Episode 153: How your thoughts change your results with your horse.

Henry Ford summed it up well, ‘Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right.” In this podcast I explain why this is so true with our horses.
Our thoughts change the way our cues feel to our horses.
I share an example where the only thing I changed was my thoughts…and it drastically changed the outcome.
If you ever have these thoughts: “I should be better than this by now.”
“I’m not good enough.” “I can’t do this.” this episode is for you!

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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 discussing life coaching principles and how they apply to working with your horse. Life coaching addresses the rider’s mind, which shows up in all of the quadrants. It’s going to show up in your body, and I’m going to talk about that in a minute. This week, I want to discuss how powerfully your thoughts and my thoughts can impact our results, I’m going to continue looking at an example that I used last week to illustrate this point, and then I’m going to close by showing a few examples of the way that I see this showing up in all the coaching, the riders that I’m coaching. So the first thing I want to cover and I’m going to come back to this idea throughout is that when you look around life, you can see that there are things that we cannot control. Let’s just use the weather, for example. There are things that we can influence and then there are things that we can control. And I think it’s interesting that when I look at this list, I automatically put horses into…OK, which category do you put them into? Do you put them into things we can influence or things we can control? So I put them into category number two, things we can influence, and not into the third category, which is interesting because I think many people want to get to the point where they want their horses in the category of things we can control. This is actually a pretty big topic. You’re completely allowed at the end of the day to put the idea of training your own horse into either of those categories. You could put the horse into the category of something you can influence or into something you can control. But the reason I put it into “influence” is because I think the greatest dance with a horse is figuring out how to influence it without removing what makes them who they are without, as you’ve heard me say in other podcasts, creating a robot. And so that’s why I like to put the horses into the category of something that I can influence. Now the third category, things we can control, that is largely me–the one thing I have full control over, or more accurately, the one thing I strive to have full control over. It is no small thing to have control over yourself in every moment and to fully accept responsibility for your actions in every situation. So today I want to talk about understanding, really, really understanding how much your thoughts influence your results. And that’s why I want to go back to the story that I was telling in the last podcast. If you haven’t listened to that podcast yet, the very short version of what I’m talking about is that the first time I showed a horse bridleless, I had a very unmanaged mind and I was pretending everything was OK, even though I felt so nervous that I thought I was going to throw up and I couldn’t really eat that whole day. So what ended up happening was I left out one of the required maneuvers, and my final score for that ride was a zero. And I felt devastated. And in last week’s podcast, I talked about the different moments of awareness that I was still able to gain during that experience. And this week, I actually want to take a little bit of a deeper dive and explain how I ended up in that situation so maybe you can learn from my mistake. Because the big thing that I did was–and I’m going to explain this phrasing later–was I gave away my power. And I’m going to explain how that happened for me and how I see riders doing this all the time.

