Episode 124- Scared on the trail: Let them look or keep them busy?

Have you ever been in a situation where your horse saw something in the distance…maybe out on a trail ride OR even when you change something in the pasture or arena?
Did you wonder…should I let them look…or not?
Thats the topic of todays podcast.


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. Have you ever been in a situation where your horse saw something in the distance? Maybe you’re out on a trail ride or sometimes you can even change something around the pasture or the riding arena and if you see them notice it have you ever wondered, should I let them look at it or not? That’s the topic of today’s podcast. Let’s listen to the question.

Caller: Stacy. Hi, this is Drewry from Ohio. Thank you so much for your podcasts. I really enjoyed the season on trail riding because I’m challenged by trails. I’m much more comfortable in an arena. A question I have for you is if your horse is noticing something off in the distance when you’re outside, should you let the horse look at it or should you try and keep his attention on you? And that might be, you know, a far-off horse in the distance or maybe a person riding a bike. Sometimes I just can’t tell whether or not it’s better to let them see it and study it or just stay away from it altogether. Thanks so much. Bye-bye.

Stacy Westfall: Thanks for the question, Drewry. Trail riding, in my opinion, is more challenging than the arena, so it doesn’t surprise me that you’re more comfortable in the riding arena. Because if we look at it like this, there are just less options, typically, in the average riding arena. So when we go out on the trail, if you are able to look around and see all the different things that could go wrong, you start to realize that there are just a lot more challenges out on the trail, which I think leads perfectly into your question. And I love this question right now for a couple of reasons. First of all, it reminds me of when I was younger and my mom and I would trail ride a lot and we often met up with a lot of other people. And this topic would come up, especially if you’re in a group, a mixed group of people, who don’t necessarily all think alike and they’re all riding on different horses and you’re riding down and let’s say some, like you’re saying, some odd thing is off in the distance coming up the road or coming through a field. Well, a lot of different people have a lot of different opinions on what to do at that moment. So it reminds me a lot of that. And then what’s really interesting is this topic still comes up in my life in the arena and out on the trail. And there are several reasons for this and I’m going to unpack it in different layers.

Stacy Westfall: So here’s what I see going on. The question again is basically, do I let them look? Or do I keep them busy? The first thing to think of, I think, is it’s not really a right or wrong. It’s not a right answer or a wrong answer to one of those. However, there is one that tends to “work” like keep you safe or get the more desired response more frequently than the other one. Having said that, I view one of these two answers as the building block for the other. Let me break it down. One of the things that we’re looking at is the training level, and another is the temperament of the horse. And so when I say the–for the simplicity during this podcast, when I say that we’re going to look at the horse’s training level–for this podcast, let’s just say that that’s the horse’s body and the rider’s ability to control the individual parts. And then for simplicity during this podcast, let’s look at the temperament as being the horse’s mind, and what we’re looking for is the default setting here. Now, typically, when the horse has more training, as the training increases, you can typically see the default setting less and less. That’s not a bad thing. That means that we’re bringing the horse into balance. And so sometimes horses are closer to being balanced so it doesn’t feel like a big change. But if you have a really, really hot, reactive horse, then as you bring them into balance, they’re not going to look as hot and reactive, even though that might be their natural default setting. Same thing with the like, more dull, quiet horse. If you bring them more into balance, you might not see that dull quiet or some of the issues that that can bring with it. But you’ll see little peaks, little, little bits of that peeking out. But the more green the horse is, the less training they have or even when they have a lot of training, if you watch carefully, you can still see glimpses of their default temperament. So the greener they are, the more easily you can typically see that. But then even as the training progresses there, especially professionals, a lot of times, can see these little peeks of this showing up. So I’m going to make this more clear as we go through the podcast because I’m going to go and use my horses as an example as I go on to illustrate. But I have another layer or two to add, another thing to add here. So for just a minute again, during this podcast, I want you to consider, instead of labeling whatever you might label the horse’s reaction when they see something off in the distance like you mentioned, maybe let’s go ahead and use that example of the bike coming down the road, when the horse sees the bike coming down the road. It’s interesting to check in with your mind and label like what the horse could be thinking because you’ll learn a lot about the way that you’re viewing your horse when you do that. But for this podcast, I want you to use the word “want.” So when the horse is coming, when when the bike is coming down the road and the horse is standing there trying to figure out like what that thing is and you’re trying to figure out what to do with the horse to help guide them, I just want you to in this moment when you’re picturing this in your mind, what does that horse want to do? Because they’re going to want something. wTo really popular categories of “want” in this situation is “want to look.” And another really popular one is “want to run.” So for just a minute, if you can hold on to that idea that this is a want that the horse has, then this human example might help you just a little bit. So here’s a human example of a want. So let’s say, like, if you’ve been a listener for a while or following, you’ll know that I have three sons. They’re all grown now and out of the house. But I remember when they were little. And let’s just have this example of you go to the grocery store and you have a five-year-old child with you and they want something. They want candy. They want to go home. They want something. And in that moment, what I learned is that redirecting the mind with something is very useful and helpful, tends to be more positive-feeling for everybody involved. The person, me, the one that’s maybe tempted to be frustrated by the wants of this five-year-old, if I can redirect them, then what happens is I can make it a positive experience with–without this kind of punishment or negative feeling. So what I’ll do is, can you hand me that box? What did you do today at Grandma’s? What when we get home, what are you going to do? So there’s some level of high engagement. And when I’m doing that, what I’m doing is I’m redirecting their mind. So maybe they want the candy bar or maybe they want to go home. But instead of arguing about the candy bar or arguing about going home, it is this process of redirecting. Oh, look at this list. What’s on the list? Can you reach that box? Run down there and grab this box, run it back to me. You know, what did you do at Grandma’s? What did she say? How did you do? What did you eat? Like, get really detailed in engaging them to take their mind off from the candy bar, or whatever that is.

