back, or was there kind of a sudden start, or was it just like, did it feel from your perspective, whether it was like, boom, one day this was a thing? Or did you notice it like slowly growing? And the reason I’m asking you that is because we’re trying to back into his thought process. And then another one would be, yes, we’re going to talk specifically which which aide is he ignoring.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:39] So typically, if you won’t go through the tailgate–trail gate–tailgate, that’s funny. If he won’t go through the gate, typically, that would mean that he’s ignoring your leg. Cue to go forward, although he could also be rolling back to the left or the right, which would be not only avoiding your legs, but also diving through or pulling on one of the reins. So there are some aides that he is he’s just flat being like, no, I don’t think so. So when you determine what aides that might be, can you find somewhere else that that is also a weak spot? So can you find a spot where he maybe it might not have even been at this gate that he started like exploring, asking the questions of, hmmm, I don’t think I want to walk through that mud puddle? I’m going to duck a little bit to the right and go around it. You good with that? And you’re just talking on the phone and you accidentally answer, yes. So start being a detective and trying to figure out the little puzzle pieces that you can see at the gate and then backing those into other little places that you can find. So what’s really interesting sometimes about highly tuned and finished horses is that the really sensitive cues….the–like, let’s look at it like this: If we stack cues up when we’re training a horse from elementary school to high school to college, when you get to this college level horse, the really sensitive cues, a lot of times they don’t look like those more basic or primary cues. That’s one of the things like if you watch the bareback bridleless ride, you’re like, how? Because the really sensitive cues have taken the place of those primary cues. What is fascinating about this is I’ve done it with enough different horses to know that a lot of times when those really sensitive cues get up there, sometimes the primary cues become really rusty, which is just fascinating. You would think they would only get better, but because they almost act like a different set of cues, they don’t. So a lot of times I go back and practice those cues that you wouldn’t necessarily think you would need. So it means maybe, for an example, is you go, hmmm, this horse probably hasn’t done a lot of Western Dressage, so let’s practice our trot down center line, whatever that means to you. You trot down the driveway if it’s safe, stop, halt, salute if you want to practice that, and then trot off immediately without any walk steps. So that would be practicing a go forward cue right now and he might be really good at the canter version of that, but he might be weak at the–the at the walk-to–or the halt-to-trot version of that. So, but it’s but it’s also interesting to put him in different situations and do it. It’s one of the reasons why I love training my horses out on the trails because I can work on some of these different cues, but out on the trail. And so it’s interesting. Another thought you could have is when you go out on the trail, it might sound good to you that you’re just kind of cruising. Let’s just say that you’re primarily just kind of cruising along and it’s pretty simple. Couple thoughts–he could be asking little tiny questions that are really sensitive that you’re not picking up on, like, can I go to the left or the right of this mud puddle? Can I slow down now? Can I speed up now? And he might have it in his head that this is like, oh, well, this is like when you drop your hand down or working a cow and it’s my job, I make the decisions. Oh, I made a decision. No trail gate today. It’s interesting because you can also look at it a little bit like the horse that won’t load into the trailer when they see the work coming. But again, like, I’m not so sure that it’s like, see the work coming. Well, yes, obviously they see they get in the trailer, they go get hauled to a lesson, they work, they come home. To me, the thing they’re–like I don’t have trouble loading my horses into the trailer and going because I’m always playing these mind games with them. So when I go somewhere, maybe I go in the trailer and go somewhere, and that’s easier than when I work at home. So now you’re riding out of your house instead of ride–instead of hauling somewhere. So it’s like, do you have a place where you can work him at home? Can you work him and be kind of, you know, creative, but he can also work and then he can go cool out on the trail? You know, so, and then when you’re on the trail, let’s just ignore the gate for just a minute, but imagine you’re out on the trail. Are you being creative out there and making sure that he’s actually kind of paying attention to you? And then this goes back to this: So imagine–so imagine a horse that doesn’t like to load in the trailer and go somewhere because they’re like, look, the last 85 times you’ve done this, you’ve worked me harder. When I get on the trailer and get off on the other end, I don’t even want to do it. You’ll find horses that will get on the trailer to only go one way. It’s fascinating to unpack their experience. So imagine that you load the horse in the trailer, haul it, unload it, let it graze, put it back on the trailer, haul it home. It’s really interesting when you start thinking about playing the mind games with the horses. So two mind games for you, the horse and the trail game. First of all, you could go out there, if it were me, the first thing I would want to do, aside from answer all the questions I’ve already asked you, is I would be like, OK, I’m riding up to the gate. And of course, I already know, so I’ve got my equipment with me, like I’ve got my light, my rope halter and my lunge line and we ride up to the gate and the horse is like, I’m imagining that he stops and he’s kind of like, no, I’m not going there. And I’d be like, oh, you find this part of the trail really interesting. We should totally explore this part of the trail. Look at that rock over there. OK, look at that bush. Oh, I’m going to get off and I’m going to send you in cir–I’m going to send you in a circle. I’m going to send you in a half circle. I’m going to back you up. I’m going to send you forward. Oh look at that rock. Do you like the little pink one or do you like the little white one? And, and start being weird and playful. And I like going back to ground work. It doesn’t have to all be ground work, but because I’m going to bet money you haven’t done it like that. Ground work would be my first choice, but you can do the same thing ridden. But the skill is to not be secretly having the agenda of going through. It’s almost like you’re just going to back off every time you get closer to it a little bit. But it’s not even about it, because here’s the kicker–When you get through, like the next time you—whether you get through there doing the groundwork or whether you go riding, maybe you get through the gate and then you get off and lead him home. That is the ridden equivalent of loading one into the trailer, taking them somewhere, tying to the side of the trailer, letting him eat a hay bag, and putting him back in the trailer. They’re like, that was weird. And on a horse, I think you’d be surprised when you start getting creative with a horse that knows how to see patterns. See your horse, at some point, learned how to learn patterns, so I’m putting all my money in on the idea that he’s seeing some kind of a pattern that you’re just not seeing, and now he’s working the pattern. Interesting news–you’re the thing he’s working, so. So anyway, I really want you to approach this from engaging the mind and you can do this with, again, with ground work or creative work at home. Like maybe you’re like, oh, let’s sidepass logs, let’s sidepass this, let’s back up here. You’ll see people like back horses through, like–maybe you’ll see a barrel horse that won’t go in the arena so somebody’ll start backing it in. I’m not talking about doing it with the trick of, ha! I got you at the end and now we’re going to do it. I’m just doing it, I’m saying be creative in that way that you actually open up your mind and you get more creative because I’ll bet you you have an expert chess player, a really good border collie, whatever works for your mind. I think you’ve got a really smart pony. And I think he wants to see some creativity there. And then when you step it up he’ll be like, oh! Because a lot of times, if you don’t make something creative–have you ever seen those border collies that just like chase random, like light spots on the ground or they’ll lose their mind over a fly on the ceiling or different things like that? Their mind is just kind of going give him something to think about. OK, now that we unpacked that one, let’s go ahead and listen to the mega question.

