Episode 120: My horse is a bully. Where do I start?
The first six minutes of this episode could change how you think about horses forever.
Where would you start with a horse that is a bully when leading to and from the pasture, pins ears when feeding, pulls back with the farrier and sometimes when trailer loading too…
On a positive note she does collect well in the ring at the walk, trot and canter but will sometimes take off when out fox hunting.
I discuss the overall issue as well as action steps that can be taken.
Stacy Westfall: 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 a listener question, but I want to start with a little thought exercise for you. Yes, you. You’re the listener. Are you ready? Here’s how it’s going to work. First, I’m going to read you seven very short statement sentences. I’m going to read them twice, so don’t panic. Don’t feel like you have to pull out a notebook right now. The first time that I read them, I just want you to simply listen. I’m doing this so that the second time you’ll feel prepared, because the second time when I read these thoughts, these statements, I want you to try to believe these thoughts like they were yours. Think about them as positive, even if the first time you hear them, you don’t agree. OK, now I’m going to read the seven statements. I am strong. I am prepared to take on whatever comes my way when the going gets tough. I excel. I have a plan. I have lots of plans. I know how I want things to be. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. There you go, you survived it. Congratulations, you’ve now completed the first half of this experiment. Now you know what’s coming, because I’m going to read them again, but this time I want you to try to feel how you would show up in your body, how you would behave, how you would view life if you believed these. Just kind of feel them in your body. I promise this ties together with today’s episode. Here they go again: I am strong. I am prepared to take on whatever comes my way when the going gets tough. I excel. I have a plan, I have lots of plans. I know how I want things to be. I am not afraid to speak my mind. OK, you’ve done it. I hope you kind of felt that the second time, even more than the first time, which is an interesting thing in itself, to notice that the first time you’re kind of listening with this apprehension of what might be coming and what you need to do with it. And then the second time, if you allowed yourself, you can kind of drop into it further. And if you want to play with that more, just rewind and go through this little exercise a few more times. I would encourage you to do it until you can actually really feel it. But anyway, I could go on and on about that. But right now I want to listen to Tina’s question because then we’re going to discuss how this all ties together.
Caller 1: Hi Stacy. My name is Tina Moore. I first met you at Road to the Horse when you were, when you won, with Popcorn. I have always ridden Western and ridden quarter horses. I currently have purchased a 14-year-old mare off the track thoroughbred and I am foxhunting. Her name is Contessa. The lady that owned her before me fox hunted her and she allowed Contessa to bully her. Contessa is very well collected in the rein, with walk, trot, and canter, but in the foxhunting field, she sometimes wants to take off and I cannot collect her. She is a bully when leading her to and from the pasture. She pins her ears in the stall when I’m feeding her and she pulls back with the farrier and sometimes when I’m loading her on the trailer. My question is where do I start with her? I think that she needs some groundwork and to learn some ground manners. I do not know what ground training she may have had up until this point. I look forward to hearing how you would get her started. Thank you so much. I have been binge listening to your podcast.
