Episode 147: This is the awkward, uncomfortable part of the journey.

Increasing a riders awareness of the feelings or emotions that come up during the learning process is extremely beneficial. For most riders, learning to train their own horse means learning new skills and experiencing the feelings that often accompany that like; vulnerable, nervous, disappointed, frightened, uncertain and awkward.

In this podcast I explain the role of these uncomfortable emotions and how they can lead to other emotions like focused, determined, strong, excited…and confident.


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 this season of the podcast, I’m going to talk about some of the common challenges I see when teaching riders. Today, I’m going to be talking about confidence. I got to thinking about this after coaching several people yesterday and talking about the power of becoming open to different feelings of being uncomfortable. So here’s an exercise for you right now. I want you to think of three emotions or feelings that you dislike experiencing. I’m going to pause so you can think about it and then I’m going to share some of my own. Ok. Here are some of the emotions that are not my favorite. Vulnerable, nervous, disappointed, frightened, uncertain, awkward. It was interesting because I was teaching people and I kept using the example of awkward over and over again as one of the emotions that I don’t love feeling. And it was interesting to me when I walked away and went through life how my brain kept circling back to that feeling of awkward and what I had said about it not being my favorite. And it got me thinking back to when I was young. I was a very shy child, and so in school I felt really awkward. If the teacher called on me I felt really awkward. If you’ve ever been really awkward in those situations, you tend to make even more mistakes when you’re feeling really awkward, which then just kind of fuels that whole fire of like, see, I knew I was going to mess up. And then school assignments just felt awkward. Then when I even got older, I remember leaving for college. And I grew up in Maine and I was going to college in Ohio and leaving the state was new to me and going and living somewhere else. I felt really awkward. I had an accent and so my accent, people would really like question and some people would laugh at, and so I felt even more awkward. And then if we jump forward later on the first time that I was booked to speak at a horse expo, I was so nervous because I was just so afraid of feeling awkward. Then later on, when I was being interviewed by different people, whether it’s podcasts or magazines, such an opportunity for awkward. And then even you’ve heard me talk about starting this podcast again. Awkward. And it was really interesting because the process of sharing about the awkward got my brain thinking about it, and it was the coolest thing to realize how far I had come with this feeling of awkward and–and I think it’s–it’s come about in different ways. But stopping and pausing to reflect on it is–is why it kind of gave me a different perspective on it.

Stacy Westfall: I definitely have read a lot of different books on, you know, self-improvement and growth and that kind of stuff. And it’s a universal that people will say things like growth requires change. And we all kind of accept that, you know, when we say, stretching our comfort zone, that already implies that we’re going out of a comfort zone into an uncomfortable zone. And so change is very often uncomfortable. What is so interesting to me, as I was making these lists and talking and teaching it made me really realize how much I’ve been able to shift my view on some of these emotions. Because in the pursuit of the dreams that I had of, you know, working with horses and having a career in horses, and then all the different, more nuanced dreams that I’ve pursued, even some of my more recent ones, I mean, even if you go back to the bridleless one that a lot of people found me for or if you’ve watched me trying out like a new discipline like dressage, so interesting how often I walk straight into things that are going to make me feel vulnerable, nervous, set me up to feel the opportunity for disappointment, frightened, uncertain, and awkward. And the reason I sign up for these quicker and quicker is because I can see how they have paved the way to where I am now. So what I want you to think about is I want you to think about making your own list. I challenge people often to make a list of 10. If you want to start with a list of three, five, great way to do it is to just open up some kind of note in your phone. And just when you run into those moments when you’re thinking, I’m feeling a little awkward, write down that word as you go through your next week or two and find out some of these ones that you run into, or you might find them because you notice you’re avoiding doing something. Now, the reason it’s so important for you to make your own list is because everyone’s list of these words is different. So my son, when he was a senior in high school, he was in the school talent show doing a basically kind of a comedy act with a friend. And it was totally based around awkwardness. It was one of those comedy acts that like was funny because they were embracing the awkwardness of the routine that they were doing. So in my guess, I would guess if I were not to ask him, which I didn’t, if I were going to guess I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t think that awkward would make his top 10 list. So although awkward, makes my top 10 list you if you pull up just a Google search on a list of emotions or feelings look for those words that really kind of trigger you and you’ll know if you’re like, Ooh, that is one I would not want to feel, because everyone is different. And what’s interesting is that if you find these different emotions that you really dislike, there’s a couple of things you can do. You can–you can do what I just experienced, and you can look back and see if maybe your view of a word, like mine with awkward, maybe you see now how it helped you out, even though it’s still not your favorite. Or maybe you’re going to find a place where it’s really still kind of getting in the way of your dreams. It’s still kind of like maybe having you not pursue something that you want because you’re afraid of feeling awkward. If I had avoided awkward, I wouldn’t be recording this podcast. Now, I think it’s really interesting, because when you’re looking at those lists of words, you will probably find some that feel they’re not like quite as triggering as the way that I’m describing awkward. But there are other emotions that when I look at the lists of emotions, I’m like, You know, these aren’t like my favorite, but I totally see how they’re useful, meaning like feelings like focused, responsible, determined. Those are emotions that to me, they don’t feel warm and fuzzy. A lot of times when I use the word responsible, it’s because I’m kind of like, not exactly wanted to do something, but I know I’m responsible, so I need to go do it. So it doesn’t have it doesn’t feel as icky to me or uncomfortable as awkward, but it doesn’t feel bubbly and joyful and happy. It feels responsible. And so it’s interesting to do this work to find out what these different words mean to you.

