Episode 136: Developing self awareness & independence when riding

How can you keep yourself safe and make good choices…when you know you are consciously incompetence? In this episode I explain how to develop self awareness while you are riding. Self awareness is key to be able to recognize the difference between fear vs danger. I also review the stages of competency, and the three teachers you have access to learn from, the importance of taking small steps when learning and identifying habit patterns that might be helpful…or not so helpful.


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. In today’s episode, I’m answering a listener question and I’m going to cover topics such as fear versus danger, the different stages of competency, and the three teachers that you will always have to learn from. Let’s go ahead and listen to the question.

Caller: Hi, Stacy, my name is Amy, and I so appreciate you and your podcast. You are wonderful. It’s really helped me. I listen to you each week as I drive an hour out to a horse sanctuary that I work at. I’m new to riding. I’ve been riding for about two years with a big break this fall after I took a couple spills last summer and my question is about recognizing the difference between fear versus danger when I’m in that consciously incompetent state of learning how to ride. Thinking about fear versus danger really helped me this spring as I got back into the saddle, just walking slowly on a lunge line inside of a round pen with the owner of the horse sanctuary on one of her horses. And now I’m walking around obstacles on my horse in an unenclosed arena and that’s good enough for me so far. And so thinking about fear versus danger really helped me when I was just getting back into the saddle and was terrified to even be there, even though I wanted to be. And now that I’m getting a little bit more independent, I’m wondering what your thoughts are about recognizing what my abilities are and what is safe when I know that there is a lot that I still don’t know. Thank you so much, Stacy.

Stacy Westfall: Thank you for your question, Amy. And you referenced several different podcasts here, so I’m going to do a real quick summary to bring everybody up to speed. So you referenced fear versus danger, which was an episode that I did where I discussed that sometimes you’ll feel fear and it might be pointing towards danger and there are other times that you’re feeling fear because of a thought that you’re thinking or a worry that you have, and it’s not necessarily pointing towards danger. So that was an early episode that I did that a lot of people found useful to distinguish the difference and I’m glad that one was useful for you. Then you also referenced another episode where I discussed the stages of competency and as a review for people who maybe haven’t listen to that episode or it’s been a while there are four stages of competency. And I first read about this when I was reading dressage today, and I’ll make sure that I link to that article so you can also read it. It’s a great article. And basically it talks about there being these different stages that you go through. And the first stage is unconscious incompetence. The summary of that is you don’t know that you don’t know. My favorite picture in my head of this is children. Children do things and they appear fearless because they’re unconsciously incompetent. They don’t know that they don’t know how gravity works. And so they go and they explore and they find out the second stage is conscious incompetence. So that’s the stage where you know that you don’t know and it bothers you. So in a horse example, maybe you originally started out as a child and you were unconsciously incompetent and then you fell off a horse. And that can happen at any age. I’m just reliving my childhood here for a minute. Then you reach the stage of conscious incompetence all of a sudden. You know that you don’t know and it bothers you. I remember reaching that stage and I remember being bothered by things I didn’t know, and that’s happened to me for the rest of my life. So I’m still doing that. So the third stage is conscious competence. In that stage, you know that you know how to do something and it takes a lot of effort still, though. So this is the stage where it’s like you’re finally getting better at something because you’ve been practicing and practicing and practicing and you know how to do it. But it takes a lot of effort. And the fourth stage is unconscious competence and that is like the expert. You know how to do something and it’s second nature. So it shifts because it no longer takes the amount of effort that the conscious competence takes. Most of us who drive cars have experienced this progression. If you’ve been driving for a while, you go from unconsciously incompetent, like children think it looks like a blast and super easy to do, and then I remember teaching my kids how to drive. And there is the stage where they get behind the wheel and they start operating it and they realize–they become consciously incompetent–they–they know that they don’t know enough and it bothers them. And then they become a little bit more consciously competent. That’s much more fun stage to drive around with them if you’re doing driver’s Ed. They know what to do, but it takes effort and focus. And then if they get older, they become the drivers that it’s a little more unconsciously competent. And I’m sure that you’ve seen some drivers where it’s scary, unconscious competence because then that tends to be the stage where people get a little bit more sloppy sometimes in the car driving. But now I’m going to leave that tangent. So basically, that’s a little summary of the four different levels that you go through when you’re learning. And it’s not a joke. I still go through these stages whenever I try anything new. So whether that’s in a different area or when I remember signing up to do my first traditional dressage shows, I felt all of those stages and rode through them.