Stacy Westfall: Now, here’s an interesting fact. Before I went to compete in the October horse show that ended with a score of zero and me feeling devastated, I had prepared to the best of my ability. I could ride my horse without a bridle and perform all the required maneuvers at home with ease. Then I took my horse to horse shows and I entered practice classes where they allowed me to practice in a show-type environment without the bridle, and this also worked exactly as it should. So I had done all the action steps, all the work to get to the point where I could truly, reliably ride this horse bridleless at the level I needed to perform at this horse show. So basically, what I’m trying to say is that prior to walking into that show in October, all the lights were green. My horse was ready and everything was good. So how did I end up having this ride where he ended up with a zero and feeling devastated? And here’s why I think it’s really interesting. I changed my thoughts. So at home, when I had begun this bridleless journey, I was really excited about the potential of riding my horse bridleless. I could feel the communication possibilities there because I had moved so many of my cues to my body and my legs and my voice and I was really curious as to how I could make that so clear that I wouldn’t need the bridle. And I was really focused on what was going on with myself, with my horse, how my horse was interpreting, and I had lots of different thoughts like, this is amazing. I’m making amazing progress. This is great. I’m figuring this out. Look at how much I’ve done. As this kept growing, as I kept taking these little steps and–and discovering more and exploring more and learning more, I kept getting more and more proof. So I went from like the idea of it happening to actually getting proof of my horse steering reliably and then being able to ride without the bridle consistently. And I went even from like, I can figure this out to like, this is working. I am doing this. This is happening. And when I look back and I try to think, like, how did this go so wrong? It’s really interesting because I clearly remember going to one of the practice shows. And at this practice show, there was a big-time professional that saw me riding without the bridle, asked me what I was doing, I said I was going to show in the freestyle, and the comment was something to the effect of, if you do that, I’ll pay to go watch. And I remember not knowing how to respond. And then I remember replaying it in my mind over and over again. And I remember wondering like, was that sarcasm that I heard? Was that like doubt? Was that honesty? Was that–what–what–what did that mean? And so it was really interesting because that was the first time that I really felt this shaken feeling about what I had decided to do. So then I show up at the show in October, and I’m in the warm-up arena. I’m getting ready. I’ve been at the show, I’ve been doing other things, I’m getting ready to show and I’m riding around without the bridle and people are saying things like, are you really going to do that? And they were saying things like, she’s really going to do it. And again, I was interpreting these things as they think I’m crazy. They’re–they’re doubting this. And I didn’t recognize at the time what was happening, but basically what I was doing was people were offering their thoughts, you know, they were saying comments to me or around me and then I was making them mean something. So whether they meant it as doubt or whether they meant it as I was crazy, they didn’t–even if they didn’t say that directly to me, I was hearing it as that. And even if they had directly just said, you are crazy for doing this, what’s so interesting to me is that I the one–I’m the one that had all the evidence that I could totally do this at home. I had all the evidence that I had done this in all kinds of places. I had been the one that had built this system. But what’s so interesting to me is that even though their words that they said to me fit into category number one, things we cannot control, and even though I had all the evidence that I knew this could work, I’m the one that brought their words in and basically gave them the power to bring my worst fears to life in my head. And basically looking back at it, I realize now that there was a piece of me that thought, maybe I’m crazy for doing this snd then the other one was like, you know, I could be a real disappointment because I didn’t own the horse and so I was riding for the horse’s owners, and I had talked them into paying for the entry fee. And one of my other fears was that this was going to be a big mistake. And so with all of this pressure that I was putting on myself with all of these thoughts, I shifted away from the thoughts I’d had at home that had created this whole system. Thoughts like, this is working, thoughts like, I can do this. And so when I went in to show in the October show, I was so full of doubt. Now the interesting part is that a younger version of me would have blamed the other people for causing this doubt. But what I’m saying is that it was my choice to be influenced by them.

