Episode 119: Distracted and overreactive vs responsive and aware, how can I train my horse to respond better?


Is it the object or the energy level that triggers your horse?
What does your horse do…when …other horses are running…deer jumping…new object appear…loud sounds happen…

It is easy to think about the ‘things’ involved but I like to think about the ‘energy’ they create. In this episode I answer two listener questions on this subject and discuss changing horses first reactions, improving riders muscle memory…and more.



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. Today, I’m answering two questions that were left on my voicemail hotline over on my website. Both of these questions involve how to prepare a horse for things that could make the horses get really excited, things like other horses running up to a fence line or deer jumping out, things like that. This is actually the perfect question for this time of year right now, because the version of this that I’m dealing with is snow falling off the roof of my indoor arena. And if you don’t live in a snowy area, what that’s like is the snow builds up and then the sun comes out and as it melts, it slides off that metal roof. So there’s this really strange, loud sliding sound from up above, followed by a really large thud as this big pile of heavy, wet snow hits the ground outside the arena. It’s exciting times in the indoor. So let’s go ahead and listen to both questions and then I’ll share my ideas.

Caller 1: [00:01:32] Hi, Stacy. I just wanted to say thank you for your podcast. I’m loving listening to it, and I’ve just been listening to the one about trail riding versus arena riding over lockdown. I didn’t miss going out hiking at all. And in fact, I decided that I wasn’t going to let my kids go out hiking anymore because the traffic is so bad these days compared, compared to when I was little. And then I started thinking, am I really denying them something that I loved so much when I was a child? Can I find some more off road places to go? Can we go off in the trailer and be safe and, and off we go. I was really interested to know obviously just going straight out from the area into a trail riding situation like you described where there might be things in the woods or horses up ahead. How can you prepare them for that at home? Obviously we do as much stuff as we can like with tarpaulins, with noises that I can think of in the arena. But how can I simulate walking past some horses loose that might stop? So I can do that on the fence line or something, or a deer jumping out of the bush? If you could give me some tips on that, that would be amazing. Thank you, bye.

Caller 2: [00:02:50] Hi Stacy I have a question for my gelding. At a lesson yesterday, the horses in the field next to him started running and he got really excited and distracted and I ended up just bringing his head around until I could dismount. And then I worked him in the round pen, got back on the familiar exercises until he was relaxed before ending our session. But I wanted to know how I could set him up for success to not react that way. When we are out, I can’t replicate it at home, which is one other horse. I’ve done your groundwork and he’s definitely got a whole lot better, but wanted to know what you suggest to do proactively to help him look to me rather than getting distracted by different stimuli when we are out, and also what to do in that situation when it does occur. Any help provided would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:50] First, I’d like to thank both of you for leaving your messages. I think this is a great topic because, as I mentioned before, I’m dealing with the snow falling off the roof. But someone else might be dealing with essentially the same issue when they go to a horse show and the energy level is up there. Or maybe there’s a banner on the wall that’s bothering the horse. There are so many different variations of this question. And the way that I like to look at it is, I put this into a category. And the category I put this into is–let me phrase it as a question first. What does your horse do when the energy level in the room goes up? So to me, all of these have something in common and that is the energy level in the room going up. So when the horses running down the fence line are running in the pasture, that’s the energy level going up. And then your horse is tempted to go ahead to match that. And when you’re out on the trail and the deer comes bounding through, that deer is bringing this energy level up and the horses are tempted to match it. And if you think about it, when you go to a horse show and there’s a lot of energy, and then depending on what the show is, there might be speed involved. You know, if it’s reining show the horses are going to be going faster, jumping shows, there’s a lot of different reasons, but even if the horses aren’t going fast like reiners, there’s a lot of energy at a horse show. Nervous energy from horses that are there, excited energy from people that are there, nervous energy from people that are there. There’s a lot of energy in the room. And so when we look at it like that, I think it’s a little bit different in our mind than if we start looking at it in the way that’s kind of tempting to, which is the things that are involved. So when we start thinking about it in things, we go, well, it’s the horses running, it’s the deer jumping, it’s the sound of the tarp. But if you can look at it like, these things are creating energy and your horse doesn’t know what to do with that energy, I think that rephrasing it like this is really useful. So first of all, it is really common for horses without training to go ahead and match the energy level in the room, which is why, like, one can like take off and the others kind of like run. And then they start looking around like, what are we, why are we going here? They’re kind of gone with the energy before they ask the questions. So we know that it’s really common for that to happen, which is why we kind of if you’ve been around horses for a while, you kind of start to realize, like, oh, those horses in the pasture running are likely to trigger a domino effect that might sweep my horse away with it. So what we’re doing when we’re doing the training is we’re trying to change something that’s kind of like naturally wanting to occur. So I think the first thing we do is we start to separate out. It’s not the things that are causing the problem. It’s the energy in the room changing. Just by phrasing it like that, can you hear how much more room there would be for creativity inside of your training when you just think about, can I bring the energy level up in the room? OK, let’s jump back into looking at the things for just a minute. I think it’s tempting to think of it like things causing the problem, but when you do that, the train of thought I most commonly see is that if people look at it like it’s the thing, then what people tend to want to do is expose the horse to more things. Now, the way that I’m going to like line this out, I’m going to kind of go to two extremes for just a minute just to be able to put this kind of spectrum in your mind.