Stacy Westfall: So in your question, Amy, it sounds like you are you labeled yourself as being consciously incompetent. And so that is an interesting thing because it basically says, you know that you don’t know and it bothers you. What I’m going to suggest is we’re going–I’m going to break down a bunch of different ideas and go over a lot of different things here. But I want you to make sure that you double-check where you are competent so that you make sure you’re looking for those. And then remember that to be consciously incompetent is more than just kind of having the awareness that you’ve got more to learn. It’s actually going to be a little bit more than that. It’s like, you know that you don’t know something in particular and it bothers you. So maybe you don’t know what to do if a horse spooks and it bothers you, you don’t know what to do if the horse won’t stop and that bothers you. So rather than lumping it into one, main, like I now know there are big problem-possible things, but this is going to come up a little bit more clearly as we go on to breaking things down into smaller things. So let me back up for just a minute and say that what you’re talking about here is the riders mind versus the rider’s body. And this is a really interesting thing that I want to plant as a seed for you to think about for the rest of this podcast. One thing I run into a lot of times with people when they’re learning and they’re–maybe they’re consciously incompetent, maybe they’re consciously competent, those are very, very common stages for me to be teaching people in. What is interesting is that I often find that people doubt their ability to learn beyond their ability to execute. I believe you can study and learn beyond your ability to execute. What I mean by that is that understanding something is often the step before executing it. Let me put it a different way. The rider’s mind can and in my opinion, should be progressing faster than the rider’s body. And I find a lot of times that people will hold themselves back mentally because their body hasn’t caught up. And when I find riders doing that–and I’m suspicious this could possibly be happening for you–the danger is that when somebody thinks my body isn’t quite ready–so, for example, I don’t know if I can canter on this horse. My body doesn’t feel balanced and ready. Let’s just accept that as a reality for today with your body. That doesn’t mean that your mind is needing to be restricted to more knowledge, because as you understand more knowledge, you will have knowledge as your body catches up. And then there’s moments where your body will make bigger leaps. But I often find people doubt their ability to learn beyond their ability to execute. And I find it much more freeing to study whatever I feel drawn to and learn in every area. So maybe you’re not sure about stopping your horse and you want to learn about stopping. Don’t limit yourself from learning about sliding stops. I’m not saying you’re going to go execute them. I’m saying don’t doubt your ability to learn beyond your ability to execute, because for me, what happens whenever I give myself that freedom is it allows me to have a lot of different ideas that are kind of stacking up. And sometimes what I experience is this beautiful thing where one domino gets tipped and all of those all lock together. But I so frequently find people that think I don’t know how to physically do X, Y, Z on my horse. So I don’t need to be studying it. And I’m going to unpack that a little bit more as we go further into this. But I say keep progressing the rider’s mind while you work on getting the body to catch up, and then you might be able to answer some of these questions that are coming up for you that feel a little bit like doubt or when things feel a little bit big.

