Episode 125-Retraining older horses vs starting with a clean slate

Today I’m answering two questions about older horses. One about restarting and one about a horse that doesn’t want to listen when he can’t see the herd.

What is the difference between training a young horse vs retraining an older horse? Are there different risks starting an older horse under saddle?
When working with herd bound horses…why does it seem like they just don’t want to listen? Is there a difference between a subtle cue and a clear cue?


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. Before I jump into this episode, I wanted to let you know that I was recently interviewed on Warwick Schiller’s podcast, The Journey On podcast. It was a really great conversation and it turned out to be over two hours long and involves more Presto stories. If you’re interested in listening to that, look for Episode 34 of The Journey On podcast. In today’s episode, I’m answering two questions about older horses, one about restarting, and one about a horse that doesn’t want to listen when he can’t see the herd. Let’s listen to the first question.

Caller 1: Hi Stacy, this is Laurie Granberg from Washington State. I want to thank you for all that you do and share with us. I also was hoping you could elaborate on restarting older horses with holes in their foundation. I have a nice-minded nine-year-old quarter horse gelding who we believe was started at three and then sat in the field by himself for five years. So he has pretty limited life experience and life skills. I believe that he’s going to become an excellent partner and–and a great horse for riding on the trail and doing some other things with. But he is still very green and can be reactive and spooky at times. We are restarting him from the very beginning and things are going pretty well. But I was hoping you could help me understand the differences in approach and helping a horse that has some more established ways of being that aren’t–that aren’t as helpful versus helping out a colt who’s a clean slate. Thanks for all you do and thanks again for your help.

Stacy Westfall: Thanks for your question, Laurie, and I’m really glad that you’re enjoying all of the content. The biggest difference that I’ve seen with older horses coming into training versus younger horses is what I’m going to call culture shock. And so the older horses I’ve worked with have been in one place for a very long time and just kind of had an established way of life, kind of. And in a way, if you wanted to illustrate it like this, it could be almost like, you know, they were living in the country. And then one day they got on a trailer and they ended up at my barn, which was kind of like coming to the big city. And that’s why I think it always struck me as a little bit of a culture shock. Now, it’s interesting because that seemed to wear off within about 30 days. And I even worked with one older mare that was a nine-year-old that had never been touched. And I went to that barn and actually did the work at that barn. And still, within about that 30 day period, just that new set of habits became the new normal. But there is at the beginning, I think that difference is there’s this different feeling of–of culture shock. And now I actually feel that with the young horses, if I think about it, when a young horse comes into training, you know, they come and there’s that kind of culture shock kind of a feeling there. But it just seems more natural maybe to us as humans to see that in the younger one. And I also think that the fact that I look at it like this way, it’s like you’ve got this gangly, wide-eyed, nervous young horse that’s not fully mature. There’s a little bit more of like, aw poor baby, kind of a response there. You take the same thing a few years later and you got strong, wide-eyed and nervous. And the thought kind of is, um, you’re really big. So the only thing I changed in those two sentences were I went gangly versus strong. I still left wide-eyed and nervous in both of those. But there is a difference in how it looks when you look at a baby or a younger horse under the–the stress of moving and leaving home and coming to the trainer, for example, or whatever that is. There’s sort of an expectation in our mind of what that looks like. And I think that one of the things that gets in the way is that when you’ve got this adult horse and you’ve got this unstarted behavior, it kind of looks weird because you expect that big body to have certain behaviors, even if you’re not thinking of it that way.