Stacy Westfall: [00:07:52] So at the end of it, I see it as a dance between these two things. I think it’s a dance between exposure to things and the horse’s response to the riders cues. Now, I think it’s going to be a balance thing in the end. But again, I’m going to take it to kind of extremes so that you can see what I’m talking about here. So, on the one extreme of just exposing horses to the things to try to use that as a cure for this problem, if you go really far to that side, what you get a lot of times is people who are exposing horses to things, but not necessarily improving the communication between the horse and the rider. So picture like this, two people go out, trail riding. One’s got a really scared horse. So they pick a friend with a really confident horse and they put the confident horse in the lead. And the scared horse sticks like glue to the confident horse’s tail. Have you ever seen a horse that’s so close to the other horse that you’re not even sure how horse number 2 is even seeing the trail because they’ve got their head stuck in the tail of the horse? Number 1, I’ve seen this. And so when you go to that extreme, I could argue that at the end of the ride, if we ask the question, is the communication between the horse and the rider any better? There’s a good chance it didn’t actually change the communication. Again, we’re trying to take this to extremes. So when when we’re looking at it in this extreme, that scared horse is likely to be more tightly bonded with that confident horse because that’s who they were actually interacting with. The rider in this scenario was just along for the ride. And I want to just paint this picture because I just want it in your mind that it is possible that exposure alone doesn’t increase the communication. So if we’re looking to increase the communication between the horse and the rider now, we’ve got to look at the other extreme. So on the other extreme, we can find horses that are not trained by using objects at all. So they’re not not exposed to any things during their training. They’re basically trained in the arena. And the focus is on responding to the riders cues. Now, super tempting, because as soon as I say that, I think especially because I’ve set it up with going to extremes, I think it does matter the way the cues are taught. But since I have opened up the door of going to extremes, the extreme to me, the most extreme to me on this one, would be picturing somebody who’s using intimidation to train the horse. So basically the horse would be afraid to give the “wrong answer”. So they’re basically intimidated into doing whatever that rider is thinking. So you could say the horse is really, really reacting to the riders cues, but it’s in this intimidated frame. So on one end, we’ve got a rider who’s just really dominating this horse. And, you know, it looks like the horse is responding. On the other end, we’ve got a rider who’s basically a passenger who’s kind of hoping that the horse’s just general exposure and confidence in the other horse is going to kind of rub off. So I just wanted to put both of those extremes out there, not because I like either extreme, but because I wanted to get some kind of picture started in your mind. So let’s start cleaning this up a little bit more. First of all, right off the bat, let’s clear up the fact that when I say a horse should be responding to the riders cues, I am never suggesting that the rider uses intimidation. And when I say that a horse should be trained to understand the cues, I believe that that means it’s like a systematic understanding and training. If you listen to me in other podcasts, you’ll hear me describe it very often as a conversation. And I think it’s in its clearest form. You can see that really clearly with my young or green horses. So that video series that I have on YouTube, Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac, when you go back and watch something like Episode 3, 4, or 5, right in there, when it’s real early, you can see Jac is expressing things and then I am expressing things, and there’s a back and forth. Now as it gets more highly trained, you know, you’re watching like, say the bareback bridleless ride on Roxy. You’re not seeing that communication. But I was still feeling it. There was still actually a back and forth. And to me, that back and forth is the hallmark of what I see as the fact that the horse wasn’t intimidated in the training. It wasn’t just a robot frozen up, responding only in one way. There were actually little questions being asked. 

