Episode 149- Three traits I see in riders that reach their goals

ALL riders I’ve talked with experience dissatisfaction…the interesting thing is that some keep going and some do not.
I see people give up…and I see people who overcome.
What is the difference?
I discuss three traits I’ve noticed in riders who consistantly reach their goals. I explain the tipping point that I see and how how you can identify these patterns in other areas of your life also.


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 talking about three traits that I see in riders who reach their goals. It is September, and the end of the year for me is getting closer. What I mean by that is that the show season and the riding season, which for me is determined somewhat by the weather, really shift after October. So the kind of end of my goal-oriented riding year is actually closer than the end of the calendar year. And one thing that I observe when this part of the year happens is that I notice in myself and in others this kind of end-of-the-year push. And for some of us, that means show goals and for other people, it means getting in the riding they want to accomplish before the weather changes and the footing becomes a challenge. The thing that both of these have in common is that they feel like the peak of the season, and I observe a different energy in that than the energy that comes with the beginning of the season or the middle of the season. And when I was watching some different people that I was coaching and my husband was coaching, it had me reflecting on what I’ve noticed over the years in watching people. And the first working title for this podcast that I had was, “The Slightly Dissatisfied Rider.” But as I started listing all the ways that riders often feel dissatisfied, I realized that the interesting thing is that all of the riders that I’ve talked with have experienced dissatisfaction. So the thing that’s interesting isn’t the dissatisfaction, it’s the idea that some people keep going and they achieve their goals and some people do not. Now that got me thinking about what is the tipping point? Because I see people who face challenges with their horses. like maybe it’s a training issue, or maybe it’s a challenging temperament. My notes on this say that could be the person or the horse, but either which way I see people who give up and–and when I say that I’m not saying it as a judgment from me, I’m saying that they’re verbally saying, I’m just not going to do it. I’m just not good enough. It’s different than I’ve changed my mind, I want to go this direction. So when I say I see people giving up, it’s them saying that they’re choosing not to, but they wish they could, versions of that. And then I also have the pleasure of seeing people who face challenges and then overcome. And what I want to explore in this podcast is what is the difference? And I’m going to try to put it into words and actions as best I can so that you can really make it something measurable so that you can identify any of these in yourself and–and kind of use it as a measuring tool.

Stacy Westfall: So I decided to write down three traits that I’ve noticed in riders who do reach their goals. Number one, they have a pretty good handle on the big picture and where they are now. So what that means to me is I’ll see riders that have a long term goal that might be within one riding season, that might be within several years, but they have a big picture idea of where they’re headed, even though they don’t have an exact map of how to get there. And they do know where they’re at right now, and they do that a lot of times through lessons and instruction. And that’s how I end up seeing a lot of them because they’re coming for coaching from either myself or my husband. And so I noticed that these people tend to have a big picture and an accurate view of where they are now that they were able to get by getting assessed by somebody else. Number two, they have something like determination. If they don’t verbalize it in determination, it’s something very similar. They have a really big reason why they’re doing it and that is strong enough to see them through the challenging times. And then number three is the tiny little steps, the details. They all learn to have an appreciation of the tiny little steps, the details.

