Episode 154: Creating emotions to benefit you and your horse

Horses are excellent at reading emotions. Have you learned the skill of creating an emotion on demand? You’ll learn how to create and emotional state: both positive and negitive. I’ll share an example that you can do in five minutes to experience your control over your emotions. Then I’ll share three situations where you can practice creating a positive emotion.


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 what I call the rider’s mind, which ultimately shows up in all of the quadrants. This week, I want to discuss the idea that we can create our emotions. I was first introduced to this idea when I was in college and we had a guest speaker that came to visit. Her name was Barbara Schulte, and here are some interesting facts. When I met Barbara, I was in college. She was a guest instructor. And years later, when she saw my bareback bridleless ride, she had no idea that she had talked to me. My name had changed and she didn’t memorize everybody’s names, and so she did not realize that she had actually helped me create that bareback brideless ride with the knowledge that her one lecture provided. Because this idea that I’m going to explain to you today, knowing how to create and control my emotions was revolutionary to me when she taught it to me. And then it definitely helped me, especially with my dad having recently passed away right before I did that ride. Then it’s really interesting. Our paths, mine and Barbara’s crossed again in 2012, when we were both inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame together that same year. I think it’s really interesting how we just kind of keep weaving our lives together. And at the end of the podcast, I’m going to tell you one other way that they have yet again intersected. What I want to do right now, though, is review two of the things that really stood out to me when I was a college student and Barbara spoke to us. So basically, the two that have stuck with me all of these years were number one, she taught us in a very quick setting how we could control our emotions. And then she taught us how we could trigger, or help recall, those emotions. And those are the two things that I carried forward with me all the way into that ride with Roxy.

Stacy Westfall: So here’s my recollection of how she very quickly taught us that we could create an emotion. And basically what she did–remember were all college students sitting in a classroom, and she talked to us a little bit about emotions–and my recollection is she basically gave us the challenge of creating an emotion on the spot in the next five minutes. And we all just kind of sat there blankly staring at her. And then she said something to the effect of, if I were to offer you $10,000 if you could cry in the next five minutes, how many of you could do that? And hands all over the room shot up. And I thought it was so perfect because the contrast between asking us the general question of creating an emotion kind of just fell to deaf, blank ears that were just like, I don’t understand what you’re saying. But then when she incentivized it with $10,000 and told us, you know, the challenge was to cry and the time frame was five minutes, it was like, yes, which immediately did get us all thinking, like, “how would we do that?”, which is what she asked and then we sat and basically talked about it. And I ask you the same thing. If someone walked up to you right now and said, for $10000, could you cry in the next five minutes? If your answer is yes, slow down and think for a minute how you would do it. As I’m sitting here thinking about it, the very first thing that comes to mind and it’s the same thing that happened to me back then in college was the first thing I would do is start recalling very sad moments in my life. But they wouldn’t be general, they would be super specific and very kind of personal to me. So the first thing I would need to do if I wanted to cry in the next five minutes would be to really zone in on an event, something that happened that I considered really sad because then I could like put myself back in that state of mind. And what’s really interesting for me, if I slow down and do this exercise and I’m curious for you which one comes first after you think of a really sad event, which do you notice first? Like, how do you see this play back and forth between the physical and the mental? Because the first thing I do is mentally look for an event that made me sad. And as I’m looking for that, I can also feel my body dropping into that more sad state, so I start dropping my shoulders. I started noticing my breathing gets shallow. And it was really interesting when I was taking notes for this episode I was–I was noticing how it affected me, how I was looking down, how I was really putting myself right back into that particular moment with a particular horse standing at a vet clinic and just all of it, everything. And so it’s really interesting that I could feel the physical shift, even as I recalled this moment. And then I also noticed that my mind went back and was grabbing the thoughts that I had back then about it being really sad about being not fair, about the horse being too young and all these different things. And so if I really want to, which I actually don’t want to go back there right now, but if I really want to, it’s very interesting to try that on and to watch the process now that I’ve got distance from this really sad event and I can examine it. But I think what Barbara did was so powerful because that is one of those–that’s one of those emotions that a lot of us have very clear recollection of at some point in our life, which is interesting to me, because as I describe it to you here, and especially as I’m not fully allowing myself to go into that state right now, as I describe it to you, it reminds me a lot of being around young-ish children. So young, but not like, not like three-year-olds. But, you know, as they get a little bit older, have you ever been around a child that was probably still in the single digits, but maybe a little bit older? Have you ever seen a child right around that age when they realize how they act is affecting the adults around them, but you can see them physically pretending something? So the illustration that comes to my mind is, is a child acting really upset, you know, crying, being upset. But you can tell a lot of times when–when a child is trying these emotions on, you can often tell if it’s real or not, because it doesn’t feel like it’s fully through their whole body. You can almost tell that they’re practicing the physical actions of the emotion that they’ve seen get a reaction, but they’re not actually experiencing it. So it’s like the difference between, you know, being really upset because something mom really did, you know, say no or take something away versus the child acting really upset, but you could actually see the difference. I think it’s fascinating that we, as humans, can detect that difference between the real pretending that children will do as they’re practicing different things. A lot of times I remember with my kids they would do like that and you’d you could almost like, you know, you could kind of crack a joke or whatever, and they couldn’t hold that emotion because they weren’t really upset. They were pretending. So it’s really interesting to watch it, you know, in some of these places where, like small children are really trying those on because they’re actually practicing these different things. And I think it’s just–it’s just fascinating because when you’re creating this state for yourself, you’ve got to actually be able to put yourself into the actual state. So the two things that she taught us was she–she brought up this awareness of the fact that we could control our emotions and that we could choose this like emotional state. The first one she started with was crying, but then we went to more positive ones. And then what’s another thing she did was she showed us like how to kind of connect that to a trigger in our body to help recall that emotion. So it’s funny, as I’m sitting here recording this, I’m taking my right hand and I’m actually touching my thumb and my middle finger together, forming almost like a little “O” and that was the trigger that she taught us decades ago that she was–she was–as she was teaching us how to go into a desired state for like peak performance, for like showing horses for different things. You can use it for anything but–but if you go over and look at some of the work that she does, a lot of her training has been from a man who taught Olympic athletes. So they were teaching them about how to go into the zone and–and how to trigger these emotions. So it’s interesting to me, and I found it really resonated with me to put it into a physical motion too.