Stacy Westfall: So I want to tell you this. You will always have access to these three teachers when you’re moving through your horse career. Number 1, you’re going to have access to yourself, number 2, you’re going to have access to horses in some form or another, and number 3, you’re going to have access to other people and their ideas. So when I think about it like this, I think you are responsible for being one of your own teachers, which is kind of a fascinating thing to stop and think about because I think sometimes we put ourselves either in the student role or in the teacher role, but you can totally teach yourself how to do something that you don’t know how to currently do. It’s true. Watch a child learn how to walk. They don’t try to perfect the learning before they walk, they get up and they try walking and they stay open-minded. And what’s interesting is they figure out walking without a great deal of, you know, perfectionism and–and study because they–they learn by experimenting. And what’s interesting is when I think about people learning and letting themselves be the teacher, you have to let yourself learn from yourself, which is a very open-minded thing. And what a lot of adults tend to do is be very self-critical while learning. And if you can remember how to go back to what people often call the learner’s mind, it’s this open mind being willing to make mistakes which is why an earlier episode of this podcast was called Make Mistakes in the Right Direction. And the reason for that is because if you have this open mind, this learner’s mind, then you are automatically the learner and the teacher because you’re going to figure out things that work. You’re going to start to see patterns of thinking and patterns of behavior. You’ll see it, you’ll learn things watching horses and you’ll learn things from watching other people ride horses. If you allow yourself that power that sometimes people withhold from themselves by labeling themselves not enough in some kind of a thing, I don’t know enough so, therefore, I’ll probably get it wrong. Open yourself up and allow yourself to make educated guesses while you’re watching people ride, for example, or while you’re watching horses interact. I’m not saying you’re going to be 100 percent accurate, but you will learn to see more and–and observe more. And the better those skills get, you will learn faster. So self-awareness is a superpower. And this is an interesting thought. I think one of the places where you’re open-minded as an adult, if you can learn how to be open-minded as an adult, then this is where being an adult learner can be more powerful than maybe being a child learner, because children are open to lots of experiences, but they don’t tend to have a lot of emotional control. Now, adults, if you can be open-minded and not be self-critical, just self-aware, then it’s super powerful because you won’t necessarily have the emotional ups and downs of the child learning. But you want the good things that they had, the open-mindedness that they had. It’s interesting because children are often unconsciously incompetent and they go boldly forward because they don’t see the danger. Now, as adults, we tend to see danger a little bit more. So we tend to be in that consciously incompetent or the consciously competent stage, and so what’s interesting there is being able to hold these two seemingly conflicting things. Like you can see possible dangers, you can see things you could fear and possible actual dangers, and you’re still going to make educated choices. And that’s something different than the boldness that a child might have when they’re unconsciously incompetent. So there’s a reason we don’t give little children that are unconsciously incompetent cars to drive because it’s a big vehicle that they could cause a lot of damage with. So we limit their damage because they don’t have that ability to see. But being able to hold those two ideas at the same time is a skill that you can totally practice and you already use in life. So it’s interesting to think how you can be that open-minded learner, but also look for where the–where you might be holding yourself back with some of the other things adults do, like self-criticism or judgment. And the reason I think this self-awareness is so important is because I find a lot of times that riders don’t want to listen to their fears because they’re afraid if they admit they have a fear of falling off, then they’re afraid that that’s going to get hold of them and then they’re never going to ride again. And it sounds like you went through a period where you were, like, really afraid after you had the–the skills that you did. And when I say that I encourage riders to listen to their fears is not to listen and let them become bigger and more irrational is to listen to them and say, OK, I understand you’re afraid of falling off. And then I actually