Stacy Westfall: When I have horses come into the barn and over the years when I’ve had lots of different horses come in, I’m thinking more recently about three weanlings that all came to me at the same time and they grew up in the same field. They had the same handling. They all arrived on the same trailer, they got here, and when I separated them and put them in stalls side by side, they all showed about the same level of, you know, discomfort, culture shock we’ll call it. And–and so on one level, you kind of saw all this sameness, but it was amazing within just a few days how you could start to see the differences in the way that each individual expressed stress. So there was one that was clearly more stressed in a way that got big with the body, meaning trying to jump a round pen panel when nobody was applying any pressure, just sort of like their own mind doing that to themselves or, you know, wanting to rear later on in the training when tied up for the first time. You know, just expressions were big with that one’s body, where in the same exact group there was another one that was like, oh, well, this is kind of cool. I don’t have to actually fight anybody for food. So, boom, really got chilled out really fast. So when I look at these three weanlings, they came in the same field, same amount of handling, and three totally different expressions that played out as differences the whole time that they were here, which was just a few weeks. But in that few weeks, you could really see a big difference. And the reason that I want to explain it like this is because initially when they unloaded off the trailer, they all looked about the same level of nervous. So at first, when you’ve got this untouched, you’re seeing the the–the lack of training and you’re seeing let’s just call it like the flight or fight kind of an idea. So they’re all kind of in this flight mindset. Then as the flight leaves, you start seeing the temperament. What I want to emphasize to you, working with the older horse, is the question in my mind when I look at all the horses I’ve started and–and worked with over the years, the question in the back of my mind is, when I start an older horse, is there a difference between that and starting the younger horse? Well, as I just explained, even when you’re starting the younger horses, you can see of–quite a bit of variance between them with everything being about as same as you can make it. So then I want to get more clear and I go, OK, is there consistently a difference in starting an older horse or restarting an older horse versus starting a younger horse that’s, say, more than 10 percent? So is there more than a 10 percent difference? The biggest difference I could feel when I was doing it was that when you picture that older horse that I described a minute ago as strong, wide-eyed, and nervous versus the baby, that’s gangly, wide eyed, and nervous is the–the other thing that that does is that when the horse is nervous or having that reaction because it’s got that stronger underlying physical strength and maturity, I think the vibrations, like that feeling coming from them, is more powerful. And I guess if I were going to try to explain it in a way that you may have experienced before is it’s almost like think about an adult, human adult, and a human child. And when they experience certain emotions, like when you’ve been around somebody experiencing an emotion, we’ll put it like that. If you’ve been around somebody experiencing an emotion, they can–an adult experiencing a certain emotion and a child experiencing that same emotion, can you feel how there’s a different level of intensity or vibration or feeling, even though you could say that on the same scale they were both experiencing an eight? But to me, the way that I experience it, I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but this is my best way of explaining it, is that there is just that that strength that comes from that more maturity. It then gives a different flavor or feeling to that–to that emotion. But when I circle back around to it and I am examining it and I really think to myself, is there a difference that’s more than 10 percent in starting an older horse or a younger horse? I would say, no. Now, if the horse has been handled in a way that caused problems, that’s not age-dependent, that is experience-dependent. The way that you phrased your question, it didn’t sound like the horse had negative experiences, although there was a little bit of a question there that we’re going to get to in just in–just the–in the end, a little bit here.