Stacy Westfall: Now a lot of you may recall if you watched my bareback and bridleless ride, I got a lot of questions over the years from people asking me about the motion of running my fingers through Roxy mane. And you’ll see that when I’m first coming into the arena, I’m doing different things. That was another trigger that I came up with for me, which is really interesting because I think that one is super clear to people that that motion like, I’m sitting on her back, I’m bareback, I’m taking my fingers and I’m combing them through her mane in this really relaxed way of being. And that would help me, it was a trigger to remind me to relax me, which in turn relaxed her, which I think it doesn’t also doesn’t hurt that you know that a lot of times the horses relax when you’re doing something like that with them, even when you’re not riding. So it’s this very circular feeling of being able to create these emotions and having this affect the horse. So although the combing through the mane wasn’t a trained cue for Roxy, I would say it was more of a trained cue for me to go into a desired state of mind and a state of being. And as a reminder, a physical reminder of me for that looseness that I needed in my body in between doing all these really physical things that I was about to do. So I love that she brought this awareness up of both that creating the emotion and then being able to associate it with some kind of a trigger. What I want you to take a moment and think about right now is actually practicing creating a desired state, and I’m going to share one of my desired states of being that I really like trying on and going to see if you can try it on, too. So one thing that I love to do is set goals. If you’ve been a podcast listener for a while, you’ll know that I publicly set goals and that I talk about them and I’m so excited as the year draws to an end that I get to start thinking about wrapping up the goals from this year and creating goals for next year. And I’ve always been a little bit like this. I’ve always loved the idea of a new year. Now I get that some people aren’t as excited about New Year’s Eve or some of the goal-setting that happens around then. But I do notice that a lot of people are kind of excited around some kind of trigger like that. Like, like, maybe people get really excited about the new year that begins on their birthday. Like, I’m turning this certain age, and this year I’m going to, or I also noticed that other people have different kind of time frames that maybe it’s like, maybe it’s a season. Like this riding season, I want to do this or this quarter I want to do this or this summer, I want to do this. So for me, one of the reasons I love goal setting, and if you have any of those, if any of those resonated with you, like this summer, I want to do blah blah blah. What I want you to think about is the feeling that you’re creating when you have that little goal or bigger goal or huge goal or long-reaching goal. When we’re setting these things out there, a lot of times to me, they’ll sound like this summer I want to….and then for me, my yearly goal is this. One of the feelings I’m practicing when I’m setting that goal is possibility. Have you ever stopped to think about what possibility feels like in your body? I’m imagining people sitting there thinking no possibility is a word on a piece of paper, and maybe it’s a thought. What are you talking about possibility feeling in my body? So I want to know if you’ve ever really thought about trying on different emotions, and I’d rather try on some positive ones than just the crying one. So let’s try on the feeling of possibility. So come up with three different situations that maybe will help you remember the feeling of possibility in your body. So the first situation I came up with is Christmas. You could also substitute a birthday here if you wanted to. But one thing I notice is that kids are really good about practicing the feeling of possibility all the way up through. You can feel the possibility in the air if I watch Christmas movies. I notice that that’s kind of what–the possibility of what could be under the tree. It’s the possibility of what could be in the package. It’s the possibility of what could happen that is happening in that buildup. So see if you can find that feeling of possibility in your body, what it feels like in that situation. Or here’s another situation. A new horse. Maybe it’s a mini and maybe it’s a foal. Maybe it’s a foal that’s born. Maybe you breed your mare and you’re waiting for this foal to be born. And even in the waiting for the foal to be born, you can feel the possibility. And then when the foal is born, there’s an opportunity to feel possibility. For some people, it’s buying a new horse. Sometimes it’s just buying a horse. Like, for me, maybe that was my more recent mini, you know, and maybe it’s a horse that’s already trained. Maybe that’s something you’ve always wanted to do and you finally bought this horse that’s trained and you want to learn more about this event and you’ve got this feeling of possibility, like the possibility is there that this next summer, this next year, you can feel that possibility. I want you to identify where you feel it in your body. And then if those didn’t–didn’t resonate with you, here’s another situation. So imagine this. Imagine that there was this giveaway and you just had to like enter your name to win a million dollars and you’re like, yeah, that happens like, you know, more frequently than you’d think that you enter your name somewhere. But on this one, let’s say that every day, the number of people in the