Caller 2: [00:19:44] Hey Stacy, it’s Shelby again, your answer to my question was spot on. Thanks for reminding me that all leveled horses can still have holes in their training. I have more questions. The first one is on a concept that I’m hoping you can shed some light on. I read a reining article that mentioned a difference between helpful riding and corrective riding. Can you talk about the difference there and how to make this transition? I would love for my mare to be more honest and not need me to babysit her. My next question is how much say do you allow a horse to have in your 2-way conversation? And what types of things do you allow your horse to say? I love the idea of listening to what the horse is saying, but I feel like I’m just getting a lot of backtalk from my mare. Maybe I’m being too easy on her. I know I need to build her emotional control, but how do you build emotional control with a horse who gets frustrated and defensive to your corrections? I hope you have some more input for me. Thanks. Bye.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:48] Whew, I should have had my coffee before recording this episode instead of after. These are excellent questions that run deep. So I am diving into the deep end. But if anyone needs any clarification, feel free to call in and ask a question about this Q&A. Now, what’s interesting is there–this is going to be a little bit theoretical because there weren’t as many specific details to this horse and rider and the exact issues. I’m going to fill in and use some of my own that I think fit this category. But if, again, if you have a question about it, go ahead and call in and ask. So first of all, I did not read the article that you’re referencing, the one about helpful riding versus corrective riding, but I’m going to go out on a limb and I’m going to make up my own answer right now. So I’m going to say that helpful riding is something that informs the horse. It’s some kind of a way of riding that offers the horse feedback and choices, and that I’m going to say that corrective riding is going to be a little bit more like punishing mistakes and rewarding obedience. Now, if you write that down, because I’m thinking that I just said a whole mouthful, that was a lot of information. Helpful riding informs, offers feedback and choices, corrective punishes mistakes, rewards obedience. Can you see how that would work with children? Like helpful instructing of your children would inform the child and offer feedback and offer choices, corrective would punish the mistakes and reward the obedience. Right there you can hear how there’s actually a different thing going on in, I’m going to say in the riders mind. But in the person who is doling out either the helpful information and offering feedback or the correction, the punishments and the rewards, there are actually two different like energy levels, way of being. So another way I like to phrase this, that to me just makes it more clear when we’re in the middle of it, is that we’re we basically we’re talking about reactive versus responsive. Horses that are reactive versus responding. So a horse that is reactive a lot of times is being trained from that corrective or punishment thing. So they’re kind of just jumping to answer the question and then the–the responding side of it is that more helpful riding, that more like, you know, the horse is like, there’s feedback. And you can hear where there’s going to be more questions that are going to come up in the helpful where you’re offering feedback, offering choices. Because you invite more conversation. There’s not a lot of conversation that happens in the corrective because it’s more like, just clear do this, yes, no, pass, fail. And the interesting part or the challenging part, I guess, when you go out to ride, work, is that you can see if you write down these as examples, you can see how it’s almost like you’ve got two circles and you can push those two circles close together and there’s an overlap in the middle. For me, the way that I want to look at it, first of all, is which way are you approaching it? Are you approaching it where there is this very corrective kind of like, nope, you got that wrong, try again kind of a feeling, or is there this this curious, playful quality to…sometimes I’m sitting here wiggling my hand because I like the idea of, like, wiggling this around and like finding out how to get these answers. So, I’ll say this. It takes two to fight. I’m going to dive in in just a minute to how this plays out with one of my particular horses, but it takes two to fight. So when you feel like you’ve got a horse–because that’s what I’m reading into some of your question is, is a horse that wants to, like you’re asking questions about backtalk, maybe being too easy, she’s not–you know, you feel like you have to babysit her, she’s not really honest. So there can you hear how when I phrase it like that, it feels like there could be a fight brewing? So just remember, it’s going to take two to fight. So I’m going to grab a couple other phrases and add some of my own examples in here.