Stacy Westfall: First of all, Tina, thank you for the question, and good for you for trying something new, and it sounds like you have a mare that is offering to teach you a lot. Before I go into more detail about your situation, I want to pause right now and look for a moment at the horse’s mind. Let’s look at this situation from Contessa’s point of view. I wonder if I asked Contessa to tell me about herself if this might be something she would say. I am strong. I am prepared to take on whatever comes my way when the going gets tough. I excel. I have a plan, I have lots of plans, I know how I want things to be, I’m not afraid to speak my mind. Is that interesting? Because when I think of how strong and confident I can feel when I think those thoughts, I think that’s an amazing thing. And yet when I picture a horse who is acting from that exact place…but granted, I’m not robbing you from the fact that she could be invading your space doing this, it’s just interesting to pause for just a minute and think she could be coming from what would be considered a very positive place. I guess these questions like this just kind of send my creative thinking in so many different directions that I–I sometimes I have to take these notes because I know I run the risk of it sounding like chaos. But the very first and biggest point I have for you in this episode is thinking about it from her point of view. She could be acting in a way we don’t agree with and don’t want, but it could be coming from a place that we actually do want because some of those things come in real handy. And we’re going to talk about that a little later in the episode. So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to unpack it with a couple, big overall things. So the two big overall thoughts are going to be number 1, that I want you to be thinking about the big overall picture when you hear a question like this. When I hear a question like Tina’s, I think obviously there are major red flags for possible injury and problems and things like that, which I think Tina outlined really well. But I also think that when we think about it from the horse’s point of view, it’s like, wow, there’s a–just–that’s a lot of big questions. So let’s look at the big overall picture of how the horse is thinking and how we are thinking about the horse. Then I also want to bring up the other idea, which is that there are low-energy places that we train our horses and there are high-energy places that we train our horses. And in an ideal situation, I’m training in low-energy situations so that I can create habits that I can carry through into the high-energy situations. Now, I said that I was also going to involve the four square model. So for new listeners, the first four seasons of this podcast focus on each of the squares, which would be the rider’s mind, the rider’s body, the horse’s mind, the horse’s body. If you want to go deeper, jump back and listen to those early episodes where I go into more detail about how that works. But this question touches all four squares of the model really easily. So one way we could plug it in would be that we could say that in the rider’s mind, the rider might be thinking this horse is a bully. And in the horse’s mind, the horse might be thinking, I am strong. And in the horse’s body, the horse is showing up strong. And in the rider’s body, this is what I could guess I’ve seen myself do and I’ve seen other people do: in the rider’s body it could be showing up like this–I don’t want to be a bully, but I think I might need to answer her. She’s being a bully. I probably need to answer the bully. But do you answer the bully with power? Wait a minute. I’m about to get run over. I don’t want to be a bully. OK, do you hear how I just put all those into the rider’s body? Because, yes, that’s also the rider’s mind, but what I’m telling you is that as that flashes through your mind, whatever’s flashing through your mind, those different thoughts, especially those doubtful ones about my horse is a bully, maybe I need to be a bully. I don’t want to be a bully. All of those are flashing through your body. Now, interesting for just a moment. Let’s go back and look. Do you know what the horse is thinking? The horse’s mind? I am strong. Do you know what the horse’s body is? Strong. Do you feel how congruent that is? The horse is like, dude, I’m just here totally congruent. I feel strong, I’m acting strong. And the rider has actually a lot of questions. If you’ve been a long-time podcast listener, you’ll know that I say very frequently, your horse has questions. Well, some horses like Contessa have statements and then you can find yourself in the situation where you’re the one full of questions. You know, how do I answer a bully? I don’t want to be a bully. I don’t want to answer a bully with power. Do I answer a bully with this? I don’t–do you hear how it can spin that? Now, what’s interesting is that as we start to shift, as we start to answer and we start to see some of these different things as I start to behave more congruent and I say, this is my space, don’t come into it. For example, then what it will likely do is it’s going to make the horse experience a little bit more doubt because something changed. And so the horse’s mind is going to be like, I am strong. Why didn’t that work? Question? And then there’s going to be some kind of conversation that comes about.