Stacy Westfall: [00:12:58] So, now that we’ve kind of cleared that up, just a little bit more of what what I want to talk about is how we can use a little bit from either side of this. So we’ve got the idea that the horse–we want the horse responding to the cues of the rider, but we also want to know how to expose the horse and, you know, increase our chances of having success when we go out into these, you know, places where the energy level might be up in the room. So basically, when I’m looking at training the horse, I’m looking at how can I get the horse to respond to the riders cue while I’m exposing the horse to different things. So this means that if I’m trying to balance out these two extremes, responding to the riders cue versus exposing the horse to things, what I’m doing, I’m actually looking, always looking, through the lens of, how is this horse responding to my cues? But then I’m secondarily adding on the exposure to things. So what that looks like to me is that let’s say we put a tarp out in the arena and the horse has seen the tarp before and I’m riding around and I’m at the opposite end of the arena from the tarp and the horse is wanting to know what it is. And the horse is somewhere between, like, excited because there’s kind of like you can feel the heart rate pounding or there’s maybe you’re like, I don’t know, is this excited, curious, scared? But the energy is up in the room just because you changed where things were or what was in the arena. So as this happens, what I’m doing is I’m saying, oh, that’s interesting. What is the horse doing and what can I still control or what am I losing a little bit of control over? So, for example, maybe I’m circling and I notice that as I leave to go away from the tarp–so now it’s behind the horse–even though it hasn’t moved, it’s behind the horse and the horse kind of wants to scoot and get away from it. Or maybe I notice that when I’m coming back towards the tarp and I’m still circling the opposite end of the arena, maybe I notice that the horse is thinking about ducking to the left or the right. Every little response that that horse has to just something being changed in the other end of the arena is giving me little clues as to which aides the horse is attentive to and which aides the horse is not attentive to. That’s the lens of how I want to look at this. So I’m going to circle back to like some of the phrases that people use when they left their messages. And so one of the ones I want to circle back to right now for just a minute is one of the callers used the phrase about not–not react that way. As in like, how do I get my horse to not react that way? And when I hear that phrase, I just want to clear up that a lot of times when a really exciting energy level-raising situation happens, even on my best horses, I do feel them react. They just don’t get so big. So basically what it means is like the energy level goes up and my horse will sense it and will maybe take that big, that big intake of breath. So if you have been sitting on a horse and you felt them taking this big breath, if you’ve ever been bucked off, you’ll you’ll remember this, because you can suddenly remember everything in slow motion. Not usually before, because you didn’t know what it was going to be like before, but afterwards. The next time you hear–feel a horse kind of round up, you’re like, uh oh. I know all the signs that come beforehand. So for me when the energy level goes up, a lot of times I’ll feel some of those beginning things. I’ll feel the horse take in that big deep breath and maybe round up their back. Gabby instantly wants to pick her tail up like an Arabian. So there’s different stages that different horses go through. Willow will actually kind of clamp her tail down a little bit more. But it’s not whether or not my horses have a reaction. It’s whether or not they have an overreaction. I actually don’t want a horse that has zero reaction. I love that my horses give me feedback as to what’s going around. I just don’t want to be left in the dirt as part of the feedback. So typically what would happen is that as the horse starts to bring itself up like that, take in that deep breath, hopefully I am in my present mind. That means I’m not talking on my cell phone or somehow missing everything that’s going on. That’s a great way to be caught off guard if you’re not actually present in the moment. So if I’m present in the moment, then that means as that horse is beginning that reaction, that they’re like, oh, they’re kind of gathering themselves up. I’m also gathering the reins and collecting that horse on all my aides. So it’s kind of that hug I’ve talked a lot about. So it’s interesting because on a high level horse that might not even involve contact with the reins, but on a greener horse, it might be gathering up those reins, closing those legs, giving that standstill cue immediately followed by bringing that horse’s head around and smoothly dismounting.