Stacy Westfall: [00:25:32] So one of the phrases that you use was honesty and not needing to babysit her. And my response was, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby. Yes, I have experienced this before. The interesting part is that when Gabby is doing what I think would fall into your description here…Like you want her to be honest and not need a babysitter. So Gabby feels at, a lot of times, like this has literally been what I’ve been where–it has been exactly what I’ve been working on this week, and last week, and last year with Gabby. So here’s the deal. Horses are kind of wired certain ways. And in horses and people, it’s interesting to note that our strengths are also our weaknesses. So a lot of times when you look at someone’s strength, it will also be their weakness if it’s overdone. So for me personally, if I take something like StrengthsFinders, my top two are honesty and creativity. Honesty overdone is blunt. It’s, it can be harsh. And creativity overdone can be chaotic. I can be a bit out of control so it doesn’t take away from my strengths, but I can overdo them and they can show up in different ways. That’s the way I like to look at it. By the way, you can take a free StrengthsFinders test online. Maybe I’ll link to that in the show notes. But like, they’re kind of fun. There’s a book on it. I bought the book and and it’s really interesting. But like so Gabby is really interesting because, let’s use Gabby versus Willow. So Gabby is like her strength is wait, patience. So when we–and then Willow’s–Willow’s strength is she’s like, she has a lot like, when I take her for dressage lessons and stuff, like she has a great work ethic. And I’m like, she’s a little hot. She’s got a lot of go. In a way, what we’re talking about is kind of the way that these horses look at anticipation, would be another way to look at it. So like Gabby’s view of life is like, well, we can wait and see. So in her anticipation, she can get tight, maybe if she sees something’s coming, but she doesn’t necessarily do anything about it. We’re going to talk about that more in a minute. But with Willow, Willow’s anticipation, she sees it coming and she’s tried to be gone before it happens. So just for fun, like out on the trail, Willow, if I’m like, hey, you want to go? She’s like, yeah, how fast can we go? And I’m like, you want to go faster? She’s like, yeah, yeah, go, go, go faster. So, like, her anticipation kind of comes out as like this like go getter energy and there’s a lot there. But she will also try to avoid my aides. Like, if she’s like, well, the last time we came through here Stacy asked for this, so I should definitely do this. Now get out of the way. Wait, I think she shifted her leg just a little bit. Do this. Jump. So she kind of jumps the gun. It’s a little too much go. Gabby, on the other hand, is much more like, well, I know the last three times you waved your legs like that, you then wanted me to lope off, but this could be the exception to the rule. So I’m going to wait. And after you wave three times and then you explain to me again that we need to lope off now, I will then consider this. So this definitely gives Gabby the feeling of needing a babysitter, which is not what’s going to serve us long term. But we’re going to go a little further in just a minute into that. So I want to answer the question about–because I think this–I think your babysitting question ties together with the piece with the back-talk, but you squeezed in between there, how much say does the horse have? So another concept here is, how much say does the horse have? First of all, never near the safety line. They are never allowed to back-talk. That gets us anywhere near the safety line that can be ridden, that can be leading there if they get anywhere near safety issues, biting, bucking, kicking, running you over, like none of these. This is all stuff that’s not allowed. What I believe you’re talking more about is more like sass and attitude. Now, this is a fascinating concept that would be definitely worth exploring more. It’s the idea that when I’m training the horses, if I have to pick, if I could pick, I would train attitude first, performance second. Life does not work quite that easy, so I don’t get to just clearly do attitude and then performance, think about it. Think about, like I have three kids, so it’s hard for me not to go back towards that. It’s like, do I want to record–reward attitude or performance? So it’s like if I say clean your room up, if they’re huffing and puffing and throwing their body around and slamming doors and doing all that stuff, the performance might be there. The room might be clean, but the attitude is off the rails. So if I have to pick one or the other, I want to deal with attitude. And I want to–I want to encourage a good attitude. I’m working on improving their attitude. This is why if you listen to previous podcasts, there’s times that I talk–and I just actually mentioned it in the last question–about like ride through the gate, get off, walk home. Like that will make your horse have this weird look on their face. I’ve done it out on the trail. I’ve gotten off and led them up hills and they will look at you like, what is happening here? And it shifts them into this mindset that’s just different that I like. So I’m always trying to figure out how I can improve that mindset. That means I will get off and reward a horse for a good attitude, doing virtually nothing. So I’m actually playing around with adding more reining in right now versus like I’ve been kind of on a dressage, Western dressage rampage. And Jesse went ahead and put my sliders back on my horses. And so I’m working on the training and for the reining there’s a lot of–we we train a lot of waiting. And so there’s a lot of like spin, hard, stand and wait. And so I’m rewarding a lot of wait. And so that means that I will reward the horse for doing–if somebody was watching, like doing nothing, it’s just literally rewarding the attitude. Like they’re standing there, they’re peaceful, they’re asleep. I get off and we’re done. Yes, that might have been between different maneuvers or whatever, but I’ve got to, I really want to drive the point home. I’m rewarding attitude. I’m actually doing it right now with Presto, too, around ground tying and saddling because he likes to get really distracted. So I keep rewarding him every time his head is down and low to the ground and I slip him a treat down there and he spends more and more time with his head down and low. And, but I’m essentially, if you’re watching, it looks like I’m slipping him a treat for doing nothing. But technically, he looks a lot like he’s doing some kind of like horse yoga pose because he’s like standing there with his head down. It’s kind of like, end of the trail, but not with the hind legs up underneath. He’s just standing there quietly, head down. And I’m literally just rewarding that. I’m rewarding attitude over that. Then I can start to stack attitude and performance.