Stacy Westfall: This is why training horses, interacting with horses, teaching horses, whatever phrasing you want to learn, want to use with it, the whole learning process is a dance between these four squares of the four square model. Sometimes you can really slow it down and see that it’s clearly in one quadrant or the other, like, my horse is lame. That sure looks like the horse’s body, and so it’s very clearly sitting predominantly in one area. But so much more of the time it’s this dance. So let’s go to another way of addressing this, I’m thinking for just a minute. When I’m looking at figuring out the horse’s mind, I generally try to give it a positive spin. Can you hear how that’s what I did for this horse? I gave it a powerful spin. I imagined horses I’ve seen that had this type of trait. You might know that I’ve been thinking of Gabby when I was thinking of this. Because these horses that are this strong, confident horse, if we can give it a positive spin, then when we approach changing them, it changes the way our body and mind show up. It changes that energy level in the room. For example, if I’m changing this behavior, because, again, just because I put a positive spin on it doesn’t mean I now say like, oh, I’m glad my horse is strong. Feel free to run me over and drag me away and you don’t have to load in the trailer if you don’t want to. No. That’s not where I’m going with it. But what I’m saying is that if I’m leading a strong, confident horse and it comes into my personal space uninvited then that’s where I’m going to make the correction. But it’s going to come from this very clean and congruent thought process that I’m going to have. So instead of me being questioning and doubtful and wondering if I’m being mean or a bully, I’m actually going to be like, nope, this is my space. When I walk with you, I carry the stick and string. I hold the string and the stick so that the string’s not flopping around it’s just like the four-foot-long stick part of the stick and string. If you come within the four-foot length of this stick–so if I stuck the stick the handle part near my waist, if it comes anywhere close to your shoulder–I’m going to drive you out of that space. I am claiming this four feet around me, this bubble, this four foot all the way around me, I am claiming that as my own space. And if you were a horse out in the field and you’re imagining this, this is where horses will kick other horses they’re like, this is my space, don’t come in it. This is a very clean and congruent way of approaching it. And so it changes it so that it’s not when you’re leading this strong course, it’s not coming from this place where you’re leading her back to the stall, she’s excited about eating, she’s running you over, and you’ve got all those questions and judgments about she shouldn’t be a bully. She doesn’t respect me. Why doesn’t she respect me? Do I hit her harder? I don’t know what to do. I was in the hospital, you know, six months ago because of something like this with a different horse. It scares me. Wait a minute. I’m a little bit scared. Maybe I drew back. Yes. That and much more is happening even faster than that a lot of times in the rider’s mind. And that’s where getting some clarity really helps you be able to think and act from a more clear spot. So I’m going to shift gears from, away from that rider’s mind over into the horse’s mind again for a minute. It’s interesting to think that there’s times when we really want our horses to be brave. Maybe it even comes across to them that they might even be rewarded for being a bully. Like, let’s say that you put a horse in a starting gate at a racetrack and you want them to come blasting out of that and push their way to the front of the pack. Or maybe you take a horse and you put it in a situation where you want it to approach a big jump and you don’t want it to back down, you want it to step up and be strong. And so it’s interesting to think that on some level, this approach in life has not only probably worked for this horse, but it’s even probably worked for people who’ve been around this horse. So when you think back to this horse’s life, the horse has probably even gotten a reward for it and probably even people have–have rewarded it on purpose for it. Somewhere out there, there’s someone listening who’s thinking, maybe even screaming. This is all wrong, horses can do all of those things without being a bully. First of all, if you’re having that reaction, check in with your energy level. But it’s true, horses can do all of these things without it coming from a bully standpoint. I think sometimes when I look at the most amazing horse athletes and actually for that same matter, the most amazing human athletes, they operate coming from this powerful, peaceful place that I think is one of the reasons why they stand out from the crowd. Because you can find people, lots of people and lots of horses who have been successful. But would you find the ones that are operating from a powerful, peaceful place that’s such a different energy level, vibration, whatever you want to call it, a different way of showing up, that I think it stands out. So if you did hear yourself getting a little bit up in arms that horses can do those things without being a bully, I agree with you. But it’s kind of interesting to think that in the situation that I just outlined, where maybe the horse is at a racetrack or maybe the horse is learning to jump, if you go back and you think about that person, that trainer in that situation where they’re operating from, where their mind is coming from, let’s say they get paid for the number of horses that they train and that they want to send their kids to college. So they’re trying to train double that many horses, whatever was going on in their life. You know, if that horse was a little strong and it served them, that horse broke hard from the gate, pushed to the pack. And so if they led a little pushy on the way back, is it really worth spending the extra four to ten times longer, in that trainer’s mind, to get a different result when the horse is being led back to the stall, if it’s winning on the racetrack and all the other things are working and it’s a little pushy when it leads? And so it’s really interesting to unpack and look at how all of this gets woven together through a horse’s life. And so, yes, the other reality is that not only it is possible, but it really does take longer to do this more high quality work typically on the occasions that it doesn’t feel like it takes longer. A lot of times you have the intersection of two other thoughts happening. You have the intersection of an exceptionally good minded horse, which is a reality. You know, they just–things just line up and come easily to that horse. They happen to embrace these two different, like, race but don’t be pushy. They can figure that out kind of fast. And you also end up with trainers who know how to create that. So it doesn’t feel like it takes quite as long. And even having said all of that, I know how to do a lot of stuff with horses and I can do it fast and it just comes out better when I take longer. In my example that pops into my mind is if you’re going to cook Thanksgiving dinner, you can do it in the microwave and it will come out faster. It will be cooked and people probably won’t get sick from it. But will it taste quite the same as if you took the extra time and cooked it in some of the longer methods? So I just think that in general, it’s nice to be aware that you’re signing up for the longer and then you can actually see why sometimes shortcuts get taken, not to justify it, but just to understand it.
