Episode 156: Three mistakes I nearly made at the AQHA world show

Going ALL IN on a goal contains many learning opportunities.
In this podcast, I discuss these three challenges and how I overcame them at the AQHA world show.
1) I was tempted to become overly focused on this one event and loose sight of the big picture.
2) I was tempted to let the results of the show determine my success.
3) I was tempted to loose hope when circumstances were NOT IDEAL.

I knew in the end, no matter the outcome, I was going to get what I came for…which was learning.


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 your time with your horse. This week, I’m going to share three mistakes I nearly made at the horse show I just came back from and how they tie into life coaching. Last week, I mentioned that I was headed to the AQHA, the American Quarter Horse Association World Show. And I am home now, but I am suffering from horse show hangover. I am physically and mentally exhausted, and I’m really glad for that because I was actually thinking on the 16-hour drive home about how good it feels to know that I went all-in on something, physically and mentally all in. I think that maybe this is even a better way of describing what I was talking about in the last episode of, you know, when I mentioned challenging yourself. Because I got thinking about it after I posted that episode that I want to be clear that the way that one person challenges themselves will very likely look different from how someone else challenges themselves. So when I share examples of the things that I’m doing to challenge myself, that is just so that I have a framework so you can understand the concept of what I’m talking about, because you can go all-in on things and you don’t even have to leave home. You can go all-in on something and–and stay right on your property and have that experience. So it doesn’t have to be hauling 16 hours to an event, but that happens to be the way that I chose to stretch myself. You know, one thing that stays the same when I’m thinking about stretching yourself is that you’ll know because there will be a phase where you’re dreaming about doing something and then there’ll be a phase where you’re planning it and figuring out and working and doing the work to create it, and then there’s typically some kind of a peak where you can measure that you’ve gone all-in. And then there’s the feeling I’m just now stepping into which for me when I’ve gone all-in on something–so let’s look at this show in November. I’ve been doing little steps that have been little versions of this, little versions of planning and little versions of working all the way up and there were little things but they were they were all in, but they were on a different level, and it’s been slowly increasing throughout the year until I went to this one. And at this one, instead of just needing like, you know, a night to recover or a day to recover, I feel completely spent. It was a peak moment and I’ve been stretched physically and mentally, and this is how I know that this was the end of this season because it’s just completely all-in, nothing else left. And for me, I love setting myself up to do that a few times a year, but not super frequently because there is, especially with the horses, there is a physical as well as the mental energy that is spent if we have some of these really big goals that require a lot of both physical and mental energy.

Stacy Westfall: I did something a little differently on this trip, and I had the idea of recording a podcast in my mind before I left. And with that in mind, I also took my journal and made really clear notes on things I wanted to talk about when I got back to record. And what I’ve come up with for this podcast are the three mistakes that I nearly made at this show. I want to share those with you and the insights that I learned due to all the thought work I’ve been doing. The first mistake that I nearly made was becoming very tempted to get overly focused on this one event and lose sight of the big picture. So even in the beginning of this podcast, when I’m talking about this being like a peak event that is a peak event for this year but I like to make sure that I have an even longer-term in mind. So one way that I was able to get myself away from this near mistake was I was able to ask, How does this show fit into my long-term plans? Why am I here? Why am I going to Oklahoma? What is the long-term perspective on this show? Why did I sign up for it? And when I started asking myself these questions, I was able to put this show into a different perspective because, for me, it’s a lot easier sometimes to just make this show the one big thing. But when I zoom out and I focus on the big picture of either this year or, let’s say, three years out, then it gives me a perspective that makes it easier for me to see what it’s going to look like from the future. So one thing I did when I was doing this was when I felt this pressure that I talked about in the last podcast, when I felt this pressure building up, I was able to identify that a lot of this pressure was coming from this thought that this one show meant a lot. And then when I was able to shift into imagining myself on December 31st of this year and I was imagining myself sitting down my journal, probably snowing outside, maybe I’m drinking a cup of coffee. If I look back from that perspective of December 31st, will I think showing in Oklahoma was a good idea regardless of the outcome? So win or lose, December 31st, looking back, was this a good idea to go to? And yes, that was easy for me to say yes to because I know that there will be things when I go to a show like this that I will learn that will help be with future goals. So I have goals beyond this year with my horses. So although this goal might be the pinnacle of this year, it’s not going to be the pinnacle forever. And so this different perspective, this way for me to look at this current event that’s right in front of me and it’s feeling really big and looming, when I’m able to take myself out to the future, it helps me understand that this show is just another step. It’s not the end. And I think that’s kind of an interesting thing because I could feel the pressure that I was putting on myself. And we all know that if, as a rider, I’m doing that, if I’m putting that kind of pressure on myself, it’s going to overflow to my horse. So if I know that my future self knows that I made a really good choice, then it’s a lot easier for me to recognize that this is just another stepping stone. And it kind of de-escalates this, this mistake of becoming almost overly focused on this one event and potentially losing sight of the big picture.