group that could win keeps getting smaller. So let’s say you enter your name to win a million dollars, but you’re thinking, yeah, well, you know, there’s millions of people that did that. But then the next day they tell you it’s been limited down to one million people and you’re still in the group and you’re like, oh, well, that’s something. And then the next day they tell you, we’ve made another cut and you are in. You’re one of 100,000 people that still stands a chance of winning this million dollars. All of a sudden, you can start to feel like the possibility growing. And then the next day you get a message that it’s been limited down to a thousand people and you are one of a thousand people that could win this million dollars. Can you feel how that would build this possibility of winning would build? And then the next thing you get a message and you are one of 100 finalists that could win this million dollars. And then the next day, you’re one of 10 people that could win this million dollars. What I want you to do when you’re using your imagination there is to feel the sense of possibility and to see what that actually feels like in your body. So maybe when you’re listening, you can’t even do it as you’re just listening to me talking through it. Maybe you have to actually stop and really go into detail about what that would be like. So if I think about it, it feels exciting, you know? So physically like, I can feel like this excitement in my body and my eyes open a little bit wider and my heart races a little bit more. But what’s interesting is it’s not just plain excitement because I actually notice with possibility for me, my breathing actually gets deeper. And it’s kind of interesting. So in a way possibility to me, it feels a little bit like excitement, but it’s got this deeper feeling to it kind of almost like it feels more grounded. Like excitement to me is even more I don’t know what to say, like high frequency, it’s more up there. But this possibility, like I kind of want to breathe in this possibility. So there’s this deeper breath. But there’s this also this feeling of like my eyes being open, my shoulders back, my looking up, my heart, you know, kind of races a little bit, too. And if I sound completely crazy right now, which I could to some people who are listening, I would actually suggest if this sounds like totally over the top right now, then what I think you should start with is to actually just watch yourself for the next week and write down the top three emotions that you feel this week and practice them. And for this exercise, if you really are like, I don’t even understand what you’re talking about with this connection between this, like what it feels like in your body, like I’ve always thought about it in my head. If you’re having that, then I want you to feel any the top three emotions that you feel this week. Positive, negative doesn’t matter at all and really start practicing where you feel them in your body. So maybe you’re going to feel frustrated. That’s OK to say you feel frustrated. I want you to be able to identify where you feel frustration in your physical body. Does that make you tighten your shoulders? Does it make you hunch forward? What does frustration do in your body? Because remember this your horse is reading your body, and there’s so many times when people will try to have these thoughts in their minds. They’ll be like, I’m going to be more positive when I’m working with my horse, I’m going to. But what’s interesting is. Sometimes people, when they’re trying to work with their horse and show up in a–in a–in a more productive way, sometimes people end up acting just like that little kid that’s trying on an emotion but doesn’t really mean it. So sometimes if you say these things in your mind and then you kind of pretend in your body, sometimes your horse might experience you like that little kid that was like pretending to be upset but wasn’t really upset. And–and so there’s there’s still a little bit of disconnect, so I highly recommend that you get really good at feeling where these different things happen in your body, like frustration or whatever. Some of these it doesn’t affect whether it’s positive or negative. You just need to start identifying where you feel it in your body because there are different things that for me, I’ll feel in my shoulders or I’ll feel in my core. But there’s other things I feel in my legs, and there’s things I feel in different parts of my body. And it’s so fascinating because the better I get at this, the faster I can identify things that are going, not the way I want when I’m riding my horse, and a lot of times I can track it to a piece of my body and this disconnect, and so you really if you get good at feeling where these emotions are living in your body, it can be really helpful because if you’ve ever been around somebody who you thought was pretending and emotion, and even though they were acting it out, they they–it makes me also think of like, like like a really low budget movie when you’re like, this is not connecting with me at all because you’re thinking these actors are really bad and they are not generating the feeling to the point where I’m connecting with it. There are times that I watch people interacting with their horses and the horses having that same experience. The horse is like, Mm hmm. Yep. You don’t–you don’t actually mean that. And I think horses are even better than people at detecting the real feelings, the real emotions, the real way we are versus the pretend. So this is very good work to do if you want to improve your communication with your horse.