Stacy Westfall: You mentioned more established ways of being. That’s a little bit of a red flag for me in the question. But in my experience, when I asked myself the question, was the difference of starting an older horse, restarting an older horse, that much different, more than 10 percent different than starting younger horses? And I would say, no. The reason I say it strongly like this is you just look at a horse like Presto. So I have had Presto the whole time. I’ve had him since 30 days old. Last Chance Corral had him at three days old. I’ve had him the whole time. I have done my best job of handling him and he is not on the same track as other horses. If someone had gotten him, he’s five now, whether they got him now at five or whether they got him at eight or nine, anyone who just kind of got hold of him at some older date and started him could have easily blamed his age for his issues. But I think his issues are just a sign of his temperament, of who he is, of the way that he thinks. And so I can look at older horses like that and say, yeah, right now, the way this horse is, people would think that it was because of something else, not just his temperament, because he just happens to be on the track that he happens to be on. When I look at older horses, I could actually see there can be some benefits to starting older horses. Now, the first thing you have to stay aware of is your mind, because having the question in your mind that there’s going to be a difference is actually messing with the whole experience because you will look for differences and accidentally create differences. So when I’m doing it, I approach it with curiosity about the older horse and I kind of say, hey, I’m just here to learn about who you are today and how we’re going to go with the training today. And that kind of releases all of it. And I do that with the young ones, too. I do that with abused ones. I do that with whatever. It’s like, who are you today and what are we dealing with today? I do that with me. So, so it’s just, what’s on the books today? And then the other thing that’s interesting is, in my mind, what I can tell you is that when I was mounting up on the older horses, I was always really impressed with how much stronger they were. So it lent them towards being more balanced-feeling right off the bat. So you didn’t have to go through the gangly stage of working with the horses that aren’t quite as coordinated because they’re just not as mature. So you’ve got the–the older, mature, stronger, and that will affect your mind because there’s some good things about it. You’re like, wow, you feel really stable. And then in your mind, there’s also–also things like this like, oh you feel really strong. If you buck this is not going to be a baby buck where you might be losing your balance and catching yourself and worried a little bit about staying on your own four feet. You feel really strong. So can you hear how you can even look at something like their strength or their–their full grown-ness as a benefit or a weakness? And that is where you just have to stay really clear about how you’re interpreting it. Because all of it is on the table for you to choose from. I really like starting older horses because you don’t have to worry about it being too early, you don’t have to worry about growth plates or joints as much and that kind of stuff. Except I actually started one that was older once. And I could tell when I was doing the groundwork that the way the horse moved, I was like, wow, this is really interesting. But the horse had some arthritis and yes, it was only like a five-year-old. But some horses can have genetics that point towards things. So arthritis isn’t always something that we’ve done to the horse because of the way that we’ve worked it. Just like with humans, there can be early onset things and genetic things. And so I actually started one where I was like, now that’s a strange combination right there, starting you under saddle and dealing with arthritis at the same time. That is really interesting. And so for that reason, I then had to, you know, work around things and talk to the vet about, you know, what are we going to do to support this horse? And I had to change some of the things that I was doing because usually the benefit of starting a horse when they’re younger is that they are a lot like the teenagers. And they’re just so–they’re–they’re just so strong kind of for that kind of stuff. I remember telling one of my boys, you can’t just sit on the couch and then go run a 5k. And so he stood up and ran a 5k and I was like, OK, I forgot you’re a teenager, you can do that. But with this older horse, it was like I had to, you know, modify things. But that’s not that uncommon either. I’ve had to modify things along the way for younger horses for various reasons. So it’s not a deal breaker. And again, there can be a lot of strengths with the older horse.