Stacy Westfall: Interesting side note, as I was like typing this up and thinking of it, I was thinking, here’s an interesting fact. All three of my boys can say the alphabet backwards and they can say it at all speeds backwards. They can say the alphabet backwards probably as fast as you could say it forward. They could say it backwards faster than I could say it forward. It was crazy. Anyway. So redirecting the mind is really powerful in a positive way. So now when we take that back to the horse example, I think it helps us think just a little bit differently about the horses. So I’m going to go ahead and use my three horses as examples in here. So I’ve got Gabby, Willow, and Presto. And so when we talk about the–the default temperament, there are some other layers that go into here. So Gabby tends to be confident by default. But another interesting thing is that we can also observe in these horses that they tend to be either quick or slow thinkers. Now it’s important not to get that confused with smart and dumb because quick thinking can also come with some negatives when you’re working with them. And–and slow thinking absolutely does not mean dumb. It just means that there’s more repetitions needed. But it’s going to play into this conversation. So Gabby is confident and her mind is average to quick. So kind of right in between those two. Willow is insecure and quick-minded and Presto is…he’s kind of a middle man. He’s–he’s between–he’s not–he’s not the truly confident horse like Gabby. He’s not the truly insecure horse like Willow. He’s kind of this middle man in between there. And he has a slow thinking process. And so, again, the slow thinking process, there are times when I’ve seen other trainers label horses as dumb, when in reality, the way that I would describe it is they’re a slow thinking process. Does that work out great for timed event things? Like meaning like if you’re going to go do, if you need to get a certain amount of training done in 30 days, it would make sense that the slower thinkers aren’t going to excel with those limits. But when you can expand the amount of time that you allow them to learn, one thing I’ve learned over the years about the slow thinkers is they might take more time to train, but oftentimes they last forever because the very thing that’s making them slower to train makes them slower to untrain. If we want to just use that phrasing for now, where the real quick thinkers might be quick to train, but they’re kind of quick to untrain because they just kind of–they’re just quickly, quickly, quickly going through these things. So, again, don’t look at this like, smart and dumb. Look at it like it’s just a way that they process. That’s another layer.