Stacy Westfall: [00:18:34] So if I’m in a situation that, like the one caller described, a similar situation, that could be where you’re at that day. My question for her in particular would be what aides was your horse ignoring? What made you want to bring that horse around? So let’s say I put myself, I’m imagining the situation that, you know, that this caller was in and so the other horses start running around. If I’m on a younger horse like Presto, a lot of times, if that starts starts happening, I’m actually going to start trotting a circle right now. So I’m not going to try to get him, who’s greener, to park and stand with all of that energy in the room. I’m going to actually put him right on to a known pattern immediately. And I’m going to start trotting that circle, trotting that four leaf clover pattern. I’m going to add more bend because bend and bucking don’t go together and I don’t want bucking. Bend and rearing don’t go together and I don’t want rearing and I want this nice rhythmic trot. And that’s how I’m going to take control of that situation in that arena. Unless I think that that’s not going to work. If I think that’s not going to work, I’m probably going to do what you did, which is bring that around as quickly as it takes to be able to stop, dismount, and then go tackle this in an area where I do think it can be successful. And so it is about bringing those two worlds together because on a much more high level horse, I am able to actually give like a standstill cue. So I remember riding Willow and there was a large group of riders with us and, you know, and she started to get kind of hotter because horses started, you know, moving around a lot and trotting around a lot. And she wants to go more towards like a prancy kind of a motion. And I’ve got cues that I can gather her up with and ask her to come down. And so it’s very controlled, so I can bring her down to a controlled walk or a halt, depending on what I think is better for that situation. Because some situations you can’t trot a circle in depending on what the trail looks like or the situation around you. So some of this depends on the horse’s level of training and some of it depends on what you have for footing around you.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:59] But I’m going to go ahead and share one more short story, because I think it illustrates kind of the highest level that this can go to. And when I was answering these questions, I was thinking, oh, so I remember being on Roxy at Road to the Horse. And so this would have been 2007. And that year I was competing against Clinton Anderson and Chris Cox, and they called us all to have a meeting in the–there was an in gate and out gate always that led into the main arena. And I had been riding around on Roxy in the arena and they called this meeting. And so we all met down there. And so there are–like everyone who’s competing and the ranch wranglers from the ranch and the producers of the show and we’re all kind of standing around the aisle-way and they’re talking about something that’s coming up. So I’m sitting on Roxy. And at the time I was bridles, but I had the saddle on some sitting on the saddle on Roxy, no bridle. People standing around in the–in the–I’m standing on the, you know, facing into the arena on the in gate kind of side. And there’s another aisle-way leading out and there’s wranglers sitting over there on their horses headed on the out gate side. And at this point, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re at a big event like this, the sound crew and the light crew are often not horse people. So we’re standing there and someone from the lighting and sound crew decides to test the fog machine. So right in the middle of us standing there having this meeting, and it’s behind me. So I don’t see this happening in the middle of everyone talking. I realized three things all at once and I feel Roxy kind of tensing up like she’s doing that intake of breath, that growing kind of a feeling. So she’s kind of tensing up. I see Clinton Anderson and the wranglers and everybody moving away smoothly like ghosts. And then at the same time, I see these wisps of fog coming from behind us and surrounding Roxy. And so, again, Roxy did have a reaction. She tensed. She had that and she kind of grew and and then she checked in with me. And so it was really interesting because it was like one of those moments that kind of happens in slow motion because anybody there that had any horse knowledge knew this had a high likelihood of ending poorly. So the wranglers that were mounted on their horses had stepped away from the billowing fog. All the horse people that had been near me evaporated. Like they just went up the fence lines, they went out the gates and, thankfully, Roxy checked in with me. In that situation, I decided to have her stay still and remain calm. And then she just exhaled. And thank goodness somebody had been like, shut off that fog machine, and they shut off the fog machine and the energy in the room dissipated and they walked away. So it’s not that the horses don’t have a reaction, it’s that they don’t have an overreaction. That’s actually what I think. I think that it’s just a phrasing thing. But I want to go deep on it because I think it’s–it’s important to understand that it’s not totally erasing that reaction. It’s, it’s actually giving them what you want them to do. So typically, I’ve got a saddle and bridle on and I’ve got use of all aids. So typically, if I’m getting into a situation like that, I’m going to hug, I’m going to gather the reins, I’m going to close all the aides. I’m going to give that cue with Willow when I’m riding her. I know her tendency, her tendency is to come up. Her tendency is to prance, which is bringing her legs all close together, raising her head and neck, bringing that self up. So I’ve got some aides that I have installed, some cues that I use, and I can say to her, lower your neck. Not just lower and round, lengthen your neck and lower your neck. So make it long and flat, not round and round it up like the beginning of a buck. Because if you think about it, when their neck is round and then they take their chin like down and let’s just say down in toward their chest, that’s a very round top line that looks a lot more like a buck or something. Can you picture that where if you have the stretch that neck out long and flat and lower it, that looks more like a horse sleeping in the sun? And so having all these different levels of cues that you can call upon will actually help you change the physical response that your horse has. So with Presto, I’ve got similar cues, except they’re just not as solid, right? So that’s why I’m saying depending on the situation, I would gather them all together with my aides and maybe I put him immediately into that known pattern of trotting in a circle and maybe it’s bringing it together and dismounting. But the goal is eventually to keep putting us in situations where it’s more and more likely that I’m going to be able to, you know, guide him through this without always going back to one answer. So let’s say the answer right now is, you know, get safe, get off, go over here and do that. I’m going to start looking how can I build a different bridge? Like, what situations do I need to be in to build a different bridge? Because I don’t want that to be the only answer I have.