Stacy Westfall: I have had the privilege of coaching people on video for the last few years, and especially in the last year and most recently, I’ve been watching a lot of video from people in my collection and lead change course. And it’s really interesting to watch the different things come up and to talk to them on Zoom calls and hear their questions and hear the different versions of self-doubt and other feelings, but also to see their determination and their focus, and then to help explain to them that it’s not just them on this journey. The majority of them are teaching horses to change leads and to be collected and to prepare and to do these different things because they have higher-level goals. But they’re training their own horses themselves, so the horses don’t already know how to do something like a lead change. So when someone is in the course and they’re first working on, you know, teaching the horse to do stage one, teaching the horse to do stage two, teaching the horse to do you stage three. As they’re doing that, it is important for me to explain to them that, yes, it’s going to feel awkward to you. Interesting. It’s going to feel awkward to your horse. And then when you submit the video so that you can get feedback from me, don’t be surprised if you run into that feeling of being nervous. And then when you look a little bit deeper, you might feel vulnerable because it’s kind of sometimes people think it’s frightening. They–they feel a little bit afraid of what I might say to them. And so you can feel how some of these things, like uncertain, would enter into the picture. It is so fun for me to watch people overcome those feelings, submit a video, and get the feedback. Go back to work and embrace the idea that they are headed in the direction that is going to help them reach their dreams and then to see them very excited because a lot of times they’ll jump from, you know, some of these like, they’re nervous and they’re uncertain, and they’re feeling kind of awkward doing these, but they’re determined and they’re working. And then all of a sudden, it just recently it’s in my head like, you know, somebody sent me a video and they got their very first lead change ever, and it’s very common for them to be like, woo hoo. Like, there’s a lot of cheering even on the videos, like people are cheering on the videos right after they get it because they’re really excited. So it is just interesting to me to watch the process and to be able to encourage people, which is the point of this podcast, to be able to embrace that. It’s not always confident when you’re in the middle of doing this. Some of the emotions I really enjoy–let’s go there before I wrap that back in some of the emotions I really enjoy feeling–I enjoy feeling curious. I enjoy feeling open. I enjoy direct, clear, strong, confident. Those are emotions I enjoy experiencing. So when someone goes to teach their horse to change leads and maybe they’ve got a shared list with–with me and they enjoy feeling strong and confident and–and curious when the horse asks certain questions and volunteers certain answers and things aren’t going the way that you thought they would, because realistically, you’re on a path you’ve never been on before. So you’re trying some new things and you might even be making a few mistakes, and the horse might be asking some complicated questions. And maybe your timing’s not right. It is not uncommon to experience emotions that are not on that list. Emotions that are on the list that I did before. Disappointed, uncertain. So these uncomfortable emotions often come along for the ride as you’re going for those bigger goals. And very often when I start asking people this question. Wouldn’t you–maybe I should have started the podcast with this–wouldn’t you be more excited to make a list of the emotions that you love feeling? Pause for just a moment and come up with three right now. What are some of your favorite emotions? A lot of times people answer with happy, energetic, excited, hopeful, sometimes peaceful. But it’s so interesting to think about how those are the end result, a lot of times, of walking through those other emotions that just are a little more uncomfortable.