Stacy Westfall: The next mistake I nearly made was being tempted to let the results of the show determine my success. So even before I ended up at the show, while I was driving to Oklahoma, I could feel this wrestling match going on. For me, a lot of times I feel that in my body. So I’ll feel things like tension or pressure. But if I slow down enough and look, I can usually find the cause in my mind. And one thing that I knew I was struggling with was how to measure success at this show. If I didn’t allow the winning or losing to be my measuring tool and my brain really resisted this idea, because when I think about it, society, movies, all these different things have really conditioned us that when we compete in something that we need to really value the winning and maybe feel bad about the losing or something to that effect. There are these ideas that are in my mind, even if I didn’t necessarily choose them just because I’ve been around society. So for me, it was really important to remember that when I show my horses, all I can ever do is show my horse at the current level of their training and the best of my ability. And so I always hope that within those rules–so that means I show my horse at her current ability, not a different ability of a different horse that I’ve ridden in the past and the best of my current ability–if I do that, if I follow those rules, hopefully, we can still win. But I actually don’t want to win outside of those rules, so it kind of gives me a structure to follow. And as I was thinking about this going into it, and I really wanted to get clear so that it wasn’t vague, I wanted a lot of clarity on each day so that I could let go of this wrestling match that I could feel wanting to go on in my mind and my body. I actually decided to write my own success goals each day before the day began, how I was going to measure my success. So these are what showed up in my journal. So my goal on day one, I rode two tests on day one, was to ride both tests from memory and to get scores that would be considered qualifying scores at USDF, that’s the dressage association shows. So that means that I can ride, I get a specific score, which is a number, and if those numbers are a certain level, they would be considered qualifying scores. So that means that even if there are, you know, other people in the class, they get higher scores, I still know I got a qualifying score. So my goal that day, ride the test from memory, get what would be considered qualifying scores. On day two my goal was to ride both tests from memory, I rode two again, and to be completely present. I wrote that after day one, because day one I noticed I rode them and I got the scores, but I didn’t feel truly present. Even in the middle of showing I could feel my mind wanting to wander to–forward or backwards like to review something I had just done, or to be concerned with something that was coming up, or oddly enough, in the arena that we were in like there were trucks driving by and different things going by, and my awareness was kind of wandering around. So on day two, I really wanted to make sure I was very present for Willow in the arena. On day three, the day that–that morning before I showed, I actually wrote down that one of my goals was to admit how tired I was and ask for help because I was going to ride 4 tests that day and I decided that I wanted to have somebody read or call the tests for me, which is something you’re allowed to do. But one of my goals had been to ride from memory and yet by having this overall goal of the show of–of being very present, I was able to realize that I was just getting really physically and mentally tired and that asking for help was the next thing I really wanted to do. And then on day four from my journal, I’m reading, Willow and I will ride our best movements from home in the arena, and it will end exactly as it was meant to. So that was my day 4, final day of showing goal.