Stacy Westfall: I think the interesting part of your question was when you said that there was more, you know, a horse with more established ways of being that are not as helpful versus a colt, that is a clean slate. And the question for me here would be, are the established ways of being actually an extension of who he is, which goes back to this idea of his temperament? So when we’re looking at temperament versus training, you have to understand that those pieces of the temperament are going to keep peeking out at you even as you continue the training. So back to the weanlings coming in here. The lack of training gave them that wild-eyed look that made them all look like they were real nervous horses, just to say, like put a label on it. But then it became clear as that stress left that now I could see their temperaments and then you could see who was actually quiet and who wasn’t. So I’m editing my newest course that’s going to come out in May and it’s on collection and lead changes. And in one of the video clips I’m teaching Presto to move his haunches for the first time. And so I videotaped this a while back when it was happening in real-time with Presto. And it was really interesting to watch it when I was editing yesterday because on the video I’m standing back beside the stirrup and I press where your heel would be if you were mounted. And I’m bending his head slightly towards me to help get his haunches to move away. And it’s really interesting because when he moves, he moves, but he actually bumps me pretty good with his head. And it was interesting for me to watch me not correct him for that. And it’ll be interesting because it was big enough that I remember I was thinking, oh, well that–do I–do I stop to explain this on the video or do I let it go? How–like what’s going on here? Because it’s big enough that it’s really noticeable. But the way that I look at it is I was teaching him to move his haunches. I had him bent. I’m standing in close. I moved his haunches. His haunches were moving and he bumped into me with his head. And I choose not to correct it in that moment because in that moment, I was really interested in rewarding the hip movement. In that moment, I had to choose between rewarding the hip movement, the hip movement, or correcting him for bumping into me with his head. And I chose to reward the hip movement because this is day one of moving the hips. But I also already know Presto is pushy. I deal with it all the time, that is part of who he is, that is part of his makeup and his temperament. It looks like a training issue because when it shows up, it’s a training issue. Because when he bumps into me, he’s–in some of my early videos when he was a baby, bumping into me with his shoulder and me correcting it. And here we are years later and I’m teaching him this thing. Do not mistake. I recognized that he bumped me. He recognized that he bumped me. So in the middle of learning something new, we are both still collecting information. Now, if that had been a really green horse that I didn’t know, I would have not allowed it because I’m not going to let a horse in my space that I don’t trust to be in my space. So even though he’s a pushy horse, I know him well enough to know where my personal line is on any given day and under any amount of pressure. So we were at home. We were–it was low pressure, but I was teaching him something new. I was really in close. I forgave it and allowed it. If you want to look at it like that on that day. If I’m getting ready to go somewhere where the energy level is going to be up, then I’m going to make sure that–that his respecting my space is way up. Even that same day, like leading him back to the stall, correct him for it, leading him out to the pasture, correct him for it. He’s five years old. I have no doubt I will be correcting him for mistakes like this for the rest of his life in small ways because this is part of his temperament.

Stacy Westfall: So when you think about this older horse, some of the things that you’re seeing can be part of the temperament. I had three sons. They are all now grown and out of the house. It was so interesting watching them grow up. And they weren’t that different from those weanlings. They were so different even though they came through the same kind of a situation as much as you can humanly keep possible. So it is an interesting dance of this whole idea of temperament versus training. Untrained horses in general–if you just take those weenies coming off the trailer, they all looked reactive because that’s when we’re going to see flight, which tends to be the number one unless they get trapped or they’re crazy dominant ones. Like we tend to see flight as the number one choice instead of fight or freeze. So flight–untrained horses look reactive. When you start to uncover it, then you start getting trained horses. And as they’re trained, some of those harder ones still look reactive. Willow’s a great example of that. I’ve talked about it a lot on the podcast. There’s times when she looks very reactive and yet with the training, there are times she looks very quiet. That’s where the–the reactive side is, where you see her temperament peeking out. I think the next question helps add more depth to the answer that I just gave, so let’s go ahead and listen to the next question.

Caller 2: Hi, Stacy, my name is Eva and I have been listening to your podcast for a while now. I really enjoy it. It has helped me so much with my horse and it’s also very relaxing to listen to. My question for you is a little bit of a trail problem. And I’ll start off by saying I have a six-year-old thoroughbred. He’s off the track, and I brought him from California to Tennessee. In California, he was in a stall and did not have other horses around. Now in Tennessee, he is on full pasture board and he is with a herd. The problem I run into is he is very amped when he is not around the herd, if he cannot see them. He is hot and he’s a naturally–a hot horse but I run into quite a few issues when he cannot see the herd. He doesn’t want to listen. I have a really hard time being able to get him into a nice, relaxed gait. So if you have anything that could help me, that would be great. Thank you.