want to know how you imagine that happening, because I want to help you find a solution for that. So this would be like if you were, you know, getting ready to drive a car and you’re like, I’m afraid it won’t stop. It’s like, well, let’s talk about how you stop a car. And then you’re like, well, I lost the brakes once. And then we discussed, like, how you can tell if the brakes work in this car. And so it’s like breaking it down. It’s not irrational if I turn it into a car, if I say like you’re afraid you won’t be able to stop the car it’s like, well, is that because you don’t know how to operate the car? Or is that because you think the car’s malfunctioning? You can see where when I turn it into a car, all of a sudden it becomes like, well, obviously, like–like I should be able to answer those questions.

Stacy Westfall: Now, what’s fascinating to me is if you turn it to a horse, sometimes people aren’t as comfortable making it that factual. So does–does your horse have brakes? Can you really stop? Do you know how to operate the brakes? Do you know how to tell if you’re losing the brakes in your car or losing the brakes in your horse? So it’s these abilities to listen to the fears and show them that those will show you what you need to study next. So if your fear is falling off because your horse takes off running and you don’t know how to stop it, we can come up with a solution for that. So this is why I’m like, don’t run away from your fears. Look at them so we can figure out a plan. And if you’re not 100 percent sure, like right now I often tell people to, like, dismount and scan your body for tension. So, like, right now you’re leaving this question. You’re like, I’m not sure where to go next. Well, my guess is you’ve probably thought about a couple other things to do next. And then you’ve probably guessed like second-guessed that thinking. Maybe you’re thinking about trotting, maybe you’re thinking about going over obstacles. When you thought about doing something else you then probably–like you’ve got this doubt, this question in your mind. I’m saying let’s look at it and it sounds like you also have people around you and we’re going to get to that in a minute. But what I’m saying, first of all, is remember that as gathering information, whether it’s from other people, whether it’s from horses, whether it’s from a podcast like this or a YouTube video I’m encouraging you to remember to keep checking in with yourself, with your body. That’s why I’ll often tell people to dismount and scan their body and figure out, like, are you carrying tension somewhere? Because a lot of times people won’t even know they’re tense until they dismount. And that means if you get on at the beginning and ride for 30 minutes and get off, you could have been riding for 20 minutes, not even knowing that you were blocking a lot of your feeling. Like get off after 10 minutes and just see what it feels like. If it feels exactly the same, get back on. You’re fine. If you get off and you’re like, oh, there’s a little bit of a sense of relief. What was I tense about? Was I shallow breathing? Was I not getting enough oxygen? Why were my shoulders tense? Like, what was I thinking? Oh, I just realized, like, I was afraid that the horse was going to react to that raincoat over there. Wow, that’s interesting. What am I afraid the horse would react to? Like, what do I think they would do? And do I have a plan for how to handle that if that happened? So a lot of times if you slow things down and then check in with yourself, keep checking in with yourself, answer these questions, discuss these things in your mind and find these answers, because the more you find answers to those things, like, oh, looks like I might be afraid this is going to happen, but wait a minute, I already have a plan in place for that. That’s a little bit like when you’re driving the car, like part of teaching people to drive a car is also teaching people to look around and be defensive drivers, basically paying attention to other drivers that might not be paying attention. So that goes a step beyond operating your own car. It’s having this open awareness. And I’m saying like you’re going to have this open awareness to the side of your brain that is–is basically trying to keep you safe. So, you know, at the end of the day, those fears might seem annoying, but sometimes when I double check with myself, my fear might be actually pointing towards a pattern that’s been happening that I haven’t slowed down to think about. So maybe my horse has been subtly giving me signs and maybe this fear creeps up in me. And I think, why would I have a fear of blah, blah, blah? And then I’m like, oh, wait a minute. Actually, now that I stop and think about that, there have been these tiny little signs pointing in that direction. Do I have a plan for this? Have I handled this? Should I go back and double-check this?