Stacy Westfall: Now I’m going to go through those three again and also talk about kind of how I see them when they’re not quite there. So when people are–when I–when I talk about the big picture and where they are now–so sometimes I see people that are only focused on where they are right now. So they’re not really putting that into the context of where they’re headed to. Maybe it’s something super general like, better with my horsemanship, but there’s no measurable future goal. It’s just focused on like, what is right now? Now what’s interesting about this is it seems like that would be really useful, but without that big picture side of it, when it’s just the focus on where they are right now, it tends to if I–and I’ve had the ability to watch people for decades–and what happens in general with these people is that they have a really vague outcome. Because another way to phrase it is they don’t have a clear direction because that’s a lot of times what the bigger picture gives you. Then the flip side of this one is that sometimes I see people who have like a big picture, but they don’t have an accurate assessment of where they are right now. So they have like these huge dreams, but they’re not looking, they’re not slowing down and asking questions about whether or not they’re where they are now in relation to that. And what happens is, very interestingly, they end up with a vague outcome also. So that’s why I put these together. There is a balancing act with like this big picture thinking and where you are now and going back and forth between those two. With number two, or determination or feeling of something like that, that’s similar to that, if I see people that say they want to reach a certain goal with their horse, if they’re not real confident in why they want that, if they don’t have a real solid belief about what that journey could look like and–and what they’re going to do when it is awkward or uncomfortable, then what happens is that a lot of times these people will change paths. So they’ll head down one path and then when things get tough, they’ll change paths. And then that path will look like it’s working for a little while and then when it gets tough, they’ll change paths. Now I want to be careful here because this is where it’s such an inside job for you to do the work to understand this because changing paths could be part of your journey or it could lead you to set smaller and smaller goals, which could limit you reaching your full potential. But this is something that is so personal to each individual that you need to be onto yourself about whether you are changing paths because things got tough. And if you go back to Episode 147 that I titled, This Is the Awkward, Uncomfortable Part of the Journey, there are going to be awkward, uncomfortable parts of the journey, and you need a plan for how you’re going to negotiate those moments when things get tough, or you can change your path. Just be careful, because if you just keep changing it to try to get that better feeling, a lot of times you’ll end up looking back and being like, oh, I just kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller goals. And again, you’re the one that has to measure if you’re on the path and whether that’s a smaller goal or a bigger goal. And I think you’re going to understand that small/big kind of comparison thing when I get to number three in a minute. Because number three, this is actually the one where I listed it as the tiny little steps or the details. To me, the interesting thing is, if you said that I only was able to have one of these, if I could only pick one thing, it would be this one because I think the first two I just talked about, the big picture and where you are now and the determination or something similar to that, I think those are our key. But I also think that people, you’ll see people in those too.