Stacy Westfall: Now, it’s interesting, I think that when I look back at these and pull them out of my journal, I can notice that how I decided to measure things, it still lines up with the possibility of winning. You know, if I’m getting scores, that would also be qualifying scores, that’s something that I have in my control, even though I can’t control somebody else scoring higher than that. So it sets me up, but it keeps my eye on the things I can control, or at least the things I have more control over. Because the third thing I wanted to talk about, mistake I nearly made was I was tempted to lose hope when the circumstances that happened were not ideal. And so the way that I end up writing this out was, can I believe even when the results aren’t there? Because there were definitely moments inside of those goals on the days, it just didn’t feel like it was working in the middle of it. I’m going to review that in detail in just a moment. But before I go there, I want to say that on the drive down and even the few days before I left to drive down, I was already reflecting on how I wanted to show up at this show. And I was really looking for one thought that I could practice the entire trip. And I tried on a whole bunch of different ones, and the one that I ended up with was, this is all happening for me. And this was really helpful for me when I was even recording last week’s podcast, and I was talking about all those negative emotions. That way when I would actually feel some of those emotions I don’t love, like nervous or worried or pressure, when I felt those and I then overlaid the thought, this is all happening for me, it allows me to shift into a different perspective. And so instead of viewing the pressure that I was feeling as a sign that something’s gone wrong, I was actually able to feel the pressure or have the thought this was all happening for me, and that opened me up to learning new things. So one thing I learned about myself is that very early on in my professional show career, I developed a habit of applying a lot of pressure to myself around showing. And I’m not sure exactly where it came from. Maybe it came from watching too many movies. It’s funny because I want to like, I want to, like, have that theme song from, like the Rocky movie playing in my mind right now, as I’m saying that. And it’s like, you can feel, even when you watch these movies, how they’ll be like this pressure building up, they’ll use the music to bring all of this up. And then I can also think back to times that other people offered me thoughts before I was showing, and I made those into pressure. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but I definitely know that this is a habit. And the reason I know it’s a habit is that working around this show, I was able to notice that there were times I could get myself in a–in a mental space that felt very quiet, which is actually the place I know I ride best from. But when I got there, it felt like something was missing. And that’s when I know something is like a habit. I’m going to use this as an example. When I first started showing in traditional dressage and down at this AQHA world show, I was showing in traditional and western dressage. When I first started showing in traditional dressage and I would head to the show arena, I would feel like something was missing because in the Western world, when I go to show I’m always putting on chaps or something. So I’ve got on my jeans and then I’m putting some kind of heavy leather over the top of that. Now you turn around and I’m going to show in dressage. This means I’m wearing those thin pants that are more like yoga pants. So I literally felt like something was missing when I would go to show in dressage because I didn’t have those heavy chaps on. That’s what this habit of pressure feels like to me. When I’m able to drop it and know that I’m in a good place, it feels like something’s missing because I’ve brought that pressure habit along with me for so long that not having it there is like not wearing my chaps up to the show arena. But what I know is now that I’ve identified it this clearly to where it’s actually a physical sensation, much like wearing or not wearing the chaps, and now that I really have a handle on it, now I have the power to change it. And I know that going forward, this is going to help me a lot long term because there’s been other times when I’ve been showing horses where it’s almost like I have to like, eventually stumble onto this feeling. Now I feel like I have the power to identify it and create it. And a lot of that came from practicing this thought. This is all happening for me.