Stacy Westfall: Now, another layer that goes into this is when the horse is processing. How extreme do they go with their reactions? And remember, we’re trying to look at the default temperament. We’re trying to look at the default of this particular horse. And, and so you’re going to see glimpses of it. Or if you knew the horse when it was more green or if your horse is currently still more green, you’re going to be able to see glimpses of this even more. So Gabby, for example, is not often that extreme. She just doesn’t fall that extreme to one way or the other. Willow goes more extreme. So when I was teaching her to go over a tarp for the very first time and stuff, when she learns a lot of those new things, she tends to be very quick-minded and quick physically. And so there’s this extreme that she’ll kind of go to there that’s getting more and more covered up with training. But I know what’s under there, just like I know Gabby doesn’t have that extreme under there. Presto also has the extreme. Now, he’s interesting because it shows up in different ways than it does with Willow. So his extremes is like he has run into the run-in shed. Now I should phrase that a different way. He has collided with the run-in shed, which means this permanent building in the middle, if something startles them like out of the road or hear something, when he was younger, he wheeled around and cut his head on things. Like he’s–he’s–when he goes extreme, he does a little bit more of what we might call going blind where he does it in that intense, extreme way. I’ve seen him out in the pasture startle and fall. And so these are things I’ve been noticing about him. So he doesn’t go extreme like Willow kind of is there more of the time. But Presto isn’t there most of the time. But when he is, he can still–goes to that extreme. That’s just another layer to consider. Inside of that layer, you can also see recovery time. So that’s a little bit what I’m talking about when I say that when Willow goes up, she tends to stay up. But really, when I look at Willow, she just tends to be up. She’s just a naturally hotter kind of a horse. So her default is higher. And so you see glimpses of that. Even in her well-trained state, I can still see glimpses of that. Presto will go extreme. But he doesn’t necessarily stay there. He doesn’t–he rarely, like, holds that level of extreme. So that’s another layer that goes into this question. So we start to see why you could ride in a group full of people and everybody could have different reasons for why they’re doing things. Look at all the different combinations you could come up with as I unpack those different layers.

Stacy Westfall: Let me tell you a little bit more about how I’ve seen these show up in my horses so that maybe you can see how I’m developing this thought process. So, Willow, early on would have big reactions to tarps and bags and things like that, which a lot of horses have a reaction, even kind of a bigger reaction. Let’s just say that a lot of them will have some reaction when they’re seeing that particular thing new. What I’m saying is different with Willow is that she had that reaction for months with consistency and with like with the consistency of me training her and the consistent exposure. So I’m not saying it was like her first time or her tenth time. I’m saying her 30th time. Her first reaction on those times is–is high, where Presto had the similar high reaction early, although not as high as Willow, but his drop off was much quicker. Like once he was like, oh, that’s all it is, boom, just done, where Willow kind of holds on to that reactivity. And Willow, right now, if I–if I leave her, which I do this a lot and at this point I’ve done it with her a lot over the years, so it is gradually getting less and less. But that’s again, this is the training kind of covering up that temperament. Now, you could argue that over a 10 year period, temperament defaults change and I would agree with you. So we can modify them to a much bigger degree than you would think over a very long period of time. But to this day, like, she has much more training than Presto does in this area. But if–if I just went out there and pulled out a tarp right now, she would have a bigger reaction than Presto, even though Presto has less training. That’s because we’re seeing a glimpse of her temperament underneath there. So it’s also interesting that a good example to bring up is when I installed the–the mirrors on the wall so that I could watch myself ride and watch, you know, see different things going on when I’m–when I’m riding. And it was really interesting because by the time Willow was exposed to those things, I would call it like she–even her early exposure to them was only moderately reactive, which is interesting because that’s actually fairly common. Like a moderate reaction to the mirrors is pretty common. We have a lot of people come in and out and their horses haven’t seen them. A moderate reaction is more common. However, when we installed that in the indoor arena and Presto came out and saw them for the first time, and again, there’s been 100 horses through and none had the level of reaction that he had. The only way I can describe it is it was almost like I know the look that I get on my face if I’m presented with like a crazy high-level math question. Like it’s somewhere between terror and giving up. Like it’s just like almost overwhelming when Presto first saw the reflection in there. And it was just the reflection of him and other horses, like from a distance. He was many, many–he was 100 feet away. His reaction was highly reactive to the point of that almost being blind. Like and I caught him and was like, OK, he seriously needs guidance right now because I don’t want him to practice the state of mind. And I’m going to have to dig around and see if I can find the video, because I remember this is me in the barn and like when my horses are totally losing it, I ask my husband to grab the video camera. So somewhere out there I have video of this and he was–Presto was just like inconsolably overwhelmed, highly reactive. But the really interesting thing, again–like so believe me, I did not–it was like I’m talking borderline dangerous to be handling him and he was–he wasn’t that old, but he was reasonably trained at this point. And he just had this like losing his mind moment. But within you know, within a few days, he was, he was good. And now Willow, who never had the really extreme reaction to them, she still watches them like…not–she’s not scared. Scared would not be the word, but it definitely leans towards, her awareness is very high. She doesn’t miss a thing. And again, I think this speaks to several of those layers of the way that she processes. Now, Presto, he’s totally over it. We went from that one mirror on the wall to we added–we added four more. And I’m probably going to add some more. Pretty much–he was like, yep, whatever. So he was extremely highly reactive early on and yet he has let go of more of it, like to the point where he doesn’t totally just ignore them, but he is like–he every once in a while when we’re standing around, he’ll kind of watch it a little bit like TV because he realizes that you can watch the opposite end of the arena. And he just kind of watches the stuff he can see, but not in a reactive state at all, where Willow holds just a little like a couple notches above that, where she doesn’t feel scared. But the awareness, it’s almost like her state of being is prepared to leave. Where when Presto sank back down into like, oh, this isn’t anything to be feared he doesn’t have that, like, I don’t have that sense from him anymore. So those are this is why this gets so interesting and complicated, because there are so many different layers that go onto it, because you would think that just because Presto had that big reaction that you know, that he would then be a certain way all the time. But that’s not true.