Stacy Westfall: So let’s shift gears again and look for just a minute at this whole high energy, low energy thing. Now, if you’ve been listening to be speaking, did you notice how while I’ve been teaching here, I have spoken in high energy and low energy? Have you noticed that you react differently when I go into the high energy speaking like everything’s happening really fast and that is really getting out of control? Have you noticed that you react differently? You can feel it differently as the listener. It’s kind of funny when I’m the one speaking it, what I do to try to change into that. That was actually a weaker example right there than when I was doing it for real, further up when I was talking earlier in the podcast. But if you go back and you listen, you can actually hear the low energy talking where I feel strong and powerful and the high energy where it feels frantic and a bit out of control. And it’s interesting to think that part of that is why it’s important to understand how you’re showing up to answer all those questions, because even if she makes a statement, even if Contessa makes a statement all the way back to the stall when she goes to run you over, because she just doesn’t actually think that much about you, really, she’s really just thinking about getting back to the stall into the grain. It’s not that big a deal. It’s nothing personal. She’s just getting there a bit faster because she’s got a plan and, you know, you weren’t part of it. But when you interrupt her thought process by probably interrupting her physical movement back to the stall, whether you do it with that low energy that’s not low, as in I’m taking a nap and it’s not really important to me, but in that low, powerful, confident energy, it’s going to register different because horses are amazing, amazing at reading how we show up. So double-check with that because there’s energy level that you bring to it and then there’s the energy level that happens that’s different. As you’ve observed when you go into the ring and she’s well collected at the walk, the trot, and the Ccnter. And then you go out to the foxhunting field and she wants to take off and you can’t collect her because there’s a completely different energy that’s probably happening when you’re in those two different situations. The energy…that–itself, like the, the in the ring, I picture it like maybe you’re the only rider there or there are a couple other riders there and everything is being done methodically. And the good news is she’s bought into that system. She’s on board with that to some level. And then when she goes out to the foxhunting field, she has bought into the part where the strong, confident horse that is her does go over the fence as well, does do things well. But yes, there may be other things you want to change. But it’s interesting to think…all the different pieces that go into this. So let’s give you a few more actionable things here. So, you know, you asked where do you start? Because, again, this is one of those like big questions, like when I–when I first look at it, it’s not this little question of, you know, my horse is pushing into me when I’m leading her back to my stall, smaller and more specific, which actually is always speaking to this bigger picture. The way this one was presented was perfect and it’s got this big overall view which tells me you’re seeing that this is an overall way of being. And now we’re always going to do that dance between the big overall and the smaller thing. And the good news is that when you work on the smaller thing, you’re going to be improving the bigger overall. So for actions, I would actually pick a smaller area of focus. I like to pick the small ones that I’m touching frequently. So for me, those would be the behavior of the horse in the stall and then maybe the behavior of the horse leading back and forth to the pasture or paddock, something you do repetitively. That’s why feeding time tends to work well, because it is repetitive. So you want to teach her with consistency and repetition what you want her to do in the stall during feeding time. So for me, that means that I go and I’m going to scoop out the grain and I’m scooping out the grain and I hear the horse running around in circles in the stall and pawing at the front. And maybe they’re striking the front of the wall. They’re doing something in there. Maybe. They’re doing something. I mean, they could be standing there quietly, ears up, smiling, waiting peacefully. But we’re not really picturing that. That’s what’s going on with this horse. So if this horse is exhibiting some of these other, like, anxious things, he’s like demanding strong kind of thoughts that are probably showing up, then I will put down the grain scoop and I will walk over and–actually let me rewind. I will have actually done this training before. The situation is supercharged with the scooping of the grain. So I don’t start training this when there’s the problem happening from the grain. I actually start training this when I come out in an afternoon and she’s standing there snoozing in the stall and I say, now we’re going to train this. I’m going to teach you, Contessa, that I want you to side pass. I want you to move over any which way you get there, but you’re not allowed to turn your butt to me. I want you to side pass over, back over, walk forward over. I want you to end up side passed against the back wall. And I want you to stay there and so you’re just going to open up the stall door, you’re going to stay in the doorway so