Stacy Westfall: [00:26:43] So let’s go back to my idea of looking at these challenges through the lens of, is the horse responding to the cues? And as we’re exposing the horse to different things. So for the caller who did mentioned returning to the known exercises, that really is something that, yes, I definitely do that. Now, when you return to those known exercises, start thinking this: what cue was your horse just missing or ignoring when that was happening? And how can you tune up that cue in this known exercise? So let’s just say you’re trotting a circle and you need to tune up the cue. Well, what was the cue that they were ignoring or missing? Depending on how you want to phrase it. It does actually feel different to me. But like, what were they missing and how can you turn that up? Did the horse refuse to go forward? Did they just stop, turn, stare, and you thought they were going to blow? Like, what was the horse doing? Was it refusing to move? Was it refusing to steer? Was it refusing to stop? Was it threatening to buck? It matters because those are all different things. Because if the horse is refusing to go forward, then when you’re doing your own exercise, you’re going to be tuning up. Maybe you’re going to tune up the halt to trot transition. Like, come on, move forward when I say move forward. And if the horse was trying to spin around and, and face and do this, you can say, well, did I teach the horse to turn and face energy things? Because maybe you did. But is it refusing to steer? Now the horse is like, you know, spinning to the left to try to see something and you’re applying the right rein, and the horse is ignoring that when you go back to your known exercise. Maybe you cut that circle in half to the right. You’re trotting a circle right, you cut it in half, and you say pay attention, like here’s the aide, here’s the aide, here’s the aide. So you get to practice it. And again, with the–with, you know, stopping, if the horse is just escalating and won’t stop, maybe you need to practice something that’s slowing the horse down. That can be going from a trot to a walk. That can be going from a trot to a halt. That can–the better you want to get the aide, the more you need to practice the exaggerated pieces of it. So take whatever wasn’t working and make it work better. So now you’re away from this exciting event and you’re like, my horse was running through my stop cue, what can I do to make it better? Make this horse that you’re riding right now, make its stop cue the best stop cue you’ve ever ridden. So maybe that means that you go back and you teach the horse to stop with reins only. Which, a lot of people use reins, but they’ll use that–maybe they’re using the reins and their legs. Teach the horse a rein-only stop cue. Teach the horse a leg-only stop cue. Teach the horse a voice-only stop cue. Mix it up and have multiple ways to get the horse to stop. Stop and back, increase your backup cue, because when you increase your–when you make your backup cue better it, by default, makes your stop cue better. I love the example that I use when I’m saying if people–if people at stop signs driving their cars, if you had to stop, put the car in reverse and back 10 feet, and then pull forward, people would fully stop their cars. Same thing goes with horses. Stop fully. Back up, because that’s going to increase your–the horse’s response and understanding of the stop cue. So whatever the problem is that you encounter, that’s a great opportunity for learning what’s not working. So when you notice that, you know, a little thing is bothering your horse a little bit. The key is noticing what isn’t working. Because, you know, the horse is distracted. The energy level in the room is up. Something’s more interesting. And so don’t take it as a criticism, take it as information so that you can then go back and clarify which cues you have that aren’t clear. So for those of you who are listening and you’re like, that’s all fine and dandy, but my horse seems like it’s really, really, really good when I’m at home and then it changes when I go somewhere else. I–I don’t know how to do this. Here are some ideas. First of all, you can get the horse just better in general, and some disciplines are going to lend themselves to this more. I do think that reining lends itself to some of this more. And you’re going to hear in some of my examples, why. But the fact that we will be training, riding horses, and somebody will be standing there resting their horse while somebody else is running around in the arena, it actually is having an effect on both horses or it’s actually really interesting because when people will come to ride here a lot of times, if they haven’t been around a reining horse, when a reining horse starts to spin, it sounds like horses running because it’s got this trotting footwork. But the horse isn’t going anywhere. But there’s a lot of energy coming from that individual spinning and that will actually set off other horses. 