Stacy Westfall: So when I was preparing for this podcast, I wrote down the phrase self-awareness with compassion, and then I thought, oh, I’m going to Google that and see what happens. And I actually came across an article on self-compassion, and one of these paragraphs really jumped out at me because of the way that the author uses the phrases of–the phrasing flight, fight, or freeze because these are terms that we often associate with our horses. So I thought it would be interesting to include it here. So I’ll link to this in the show notes also if you want to look at it. But Chris Germer, clinical psychologist, he wrote he views self-compassion as an antidote to the habitual threat-based reactions of flight, fight, or freeze that people have when things go wrong. Instead of becoming self-critical, which is fight, or abandoning ourselves, which is flight, or getting stuck with “why me?” ruminations, which is freezing, self-compassion gently turns us towards self-care. That’s just an interesting way to look at us and the way that we could become self-critical, which is a fight mode, or we can abandon ourselves and that’s a flight mode, or we can get stuck with these “why me?” ruminations. And that’s a freezing kind of a mode. And the idea that just being compassionate with ourselves can turn us towards, you know, self-care. And to me, part of that is opening up and allowing ourselves to explore what we’re afraid of. It’s a really cool article, so I’ll link to that. But the short story of this, as you being your number one teacher, don’t underestimate what you can teach yourself if you allow self-awareness. So, Amy, in your case, go back and look at those spills that you took. And what’s fascinating about that is I can sit here, I can go back in my life and I can, like, replay the movie in my head of different time periods. And what’s fascinating about that is that I can actually take the knowledge I have now and rewind and watch that movie in my head from years ago. And I can often uncover things that I missed the first time around. One of my favorite examples of this is when I was in college, a very famous Hall of Fame rider came in to ride and I was a freshman and I was very aware that I didn’t know a lot of things and I was watching and his rein, like one rein, was much, much longer than the other. And he was riding around and giving this demonstration on a reining horse and his left rein, was really short and his right rein was really long and it just threw me. But I was also open-minded enough to be like, what am I missing? How is this happening? What what is going on here? But I think it’s amazing that I can sit here and I can remember that moment that happened decades ago and I can still uncover things that I missed from the first time around because I can take present me with all my knowledge back in time and reexamine that event if I’m not full of self-judgment or if I’m not blocked by a bunch of other emotions. I think that ability is crazy amazing. So you can go back whether it’s five minutes ago or five years ago. So I would suggest you go back and examine those spills that you took and say, were you pushing through something? Did you know something was coming? What made you make the decisions that you did? Would you make different decisions now? At what point would you make those different decisions now? And that would be a really interesting way for you to build some more awareness, because you’re, at the end of the day, going to be–one of the most important teachers in your life is going to be you.