You know, me now when people bring their doubts to me or when people question things, I like hearing their thoughts because especially if they disagree with me, it gives me something to learn more about myself with because if they say something to me and it triggers me then that becomes an awareness tool for me to understand that there’s something I need to look at more. So if somebody comes up to me now and questioned something I’m doing, it actually gives me more power to be able to say, Huh? Let me pause and think about why I’m doing that. Here’s why I’m doing that. And if I’m really confident in why I’m doing that, then their question basically doesn’t influence me. But if their question causes me to pause and it brings up, let’s say, defensiveness, then what that’s pointing to is a spot in me where I’m not confident. So back then, what I was doing was I was letting their questions or their statements mean something about me, and so it’s a complete shift of perspective. And what’s so interesting to me and the reason I want to bring this illustration up again is because after the October ride that I did when I felt so devastated when I got the zero, I had the chance to perform again in December at an even bigger show. And this time I clearly made the decision to keep my thought, I will do this. I already knew I could do it at home. It wasn’t even like I think I can. I will do this. I chose. I decided ahead of time that this, “I will” thought, was going to be the one that I would hang on to. And that didn’t mean that those three categories didn’t exist. I still accepted there would be things I could not control that could show up at the show. I still accepted that there are things that I can only influence. So, for example, I can influence the judges with my ride but that doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily win. But what I did, absolutely for sure, is that I did control what is within my control, which was me, and I decided ahead of time that I would do the ride that I knew I could do at home, that I had done in practice. That was my goal. I was going to do that in the show. And it’s really interesting because I used this phrase a little bit earlier and I wanted to explain it. There’s a phrase that when I first heard it, I did not love it. And it’s that one I said earlier, giving away your power. I had a really strange reaction to that phrase when I first started hearing it. I was almost offended by it when people would say something about giving away your power, you’re giving away your power, or don’t give away your power. And I remember just not liking how it sat with me and I guess it was because like when I looked at it even closer, like when I was writing to get ready for this podcast, when I was originally having that kind of a reaction to that phrase, it was almost like my brain back then when I first heard the phrase, it wanted to think something like this–I didn’t give it away, they took it. And when I say inside my head, I sound like a five-year-old. It’s almost like this idea that when–when I–the state of mind I was in, when I first heard that phrase, “giving away your power,” it brought up a bunch of different things in me. Now that have had a chance to work through understanding my mind and how my thoughts really influence me so much, my thoughts create my feelings and they totally change the way that I act, now that I understand that I have a different perspective on the phrase, “giving away your power.” Now that I’ve experienced both sides of how only changing my thoughts can change so much, it’s truly amazing to me what this means. Let me say it like this. Between my October ride, where I had a zero and my December ride, which I will post a video of, it was the first time that I’d done the bridleless and I–like I won the class. It was the first time the bridleless had been done at this huge show. Obviously, it was the second time I had gone bridleless because the first one was zero and the second one was the first class, I won it and I was this like mystery rider because you’ll see I’m wearing a duster and a bandana. But the most interesting thing to really, really, really grasp here is that nothing else changed between October and December. No different training, no different preparation, no different actions were taken except identifying the thoughts and deciding that I could control them. So if I were going to write out that phrase that “giving away your power,” it would have settled better with me because when I first experienced it, I would almost say the phrase that would come to my mind is a little bit more like, “taking back your piece,” because it’s almost like–it’s a night and day difference when you can fully step into this and understand how peaceful you can be when you’re truly controlling your own thoughts. So when they say something like, you know, the phrase is like giving away your power or taking back your power when–when I hear that, I think one of the words I react to in there is the word power, because I think sometimes the idea of power comes with the idea of force, and it’s not at all like that. It’s–it’s the idea that when I’m fully in control of myself, there’s not this–I would actually describe it as like when I’m not in control of myself, there’s a loss of something. And so it’s almost like not losing that is–is like maintaining that power. And I think that’s why I still don’t love the idea of like taking back or giving away. The giving away fits better to me than–than the taking back but it’s like I have a power, a peaceful, powerful feeling like in this example, when I was at home, creating the bridleless riding ability. I had to know how to be in this peaceful, clear, focused, curious, powerful state because the training wasn’t always easy. There were moments where my horse was confused and I would use my leg to steer, and she would take it as a cue to increase the speed. And I had to decide, you know, when am I going to make this correction? How am I going to communicate this to her? How am I going to get this more consistent? And I had to do all of this with curiosity and focus and understanding while it was kind of messy. It was pretty messy in the middle transitioning from a horse that had been trained in a bridle to a horse that was trained without a bridle. There was a lot of changing things over and there was confusion and I was inventing it as I went. So there was confusion. There was making things up and being like, OK, so that didn’t work. But it was at home. It had a peace to it because I was so excited about the prospect of riding bridleless that the mistakes, the problems, the the the issues that came up didn’t deter me. So when my horse got confused, I was more curious as to how it could be more clear. And I knew every time that I answered another question for her, every time that she showed me her confusion, that it gave me another opportunity to explain it and I knew that in the long term, the way that I would end up fully trusting this communication was that we ran into the problems and fixed them. Not that we never had them and my–my faith was never tested. I needed the test to be able to believe.