Stacy Westfall: Thanks for the question, Eva, and this is another great example of the idea that knowing the horse’s history is interesting and can be useful. And then on top of it, we need to deal with whatever we’re dealing with today. Just to emphasize this, I’m always doing both. I’m always collecting. I think of it like collecting breadcrumbs. So I’m always collecting the information that the horses give me each day. And I’ve got–it’s almost like in my mind, I’ve got one column that’s all this collected information. And then on the other side, I’ve got this other column that’s going on, like what’s going on today? Because in that way I can see patterns because I can look back over the history, in particular the history of the horse with me, because that way I’ve got this really clear vision of what that means versus somebody else’s opinion of, oh, he was acting such and such a way when he was at this horse show. If–if I see it and feel it and experience it, I know what that is on my scale. So it’s it’s good to have the past information. It’s good to to know it. And then when we take that horse and we look at it today, we also go, what am I dealing with today? So what it sounds like you’re dealing with today, you’ve got a pretty good handle on it. You understand that he’s naturally hot. You understand that when he leaves the herd, he’s very interested in getting back to them and that that’s coming off as that he doesn’t want to listen to you. And so one of the biggest things I would say is that I recommend groundwork in this situation. And then I also recommend looking at the horse in the way that it’s a retraining issue. And in an interesting way, it can also be a balance issue. So in different podcasts here and there, and it’s front of mind for me because, again, it’s showing up in this course that I’m doing. It is so interesting to me how straight lines are harder than turns. So when the horse is turning in a circle of some kind, let’s just say a 20-meter circle, let’s–so about a circle that’s about 70 feet big. So a horse that’s circling like that is typically going to move in a way that is going to be more balanced. So when they circle, when they turn, they tend to step up underneath their belly a little bit more with that inside hind. And that’s what creates that balance. And when that same horse goes in a straight line, and I’m totally picturing Presto here, in case you’re not clear, I remember being on Presto and it was like every time I would go straight, he felt like a drunk horse. He was. Because what happens is instead of him knowing how to carry himself and walk in a balanced way, he felt really wobbly. And as soon as I was saying that, I was thinking, how could I have you guys do this with your own body? Have you ever put a book on your head and walked? That’s the difference. So it’s like if you go just walk around your house. When I say balanced, you’re probably staying upright when you walk around your house. But now go get a hard-covered book and balance it on your head and walk around. You’re going to now notice that you probably aren’t as balanced in your walking as you thought you were. For me, because I’ve ridden a lot of horses that are very well balanced, I am very attuned to horses that aren’t well balanced. This goes back to that car analogy when I drove my friend’s car home from the airport and realized as soon as I got in after I dropped her off at the airport, as soon as I got in, I realized, oh, my gosh, her brakes are terrible. She didn’t realize it because she had driven the car with bad brakes. She didn’t realize she didn’t know what bad brakes felt like. So for me, when I say unbalanced, sometimes I think people think that that means it goes as far as tripping or stumbling or something. That’s a really big loss of balance. Well, loss of balance can just be that wobble that you feel when you go in a straight line. So as I listen to your question and I try to picture in my mind a thoroughbred off the track, and then you mentioned trail and we didn’t get into depth about like what part of the country you’re in and what those trails look like, but most trails are kind of a straight line of of sorts. And so when I picture it, I picture this horse that has some balance issues because when–and that’s a funny thing to think about with a racehorse, but racehorses practice a high rate of speed. So they they have a–they’re really good at balancing in that one, controlled area. Think about how smooth the racetrack is. Think about the number of factors that are all kind of controlled in a certain way that are all now different. When you go out, it’s a little bit like, oh, yes, I go out and I like I run on a smooth track versus I go out and I run up and down hills or there’s potholes or whatever. You can take a dancer who’s like really talented at dancing and and put them out into this bumpy terrain and it’s going to just be different when you say it’s different. But what’s interesting is when we say different, that can also make them insecure in their own body, which is a really interesting way to think about it. Because we take this horse and we go and take them…let’s just put a hill or uneven terrain out there. And–and they’re kind of insecure about their body and then they’re balancing you.