Stacy Westfall: So the–this is really top of mind for me right now because my neighbors up the road…I’ve been–I’ve been trail riding again now recently. I’ve been out about a little over 60 miles of trail riding so far this–this year in the last few weeks. And that means that we’re going out on the trails now and everything looks a little bit different. And for me, I have to ride up the road for just a little–I have to ride up the road. I’m going to have to measure it sometime but it’s, I don’t know. It’s–it’s less than a half a mile. Is it a quarter of a mile? I don’t know. I’m terrible with those distances unless my–unless my GPS thing tells me. But anyway, I have to ride up the road just a little bit. And there’s a lot of stuff that goes on there. And so one thing that Willow pointed out when I headed off on the trail was that the neighbor on the corner had cut a bunch of pine tree boughs and they’re in a pile. And so I’m riding up through here. This mare has been ridden up this road hundreds and hundreds of times. SHe’s been up and down this road for years. And with the branches on the side of the road, she had that like awareness of. But because we’ve been doing this training for a long time, I asked myself the same question. Do I let her look at it? Because I typically kind of keep her busy until we’ve done stuff until I don’t feel that like–almost don’t feel that desire to look at it anymore. But I do test my own training in my own thoughts all the time. And so we’re riding up there. She’s pretty trained. And I’m like, I’m going to let her just–she’s–she’s starting to have that reaction. I’m going to let her stop and look at it. So so I let her stop and look at it and she like stops and then she–you can feel that leaning back like her feet didn’t move, but she’s leaning back and her head’s up in her eyes are big. And I think if you could make it into a cartoon, like you can see the smoke starting to come out of her ears and she like starts to go. And this is where only because I have this level of training, because taking hold of them, like taking them from that looser rein, where you’re letting them stop and look, making that first contact, that can be the thing that sets some of them off. And so it’s like…I’m like…you know, like it was really funny because I want to go into detail for this because I think it’s important for you to notice details. So the branches are off to my right. I’m riding straight up the middle of the road. So she sees them out of the corner of her eye. And I allow her to kind of have her own experience. So we’re walking. I notice her noticing them all. And, you know, we were just kind of cruising. I started to close all my aides like the hug. And then I was like, I’m just going to loosen up a little bit and just kind of see where she goes with this. Well I loosen up a little bit and she loses forward motion because, you know, she’s–and she’s–and she’s still looking at them out of the corner of her right eye. And I stop giving her direction. I stop giving her instruction. I stop giving her input. And she slows down, feels like to me like she sucks back her drawers in, which is also that balled up kind of a feeling. Not the greatest feeling to have as a rider. But anyway, go with me. And she’s like she stops and she leans back and the head’s going up. But it’s also interesting as that’s happening, she’s also turning to face it. So her hip starts kicking to the left so that she can turn and like face this. And as we go to about a 45-degree angle, I decide this is no longer a good idea. It’s like I, I know enough right now to know that I don’t like the direction of her thinking. And I’ve ridden her for years and never given her the full-blown freedom to show me more. And I’m super impressed that she kept it slow motion because I think the smoke coming out of her ears was her trying to put her own, like, slower thinking on, which is not natural for her. So she’s slowing that down. But as she starts to turn and look and directly–and I’m thinking this is–this could lead into six different things that are all going to not go good. And so, yeah, maybe she would have stopped and maybe she would have just stood there. But here’s the deal. She would have stood there at best, frozen in terror with her head up and her heart pounding in her chest. I’m not even sure that’s a good–that’s not–in my book, that’s not enough of a win because that’s not the mindset I want her in. So I close all my aides, had to actually get a little more forceful with my legs than I ever would have had to if I hadn’t let her stop, if I had just kind of guided her through it, and–and I guarantee that if I had guided her through it out on that trip, back on that trip and gone out and back a few more times, she would have been totally fine without that little experiment.