Stacy Westfall: To me, the tipping point is this third one. It’s this fascination with the tiny little steps, because here are two choices here with the tiny little steps, all the details is fascination or frustration. Because I see a lot of people who get really frustrated with all the tiny little steps because a lot of times it’ll sound like this: I just want to know this one thing. But so often, as someone who teaches a lot of these skills that one thing that the person is listing–let’s just say load the horse on a trailer or, you know, get my horse to slow down cantering on the trail, I just want to know this one thing–often you need to learn 10 little things to get better at that one. And so this to me, if I had one thing to pick, this would be what I would measure on because sometimes people will–they’ll be frustrated that there are so many layers to it. But really, if you can learn to get fascinated by all the details, this is how I–I can see people who really make it, as in, they achieve their goals. They’re consistently, you know, they’re–they’re setting goals, they’re achieving them, they’re setting new ones. They’re absolutely having moments of frustration, they’re totally still feeling awkward, and all those other things that I talked about in that other podcast. But when they see that there is more and more to learn, there is a level of fascination inside of that. I got thinking about this yesterday because the equine massage therapist was here and we were talking as she was working on the horses. And I said, I think it’s so interesting that when I’m riding that I feel more and more detail, even though I’ve been doing this for a very long time and I’m a professional. So I’ve been doing it professionally for decades and I thought it was interesting because she was kind of saying the same thing that, you know, she’s massaging horses, and there’s just a level of detail that you can experience greater as you’ve done more. So the more you learn, the more you can see and feel, and then the more you can learn and it keeps snowballing. But sometimes when people are focused on just the bigger steps and they don’t have this fascination with the tiny little steps, then a lot of the detail of the next layer and then the next layer and then the next layer, those are kind of hidden. And I’ve tried describing this because to me, this comes across as a feeling a lot of times. But I’ve tried describing it and having conversations with especially long, long term customers who I’ve been coaching for a long time because one of the ways that–that we can get laughing about it is that I’ll be coaching someone and they’ve been working and working and working and working, and they finally achieve the–this thing that they’ve been working on, and they’re so happy to finally achieve it, and then it’s kind of like climbing a mountain and it’s like, they’re like, I’m at the peak of the mountain. And then I’ll say like, OK, this is actually like base camp. And then the clouds kind of, you know, blow away for a moment, and all of a sudden you can see how much more of the mountain there is to climb. And so it’s a very interesting moment as a coach because I can see how hard they work to get there, how much time they’ve put in, how much dedication they’ve put in, that they have achieved it and it should be celebrated, and that it is a level of base camp. And keep in mind, each of these mountains is individual and each of these plateaus or spots that you stop to rest and celebrate are also individual so I’m not comparing this person to person. But what I’m saying is that a lot of times if you want to keep on learning, it’s got a little bit of a feeling of like climbing that mountain, arriving, and then looking up and seeing there’s more. And I think that’s why, depending on the analogy that you use, sometimes people are like, this feels like it’s all uphill. And I just used an analogy that makes it sound like it’s all uphill. So that’s why a lot of times you’ll hear me saying that it’s like adding layers and adding details. But I will tell you this, that when I use the analogy or the thought of like this is like adding more layers or adding details, then there are moments for me that it also feels like taking everything apart and completely rebuilding it. And I think that that’s where maybe if you’re like me and you like the idea of adding layers and layers that can make it seem safer or maybe less dramatic than the mountain climbing idea. But when I say that, you know, it kind of reminds me of–have you ever seen–every once in a while when I’m flipping through channels or something, I’ll see some of the great artists and there there’s all this artwork in these really ancient churches, and they’ll be doing these detailed cleanings of these amazing paintings and they’ll uncover different things. They’ll uncover the original colors, they’ll uncover, you know, paintings under paintings and different settings, all these different things. So somebody was adding layers over the years and adding detail or covering up detail. And then these people are going in and as part of restoration, they’re–they’re trying to figure out what to take apart, what to–what to do, how to get this back in the best shape. And to me, that’s like scratching the surface of what I’m talking about because to me, there’s also for–for me, riding horses, it’s like this complete rebuild at times. And if I tell people that this is going to be like mountain climbing and you’re going to get to this base and you’re going to, you know, relax there for a little while and celebrate and then you’re going to look up and there’s more mountain there, like, do I do that forever? Well, obviously it’s a choice for how long you go with it. But it’s interesting because then in my–my world, I’m looking at it as a–as a rebuild and I do this and you’ve been watching me do this.

Stacy Westfall: If you’ve been watching or listening to the podcast or videos or whatever for a while is that I’ll take things and tear them completely apart. And like me taking up dressage definitely had and still has an element to taking everything apart and rebuilding it. And that is taking me apart and rebuilding, going way back to the basics. And when I say way back to the basics, it means that I’m in a Hall of Fame, in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, and I’m asking questions about the tack. Like show me how to put the saddle on. Does the saddle fit? Will you double-check my equipment? What length–what length dressage girth do you use? Because I notice some or people are using longer ones and some people are using shorter ones. And I have an opinion in my western saddle, but I’m open to hearing the opinions that you guys have in this. It’s going all the way back to, is my tack fitted correctly? Can somebody else give me their opinion? Are my clothes fitted correctly? And it goes all the way back to making a ton of mistakes. Mistakes that aren’t mistakes in my world of reining like walking out of the…even–I moved in–slowing down, walking out of the arena, walking out of riding a Western dressage test or traditional dressage test, actually, and–and them saying they want to check the bit and me taking the bridle off and them all panicking. Because in that world, you don’t take the bridle off, you keep the bridle on and they check the bit in the horse’s mouth. But in my world, we take the whole bridle off in the reining world. And so it’s being in public and making those mistakes. It’s–it’s making mistake after mistake. It’s how having them ring the bell because I made a mistake, and then as I stop and I turn and then I lope over to ask the judge what to do next, and then I’m in trouble for loping because you’re not supposed to lope after they ring the bell to find out what you’re doing. So it is like stacking mistake after mistake after mistake. And understanding what I talked about in Episode 145 about confidence and 147 about being awkward and uncomfortable. And I think it’s just really interesting when–when I think about it because I love to go through my life figuring out the–the life theories that I see working in the horse world, that I also see working outside of the horse world.