that you can get out in case some of her statements or questions are strong. And you might need to, you know, hold your like–hold your ground and just stay at the door and, like, not go in. You don’t want to leave the door open and walk away from the door and she can go slipping out past you. And so you’re going to start standing in the doorway with your stick and string or lunge whip or whatever you’re going to use to tap and, and move her to the back of the stall. And you’re going to, you know, play this game of hot or cold air with her. You’re going to be like, warmer, warmer, good job, you’re going to release. Colder, colder, you’re going to keep some kind of rhythm. And she’s going to be like, interesting, but whatever, and she finally eventually finds it, and she’s like, well, that was strange, however that goes. You’re going to do that until you can open up the door and you can kind of pulse that energy, that tapping, that stick waving, just kind of towards her and she side passes over to the wall. And she just stands there and she’s like, this is where…this is the answer. This is where I get the reward, whatever that reward is that you two have worked out. And so that’s what you’re going to do when it’s not supercharged. Then is when you’re going to–you may have noticed it when you were scooping out the grain. You make your plan for the next day, for–for the next, you know, every day for the next week. You get that working well. Then there’ll be a day you’ll be scooping out the grain. You’ll hear her doing that. You’ll put the grain scoop down, you will walk over, you will open the door. You will ask her to move back, and she will be like, who do you think you are? This is feeding time. I have control of feeding time. I have a plan. And you’re not executing my plan. And you’re going to be like, oh, silly horse, you’re mistaken. Remember, I’m the one who’s paying for all of this. Let me show you how you’re going to get your feed served now, and you’re going to ask her to move to the back and you’re going to turn around to shut the door and she’s going to move back to the front. Maybe she pins her ears while she does it. And you’re going to say, silly horse, I didn’t know you wanted to play this game for the next hour. This will be fun. You’re going to open the door. You’re going to move her to the back. She’s going to move to the back probably with a few questions, maybe a few statements. You’re going to stay safe. You’re going to move her to the back. You’re going to do this because you actually knew this day was coming and you have already set aside an hour and you are going to now blow this horse’s mind because you are going to change for the next hour. She is going to be like, there is no way five minutes later she’s going to be–there’s no way this person is going to last this long. Like, and I’m hungry and I’m ready and you’re late and I’m getting irritated. But you’ve practiced for this and you know how to keep yourself safe. And you know she knows the answer because you didn’t just do this for five minutes. One day you did this for days until it was automatic, til you could tap on the front of the stall and she did it without you having to open the door. She knew the answer. And now today you’re going to do it for that hour. And if you make it an hour and you don’t feel like it’s made enough progress, you’re going to find a good place to release and you’re going to walk away for the day and or you’re going to walk away and go take a breather and then you’re going to come back. And since you still haven’t grained her yet, because I haven’t met one that dies without if they miss one feeding, but they might think they’re going to die if they miss a feeding, and if you think they’re going to die if they miss a feeding, this is worth thinking about. So then you’re going to come back and you’re going to make whatever plan you do. One plan could be, you know what, she’s been being like this for the last five years when I’ve grained her, and so if I grain her today and then recoup, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like if I fail this one time, it all goes out the door and none of it’s worth it. No, she’s been practicing mistakes like this. So seeing them happen for another two weeks is not the end of the world, because you already know, looking back, they’ve been happening for two years or more. So this is how it goes. It’s not always a perfect ending. It’s not always a perfect beginning. But all of a sudden, things have shifted. You have more information, more of a plan. She has more information and probably more of a plan. Don’t always think that day two is better than day one because Contessa is going to go sleep overnight and she’s going to be like, I wonder what will happen tomorrow if I do such and such. So this is how it starts. It starts with this conversation because you’re shifting a lot more than you think you are when you do this in the stall. And then it’s going to take quite a while of practice to shift your mind consistently and her mind consistently to where that horse that you train to have that response in the stall is then also having a different response when you’re leading it and is then having a different response when you’re doing the trailer loading and is then having a different response when you’re around the farrier and is having these different responses in all these different things. But one thing that’s super cool is you will never be able to unsee the things you learned when you were teaching the stall exercise.