Stacy Westfall: [00:32:25] So it’s–it’s not just like, is my horse responding to cues in these kind of quiet ways? It’s also things like, how do you raise the energy level in the room of your own horse moving and of other things moving? So here are some ideas. You could change locations. So you’ve got an arena, you ride in the arena, you’re going to haul your horse and go ride somewhere else. There’s a good chance you actually have a pasture or a turnout area. And I think one unused spot that most people have is some kind of turn out or pasture. And you can really do some training in those situations because the horses are not expecting you to do it there. So if you have a pasture, maybe the footings a little bit uneven and it’s on the side of a hill and there’s that wet spot over there. Perfect. Sounds exactly like a trail ride to me. And so, go out there and change up the location and sometimes that alone will set off these horses that are like, what? We don’t do that over here. This is over–over here is for me to, you know, be turned out. Over there is where we ride. But that will be a small movement towards how you can do that. If you have multiple people, like when you were mentioning taking the kids riding, go out in the pasture and play mounted games. So some people will be standing still and other people will be, you know, trotting from point A to point B. Maybe, you know, this person has to go from this tree over to this, you know, watering tank. And then when that person arrives at the watering tank, this other person is going to go to here and this one’s going to trot and this one’s going to canter and this one’s going to stand still. And you can start getting really creative and it will mix things up. That’s when you’ll find those weaknesses in the aides. If you really wanted to go full, full out on this and you had the right group of people or enough people, if you had that driveway situation where there’s like fencing coming up the driveway and you’re not sure how a horse is going to react while other horses are kind of running up and down the fence line, you could actually mock set that up. You could have a couple people trotting their horses up and down the fence line in the fence, in the pasture, while somebody else rides down the driveway. You can get really creative with setting up these weird situations and that’s going to make–all the horses are going to think this is weird. The ones being ridden in the pasture are going to think it’s weird. The ones being ridden in the driveway are going to think it’s weird, and this is our goal. Because that way, as they’re thinking this, that’s when you’re going to find those little spots where the horse doesn’t want to turn to the left. It only wants to turn to the right. It’s ignoring the stop cue just a little bit. It’s distracted by that person over there who’s whipping the ground. There’s all these things going on. Another idea, you could lunge your own horse on a lunge line and have them canter faster. A lot of times when people lunge their horses, I think a missed opportunity is, if you have good footing, is like that–a lot of people do walk, trot, canter. I’ll actually take my horses up to the next fear. I’ll be like canter faster, even if that means I have to walk a big circle so that they can get like a 70 foot circle going in my indoor arena. I want them to be able to speed up, because a lot of times you’ll see their brain shift into a different gear. And I want to know that they can come back from that gear and come back down. And I want to do that all on ground work, not while I’m riding them. And I prefer to do that one on a lunge line, not just loose in the round pen. Because a lot of times people will miss when they’ve got the horse in the round pen. They’ll miss how much the horse is like leaning on that fence, like against that panel versus like still listening to the riders aides. And you’re the rider when you’re lunging in this situation. And so I actually want that horse speeding up and slowing down on the riders aides, not just speeding up, trying to escape from you and slowing down because they’re less trying to escape from you. Can you hear how that’s different? And that’s what a lot of times people accidentally do in a round pen versus when they’re actually on a lunge line, because you’re going to know if they’re trying to escape from you on a lunge line because they’re going to be dragging you and you’re going to have a on moment when you’re like, this isn’t going to work. I probably should change some things. So I prefer the lunge line for this. Now, if you’ve got multiple people, you could have someone lunging one horse kind of fast while another person is riding the horse. A different horse. OK, so we’ve got horse A being lunged, horse B being ridden, how does the ridden horse react when the other horse is being lunged faster? That’s the situation we set up all the time around here. What about if the person who’s lunging the horse stops and is whipping the ground? Is that affecting, does that have an effect on the horse being ridden? Because you can set these situations up, because that will affect a lot of horses, and you want to get it to where it doesn’t. Because that is raising the energy level in the room and it makes the horse that’s being ridden, it’ll make that horse question some of the aides. And that’s how you’re going to find that out before you leave the property. If you don’t have a second horse how can you do all this? All you have to do is get a friend, a child, somebody, a spouse who will come out there and whip the ground wildly and irregularly. It’s not–it doesn’t take a lot of training. Kids are excellent at this. You can be like, you have to stay over here in this area, but you can hit the metal arena wall and you can hit the ground and you can whip that tarp over there. And you can–and yeah, be careful what you allow them because you give them a bunch and they can have this whole, like, drum set thing going on and they will raise the energy level in the room. Then you’ll know what your horse is thinking as you’re trotting around doing your known pattern while this noise show is happening over in the corner. I personally like to blast the radio and I find it funny–which is also a good reaction to have on my part–I find it funny that the horses respond to some of the drum sections of the music. Like they’ll kind of, if they’re holding a little bit of tension and that dun-dun-dun-dun, something happens in the music, then you’ll feel the horse kind of shudder just a little bit. And I know that we’re suddenly working on multiple things. So if you’re in that–if you’re the caller who had the kids that we’re all going to go out riding, it’s like go ahead and have like have one or two stand in the middle and like somebody canter around the other ones. Like, what can you do to set up the situations where the energy level is changing and it makes the, makes this temptation for the other horses? Totally makes me picture being at the Quarterhorse Congress one year where the freestyle training overlapped the Western pleasure warm up. And I remember being out there and I was trying to warm up for the freestyle reining. So I’m trying to keep my horse, you know, tuned up for sliding stops. And there weren’t very many pleasure horses in the arena. And I was like, I think I can lope down through and stop. But no, the image that ended up in my mind was like, I’m–I’m building speed down through the arena and I’m starting to notice it, that it’s like ping, ping, ping, ping, like Western pleasure horses are not handling this. They’re like pinging away from us because they don’t know what to do with the energy because they haven’t been trained in a high energy environment. So I had to stop doing the sliding stop things and be like, that’s not going to work. But that’s just a great example of those horses weren’t used to the energy level in the room going up, so that one reining horse running fast was kind of setting them off. So you can take that same thing, reverse it, and actually plan on, you know, raising the energy level in the room while asking one–like some of the horses to stay still. I’ve got some interesting ways I do this at my own house, like in the wintertime. Like right now I’ve got horses that have sliding shoes on so they can’t go out in the ice and snow.