Stacy Westfall: So, you know that book on your head kind of thing, like, so now they’re–they’re balancing you, which changes their whole dynamic of how they use their own body because your weight is changing things and they’re already insecure about their body and they’re–and then on top of it, you said that your horse really wants to get back. So I’m going to put them in a little bit of that insecure category of the horse. And then on top of that, we’re going to say that maybe this horse doesn’t exactly know what’s going to be asked of the horse. A lot of times. And I don’t mean this in a bad way, although you could take it that way, but when a horse has been at a racetrack, they know what work is. They know that a lot can be asked of them, which is different than when you’re starting a horse from scratch and you lunge them 20 times and they’re like, oh, my goodness, that was the hardest day of my life. You take a horse from a racetrack, they know what a hard day is. And so there can be questions in their mind that are also can be taken as an insecurity of like, what’s going to be asked of me? And like how much? This could be a lot. And I really want to go back to my friends and I’m really secure there. I understand the rules there. I spend 23 hours a day there practicing the rules, and then I come out here and I’m not quite sure. So when we think about it, there are a lot of different factors that could be playing into what you’re seeing. One of the insecurities that you mentioned a little bit more directly was leaving the herd. And when I think about a horse that’s having issues with that, the the two words that popped into my mind are safety and direction, which are interestingly tied together. When I think about a horse that is insecure about leaving the herd in the way that you’ve described it, I think a lot of times they are getting a sense of safety from the herd dynamic. And typically in the herd dynamic, someone is giving directions. They know the horse knows that if something goes down, they kind of know the–we’ll call it the pecking order. They know the order of how things are going to fall. They know who’s going to step in, who’s going to step out. They know who to duck behind. They basically have this security of being in the herd. So to me, the majority of horses that I work with that have this insecurity, when they leave the herd, they are saying this, someone please tell me what to do. Someone tell me what to do. Ah, someone tell me what to do! They’re doing versions of I don’t know what to do with myself. I know I’m not fully equipped to make great decisions in this case. Somebody needs to tell me what to do. I need to get back to the herd where someone will tell me what to do. I know my role. When you look at it from this way, it becomes much easier to be both empathetic and clear with the directions that you give, let’s say, doing groundwork. Because when the horse escalates like that, they’re actually asking for direction. And a lot of times when people think that the horse needs comfort, then what they do is they do less of direction and the horse actually wants direction. And that’s why a lot of times when you watch videos of professional trainers making a really big change in a real nervous horse really quickly, a lot of times it’s just because the–the trainer starts giving clear directions. And the clear directions, walk left, stop, turn face, walk right inside, turn, continue walking. Walk now, stop now. Turn now, walk now. It doesn’t have to be at a crazy high level, but it does have to be clear. And the horses pick up on that, that clarity of not only the direction but the clarity of how the–the person is showing up, how my presence is showing up in this strong way. So you look at a horse like Gabby, Gabby never utters the sentence, “Someone tell me what to do.” That’s what makes her such a challenge to train is because she’s like, I’m the one that makes up the things that we do. So that’s why working with her is really interesting, because most horses do utter the phrase of some some version of tell me what to do. It made me think when I was taking these notes for this, it made me think of taking the DISC personality profile test, which is a human test and it’s DISC, and you can find lots of information on it on the websites in that whole thing. They break people down into these four categories and “D” would be the most direct and dominant. And what’s interesting about that is, first of all, Gabby would be a D, but in humans, this is one of the