Stacy Westfall: [00:33:14] Now, here’s where it gets more complicated, because we’ve got Gabby. So, my thing has been, and this is where so many layers, oh, so many layers, did you listen to last week’s podcast about how many layers and how deep things can go? So many layers here. So, talking a lot about your asking questions about the backtalk and are you being too easy on her? I don’t know if you’re being too easy on her, but here’s my guess. If you’re curious if you’re being too easy, I wouldn’t look at easy/hard as punishment versus–versus being too easy on her, not punishing her. I would not do that. And that’s when I say, when I, when I read the phrase out loud, “maybe I’m being too easy on her,” I’m going to guess that if I did a poll, 80 percent of people would take it as the flip of that would be, I’m being too easy. I need to be hard on her. Now, in my mind, too easy actually comes off as something you can measure with physical breathing. So horses benefit from sweating and working. Children do, too. But I’m not going to go there today. That was on a different podcast. So…humans do, actually. So instead, if you think you’re getting a lot of backtalk and you’ve got the question in your mind, am I being too easy? I want you to grab a–a timer and time how long you can trot or canter for, not at–not to like, not to like failure. But like what are you doing? Like are you being too easy on her. If you go out and you go, I normally trot around X number of times around the arena each direction, time it. You might be surprised that you’re only going for like five minutes and it might be like, you know what? Maybe…and I don’t know your horse and your fitness level for the horse, but it’s like for me I’d be like, hmm, interesting. Five minutes of trotting. I wonder over the next few weeks what it would be like to move that up till I can get to like twenty minutes of trotting. And what if I can move it up to where there’s, you know, twenty minutes of trotting and twenty minutes of loping that works–that happens during this work session. When I look at the word being “too easy”, a lot of times when people start trying to do shorter work sessions–like even trainer’s. I’ve seen lots of trainers, they go to like a shorter work session because they’ve got a lot of horses in training, but they get picky and hard on the horses in a short amount of time. That is not a fun experience for the employee, or the horse in this case. So the horse might actually relax with these longer sweat work cycles that would actually then make her more open minded to these shorter ones where you might be being more picky, because that’s a lot. That’s where I tend to see these kind of conversations going a lot of times. And yes, it works on Gabby, too. When she sees like, that we’re in it for the long haul, that actually improves her attitude. Where if we start doing a lot of chess moves, then the chess player in her comes out and I better want it because she starts trying to see how to work the system because that’s part of her wiring. Now, Willow works the system by trying to avoid the system. They’re both working, it just looks different.