Stacy Westfall: I don’t experiment like that a lot because I already had a pretty good idea, but I wanted to test and just kind of see and I’m impressed with some of the things I saw. And I also know it’s still not enough. So that’s just an interesting thing to observe. Put the legs on, ask her to go forward and off we went. Had a perfectly fine trail ride. On the way back by she, you know, she looked at it out of the corner of her eye and we just kept on going. That one, anybody watching from the outside would have, if you were really, really looking, you could have barely, you could have just seen her kind of look. But it was way more noticeable on the way out when I gave her all that freedom. But I also didn’t like where her head went, where her brain went. Fascinating. Ride the other horses out there, Gabby flcks an ear enough to tell me she notices, but pretty much nothing. And Presto notices, kind of goes like a little bit like heads in and I just squeeze him and we go on by and he just let go of it super fast again. Can you hear how this is also very similar to what I had already observed in the arena? This is also, when I tell you about the mirror, tis also explains why I was real hesitant about riding Presto on the trails. And that was a big deal for me to do last year. And that’s going to be my main goal for this year. He’s gone about 25 miles on the trails so far this year. I’ve decided to track the miles this year. I–the way I track it normally, I write down which trail. So I just don’t normally like translate that name into miles. I could go back and do that. Maybe I will. But anyway, my main goal with him this year is going to be a lot of trail riding. Not because it’s easier than the arena, but because it’s one of the–one of the things I want to tackle with him and use to build him up and I want to do it safely. Which leads me to my next point, which is that when I ride that trail with Presto, typically what I do is I actually walk him up. So here’s–what’s interesting is, when I say that I let him look, I was actually doing–like when I say that I let him look, but I didn’t let him stop and look and all that stuff. Like this is actually all for me. This is all groundwork with him. I have not ridden him up the road yet this year. Last year I rode him up the road, leaving from my house and going out. But this year I haven’t because we’ve only been out for the last couple of weeks. It’s early in the year. So when I say that when I head him up through and he starts looking at the branches, I’m following exactly the same rules on the ground as I am when I’m riding him. When I’m teaching a lot of people like the online course I’ve been teaching, I’ve been teaching them to just go ahead and use the same phrasing. So it’s like if you’re lunging your horse, think of your lunge line as the rein. So if your horse is dragging you around by the rein, that’s a problem. If your horse avoids the rein, in my book, that’s a problem. Also, like I want to know what the rein, feels like. Your leg when you’re lunging your horse is is your–your whip or your driving aid, whatever that is that you’re using there. Does your horse avoid it and hide from that? Or can you toss the string of the stick and string over the horse’s back? But it’s a lot easier sometimes to think of your groundwork and actually transfer that into the same aide, the same language, so that you can just see that more clearly. So when I say that I started to let Presto look and then I shape him and I drive him forward and I squeeze him up past it, that’s actually me talking about me driving him with that whip while I’m leading him. And I’m leading him and I’ve got the dressage whip that I’m going to carry with me when I’m riding him. But I’m using that to bring his attention back to me. I’m using that to drive him forward. I’m using that to drive him to my shoulder. And I’m saying get here right now and be here. And so when I have been going up and down this road, I forget how many times I’ve been out there now. But basically, I–I walk up this road leading him, and then when I get up to the trailhead, I get on and ride him. And my neighbors are out gardening a lot right now. And they keep teasing me because they–they’re like, oh, you’re out for another walk with your horse. And they already know that, like, I’m getting on him up there. But they–but it’s just become this, like, running joke this year, mostly because last year I didn’t ride him on the trails this early. So we were midway through and then I rode with a pony horse for a while and so they never really saw me in this–this walking phase because I didn’t do it the same way last year. So I’m walking and they’re teasing me and so this the very last ride that I came back from. It was interesting because I get off at the trailhead and I lead him back home, too. And I’m leading him down and the neighbor is gardening and there’s a rental house right there. So between the neighbor that’s teasing me and the other side of the road, there’s a rental house on one side of the neighbor on the other side. And this is one of the biggest obstacles when we go on a trail ride and people go with us because there’s a miniature horse in a pasture and there are goats and llamas and alpacas and cats. And then if there are people in, which there were, there were guests in and they were on doing all these different things and they had a paddleboat. So the paddleboat is on the pond. So there’s a pond right there, and so the paddleboat was on the pond and as–as I was leading him down, this was new. And I saw him look at it over the hedges. And then I stopped to talk to the neighbor. And as I stopped to talk to the neighbor, paddleboat is to the right. Let’s say Presto is facing straight ahead and that’s 12 o’clock. Paddleboat is like two o’clock to presto. Neighbor is like nine o’clock to Presto. And I’m standing vaguely in front of Presto, but like off to the side a little bit. So like, if he did jump forward, I’m not straight dead in front of him. I’m just slightly off to the side. So I’m like at eleven thirty. And so, so, the–I’m standing there and I’m noticing all these things. He’s watching the boat at a higher level than–than his average. So I know he’s– I know he’s–I know he’s processing something that’s a little higher frequency here. And I’m talking