[00:40:39] So I put up a round pen in my indoor and I’ll turn horses out in the round pen and I’ll be riding around it and I’ll be riding horses in the regular arena while there are other horses turned in the round pen and the horses in the round pen are going crazy, bucking and jumping and kicking and everything. And I actually look at this as a bonus because that gives me the ability to check in with the horse that I’m riding and say, like, you’re focusing on me, even though you’re buddies over there are bucking and jumping and going crazy. So kind of a different variation on the idea of lunging a horse’s speed. So it’s also worth having a little moment here and thinking about things that could make this problem worse. So if the horses haven’t been worked in a while, they’re more likely to be reactive. Horses that aren’t solid in their response to the certain cues are more likely to be reactive horses that are really fresh. Like, I think wintertime for me is always interesting. Winter and spring, because the horses, it’s so cold, they naturally feel very fresh and they’re just more likely to be a little jumpy. So these are just different things.

Stacy Westfall: [00:41:49] You can actually reverse it and think, what? What could I do that would make this worse? Like, OK, if they haven’t been ridden in a couple of weeks, maybe I don’t want to be in that situation and then use–reverse-engineer that and be like, well, therefore, if I think I might be going into that situation, it would be good if I was really consistent in riding for the next couple of weeks before I end up going on that big trail ride where horses are more likely to do this–run up to the fence and stuff. I want to wrap this up by just touching on the four square model, because I think that, you know, if you’re–first of all, if you’re a new listener, the four square model is–the first four seasons of this podcast were targeted to four different areas. The rider’s mind, the rider’s body, the horse’s mind, and the horse’s body. And so far, when I reflect back about what I’ve been talking about, this has been a lot about the horses mind and the horse’s body. But I want you to think a little bit about how you react in this situation, very much at the rider’s mind idea. So like when the horse–like for the caller who was at the lesson when that pasture started to get exciting, when everything started to get exciting like that, can you think fast enough in that situation to stay comfortable and relaxed? So if I’m riding and Presto starts to get scared and excited or whatever that response is that your horse was having, how confident am–am I in my smooth, clear communication when that’s happening? Sometimes what goes on is that the rider is not confident moving at the speed that’s now dictated to by the horse. So if the riders are confident at moving slowly, if the horse suddenly turns up the speed, now the rider doesn’t feel equipped. That’s where doing purposeful movements that are–that are faster. And again, that’s why I’m coming back to mentioning reining and stuff like that. In the reining training one of the byproducts is you’re learning how to do quicker transitions smoothly. Go from a canter to a stop, from a stop to a spin, from a spin to a halt to a lead departure. So the smoothness and finesse that’s trained into those movements is really helpful in these more–I’m going to call them emergency situations like this. And so if you’re not sure of your response time or if you’re the caller who had the kids going out, if you’re not sure about the response time of the rider, then you need to take steps to match things up. And that might be increasing the riders, you know, confidence and muscle memory, that ability to move more quickly. And it’s also mounting them on horses that are going to respond in the speed and the way that the rider can handle it. So just a thought for muscle memory is when I was teaching my kids to ride, I wanted my kids to know how to grab the saddle horn without looking. So I gave them lunge line lessons. I put the horse on a lunge line, had them trot around, had them not hold on to anything with their hands, and then had them grab with their left hand, let go grab with their right hand, let go grab with their