Stacy Westfall: [00:33:14] Now, let me make this a little bit more clear for you with a more of an example. So one area Gabby is currently exploring, asking a lot of questions, could be considered backtalk. And a year ago, it looked more like backtalk. So that–the example is spinning. And spinning is a lot of work, spinning is heavy effort in a very short burst. And so there for me, there I trot circles, I trot these small circles, let’s say that they are 10 meter or smaller circles. So, you know, I’m trotting around in like a you know, a lot of times they’re like a 20 foot circle, like they’re just–I’m trotting little circles, I’m trotting, turning, trotting forward, trotting, turning, trotting forward. I’m doing things that are going to sharpen her to my aides and get her footwork a little bit quicker. And so I’m doing all of this. And a year ago, she used her tail a lot more than she’s using it now, even though I’m doing the same exercises. Because she didn’t see the reason, she’s a little on the lazier side, she was complaining. You could call it back talk, but I just saw it as she wasn’t totally understanding the pattern of cues and this is going to get better as she sees how she can work the system. Because at the end of the day, I’m OK with saying my horses work the system because that’s OK. Like if if I go like, hey, I’m going to use this cue and then you’re going to do this and it’s going to be a win-win, then work the system. There you go. So when I look at like, Gabby, you know, a year ago, she wasn’t responding as crisply to the forward aid cues. So, trot out of here. Go, go now. Push hard. One thing I would ask you to do is I would say, like in the middle of that, when you see there’s that grumbling from the horse–which is a little bit, I take it a lot of times as like, oh, more work. You are just a lot of work, you human. You require a lot of work. And I’m like, I do. You’re right. OK, let’s go to work. What’s your emotional reaction to it? Because a lot of times when the horse is like, ugh human, so much work, what are you doing? And you’re like, well, you’ve got such a rotten attitude and and then you join in. Remember, it takes two to fight. I’m like, heck yeah, this is a lot of work. Look, I’m your personal coach. I’m your fitness trainer. So jump on YouTube, watch how the fitness trainers talk to you, and that’s how you should be talking to your horse. And so watch your emotional reaction and then ask yourself this: Can the horse see the pattern of cues coming? Been asking myself this for a year with Gabby? The answer is yes, and it’s still there. Why is she making the same mistakes after a year? This is a great question, right? Here’s why, because the rules of the game are not static. So here’s what happened in Gabby’s mind. We’re–I get on her at the mounting block and we start walking around. So I get on, I wave, wave, she walks off, all is good. We walk around, we go to trot, I wave, wave, she trots off all good. We’ve been practicing this. This used to make her a little bit grumbly because the wave wave, she was like, I don’t know, maybe there’s other answers. Maybe I should try this. Maybe I should try that. Now she’s like, wave, wave, go to the next, go to the next gate. When I say wave, wave, that’s what I mean. When I kind of when I let my legs– it’s like I’m bumping a little bit with my calf. So it’s like a wave, wave motion. It doesn’t even feel really like a bump because my leg doesn’t come off that far, but it feels like a wave, wave and it’s not involving my spur. So, Gabby now sees the pattern of cues coming, good to go. But that’s not where the story ends because we’re not just done there. So now I’m spinning her. So when I start adding the spin to a horse like Gabby, it’s like, OK, we’re going to trot around, wind you up, wind you up, wind you up, wind you up, spin. There’s a little like spin, spin, spin, spin, spin. Whoa, stand. What’s the mistake that’s common after that? Horses get prancy. Why do horses get prancy? I just wound them up like a little wind-up toy. So now I want her to wait. So I say, let’s sit here and wait. How long do I wait? Till she stands still. Maybe I even get off then, maybe I’m done then. So I wound her up like a little wind-up toy. She stops, she stands, she waits. I shift around in my saddle. I talk to whoever’s there. I check my phone, whatever. I’m not holding my breath. I’m sitting there waiting. This brings up Gabby’s previous thought because Gabby is, essentially, there’s a little bit of a lazy thing there. It’s really just curious. She conserves energy. She’s energy-conserving. So then when she finally figures out this pattern of waiting, then when I go wave, wave, she goes, so over here, does wave, wave mean anything? So I go wave, wave, wave, wave, and she goes, I’m thinking maybe walk. And I’m thinking, I want her to walk, but I don’t want her to get nervous, so I don’t really want to get hard on her. So I wave, wave. She meanders off sluggishly like a snail. And I go, well she didn’t get prancy. I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but this is actually what day one did look like. Now, been doing this for a couple months. There’s a spot there. I’m going to call it a weakness because from Gabby’s point of view, maybe that’s what she thinks. She’s like, there’s a chink in the armor after the spin when she does wave, wave. The rules are not the same as when she does wave, wave after the mounting block or when she does wave, wave over here. There’s a different set of rules here. Do you know what that makes Gabby do? That makes Gabby do the same thing that the AQHA champion pony in the first question was doing. Because I, I detect a different set of rules here. Let’s explore these rules. She is cracking me up. And by the way, that is a piece of this thing. I laugh a lot at my horses. She’s right, I mean, I am making a different set of rules there. Why don’t I just get hard on her and make wave, wave mean…go now all the time? Because I value the quiet calm that I’m also bringing there. So over a period of time I will lessen the amount of time she’s allowed to make this mistake. So right now the stage we’re in, I wave, wave, wave, do a little bit too much, do a little bit more, and we walk off. I did last week. I actually took the end of my rein, and went pop, pop, like, come on, seriously. Like, I’m not going to wave like twenty times like this. And she was like, oh OK, OK, somewhere. But then she like wandered off real quiet and I let her be real lazy walk, not real working walk. Then when we’re in the lazy walk and we walk like let’s say thirty feet–now listen to this. Now I go wave, wave and she better go, cause outside of that little window that I’m allowing her to ask those questions over there, I’m like a wave, wave, get your butt in gear or I’m smacking you with something like a–I’ll pick up a dressage whip, I’ll use the end of the rein. Go now because this is not up for grabs. But that spot that’s good now was the spot that was bad a year ago, so I think you can see at the end of this how these kind of tie together. I think the the the thing is to me, you’ve got to be asking the rider question, do you react? Do you respond? So picture this. Picture that you go trail riding. I’m picturing the trailhead over here at the state park behind me. And let’s say you’re over there and your horse won’t load onto the trailer and people are watching. And dinner’s burning at home in the crock pot or whatever that you used. And you’re tired and it’s hot and the flies are biting you and 10 people are giving you opinions on how you should load your horse in that moment. Are you reactive or you responsive? This is one of those areas where horses are awesome at giving us feedback because they are also informing and training us and challenging us to step up to the plate.