Stacy Westfall: Now, another important teacher that you’re going to have in this horse journey are the horses. And I think this one is really interesting for people because the challenge of learning from the horse is the ability to read the horse. And when you’re learning to read the horse’s body language, I think it’s a lot like studying a foreign language. So if you’re studying a foreign language, it’s going to get easier with practice. And you’ll start to notice with practice that since you’re learning a new language, that your results of speaking that language are going to get better and more consistent as you get more fluent. So if you’re speaking the language and people are looking fuzzy at you like they don’t understand you, maybe your language skills aren’t good enough that people can understand you. So if you consistently keep having fuzzy results with your horses, maybe you need better language skills because the more you can speak the language, when you get more clear with the language, the language isn’t a barrier. So whenever you want to know how clear your language is, you can look at the results you’re getting with your horse. And obviously, if you buy a horse that’s got a lot of training, you’re taking lessons on horse that’s got a lot of training, that horse might be able to understand things a little bit more, even though you don’t get it right, because they understand multiple languages. So the horse is doing a little bit of interpreting and they’re helping you out. But you’ll start picking up that your language is getting better when even those horses start feeling more consistent because you’re getting more clear. Here’s the challenge. When people are learning and they’re learning to read the horse’s body language, what is a fascinating thing I see all the time is I see the challenge very clearly that horses–let’s just go–to simplify it let’s just say there’s a couple things horses do to us. They ask questions with their body and they make statements with their body. And so what’s interesting is that’s that’s kind of a lot to try to throw at somebody who’s learning. It’s like what? They’re–they’re going to the horse is going to be asking me questions? I’m the one that’s learning. But yes, the horse is going to be asking you questions and they’re going to be learning about you from your answers and they’ll learn about you even from your absent answers. That’s still going to be an answer. And the horses are going to make some statements. And so what we’re going to do if we want to learn is, is you’re going to start watching a lot more. You’re going to watch other people when they’re riding and training their horses. You’re going to watch the relationship that they have in the way that it works. And you’re going to watch so many of the nonverbal rules and you’re going to learn to trust what you see for patterns. And what’s interesting is that if you just assume that the horses are a little bit like a car and that if you do things right, then they’re going to do things right, then you’ll miss the fact that the horse is asking questions and making statements. And so when one of the ways one–one quick way to do that–a lot of times when horses are asking questions, they’ve got a curious look and they’re–at–or they’ve got maybe even a nervous look because it’s kind of a nervous question. When horses are making statement a lot of times it’s got a more bold feeling to it. It’s more statement-like and less questioning and less insecure and so those are the subtle things that as you watch people working with horses, those are the subtle things that that you can learn from watching. Like the YouTube video series that I did with Jac, where I’m explaining what I’m seeing is Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac. So it’s like you can listen to people and–and watch what you see and then line that up against a whole bunch of different people and then line it up against your own experience and watch what people are doing. What’s interesting is that people often hold themselves back. Like people like you, Amy, often will hold themselves back by assuming that they won’t be able to understand a higher level. Don’t do that to yourself. I recommend that you gallop ahead with your learning in your mind and–and you’re going to–like your–your hands-on experience might be limited by the rider’s body. And so you’re walking right now and that’s where you’re comfortable. That doesn’t need to be the limit of what you allow yourself to watch or study or learn, because there’s so much you can do with your mind to explore the interactions of horses with other horses, with other people, with training techniques and the more that you allow yourself to learn from that, from watching like the feedback the horses are giving to people, then you’re going to be offered a lot more learning opportunities that way. And don’t think, oh, well, this is a video series on colt starting and that’s way out of my range. If you do that to yourself, you’re going to miss some amazing video footage of body language between horse and rider. And that’s where I find people hold themselves back because they think, I’ve only been riding for a couple of years. I’m only walking. Why would I study that? Be bold, be brave, and study. Take the rider’s mind as far as you can, run with it and then come back into your body and do what your body is comfortable as it’s learning with its muscle memories. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. I mean, I’m super glad that you called this one in because what’s interesting is, even if it’s in your own mind, let’s say that you’re sitting there and you’re watching a trainer at a clinic and they’re training the horse, you could question things in your mind as they’re talking and they’re saying and they’re demonstrating. You don’t even have to say it out loud. You can just ask that question in your mind. I don’t know if what they’re saying lines up with what I’m seeing. I don’t know if I agree. I wonder how that’s going to turn out. I’m not sure if I would be comfortable doing that. I wonder what that horse is going to do when they do this. Because that conversation in your mind is going to actually help sharpen your skills of observations. And it’s always interesting to me when I’m teaching students and I can see and hear when they start trusting themselves more because they move out of a stage where they just blindly believe everything and they start questioning and they start giving feedback and they start being comfortable saying, you know, this is where I’m physically comfortable. This is what I understand. I don’t know if I see it like that. I kind of see it like this. Can you explain how you see it like that? And so when you feel that urge to ask some of those questions, even if it’s just in your mind at first, let yourself go there. Because to me, I think that’s a stage of learning to trust your thinking, which I love. I don’t want just blind followers. I want to teach people how to see and ask questions. I want people to be able to make their own decisions. Basically, I want to help empower you so you can make those decisions on your own. I don’t want to help you just figure out how to copy me. I want you to be an independent thinker. And what’s so cool about that is when you question me, you help me sharpen my thinking skills so it’s so much more fun.