So then I’m just going to give you a couple more ideas, like I didn’t give enough yet, but I’m going to move it to the–onto the horse’s back for a minute. You know, she’s pretty good when you ride her in the arena. But you also know that when the energy level goes up out in the field, that she gets a lot more up. You can build a bridge there. You can take her to the regular arena and you can say, how can we make the regular arena a little bit more exciting? I’ll link in the show notes to the podcast where I talked about that not too long ago, answering a listener question about preparing a horse for the unknown things out on the trail and you start making things more creative. There you go. What happens if I ride with a reining horse that’s running large fast circles in the arena? Does that set my–my horse off? Like, you start thinking like, OK, maybe it doesn’t have to be a reining horse. Maybe it can be somebody with a horse that can run large fast circles in this arena while I do something a lower energy. Does that trigger my horse? And then you think back and you start going, wow. With all this awareness I got from the stall exercise and this leading exercise, I’m now thinking, geez, when I think back to the last time I took her out in the field, was she 80 percent up when I arrived? Or, wait, no, she was actually pretty good when I arrived and she was pretty good when I mounted. It wasn’t really until that first gallop or maybe it was when she first arrived. And then you have more knowledge of maybe you need to go arrive more places that don’t end with running fast somewhere. Maybe you need to add more trips, places where it stays low. But if it wasn’t triggered until the first gallop, maybe you have to interrupt that a different way. And so it’s really so fascinating when you start looking at how the overall thinking starts tying together with these little daily things and how you’re showing up in those little daily things, confident with this powerful low energy and then knowing what to do and then recognizing when the energy changes and making new plans and understanding the attention to detail of, like you, how you’re showing up, how she’s showing up, how other horses are showing up, how that’s triggering her, what’s not triggering her, where she is good. This is such a dance. I love horse training. I love being trained by horses because that’s also what I feel like is happening. That statement is a trigger for some people. If I say the horses are training me, some people, they get really up in arms with that thought. But if it’s a conversation that I’m always learning something from the horse, and if I say I’m learning something from the horse, people are like, that sounds amazing. I want to learn. But if I say it in a different way, I’m being trained by this horse. Now, granted, that could be that the horse has trained you how to behave a certain way, meaning they’re making the decisions. But it’s fascinating to think about how just the way we phrase it and think about it brings up different reactions. So, Tina, thank you for sending me off on this creative, chaotic, maybe tangent of thinking and thank you to everyone who listened this far and entertained my interesting opening. If you thought that interesting opening got you thinking in a different way, you might really enjoy going back and listening to Episode 68, where the podcast was titled, How to Teach a Horse to Spook. Yeah, not how to teach him not to spook, but how do you teach a horse to spook? Because it’s always interesting if you turn it around. If you know how to make them spook, you then actually know how to teach them not to spook, how to avoid that. Now I’m thinking I should do an entire season from the horse’s point of view. Maybe I should take Contessa’s voice and all these other horses, maybe they should be the one. Maybe I should do it all from the horse’s point of view for an entire season. If you like that idea, give me some feedback. Let me know by leaving me a message on the voicemail hotline or you can go over to the blog over at stacywestfall.com. You can find this podcast and leave a comment there. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.
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