to the neighbor and we’re just talking about garden stuff and a little bit about horses because she used to have horses and we’re just standing there talking. But I’m watching all of this. And this to me is a big deal when you guys are out working with your horses. I don’t care where you are in the arena, in the pasture, feeding time. When the energy level starts to go up–I think you should be doing it all the time, but if you don’t remember all the time–as soon as the energy level goes up a little bit, you’ve got to switch into this, like this needs some kind of cheesy name. But I’m going to give it like something like–like have you ever watched a movie that had a superhero? And, like, everything goes slow motion and they notice everything? And that’s what makes them be able to duck out of the way of whatever is flying at them. And they can like see all the problems coming. You got to be able to switch into that mind because I’m standing there and it’s not at that level. If that’s a–if, if, if, if the movie version of it with bullets zooming by in slow motion is a 10, we’re talking like this is, we’re noticing everything but at like a 2 or 3 because Presto is really not at a 10. And I really do want my thinking to go super slow in those reaction moments, which is a whole nother concept. But the baby version of that is, first of all, you’re noticing all the problems and everything. Second of all, as it starts to go up and Presto’s, standing here holding his breath at a 3, I’m noticing all of it. Because the important thing to me there is that even though the boat, the paddleboat in this example is the primary, and that’s fairly obvious, you still want to be noticing everything because it can be the little kid that pops out of the door at the rental cabin that sets it off. It can be a motorcycle coming down the road. But it’s going to a lot of times be a combination of things that are going to set this problem off. And so your awareness is going to help you understand your horse’s experience a lot more. So Presto is watching and notice I’m letting him watch. So on the–after the ride coming back, he’s been up and down the road. We’ve been doing all these things. I’m conscious that I’m letting him look. I could have kept on walking. I could have done a bunch of other things, but I’m actually letting him stand and look and I’m talking to the neighbors. The boat is the paddleboat is 250 feet away and they’re paddling away from us. And I’m talking to the neighbor now. I start to actually sense because I’m talking to the neighbor, I actually start to sense Presto changing. And I do another real quick reassessment and the paddleboat is turning around. So now the paddleboat is now 248 feet away from us, but it’s facing us. This is like–this is so–I see this coming because he’s like, woo! And, and then it’s coming so 248, 247, 246. And this is when he reacts and he’s just like he–he can’t do it anymore. So even though he didn’t do a lot of things in between, he’s like a 3, but he’s standing there kind of holding his breath. When they started coming back, he just instantly he started moving. But he probably moved at like a 4 or 5. So he’s like scuttle-y, we’re–we’re standing on pavement. He’s like–he starts to like prance and move away and I immediately take that same dressage whip I’m carrying and I reach out there and I do what we’ve practiced thousands of times in the arena. And I go like, swish, swish. So I like cut the air, but I cut the air with that intention that if he continues on the path he’s on, that spot over there I’m shutting the door. Now the other thing is like I’ve got him with the rein, I pull, like I pull in the rein. I cu- cut with the dressage whip and, and my energy goes up. My energy goes big. But pay attention to this. The energy’s not at him. Just like if you’ve ever watched a video where you saw me like whipping around him. Lots of people do the whipping around thing like the whipping with the stick and string. I’m just picturing one where I posted it last year with Willow. Two years ago, actually, the trail to–the trail to the world show. And I was whipping around her with the–with the stick and string. I’m not aiming energy at them when I do that. The energy is high, but it’s not at them. And so he already knows this. So my energy goes big. It basically saying, like, I’m willing to match this. Don’t come over me and I’ve got something to say here. Now, if he had run into the whip, if he’d run into it, then that would have been, you could have called that more at him. And he stopped there. And then he went to kick his hip because he wanted to do what Willow wanted to do. He wanted to kick that hip so he could do a turn and straight-on face. And I had decided I didn’t want that. I wanted him in the position I wanted him in. So I actually did reach out and make that disengage. And I nipped his hip with the dressage whip. And because we’ve done so much of this in the arena, he instantly was like a reset button. He stopped and he settled down in. It doesn’t mean he froze his feet and was holding his breath. What was really interesting is he actually did it like a full exhale kind of version, which is more information for me for the future, because I know what I’ve been doing in the arena. I know how far his brain can go. And I, I want to know, like I didn’t–I chose not to keep his focus on me. I chose to let him have a thought. I got to learn more about how his thought was going. Notice I was not on his back and I was prepared. It was also really funny because he had an–I had this–this all, this all went down fast. It’s like I mean, if it’s even 30 seconds of a thing, it’s like boo boo, boo, boo, boo, boo, boo boom. But it’s all answered super fast. And my neighbor was there and it was over and he’s standing there and he’s still watching the boat, but now he’s watching me more. So in essence, I’ve brought his focus back to me. And but I’m still–I’m still allowing him to look. And I said to the neighbor that right there is what you guys haven’t been able to see. That’s why I’m leading him up and down the road. Give me six months where that doesn’t happen and then we’ll talk about it. So this is like me saying out loud, like, I need to know. This is like, I need to understand. I need to be making my best guesses in these situations.