left hand, let go grab with both hands. Let go grab the back of the saddle, let go. And so I was able to control the situation but I was also able to teach them the muscle memory of where to grab if something goes bad so that you’re not having to try to figure that out in the middle of an actual what feels like an emergency situation. So remember, the inside of all this, it’s easy to focus on how to change the horse. But there are some very fundamental things like how you’re thinking through that moment and how your body is able to react in that moment that are going to very directly play into the entire situation. So that’s what I have for you to ponder this week. And now I’m headed out to practice all of this by riding my horses while giant chunks of snow randomly fall off my roof of my indoor arena. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:46:21] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.


<h3>Links mentioned in podcast:</h3>


  1. Roz on February 26, 2021 at 3:15 am

    Gee Stacy I just love your advice – thank you. Being consistent is my goal together with being focused. You have definitely given me additional food for thought. Training and more training – thank you ????

    • Roz on February 26, 2021 at 3:26 am

      I had never thought to be aware of the action i was taking when my horse is uptight – i was always told to find a job for my horse to distract him which quite frankly didn’t necessarily work and sometimes would up the energy where I didn’t want him or it to go. So you have made me think and given me specific actions to practise. Hopefully he will one day obey and settle but I do wonder if i will ever get him to totally trust and believe me. Thank you again. I have been told he is a very strong character with a mind of his own but i keep on working at improving hoping one day he will be totally believing in me.
      I have found your last 4 podcasts particularly rivetting and happening just at the right time – serendipity???

  2. Delories Spangler on February 25, 2021 at 4:18 pm

    well i have a new horse Spirit he is 11. we just met 4 mths ago and i haven’t riden him yet. he is sound sensitive too. he’s a good horse he just needs guidance and patience. i am 67 years old and this is my first horse that isn’t fully trained. i am scared but i am willing . i know in my heart he will make someone such a treasure. i will ground work him till he and i trust each other. so send me some prayers stacy and i will keep you posted on me and him. we will make it me and him somehow we will take as long as it takes.

  3. Gretchen Ruffin on February 25, 2021 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Stacy. This episode was excellent for me!
    I’m outside of Chicago so I’m very familiar with falling ice in arenas and the panic it can cause.
    I do alot of groundwork. I’ve gotten pretty good at reading my mare and she’s gotten pretty good at reading me….on the ground.
    I have trouble identifying when she’s checking in with me under saddle.
    I’d like to get better at keeping her attention without micro managing.
    I miss the early signs.
    Any suggestions on how I can improve?
    She’s not real over reactive but I do lose both steering and stopping when things really go bad.
    I know that will get worse in big open areas.
    I have your book and several DVDs, also your new video training.
    I cry every time I watch your famous ride on Roxy. ?
    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge!

  4. Carrie Jose on February 25, 2021 at 11:36 am

    Sorry for my typo. I met eyesore, not eyesore.

  5. Carrie Jose on February 25, 2021 at 11:33 am

    I have a horse that overreacts due to cataracts in both eyes. How do I help Him? His eyesore is blurry…I want him to trust me that I won’t put him to scary situations. I give him a couple of squeezes on my reins when I feel him tense up and that seems to redirect him onto me. But sometimes he spooks without any warning. I’m 63 and have a pretty good seat, but I’m worried about that one time he may cause me to loose my seat. He is a purebred Andalusian, so he can be a little bit of a bulldog.
    Thank you for your advice.

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