Stacy Westfall: The first way that you have–the first teacher that you always have with you is yourself, the second teacher you have is any horse that you’re watching. It can be you interacting with it, it can be watching. And then that third one that I mentioned is other people. And so other people are going to offer you ideas. I’m currently one of those other people. I’m offering you my ideas, my thoughts after you left your question and what’s going to happen, that means I’m going to tell you how I view life and how I’m viewing this particular situation. So just keep in mind that when you ask a number of different people, people tend to be looking through their own lenses, their own views of life. And so that’s one of the reasons why it’s important for you to become empowered to make your own decisions because you’re going to have a particular view and the way that you–you want to act from and you want to be congruent with yourself. So it’s important to kind of understand this–this bigger picture of it because it just fits together better. So as you listen to other people like me right now offering my thoughts and my opinions make sure you keep listening to yourself, keep listening to your mind and especially listen to your body, you can always decide like, body, I know you think this is a little bit of a risk, but this is how we’re going to solve these different risks, and this is what my plan is, and–and I’m going to take a deep breath and this is how it’s going to go. You can still have those conversations just because you let some of the other things be felt in your body, but remember to trust yourself. Remember to get feedback from the horses and start observing the patterns and saying, like, are you seeing positive patterns in the horses that you’re working with? So it’s kind of an interesting way. You’re still going to be double-checking with yourself and with the horse and then when you’re listening to other people–if I was going to give you one piece of advice, and I’m saying it about my material also, is take smaller steps. So many people–and that can be the person learning or the teacher, but so many people are in a rush to get somewhere that they accidentally take big steps. So that could be me as the teacher. Maybe I’m trying to get across the point here on the podcast and I give you like three big bullet points. And maybe you take that as like three giant steps. Or maybe you’re out there and you’re watching a YouTube video and you’ve decided that you have five minutes and you’re going to look at this and somebody gives you like these–these three key things to do the next time you work with your horse. My big advice would be like, watch all these different things, but make sure you’re breaking things into little tiny steps because little tiny steps are way safer if you have to walk backwards down them. So if you have the choice to take three big steps to get somewhere if you fall backwards down one of those–let’s say it’s this is a–this is a big mountain and you chunk it into three. That’s a big up step and it’s a big downstep if you slip backwards. Now, you chunk it into one hundred now your steps, you’re getting a little bit, you know, hey, that’s a little more manageable than three. You chunk it into a thousand, you’re like, wow, that’s a lot of little tiny steps. But you know what? Super easy to take a little tiny step up and a little tiny step back down. And it’s just an interesting way to remember to go smaller and that can actually get you there a lot faster and it’s easier to–to talk with your brain about little tiny steps. So this is an interesting thing. It made me think about years ago I was riding around with a friend of mine and we were–we were actually joking about who was a little bit more of it, of a chicken. That’s what we were. I was like, I’m a bigger chicken. And he’s like, no, I’m a bigger chicken. So I’m going to for the rest of the podcast, I’m going to call this risk-averse. But that’s what we were actually saying this like many, many years ago, a college friend and I. And what was really funny was we were riding around and I was arguing that I was more risk-averse and he was arguing that he was more risk-averse. So we were both arguing that we were not risk-takers and we were trying to figure out who was the least risk-taker. And so he said that I couldn’t be more risk-averse because I’d done things like the Road to the Horse colt starting competition. And what’s funny is I said I did the competition and I’m still more risk-averse because I have so many steps before I get on a horse that even at Road to the Horse, when I had to cut it down to a super small time frame, I still did way more steps than you do at home when you get on a horse. So, for example, I did 100 steps and you only do like five before you get on a ride. So therefore I’m the more risk-averse because I put more steps in there. And so it was really interesting because the more little steps you add, it actually feels a lot safer often because you see the process more when you look in more detail. And it’s also a little bit easier to take that little step up. And then if you have to back down two or three steps, they’re little tiny steps down. And so you can see the whole process. I see this whole thing as I see that learning, especially when you look at the Internet or something. It is a big–there is this faster, faster, faster piece of culture, and so when you’re picking your next step–and I’m just making this up for you, Amy, because you didn’t really tell me any of your next ones–but I want you to make your next goal, and maybe that’s going to be something like trotting. And then when you say, well, my next step is–is probably going to be trotting and you’re going to feel how that is in your body and you’re going to ask yourself for all the problems you can possibly see because then you can write down all the solutions that you can also see and you’re in the middle of considering trotting and then it’s like, well, you know, I’m not sure if my steering will be there, my hands might be bouncing. What would happen if this? What would happen if this? Start answering it and see how many little steps you can put in. So maybe there’s trotting on a lunge line, maybe there’s trotting in a round pen. Maybe there’s trotting for different lengths of time. Maybe there’s learning how to ride 10 transitions where you go walk to trot to walk. That was one. Walk to trot to walk. That was two. And maybe you’re doing that on the lunge line and you’re learning how to control that forward and that back and the bounce and somebody got you on the lunge line so you’ve got the safety line and you can ask questions and–and you can all these different ways you can break something where somebody might be like, well, yeah, just trot. That’s what I’m calling a big step. I’m saying take something like trotting and break it into many little steps. Because the more you can add those little steps, the more your brain is going to have that ability to see the success and even offer you issues that you can then make into solutions.