Stacy Westfall: So it’s higher level to me when you allow them to stop and stand and look. Do they check in with you? Like, that’s basically what I reminded Presto of, was like, dude, check-in with me. I’m right here. Like now. And so I don’t want to, whether I’m mounted or on the ground, I don’t want to allow them to look thinking that that’s higher level and then find out that they’re not going to check-in with me. They’re going to turn tail and run because typically a horse that makes that switch, when they really make that switch, that horse is very hard to recover typically. So I’m actually impressed that Presto made this switch and then came back. And I have no desire to find out if he’s going to make that switch and do it and come back when I’m on his back. I’ve put a lot more time into the ground right now. That is a very hard thing to ride. It’s not the easiest thing to do on the ground if you know what I know about Presto, which is that when he goes, if he truly goes, he has that tendency to go blind. I want to see that be gone. And think about it like this, the horses are learning habits if they–if they, “get away with it.” I don’t love that phrasing of getting away with it. But, you know, if they’re terrified, they turn, they bolt, they leave you behind and they run home. It’s not like “got away with it.” They’re more just like they wanted to go home and nobody stopped them. And they’re like, OK, good, got my want. Next time that happens, I’m going to plan A, which is leave town really fast. It’s not an evil thing that they’re doing. They’re just taking care of themselves. And so these are the reasons why I think the question of do we let them look or do we have them focus on me? This is why it’s so layered and why it’s different horse to horse in a little bit of a way. But it’s also different from as they train, as their training changes, Willow, in another three months is going to feel like a horse that I can let her look at whatever, that I can just–I can just let her…and maybe it’ll be in a month. But I’m just saying it’s not going to be next week because I know her history. Presto, I know how extreme he can go. I’m just most of the time not even going to let him have that thought and every once in a while I’ll give him just enough that I can learn what I did the other day with the paddleboat. I won’t let that happen again for probably a couple of months. I’m not going to test that training. I’m not going to plant the seed and hope it’s working and then pull it up and check and see if it’s growing or not. That was my test. That was me peeking. That was me sticking the–the–is my cake baked? That was me sticking the little tester into it and pulling it out. I’m not going to stick it back in in thirty seconds, which is the equivalent in the horse world is like next week. I’m not going to stick it in and pull back out immediately. I’m going to wait and I’m going to make everything feel more solid before I make my next new best guess. So I think that it’s really important that you start to look for the really tiny details or maybe one way to look at it are the trends. So like, Presto had certain trends that were there that I’m going to say, are there. The fact that he will go so extreme is something I keep in my mind all the time. The fact that Gabby doesn’t go as extreme is beautiful. Willow goes extreme, but she doesn’t go quite as blind. Like I wouldn’t say she goes blind like what Presto can do. And so all these different layers that you’re collecting, I’ve seen these in different situations that I could say are more controlled. Like you said in the beginning, Drewry, like in the arena. But I can set those up and learn more about my horse so that when I go out on the trail, I can know. Because Gabby, I can let Gabby stop and look. And Gabby stopping and looking doesn’t bother her at all. But she’s also not a problem across the board in that kind of a way. But that’s not my default. If I have a default, if you just said pick now and you don’t know the horse, I’m going to say keep them thinking about you, because this is much more like having the child in the grocery store. We’re just going to keep redirecting them and we’re going to wait until they get more mature and then we can find out more. So one last thought as I wrap this up and it’s this: Be aware of how you’re reacting. Because I know myself well enough to know which category I’m in and I am a little jumpier, kind of a human. There are times that I spook at something in anticipation of my horse spooking at something because that’s who I am. Now my favorite is when I spook at something because of my anticipation and then I find myself laughing because my horse doesn’t react to the thing that basically I spooked at. The reason that that’s going on is because I have pretend spook trained them so many times. I think I’ve told the story before, but like I’ve done it so many times that like I was out doing my, like, run-jog thing with Willow one time and like tripped and fell. And she was like, yeah, right. That’s just another one of your things. No, legitimately I fell. But she–I’ve done so many things to her that she was like, yeah, right. You’re not going to get me with that one. I love that. That’s what makes me laugh. But unless you’ve done a lot of that, the more, much, much, much more typical cycle is that in anticipation of the horse spooking, I spook, and then I spook the horse. And that is a much more common cycle. So you’ve got to be aware of how you’re reacting in those situations and you can actually find that awareness in the smaller situations. If you start really listening to your gut when something changes in the arena or the pasture or the barn and your horse notices it on top of noticing everything with the horse, you’ve got to notice you. I hope that helps you out, gives you some food for thought. Thank you for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