Stacy Westfall: [00:44:55] Now, a little bit more of a recap before I wrap up. Let’s go back to Gabby. Elementary school I hold the horses’ hands. With a horse like Willow, Willow needs her hand held in elementary school. She’s insecure. I want her to lean on it because, remember, she’s my over reactive one. Gabby was like, oh, I can lean on it. Cool. So in elementary school, it was like, wow, she feels really easy. Moving on to high school, horse needs to have a little more responsibility. Willow. I give her a little more responsibility. She gets a little insecure. She takes the responsibility, but she gets a little bit anxious. You know, remember, she’s naturally insecure. So when she gets a lot of this responsibility, she actually feels like a wind-up toy that I’m like, down. What is going on here? Like, quit. Like, my biggest problem with her in the speed is slow down. She wants to essentially run away in the spin because she’s like, oh, you want me to spin? How fast can I go? And I’m like, slow down. Gabby is asking the opposite thing. Gabby’s like, how slow is allowed in here? Is this enough? I’m not sure if we need to do…yesterday you said I was allowed to do a little bit less. So those are–I’m giving them responsibility, but their response to it looks a little bit different. So, remember, back in Episode 115, I was actually talking about Gabby and dominant horses, and I was like, I want her to know that she is a leader, but I want her on my team? That’s where these horses tend to go. I think if you–if I look at trainers, look at training horses, horses with Gabby’s mindset tend to get knocked around a little bit more because they technically can handle the pressure. You will not get a teammate. You might get response, but they won’t buy in to be on your team. And a horse like Willow doesn’t tend to get knocked around because it does not have good results because she’s hot and reactive. So that’s just an interesting side note. Now, I’m also not saying you should knock them around. I’m saying this is what I’ve seen out in the world. And so in college, at the college level, at the college level, these horses you’re going to see, they’re not going to look that different. You’re going to start to see the them being a lot similar because I’ve balanced them out. But this is where Gabby will probably stop looking like there’s as much backtalk. She’s already doing it. So what happens is the more secure she gets in, like where the rules are, and the questions and the answers and what she’s allowed to push on and not, she just stops using as much of those complaining expressions because she just–when she’s learning that, she just looks like she complains or backtalks. And so, you know, back to that first question that I answered. She’s a smart horse and she’s got time on her hands. I think if I ride her for an hour a day, she’s got 23 to try to think about what other creative questions she can ask me and where there might be another chink in the armor. So this is why I thought these two tied together and how creative the horses are.

