Episode 150- Should you be playing a never ending game with your horse?

In this podcast, I discuss the difference between ‘finite games’ which involve players, rules and winners and infinite, or never ending games, where the point is to keep playing because the journey is all there is.
I share examples of this in the horse world and in everyday life. Then I close by telling you how I can easily identify which I’m playing…so you can try it too.


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’ve been talking about some of the common challenges that I see when teaching riders. Today, I’m going to be talking about the never-ending game, what it is, and a few tips on identifying if you are playing one. This is episode 150 of the podcast, which is the perfect time to talk about the never-ending game. I began this podcast in December of 2018, and sometimes when people hear how long I’ve been podcasting for or how many episodes they say something about running out of things to talk about. And I think it’s really interesting because years ago I had a blog that I wrote on a daily basis for well over a year. And when I started publishing this podcast, I had actually broken over the thousand blog post number before I even got to the podcast, which also gets posted on my blog. And it was interesting because after publishing a thousand blog posts, people, as I was going through that journey, they would say kind of the same thing about like running out of things to talk about. And that’s why I wanted to record this podcast because I think there’s a theory here that’s helpful in our horsemanship. I think this podcast, and the blog before it, I think they are examples of playing a never-ending game.

Stacy Westfall: Now, the first time I heard this concept was years ago when I was reading Seth Godin’s blog, and he had written about there being finite games and the fastest way to think of one of those is traditional sports. So you have two sports teams, one wins, one loses. It’s a finite game and infinite games where the goal of an infinite game is continued interaction. So an example of a–of an infinite game might be tossing a ball with a young child. So if you think of a very small child when you play, you don’t play to win. You don’t throw a fastball at the little tiny child that you’re trying to teach to toss the ball. It’s an infinite game. I actually want to go ahead and read you a section of this blog. It’s pretty much almost the whole thing because his blogs are very short and I’ll link to it in the show notes. And it’s interesting because Seth Godin, who I’m referencing in the idea of the infinite and finite games, he’s saying that he heard of it from someone named James Carse. So apparently you could chase this concept back through quite a few places. But here I’m going to read from the blog that I remember: In finite games, short and long, there are players, there are rules, and there are winners. The game is designed to end and it’s based on scarcity. In the infinite game, though, something completely different is going on. In the infinite game, the point is to keep playing, not to win. In the infinite game, the journey is all there is. And so the players in an infinite game never stop giving so they can take. Players in this game, throw a slower pitch so the batter can hit it because a no-hitter shutout has no real upside. A good mom, of course, always plays the infinite game, but it turns out that it’s possible to build an organization or even a country that does this as well. Build hospitals and schools instead of forts and barricades. You certainly know people who play this game, you may have well been touched by some of them, inspired by them, and taught by them. The wrong question to ask is, but how do they win? The right way to understand it is, but is it worth playing?