interesting things. In humans, the percentage of D is about three percent. And it’s really funny, and then you can turn around and you can start looking at the percentages and you can–you can–you can find all these different personality tests for humans. But what you can find across the board is they’ll change some different things. But what–some of the things that stay the same is, there are a small number of these truly deep temperaments. Even when you look at, say, six different personality profile tests that are completely different, you’ll still see that these percentages kind of skew like that, even if they have different labeling in different ways that they break it out. So even if we take horses, if I look at my career with horses, even if we go crazy and we say that like 10 percent of horses are D–this category like–like Gabby is. The odds are much better that you’re describing a horse that is looking for direction because all the other ones are looking for direction. They all are. Some of them are a little bit–they’re kind of just below that so they don’t feel quite as desperate for the direction. And then you can take the ones that are really insecure and they’re really desperate for direction. But this is one of the things that is interesting about the horses is that they understand this whole idea of like somebody is making decisions. So when we see these questions showing up, this is, again, what I was talking about when I said Presto is pushy. And that’s part of who he is. That’s also part of how we ask questions. It’s also part of how he interacts with Gabby. It’s part of how he shows up in the herd. It’s part of him everywhere. It’s part of his temperament. And so when you see it in the untrained version versus the trained version, you kind of look at it differently. When I listen to your question and you say that he’s naturally hot and when he can’t see the herd, he doesn’t want to listen. This to me probably has roots in both the lack of training and the temperament. So he probably needs more support in the training areas because that part where he doesn’t want to listen is actually–if he escalates his fear level higher than a level that you’re comfortable handling–so let’s just say that his–his concern, when he gets away from the herd, let’s say that that goes up to like an 8, an energy level of–of a plus 8. And that, when they get up to an energy level of plus 8, requires somebody who’s willing to go up to the energy level of plus 8 to be heard. Let’s look at it like inside of his brain. He’s got a stereo system playing and it’s just repeating that question over and over again, like, somebody tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do. Somebody tell me what to do. But that volume has been turned up to an 8. If you are whispering or talking–so let’s say that you’re talking at a 2 or 3 or a 5 or 6–can you hear how it would be hard for them to hear you if their brain is at a noisy level 8? Again, some of what you need to do is, it’s actually coming back to like the clarity of what you ask, combined with the situations you put the horse in. So this is why it’s always easier to work with the horse in an area where they’re less reactive and then work your way up to the more reactive places. So examples of this might be maybe he’s fine when you’re, you know, in the barn or maybe there’s an area that you work that’s not that far away from the herd. You can still see them. And so you can work them and you feel a level of distraction that sort of around a 4 or 5. And at a 4, let’s just say at a 4 or 5, a lot of people are like, oh, that’s not that bad. Well, then they go to the next area and that 4 or 5 jumps up to a 7 or an 8. And, you know, 10 is about as far as we can go, all of a sudden it’s like, OK, that’s a lot. You actually need to go back to that area where working the horse was more of like a 4 and a 5 and you need to make the horse more aware of your cues, your cues in a very clear way. Let’s–let’s put that with disengage the hip. So a cue like turn and face me, disengage the hip needs to be functioning at a very high level in the area where the horse is reading the–reading this as like a 4 or 5. Because when you go to the next area that’s say away from the–where he can’t see the herd and he wants to naturally wants to go up to that level 8 because you taught him to listen more detailed in the other area where it was only a 4 or 5, he’s actually going to hear you before he escalates all the way up there because he knows what to look for.