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

Links mentioned in podcast:



  1. Lynn on April 2, 2021 at 11:19 pm

    So happy to have discovered you on various podcasts. I have a 6/o Q/H which has a good, quiet temperament but can also be very reactive- especially if sheep come into the equation. It’s great to hear of you walking with your horse and that even with your fantastic training there still are issues you work through.
    I’m currently doing the TRT method online which is helping me immensely, but I think once you pay for something it gives you more focus to keep training. I will look to your course too as I think a mix of expert advice can only be to my advantage.
    Thank you for your generosity in sharing your knowledge, you come over so well.

  2. Martina Brown on March 31, 2021 at 10:32 pm

    I like how you label the horses as slow and quick thinkers…not smart and dumb. Makes so much sense!! As you know I never had good feedback about Hildy for many years. One well known trainer around here said she was hard headed and that I will always be fighting with her. That just stuck in my mind for years. Now that my mindset has changed from listening to you and using your methods Hildy has improved tremendously.
    Speaking of the tarp…Just got it out the other day..Even though I get it out every year she still snorts and runs around for a bit then she remembers the drill. I laughed at the branch situation. I have learned with Hildy that if something is new or looks weird as long as I don’t look stare at it and look the other way she is fine and I also don’t have a problem getting off if I need to. I know her very well and if I noticed something that could really upset her I will get off before she can react. She has no idea why I am getting off but I do. For instance there is a big pile of salt with a tarp over it at the back of my property and it was super windy and the tarp was flying up and around. She knows it is there however I did not want to walk by it and have it blow around and make a lot of noise. I got off in plenty of time…walked her over to it as it was rattling and blowing, had her stand by it while I was petting her, then I jumped on the salt pile on top of the tarp..side passed her over so I could get on like you taught me and went on our way.
    Enjoyed this episode

Leave a Comment

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.