Stacy Westfall: That is the blog that first got me thinking about this idea of finite and infinite games. And so when I say the never-ending game, I’m just using my own words for the infinite one. And to me, what I do with horses feels like a never-ending game to me. In my interactions with them, I’m thinking of even today, I teach them, and in the process of teaching them, I’m also studying them so I can learn more about them. So I’m constantly studying, learning, teaching with the horse, and that can happen with multiple horses because I have multiple of my own horses to study and then I get to work with other people’s horses when they bring them for clinics and back in the day when I would take them for training. But I can also study this and do this with just one single horse. So even in my mind today is like I took my mini number one because yes, now there are two. So I took Mini Mocha and took him to a harness shop to have him fitted for a harness. And it was really interesting, just the whole experience because I’ve been training him on how to behave. But I’m taking him to this new place and I’m also watching him as he’s being fitted. And since I don’t have a harness or a bridle or any of that stuff that would fit him it means that as he’s being fitted, it’s also his first experience with having a little headstall and a bit in his mouth and all these different things. And so it’s a really interesting thing where it’s kind of like this shared experience yet I am the one that’s in charge and I am directing him. But I’m also open and learning and watching and listening. And so it’s very interesting because if you have this view of this never-ending game, I think it changes a lot of the ways that you interact because I find this game playing out in–in–with my horses, but I also find it playing out in a lot of other relationships in my life and in all kinds of ways. And what happens is it changes time frames. It changes my view on outcomes. It changes my view on, you know, when things go well or don’t go well, what–like–it changes these labels when you start thinking about it as a never-ending game. Now I want to take it into something super specific so you guys can really see it. And I actually think that the–the finite part, so let’s go back to that sports idea. I think that finite sports-type analogy is actually what a lot of people who are in horses but really negatively react to the idea of showing. I wonder sometimes if they’re not negatively reacting to that finite part of competition. So when I look at people who don’t like or respect, you know, people that are showing horses, there’s there can be a lot of judgments on–on horse shows and people showing horses. And I think it is because people automatically assume that if a person goes to play this finite game, there’s a winner, there’s a loser, that this game is then going to control how anybody who plays it behaves, and that’s just not true. That’s a false assumption. So what that means is that if you’ve ever read an article where a horse was, you know, treated unfairly at a horse show, it is also unfair to then think that all people that show horses treat horses unfairly because one person did. But you can see where the finite nature, the win-lose nature of going to a horse show, I can see where someone on the outside could say that’s going to be a problem because you can see where the opportunity for the problem is there. But what’s so interesting about it is I’ve actually been on both sides of this fence before. I grew up as a kid who liked showing and just thought it was a great time to hang out with other people that loved horses and see all kinds of horses and all this stuff. And I remember being exposed to the–the side of showing that–that is the negative side. I remember seeing horses that I think were ridden too hard or whatever that was that I’m viewing is negative. And I remember being skewed by that. And now I’m on the other side of that to where I totally, absolutely know that I can go to a show and I am 100 percent in control of what I do when I’m there. And it’s not like I go to a show and then suddenly feel like I’m obligated to do a certain thing to my horse. No, I’m 100 percent in charge of my experience and what I’m willing to do or not do. Interestingly enough, that’s actually a piece of how the bareback bridleless was able to happen was because, like I was stretching all the boundaries and rules that were possible when I was going in there. I wasn’t just assuming I had to do a certain thing the way it had to be done. I was like trying to work–I was working within the rules, but even like pressing on the edges of the rules. In the ride that I did before the bareback bridleless, if you guys ever saw the one, it’s the Ghost Riders in the sky with Can Can Lena, I actually had to go get a permission or had to declare that I was going to hold the saddle horn because that’s actually a penalty if you touch the saddle. I was always pushing on the edges of what was there because I knew I was ultimately playing my own game. Do you see how that works?

Stacy Westfall: Ok, let’s go to a different subject for a minute, and let’s–let’s see if this helps. The interesting thing about looking at something like a horse show and seeing that this can become a finite win-lose situation. The interesting thing about it is that I can actually see people who are working with their own horses at home, that they can begin playing a finite game also. A finite game, it isn’t determined by whether you go to a horse show or not. Trailer loading can be a finite game. So it’s interesting because what I’m saying here is that if you go to load the horse in the trailer and you–have you ever heard somebody say, I couldn’t stop there because I couldn’t let him win? That is a phrase that is totally cluing you in that they’re playing a finite kind of a game. They’re saying there’s going to be a winner here and there’s going to be a loser here, and I don’t want to be the loser. I don’t want the horse to be the winner and maybe the loser. So there’s a–they’re automatically saying that they’re playing a finite game. What’s so interesting is that you can play any of these as infinite games. And the irony of that in trailer loading is not lost on me. So, but when you look at something as an infinite game, when you look at it like that, then what that means is that it’s not about like at the horse show. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game in the trailer loading. It’s not about whether the horse gets on the trailer or not. It’s about how you have the conversation. So in all of this, this is still these reflections of this infinite or finite, depending on which one–which one you’re doing. Are you playing the never-ending game? And in my view of the never-ending game, that means that when we go to the trailer to load the horse, whether it’s the first time we’ve ever tried trailer loading this horse or whether this is a known problem with this horse. If we go to the trailer as just another place to learn, another place to explore, another place to communicate more, if there’s an openness to this interaction, then that is evidence that we’re playing this never-ending game. What’s so interesting is that it doesn’t mean that we don’t care about whether we get the horse on the trailer or not. What it means is that we care more about understanding the journey than we do about getting them on the trailer. If you flip that around in a finite game, you care more about getting them on the trailer than you do about understanding their journey. I would propose just as many finite win-lose games are played at home as they are at a horse show because at the end of the day, what I want you to see is that it’s the mindset of how you’re approaching this, whether it is a–whether it’s a finite win-lose situation or whether it is this never-ending game.