Stacy Westfall: That’s how the training starts to interact with the temperament to be able to support the horse in the way that they need. So let’s make this pretty actionable. If you listen to last week’s podcast, when I was talking about Presto and the paddleboat, basically what I was talking you through there with him when I said that I reached out there and nipped at him with that dressage whip, what I was doing was a baby version of a disengage the hip. And I’ve done much bigger, very clear versions of a true disengage your hip a lot over the years. So I was able to remind him to jump back into that mindset in that little way in this smaller, subtle, more baby version. But that baby version–here’s what tricks people, especially the way I’m phrasing it on purpose so that you can think about it like this. When I say I want to be able to nip at his hip and do the baby version of the disengage out there when the paddleboat is freaking him out. The baby version makes it sound like it’s an easier version. No, the bigger version of the full true disengage your hip–so I’m lunging you around me, you are–you are out on a lunge line. Let’s just say you’re–you’re let’s say you’re 15 feet away from me and you’re walking. And I, I dipped my body over the side like I’m going to lean over and look at your hip because the first thing I’m going to do is I’m going to give you some kind of a cue. So for me, that’s kind of like leaning over and looking at that hip, because that’s the first sign for my horses that I’m about to consider nipping at the hip. So I tip over like that and I nip at the hip and I and the reward comes when they–when they kind of let’s just put it into this–so they’re walking, they stop their front end and they swing their hind in a way so both eyes are looking straight at me. So they disengage. Now their spine is perfectly straight in line. All I see is the horse’s face because the rest of their body is kind of all perfectly in a straight line. I practice that a lot. And what’s really interesting is that if you practice this a lot, you’ll know when you’ve practiced it enough because when you go to send the horse out to lunge around you they’ll be shaped in that circle with their spine. Their spine will be bending in to look at you, not because you’re pulling on the rope, but because they’re watching your body, because they want to know if you’re going to tip over and and then nip at them and they’re watching you. This is so much like watching horses in the pasture with other horses. If you watch an interaction of your horse out there, say you put them back out and he goes running back out there, watch. There will be horses, they’re going to flick an ear. They’re going to lower a head. They’re going to take a step. They’re going to do these really subtle signs. And your horse is going to be watching for those really subtle signs. You should be able to see it with several of the different herd members. If you’re watching, it’s especially clear when you first introduce a new horse that that those horses want to keep watching. They want to look and see and watch if they’re the less dominant ones. It’s actually a fairly good ,it’s a good indication you have a higher, higher-up horse like Popcorn. When I would put him out into a new field, he would actually walk off and just kind of walk away and start grazing, which actually would show that he was more of like, yeah, I’m totally fine with not, you know, acknowledging all this. He–it looked like he didn’t want to cause trouble. But it was also really interesting because he was also saying, I’m fully equipped for whatever happens here. I’m not that–I’m not that interested. And so when you watch this horse out in the field, when you watch insecure horses, you’re watching them watch the other horses. So you want to get in your groundwork. It’s not about just sending the horse around you 20 times trotting. If they’re looking out and they’re not at all engaged with you. You want this horse to be looking at you. Well, the way that you’re going to–like in this example, the way that you’re going to get them to look at you is they’re going to go around and then you’re going to ask them to disengage that hip and then they’re going to go around, you’re going to ask them t disengage the hip. Well they’re going to start watching you to see those earlier signs. And that’s what’s going to make you interesting. And that’s why I like to phrase it like nipping at them, because that is what the other horses will do out in the field when they’re when they’re not getting the attention of the other horse. They will make themselves interesting. They will nip and move the other horses around and that’s how they communicate. So when you’re doing your groundwork, make sure that–you should see and you should be using techniques that keep bringing that horse back to you. So a very typical pattern would be like, so you turn and the horse is trotting around you. It’s looking to the outside, it’s thinking about whinnying, it is whinnying and you disengage the hip and it turns and it faces you and you have its attention for one second. And then it turns its head and it’s looking around and it–and it takes off before you ask it. And–and then you send the horse around you a few more times and then you–you turn and you disengage the hip again and you keep doing this. And what you’ll notice is that you’ll start to notice that you get the attention for two seconds and you get the attention for three seconds. Maybe you disengage, send it half, disengag, send it half, disengage, send it half, disengage, send it half. And then pretty soon they’re like, OK, that’s a lot. What’s going on here? I need to pay more attention. Like this–this is coming at me. And so that’s again, I’ve mentioned it before, the challenge of the horses that want to go up. And I’m–I’m just making this up because you weren’t that clear about how–how up your horse gets. But if you’ve got a horse that wants to go up to an 8, the challenge becomes that you need to be able to answer questions at that same speed, because that’s all they’re doing. They’re just throwing a lot of questions at you. So if you want to be able to use the baby version, which is really just the subtle version, is a much better phrasing of it. If you want the subtle version of something to work, like when I nipped at Presto’s hip out on the trail when I was leading him, if you want the subtle version to work, then the big, not so subtle version needs to be fully installed before you can cue the subtle version. I hope that helps everybody. Thank you for leaving your questions and for listening, and I’ll talk to you again 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.

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  1. Alean Williams on April 7, 2021 at 3:20 am

    Thank You so much for this! We have an A Bar Ranch bred QH that is 18 and is super talented in Ranch riding , dressage and trail. Unfortunately somewhere along the line someone used him as a gaming horse. He is therefore sour at shows when he goes to enter the ring. Hopefully this will help us restart him so he’s not so anxious.

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