Stacy Westfall: Here’s an image for your mind as you’re trying to remember this as you go about your day. The next time you go out to train your horse and you’re working on something that’s been a bit of a challenge and you might be feeling a little bit uncomfortable, maybe you’re feeling a little bit awkward–I remember in one of the videos that I shared inside of my group coaching, I’m actually like lunging a mini and I’m using the rope that came with the mini. And at one point I go to change things around in my hands and I actually drop the rope. I drop everything on the ground, so I drop the rope on the ground. There’s no hand on the lead rope. The mini is basically free and I quickly reach down to scoop it up. And it’s so interesting because when I was editing I could have cut that out. I could have not shown anybody that. I don’t even have to be telling you about it right now. But I left it in because I had caught it on video. It had really happened, and so many times people tell me how awkward they feel when they’re handling the tools. So I left it in and all kinds of different people saw this video. I sent it out and all kinds of different forms and people saw this video and not once did someone say anything to me about it. And then I started bringing it up when people were saying, Oh my gosh, I just felt so awkward and I was doing this. Look at how clumsy I am when I’m handling this. And a lot of times that’s followed by something like, I’m never going to get it. Look at this. I’m just no good with this. I’m just terrible at handling the rope. I just can’t do this. And it’s so interesting if that person that I’m coaching has seen that video And I say, hey, do you remember when I was lunging that little mini that was mostly white? Do you remember when I dropped the rope? And they’re like, I kind of now that you mention it. And it’s like when you saw me drop the rope, did you instantly say, oh, Stacy’s never going to make it? She definitely can’t do that. I don’t know why she’s even handling that mini right now. Look at that. She completely dropped the rope on the ground. No, what people do is they like, totally give me the grace of like, oh, well, it happens. She’s human. Something happened. It’s fine. Look at it. She corrected it pretty quickly. That’s exactly what I see happening in their video when I’m watching and they say how awkward they felt or how clumsy they felt. Yet that’s not what I’m seeing, I’m just seeing a normal human moment happen in learning. And what I want you to think about is I want you to have this image in your mind the next time you run into one of those moments I want you to think about that uncomfortable emotion that you just experienced. Let’s say you felt clumsy when you’re handling that rope, and I want you to think that you just earned a token. And it’s like play money, it’s like it’s some kind of currency and you earned this little token because you felt that way and you kept on going. You picked the rope up off the ground and you kept on lunging the horse and you tried again and again and again. And every time you feel that feeling of clumsy or awkward or uncomfortable or whatever and you keep going and you get done and you think, check that mark on the list. I did that lesson. I want you to think that you’re collecting this currency and once you’ve collected enough of these moments then I want you to know that when you get to exchange them for something else, that’s when you get to take those moments and you get to exchange those tokens that you collected. Mine have awkward on them, among other things. You get to take those moments and you get to exchange them for something like strength. Because when I was thinking about changing these in, maybe I want to change them in for confidence. But you know, the first thing I’d change mine in for is strength because I learned that I was more resilient than I thought I was when I kept taking action, even though I felt awkward. And so I exchange them for strength. And then as I keep doing this, I take those moments of strength. I remember that I felt like I felt weak and then I felt strong, and I keep doing the exercise. And then when I collect enough of those different emotions, it’s different for everybody, that’s when I realized that I changed those in for confidence. And then what’s really interesting is that the more you practice doing this, viewing these as not things to be like used against you, like, oh, look right there. I was so clumsy and I dropped that rope, I’m never going to be. When you can turn those into like, yep, I’m human, I’m learning, and it happened, and look, I picked it up and I kept on going. That’s when you can get the progress that you want. That’s when you can open the doors to your dreams. So when you’re pursuing your dreams with horses or really anywhere in life, a big thing to look at is what emotions might you be avoiding as you’re learning something new? Are you setting yourself up for failure because you’re judging the success of your day on whether or not you feel confident in the middle of it? I feel awkward all the time in the middle of it, and it still pays off because I collect those little tokens along the way in the middle of feeling awkward. I learned how to handle the rope better. I learn what I’m not going to do next time. I learn what I might need to try next time and the next time I make a mistake, I don’t make it mean I’m never going to get there. I make it mean I collected another token and I’m on my way. This is what I want for you. I hope this helped you to see your uncomfortable moments in a different light. Thanks 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.

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  1. Karen Randa on September 16, 2021 at 2:47 pm

    I have different feelings about my 2 horses. The one that has had more training from a trainer I have a harder time canter and she tripes. She has kicked out on me a couple of times. I just took her to a Wichita Police Foundation Desensitizing & Confidence Building Clinic. Ramps, Guns, Police Car with all sounds, smoke, and fire. You name it it was there. The hardest thing was me getting her to go over the teeter tooter was the hardest thing but we finally got it. I get back cantering 3 days later in a field and she wants to go super fast trying to put her head up high. I made her go in a small circle to help me. The other horse only had 45 days of training and I good canter on her feeling much better, even though sometimes she wants to raise that head. But have a hard time riding her new at new places. First one is 6 and 2nd one is 7.

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