Stacy Westfall: So I like to look around my own life and see other places where I’m practicing these same skills and the rebuild example to me perfectly fits another one of my goals that I had for 2021, which was one that I don’t think I’ve talked about too much on the podcast because it’s not super directly related to horses, but basically a friend challenged me at the beginning of the year. I was talking to her about running a 5K and she said, Why don’t you run a 10k this year? And I was like, What? That’s crazy. Like, like, I’m not even a runner and you want me to run a 10k? What? And so it’s interesting to stop and look at some other pieces of my life outside of the horse world and see what I can learn from each place. Can I learn something from the horse world and bring it to another part of my life, which I definitely did when I was working for this goal? And then also like, what am I learning when I’m running and I’m doing this running goal? How is that going to help me with my riding? How can I get this to criss-cross back and forth across life? Because it’s just really interesting. Super short story, like growing up, not really into running, somewhere in around, I don’t know, maybe around 2000, you know, 2000 or something like that. Somewhere around there downloaded the couch to 5K app, dabbled in running on and off in 2018. I got more serious about it because I really wanted to improve my fitness for riding. And then in 2018, I ran three different 5ks and thought, wow, this is like the peak of my running career. And then in 2019, I didn’t run any 5ks. I still did some running around home, but I didn’t actually go do any 5ks, don’t really have any records from that year much. And then 2020, I was doing some and I ran one virtual race and, you know, I was just kind of–kind of there. And so if you look at that and I–and I want to compare that to riding horses, it would be like I got into horses, I was going along, I was learning, I got more serious in 2018 and ran three 5ks. We could–we could translate that into, you know, I hit three different goals in riding horses and then really kind of backed off. And why did I back off? Well, if I look at it as running, I backed off because I–I kind of had achieved the goal of running the 5ks and–and didn’t really have another goal. And that’s as simple as it is. And I think sometimes I find people who got into horses, did some stuff, and then they just kind of do the same thing I did with the running where it just kind of is like, I don’t know, I don’t want to just rinse and repeat and do the same thing, but I don’t really know what else to do, but I’m kind of happy, satisfied it’s working. This is where I think those three traits I was just talking about, the big picture and where you are now, that–that determination, that feeling of determination or something like that, like why would you even want to do it? Maybe it’s not a thing if you don’t actually want to do it or–and then what the tiny little steps are. Because to me, the big picture was, I had originally started running for fitness, for riding. I mean, fitness for life, but isn’t life riding, so kind of the same thing? So fitness for riding and–and by taking it up, it made me immediately evaluate where I was at and up and through running the 5ks, I was determined that I was going to be able to complete this five–couch to 5k app and do this and it was kind of cool. And then I just got to this base camp and I just kind of set up a permanent camp in that base camp where I’d kind of do it and kind of not. And it wasn’t until the friend was like, you know, you could do a 10k. And I was like, no, that’s crazy. But it wasn’t until I had a new big picture and then I reevaluated against that that I could then decide whether or not I really wanted to, which is then where that “want to” is going to have to connect with that determination, that “why” is going to have to connect there. And then I could start to look at the little tiny steps. That’s why I’m saying these little tiny steps to me always indicate like that next layer. And the first thing I did when I finally accepted the big picture of like, I want to go ahead and try doing this. I want to aim for this 10k. I want to at least step in and get started. And the determination…first thing I did was hurt myself. The first thing I did was overdo it and hurt myself. And then that was a really interesting moment because I’ve been there before in the horse world where I’ve done things and didn’t have it work out the way that I thought it would. And you know, that is that’s a time for a rebuild. And so I bought a book on running form and I realized that my running form was what was hurting me. It also was making running a 5k harder because with poor form, I was not very efficient and I was more prone to risk of injury. And so then I realized that I needed to improve my running form. And then I realized that I spend more time walking in a week than I do running. Like standing up out of bed, walking out to get coffee, walking down to the barn, walking out to feed the horses, and my walking form was worse than my running form. So all of a sudden, I start seeing all these details that even though I had been a runner on some level, I hadn’t seen the details because it wasn’t until I set the bigger goal of running the 10K, it wasn’t until I went to reach for that bigger goal that I realized I was going to have to change a lot of other things to reach it. Because although the way I was walking and the way I was running had supported me for a 5K, they weren’t going to support me for a 10k. So then I started following the book and changing one thing at a time and changed training myself to–to think about different things. How I’m landing, how I’m moving, how I’m breathing, what my timing is, all these different things. And one of the hardest things I did was I stopped listening to podcasts or music while I ran and I started listening to my body. Yeah, I stopped listening to podcasts or music and started listening to my body. The second half of that is the part that’s the harder one–started listening to my body. And it was hard because of this–like, I felt discomfort. I felt disappointed. I felt uncertain about my form and how I was running. And because I was trying to change it all, I felt awkward and I was signing up to do this three times a week. You know, 30 to 45 minutes I’m going to focus on being uncomfortable and disappointed and uncertain and awkward. And yay, isn’t that fun? Here’s an even more interesting fact, after I hurt myself by overdoing it because I didn’t know what I didn’t know and buying the book and working on changing my running form it took me four months to get back to my baseline running that I had been doing before. That means prior to my goal of the 10k, I was able to run a 5K. Then I promptly hurt myself by overdoing it, heading for the 10k, and then I had to back–I chose to back off and look into the details, and it took me four months of changing my running form and working consistently on it just to get back to my baseline of running the equivalent miles that I had been running before. And four months, while changing that and feeling all that felt like forever because I’d already been there before, it’s not like I’d never run two miles or three miles. So it was frustrating. And then finally, on the fifth month, finally on the fifth month, I reached that tipping point. And if you remember Episode 5 of this podcast or if you don’t, you can go back to the beginning and listen to Episode 5 because it’s got some really cool concepts in it because what happened to my running is I went from unconsciously incompetent. That’s how I was running that I was hurting myself and I was inefficient in my–my energy, my movement, everything. So I was unconsciously incompetent. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I was doing that was inefficient. And then when I started reading the book and started changing it, I became consciously incompetent. That’s where I spent a large portion of four months consciously knowing that I was incompetent to walk and run, which, when you’re 46 years old, is kind of a breakthrough. Like, I don’t know how to walk. Ok, so accepting this and then moving on and then finally getting to the point where I was consciously competent, I could stay focused. I could focus on my breathing, focus on my arms, focus on how I’m moving and my core and my legs where I’m landing. I could focus on all of this stuff and I was consciously competent. And that’s when I started seeing the shift, because back in then–then like in month five, I was finally back to where I’d been running before. But all of a sudden it felt way easier because I was way more efficient because I was way more effective with my form. And then in month six, I went from the most I’d ever run, you know, like a 5K. I’d done like one in one month and one another month. In June in training for the 10k I ran, I ran five 5ks just in my training and then in July I ran seven 5ks in my training. And then in August, I ran another seven plus. One of the other things that happened in that month was I ran 7.2 miles because that was one of my long runs for a challenge. And I’ll tell you that one of the things that I learned in going from a 5K to a 10k is it’s a huge mental game because running for that long is a–is a mind game as much as it is a body game, especially when I finally had gotten more efficient. So this was actually easier running now than it was when I was running the 5ks with poor form earlier. And then in September, and I’m recording this in September, right now, I’d have already run five 5ks plus I ran my first official 10k. And in this month in September, I finally have seen glimpses of the unconscious competence that comes when you’ve practiced for so long. It finally starts to feel like you don’t have to think about it every single moment.