Stacy Westfall: I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, so it’s interesting that I’ve been noticing all the other places where I can feel myself playing an infinite game. I thought it was really interesting when I identified it with my own children. So I have three boys that are all adults now. And I remember it got me thinking about it when I was around them the other day. I was thinking when I was a child and my parents were parenting me I remember I just–I just remember imagining that like parenting ended when the kids were adults and they moved out. But it’s really interesting. So in my child mind, the parenting was a finite game. It was done at whatever age my brain had in mind, let’s just say 18. But now, as I’m a parent of adult kids, I realized that things do shift and they change for sure. My–my relationship with my kids has changed all the way up through from the time, you know, when they were toddlers, so the teens, to adults. It keeps shifting. But it’s really interesting because although it shifts, I now realize I was wrong when I was a child and I thought that parenting was a finite game, that it was done at a certain point because it’s not. Like I’m realizing now that parenting is a never-ending game. I think it’s a really cool concept. The sentence that I read to you earlier when Seth Godin said, “players in an infinite game never stop giving so they can take.” It’s this constant cycle, this circle, and I just–I just love that idea that this is an infinite game. And that is what this has been like for me with readers of my blog and with listeners to the podcast like you. It feels infinite for a few reasons. One is that I’m always changing. I am wanting to continue my learning all the way until I die, and I’m always having new experiences. So as I have those new experiences and I share them with you and you write back and you share your experiences it feels like this cycle. And when I think of it–so I’ve been doing the podcast now for 150 episodes since 2018. But when I look back, I’ve changed mediums over the years. I used to do live events and that was how I would teach. And then I did blogs and videos and podcasts and Zoom calls. But what’s interesting is I’m still playing the same never-ending game. I just happened to be reaching out using different mediums. It’s for me this constant cycle of learning and teaching and learning and sharing, and it just keeps going. So what I’d like to suggest to you is that as you go through this next week, try identifying places where you have a never-ending game going and places where you have a finite game going. I’ll give you one tip on how I can tell which of these games I’m playing. When I’m playing a finite game that has a win-lose, I often feel some version of scarcity and when I’m playing an infinite game, the never-ending game, I often feel very abundant. Thank you for playing this never-ending game with me, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Seth Godin blog: The short game, the long game and the infinite game.


  1. Michele Starling on October 4, 2021 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for never ending giving…for us and the horse. God gave you a very special part and you’re using it. I like that concept of it being a never ending journey and not all about winning, but giving is winning..so it is. Lol
    I can breathe now.

  2. Leslie Roden on October 2, 2021 at 11:05 am

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your Podcast. So much of what I have learned from you bleeds over into “life” in general! My question is about horse personality types.
    I have Missouri Fox Trotters. Kash just turned 4, Gracie is 10, Sunshine is almost 6 months old. They are all very well mannered on the ground and very affectionate. They whinney to me when they see me across the field and/or call to me when I enter the bar. They enjoy being pet and handled. Kash likes to take my hat and will wiggle his nose on my face and back while I pick out his feet. He has also been known to rest his head on my back when I am picking out his front feet. He never nips. I’m pretty sure they “like me”.
    When I watch them in the field, Gracie and Sunshine express “emotions” mainly by darting across the field. I almost never see them buck or rear. Kash, on the other hand, is extremely expressive. When he is super emotional, he will kick his back feet up high in the sky, rear, twist around, and buck in various ways.
    Lately, when I have been riding, he has decided to start crow hopping and doing mini rears. I truly don’t think he is doing it because he is upset with what I am asking of him. I think he just feels great and is wanting to play.
    My question is, do you think that there are different horse “personality types” and some are simply more predisposed to bucking and rearing as form or expression, or do they all do it and it’s just a matter of “training” to get them to understand that under NO CIRCUMSTANCES are they allowed to buck or rear when there is a rider on their back”.
    If it is a personality thing, am I EVER going to be able to explain to him that his “fun” is going to hurt me and he can’t buck with people on him? Do you have any great advice for a “happy bucker”?

    Thank you so much for your help!
    Leslie Roden
    New Tazewell, TN

    • Stacy Westfall on October 28, 2021 at 4:12 pm

      Yep! I do observe that they all express themselves differently AND that it can bleed over into their interactions with us. In fact, until they understand the ‘rules’ with us…they simply operate by the rules of the herd. So if you have one that likes to push boundaries by nipping in the herd, it makes sense that they would ask that same question with us.
      The great news is that even in the herd there are horses that decide what behavior is allowed or isn’t allowed near them.
      I do make sure my horses have pasture time where they can play and ‘happy buck’ but I also redirect there energy when I’m with them.
      Almost like taking a child into a store and knowing they will want the candy…so I focus their attention on ‘can you find this box of cereal for me’. I redirect the mind because I know where it is likely to go if not redirected.
      I do that with the horse also. Redirect the energy into something else to prevent the buck. Can you hear how this is different than punishing the buck?

  3. Ruth McDermott on September 29, 2021 at 10:44 am

    Hi Stacy. I work on websites for a living and was wondering if you would be updating the Workshop Series area? It still says 2020. Not a big deal at all…just curious.

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

      Ah…yes. Updates to the website coming soon. Kinda fell behind on those!

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