Stacy Westfall: So when you kind of ask, like about safety–it’s an interesting dance that we do with safety. In an earlier podcast not that long ago, I was talking about, you know, the idea of like driving a car down to Columbus and how safe driving is or isn’t. There are dangers, inherent dangers in driving a car on the road and there are inherent dangers in handling and riding horses. And I think if you pay attention to it, like for the–for the driving the car example, I think if you pay attention to it, there are situations you can probably imagine when driving a car when you might have a level of fear that would make you change and make a different plan. You know, I don’t know if that’s–I don’t know where your fear level would be, but me driving in downtown, downtown L.A. in rush hour isn’t a thing I’m going to do. My plan is like I’m not going to go down there in rush hour. So that’s a it’s a version of like I’m looking at my concern and I’m making that kind of choice. But you can start realizing that you already do this kind of interaction with fear and safety in other areas. And probably if you look at that, what you’ll realize is that you have a certain level that you’re willing to interact with. And then there are other situations where you’d have to slow down and make different choices. So it’s kind of the same thing. So for me, I know that when I’m working with horses, I have different situations where, like, for example, when I’m starting colts I have–there’s–I’m more aware of the fear level there because there are more unknowns. And in that case, I know how to go backwards a few steps to do ground work, to do the most basic levels of exercises, how to get on and off and go for super short amounts of times, and how to double-check with my body and what that fear might be pointing towards. And so when I–when I–when my brain offers me something like you’re getting on a colt for the first time and you might not have the best steering, I can have a bunch of ways I could be like, well, let’s go drive–ground drive one more time and double-check that. And but even with all that, there’s a time when I get on when I ride and there’s that little bit of reality. But if I’ve checked it out, that’s when I’ve probably got I can find this intersection where my fear level’s not a 10 maybe it’s a 5 and I’m–but I’m willing, because of a lot of the other steps that I’ve taken, to take that little step up and then back down. And so this is how you make a plan for dancing with some of those fears and those unknowns. So again, you’ve always got those three different teachers that are available to you yourself, the horse, and other people and their opinions. The one thing that I would say in closing is that you want to look for habits and those can be your habits, can be your habits of thinking, which is in the rider’s mind, your habits with your body, which could be holding your breath, tensing your shoulders particular way that you use your hands or your legs, and then look for the habits that the horses have and look for problems and find solutions. The interesting thing is with the horses, again, I’m going to say that people treat them different than cars in that oftentimes, people expect the horse to make good choices, and I’m a little bit against that because I think it’s an unfair expectation in a lot of situations to just be like, well, I’m not really sure so I’m just going to let my horse make that choice. Because here’s the thing. Horses don’t necessarily–they don’t in the beginning–like I’ve told you guys about Presto when he was younger and he’s interacting with horses and then he interacts with me, he wanted to you do like a–exact ratio. Like, hey, I was just doing this with my buddy in the field, can I do this with you? And I had to teach him how to handle people, how to be around people. He doesn’t naturally assume that humans are more fragile. They–if he’s going to naturally assume anything, it’s going to be that I’m going to be more horse-like. And so there are challenges. There are responsibilities that the horse–they don’t understand that we’re more fragile. They don’t–they don’t logic out some of this stuff. So if you see problems coming and you’re like, well, I’ll just hope that my horse makes the right decision here, I’m a little bit against that because I think you need to understand. You need to be in this role where you have something to offer here, too, because horses don’t always make amazing choices and I think that’s an unfair expectation to put on them. But again, that’s just my thought. So what’s really interesting to me is that over the years, as I’ve been teaching people for many years now, I have had this reoccurring question. I finally answered it for myself, but I’ll go ahead and share it here with you. And here–here it is. As a teacher, I’ve often wondered, like, what do I do? Do I give this student the next step? Or do I explain the entire process to Amy and then give Amy the next step? So every time it’s like, do I give the student just the next step so I don’t overwhelm them? Or do I explain the entire process to the student and then give them the next step? And I went back and forth a lot of times for–for years doing this. And if you’ve been a podcast listener for very long now, I hope you can now identify what I’ve chosen to do. What I have chosen to do is repeatedly explain the big process and then the next step over and over again. That’s what I hope you hear. If you go back and you listen to past episodes and when you see different things that I’m doing because what is interesting is that I believe that when you can see the whole process, yep, it’s a lot to take in. But if you truly have this desire to go deep into this stuff that I want to show you the whole process and the next step, because if I do this over and over again, then you’re going to start to see how that step fits in to the whole process. But here’s what’s interesting. Remember, I started out saying that I think sometimes block–people block themselves from learning? It’s interesting and it’s absolutely true that not everyone wants to know the whole process. I run across people who don’t want to know the whole process, they just want to know the next step. And I’m not judging people for it. If you’re listening and you’re like, but I only want the next step. I totally understand why you’re doing that. There are a number of reasons why you could be doing this. It could be doing it because you feel overwhelmed if you have a whole bunch of information. Yes, overwhelm is a choice, it’s something you can choose. You can actually be excited about all the information or you can be overwhelmed by it. But there–but we also live in a society where it appears that we crave quick answers. I mean, I already told you I went to the Internet in the middle of, like, writing the notes for this. So it’s right there at our fingertips. It’s like super amazing. We can Google something, boom, have a bunch of answers. But at the same time, it makes it look like if we just know the next step, then we can just study the next step and then we get the next step then we can move to the next step after that. And that might work well if you’re building with Legos. Or maybe, I’ve never built a car, but that might work while building a car. But this is a dynamic relationship with the horse asking questions. And so I would love to do that for you if it was simple and it worked. But I actually think that oversimplification is misleading. And so for me, and if you listen to a lot of this podcast, the most amazing pieces of horsemanship is actually in the details. And so when we oversimplify things, even if we do it with the intention of keeping things simple for ourselves, I say take a step back, take off the pressure of owning it all, being able to ride it all. You can study lead changes without being able to ride them. You can study whatever you want without being able to execute it yet. And it’s so cool when you can open up your mind to understanding things, then you start to be able to see more things connect together. Then maybe you’ll have those moments that I do where the dominos connect and all of a sudden, instead of taking one at a time, you’ll all of a sudden get kind of three or four at a time because you’ve been studying with your mind, because you’re not afraid of the detail, because you know you can handle it. So if you’ve been listening to the podcast, you can totally tell I’ve decided to teach both the next step and the overview and then the next step and then the overview. And I go back and forth until my students can see the step and how it fits into the bigger picture. And if you want to do this in-depth even more than what you get out of the podcast, I actually have some openings in my group coaching program and my private coaching program for July. So if you want to step into something where you can actually be interacting with me, with live–with live video, and with video of you working your horses and video of other students working their horses, check it out on the website. The transformations have been amazing and you can learn more about that over at stacywestfall.com. Amy, I hope this was helpful to you and to everybody else who was listening. Thanks again for being here and I’ll talk to you 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:

How to Embrace “Incompetence” in Dressage (Stages of competence):https://dressagetoday.com/theory/how-to-embrace-incompetence-in-dressage

Be Kind to Yourself: The wisdom of self-compassion. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-cultures/201802/be-kind-yourself

Leave a Comment

Get the free printable guide

    Download now. Unsubscribe at anytime.