Stacy Westfall: And I say all this because I want to know what do you want so badly that you’re willing to rebuild yourself entirely to get it? My husband just said, I think you’re more fit right now than you ever have been. Do you agree? And I said, I don’t know. Maybe when I was in my 20s, maybe I was. Maybe I was more fit now. I mean, I wasn’t trying, but maybe I just was because I was, you know, 20. And he said, Do you think you could have run six miles when you’re in your 20s? And I said, Nope. Wow, that’s weird. I will celebrate my birthday this coming weekend. I will turn 47 and I am in better shape right now than I probably ever have been in my life. And I say this because the best part for me is that I am riding better because of it. My skills on the top of a horse riding are better because of what I’ve been doing, and it’s so interesting because I guess I could have stuck with my original title about the slightly dissatisfied rider. Because if you are slightly dissatisfied and you want to know if you’re still on track, I think you can double check yourself by looking at these three things. Are you looking at the big picture and evaluating where you are right now? Do you spend a fair amount of time throughout your week in a feeling of determination or something similar? Because that’s what I had to call on when I was going out there to run and feeling all those other things. I needed to feel that determination. And then the really key one is this: When someone is offering you the next steps or when you become aware of the next steps and you start seeing, oh my goodness, there’s so much more. I thought I understood this and now I see five more little steps, 10 more little steps. I’m not saying you can’t feel a moment of frustration, but I do want you to check in with how often you’re feeling frustrated in that moment or fascinated by the fact that there’s more to keep learning. Because that, to me, is the tipping point. You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel. But if you feel that fascination creeping in that you can be like, wow, there are 100 more little steps right there, and that is the best news ever because I can do little steps even easier than I can do great big giant leaps. Are you fascinated? Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Links mentioned in podcast:

The running book I mentioned is ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running


  1. Karen Randa on October 28, 2021 at 10:56 am

    My granddaughter is 12 now. She was born with Cystic Fibrosis (CF). She did cross country this year at school. She placed 1st in the 1 mile and in the 2 miles she place every time 3rd and 7th 1 time. It is amazing that she can run and it is amazing that she is placing. The crazy thing is she does not think the same way we do regarding her CF and us adults about her CF. Listening to your podcast I think it is funny how we think as adults and kids think, even someone with CF. I see this very much when she rides with us and how her horse is different with her. When starting to canter her horse kick out a little she just kept going. No big deal. Me and would have been in my head right away. When is the horse going to kick out again? The horse never tried it again with her.
    I work out every morning at a gym since I bought horses I found it is easier for me to go to the gym. My health was not enough but to stay strong and in shape for my horses is more. Love listening to your podcast. When riding my horses I tell my self lest get 1% to closer to being a Stacy.

  2. Ann on September 29, 2021 at 2:38 pm

    I, too, would like to know the title of the book on running form. Thank you for another great podcast episode!!

    • Stacy Westfall on October 28, 2021 at 4:15 pm

      The book is called ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

  3. Jenny Biche on September 28, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    Yes, may I ask what the name of the book you referenced is called? Thank you!

  4. Joanne on September 28, 2021 at 7:27 am

    Lol, I jumped straight off and whipped off my horses bridle the first time a TD asked to check my bit at a recognized dressage show too!!!
    Can you add the title of the running form book you used to the show notes?

    Thanks for another great podcast!

    • Stacy Westfall on October 28, 2021 at 4:18 pm

      The book is called ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

  5. Angie Scott on September 26, 2021 at 9:00 am

    Thank you for sharing your personal experience with running. Can I ask what book got you back on track?

    • Stacy Westfall on October 28, 2021 at 4:17 pm

      The book is called ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running

  6. Mayra S Paldon on September 25, 2021 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for this very inspiring podcast Stacy. It’s illuminated aspects of riding, as well as fitness, that I hadn’t considered before.
    I was a middle distance (3-5 miles) runner from the time I was 18 to 43. I stopped running at 43. I had wanted to get back into running but my ankles would bother me and start hurting; so I thought that I could not run anymore. I never even considered to get a book about running form. Now at age 66 I’m going to get a book and see if I can run again to improve my fitness for my riding; not to mention for the joy of running again.
    Even though a lot of running is slogging along, it’s all those days you’re just slogging along that leads to the runs that you fly. You can’t fly as a runner unless you put in all those days just slogging along.

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