Stacy Westfall: And so this is where I see so many riders get stuck. I see them get stuck because when they run into challenges, they often shift into a thought that isn’t useful. So at first, most people, when they go out there to work with their horses and to train them something, and hopefully the first thing you run into isn’t your first attempt at bridleless riding. It might be doing groundwork and sending your horse over an obstacle. It might be riding your horse and riding a certain pattern. And when you run into the challenges, a lot of times the riders shift away from that excitement that brought them into the horses and brought them into wanting to learn more and brought them into trying whatever it is they’re trying today. And what happens is as soon as they hit some of these, you know, confused moments with their horse or something that needs to be clarified some of the thoughts that pop up because when I’m coaching, I hear them when we’re talking are things like, I should be better than this by now. I just can’t figure this out. I messed it up again, and I can’t do this. And when people say those thoughts it’s interesting because I totally understand. I totally understand that you can think that when you are working with your horse, you can think that your actions are exactly the same. You can think I’m going to use my leg and I’m going to ask the horse to turn to the left or I’m going to, you know, pick my arm up and point this direction and send my horse over here. And you can think that the action of doing that is the same no matter what and it’s not. You know this at your core. If I’m doing at all half a job of explaining that when you have a thought like, I should be better than this by now, I mean, really stop and say that one and feel it. There’s like a heavy sinking feeling for me if I think I should be better than this by now. There’s like a frustrated, gritty, ooh. It’s not a good feeling, and the horse is going to pick up on that and it’s going to change in color. Even though you think that raising your arm or using your leg is exactly the same, the actions are not the same, even if they are the same. They don’t feel the same when you change that thought. This is what it means when you are giving away your power, because when you fully accept that your thoughts create your feelings and then you realize how much you can do the same action–but it doesn’t feel the same. I was doing this the other day when I was getting ready to go somewhere, and I was so excited and I wanted to get all my stuff done, and I was so excited about traveling and doing what I was going to do that I was knocking things off my to-do list like crazy and fast and easy because I was operating out of this feeling of excitement. And then there’s other times where I’ll go to do the same exact thing, and I’ll just be dragging, even though it’s the same actions that need to get done. It’s the same goals that I need to accomplish. It’s the same checklist I’m working off from in some ways week after week, and sometimes I’m just dragging and sometimes I’m not, and it’s because of those different thoughts. And before that October ride, I was not that aware of how much the feeling was going to change the results. I did not understand that, you know, yes, I trained the horse that when I, you know, use my leg or shifted my weight that she should turn like this or that. I did not fully understand that when I’m doing that cue with a feeling of curiosity and excitement and exploration and confidence that that that cue literally feels different to my horse, then when it’s coming from doubt. And it changes everything for your horse. And I see this all the time when I’m coaching people because I’m very aware that when people come to a clinic here and they’re with me and we’re in the same space and I’m coaching them, I am very aware that sometimes riders borrow my belief in them. And the craziest, coolest thing is that in the video coaching I’ve been doing this year, I’m able to do that with people over the internet. Like I understand that sometimes it’s hard to believe that you can accomplish something. And I know the path and I’ve been there, and sometimes people will look to me and ask me and I’ll tell them it’s possible and they will borrow just a little bit of my belief because what they do is they change their thought and they have a thought like, Stacy thinks I can. They have some kind of a thought that helps create that different feeling that gives them just that little bit of extra. Because there’s always going to be things that you cannot control. And there will be things that you can influence. But I’m telling you, if you take full control over the things you can, namely you, you’re going to be amazed with the results. I love how Henry Ford said it. He summed it up so well. “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t. You’re right.” Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Freestyle with Duster…and my thoughts under control:

1 Comment

  1. Michele Starling on October 22, 2021 at 6:01 pm

    This is the first I’ve seen this video. It made me cry watching it after hearing your podcast on it. I think when folks tell me “I can’t” that makes me try all the more to prove them wrong. I love that feeling!…I’m a middle child. Lol
    By the way, your sweet Roxy looks so much like my Emma aka Chocolates Lottery. She was abused when I got her and has taken a lot of time to get her to trust me. Thanks for these podcast! Love learning from them!

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