Stacy Westfall: [00:48:01] This is stuff I love talking about. Thank you so much for listening. If you’re enjoying the podcast, I would ask, could you please leave a rating or review in your podcast player? It helps more people find the podcast. And thanks again. I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Links mentioned in podcast:

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

4 Comments

  1. Karen Bockus on February 13, 2021 at 12:52 pm

    Dear Stacy, I’ve just finished listening to Podcast 117 for a second time, and I truly think this episode is a pivotal one, and should be expanded on, as it is so packed with valuable insight.
    I have the Gaby version, who is educated, smart as a whip, and who apparently has me well trained.
    I’ve recently have been doing things differently because of Covid, so she’s not going to shows or to our trainer.
    I’ve thrown in walking. She’s never been a great horse in the wide open spaces, and usually it will end up a big training session out in the field..but she’s anxious, and it’s a battle.
    So I started walking her out in the wide open and discovered certain spots she was very bothered by, so we look, stand, NOW I WILL TAKE A LUNGE LINE. The long and short of it is, that it’s helped. I did have one ride straight from the barn, out into the wide open and zero issues. That has never happened before. So now I call it thinking outside the box. But I also like the phrase it takes two to fight.
    This mare has a great work ethic, but I always feel I’m on the slippery slope, or as I say there are no free rides.
    Thanks for all your wonderful PODCASTS, For me 117 has been a huge learning awaking!

  2. Roz from Queensland, Australia on February 12, 2021 at 1:27 am

    Fantastically explained Stacy. Loved this one and the previous one re herd dynamics and asserting your position. Excellent. Always something to learn and realise. Thank you so much 🐎🤗👍

  3. Ron Andrews on February 10, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    Thanks Stacy! At the end of the day, what I love about your style/approach is the intuitive complexity of listening, observing, assessing, adapting, trying, reassessing, and then doing it all over again. I am a retired physical therapist and professor who has “played chess” verbally, cognitively, physically, emotionally with people over my 43 year career. You do it without the verbal which may be harder, but maybe not depending on the verbal ability of your “opponent.” I am sure you get my drift. There are methods and techniques, but at the end of the day we are educating, training, motivating, supporting and caring for that individual in front of us, be it horse or human! So keep up the challenging deep dives! Keep us all playing chess in the best way possible for all!

  4. Janet Robertson on February 10, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Very helpful and intriguing. See some applications for me and my horse who are a few months in our relationship and his first exposure to Western dressage. Especially appreciate the transcript as I am a fast reader and can go through the materials more quickly than listening but can also have the luxury of going back and re-reading and pondering. Thanks so much!

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