Stacy Westfall: Now here’s an interesting thought. When you’re practicing an emotion like possibility, when you start practicing something like possibility, what you might notice if you tried possibility on for five minutes a day for the next week it would be really interesting because some people call this dreaming. And so if you try on this feeling of possibility, I want you to like actually think, like, what would it be like to try this on like it’s a coat or some other piece of clothing. Like I’m going to put on possibility and I’m going to wear it in my body and I’m going to pretend I’m going to feel it. I’m going to remember what it felt like when I felt as a child or whatever situation really brings it up for you. And if you practice that every day, you’ll do some interesting things because you’ll get way more aware of it, and it’s a lot like when Barbara challenged us all to cry for $10,000. What’s interesting is that you’ll start to notice that, to feel possibility, to really, truly feel it. Your mind will start finding these things, to dream about these things, to dare to hope about, and you’ll start to feel that daring side of possibility. Like, I could be brave and I could dream that big. And your brain will actually start to shift to look for these positive ways that this could be possible. And it’ll a lot of times also look for ways that you’ve experienced possible before, and it worked out. I think it’s so fascinating to do this exploration because listen to what Walt Disney said. I love this quote. Walt Disney said, “every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse. So the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.” And basically, what we’re doing when we’re doing these exercises of practicing something like possibility is we’re exercising of the imagination and trying on emotions can feel really awkward if you are very out of practice. All the more reason to try it on. I will give you one warning if your brain works anything like mine when my brain starts trying on something like possibility. A lot of times right in the middle of trying on something like possibility and dreaming bigger and thinking how this could work, my brain, this part of my brain will offer me a different thought that says something like, you shouldn’t get your hopes up so high. And when you hear those little extra thoughts of like, don’t get your hopes up too high, something bad could happen. It probably won’t happen, blah blah blah. Just watch for those sneaky thoughts. My favorite one to do at that moment is to just be like, Nope, I’m trying on possibility for five minutes, so you’re not welcome here. I’ll deal with you later. But one thing to keep in mind is this even if you’re in the middle of your five minutes of trying on possibility and at two and a half minutes in, the thought comes in. Don’t really dare to think that. Don’t really dare to believe that. Who do you think you are? You’re not–never going to be able to do that. Like whatever the thought is, whatever the feeling is, whatever is there, the minute that shows up and you recognize it, you’re already doing it right. Isn’t that crazy? That in the middle of failing to be able to put on possibility for five minutes straight without an interruption, then noticing of the interruption, the awareness of the fact that your brain is offering you a different thought and that you have a choice in whether or not you’re going to accept that interruption is exactly what I was talking about in Episode 152. If you can become aware of your state of mind during an event, even if it’s the awareness of what’s not working, you are on your way to greater awareness and this will lead to better communication with your horse. The last thing I wanted to tell you about Barbara Schulte is that our paths crossed again recently because she just started her podcast and interviewed me for that. So if you would like to listen to Barbara and the people that she interviews and the work that she does, you can search for her in your podcast player or I’ll put links in the show notes. Her name if you’re searching your podcast player is Barbara Schulte. And again, I will put links to that in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

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  1. Debra Leong on November 11, 2021 at 1:54 pm

    I just LOVE this!!!! As a horse lover w
    ho does not have a horse but loves listening anyway, I found this so wonderful. I’m a yoga instructor and have been practicing for 30 years, and this is sooooooooooooooo true. No, my dear, you don’t sound crazy to me at all. We teach this all the time and it can be so powerful.

  2. Karen Randa on October 28, 2021 at 9:55 am

    You will laugh at this one I use Lamaze with brushing my horses somewhere. It helps me because I have to concentrate on doing it. It has to be something that takes control of this crazy head of mine.

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