Stacy Westfall: The next time I got to really practice that thought that was super memorable was on day two. Now, on day two, you could remember my goal was to ride all tests from memory and to be present. Doesn’t sound too bad, going to ride two tests, going to be present. Well, let me explain that you can–turns out, be present and totally forget something. So I was totally present during my test. And what that meant to me when I went in to ride it was that I was going to be very focused on my seat bones and my weight shifting and my hands and my breathing and my shoulders, and how I’m riding and giving Willow the cues that she needs to be supported. And what happened was about three-quarters of the way through the test, I turned left and forgot where I was going. Now I knew the general direction. I knew I was headed to the corner-ish. I just wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go to the end letter at the corner or the second to the end. In this flash moment when I turned the corner because now I’ve ridden all these tests and all these letters are in my mind and I’m riding this from memory. I knew the general direction, but I couldn’t quite remember if it was the end letter or the second letter from the end, and I’m cantering. And I was able to, three strides into this confusion, take a deep breath and choose a letter. And so cliffhanger, I did actually choose the correct letter, but it’s easy to think–for me, like especially when I wrote the goal of being present I thought writing the goal of being present was going to make it feel like I was present and therefore mistakes wouldn’t happen. What I learned was that I was totally able to hit my goal of riding these from memory and being present. But part of being present for me was learning that there could be a moment in the middle of the test where I was going to feel lost and I was going to have enough presence of mind to take a deep breath, exhale, make a decision, and ride on. And I think that was possible because I had been practicing the thought at this point for several days because I practiced it the whole drive down. So if somebody cut me off in traffic, I was thinking, this is all happening for me. So when–when I had this moment and in the back of my mind have this, this is all happening for me, and I took a deep breath and I exhaled and I chose and then I was able to see that the gift of that ride was learning that I could recover mid-stride. And this was even more meaningful to me, because two years ago, I had pretty much the exact same experience, different test, but I actually stopped in the middle of that test. There was no deep breathing, there was no recovery. I actually ended up stopping because I just didn’t know where to go. And so this thought, this is all happening for me, and this goal of being totally present helped me recover. And what’s interesting is that in recovering from that moment in the arena, solely by myself, realizing this is all happening for me, deep breath, pick, ride on, take what is meant to be. And what happened for me was that that actually made it possible for the next ride that I rode–like two hours later had to go learn another test, be back in the arena, ride another test–that next test I felt the feeling of freedom while I was showing in that test. And I wrote in my journal, and I remember just thinking this, this feels amazing, as I came down into a corner, went to turn up on centerline to end, and I just had that presence of mind to be totally in my mind and body and with Willow and riding up the center line and thinking, this is the total–this is that feeling of freedom that I want when I show. And I got that, not because I never experienced the fear, but because I experienced that fear. I’m telling you it is a gut gripping tightness that makes you want just like, you hear my throat tighten up when I try to think about it again? Like, it is very unpleasant to turn the corner in the middle of the test with two judges watching you and not know exactly where you’re going. But to encounter it and breathe through it and overcome it gave me the power to have the next ride and the ride the next morning feel just amazing. The ride the next morning, I had that same presence of mind, that total feeling of riding the test for memory and a feeling of freedom. And then it was really interesting because the thought, this is all happening for me, was giving me so much freedom to be present and to be there and to be absorbing and doing was that it also helped me recognize that now this was day three of showing and on day three of showing, I was signed up to show 4 tests. And these tests have about 20 different movements apiece and they’re all different but they’re all like scrambling the same letters up in different orders. And I was able to have enough presence of mind and enough awareness of my body and mind to realize how tired I was. And I was–made the decision to make a shift and ask for a reader, ask for somebody to help me out, without feeling like a failure. And if you had asked me before the show, then I would have–potentially one of my goals was to go ride all of these from memory. So I actually prepared for this show at home like I was going to ride these all from memory. I rode them all from memory here at home. But on day three, knowing this is all happening for me, I was able to recognize that I was really running up against the edge of my physical and mental energy, and that asking for help was what I needed to do. And that was it was so game-changing for me. It was just so interesting to have had the experience of choosing to ride, having that very fearful moment when I thought I was completely lost in the test, then having my next two tests just feel amazing, and then from a place of amazing to also be able to recognize that I could ask for help from that place. That–that was just a cool experience.

Stacy Westfall: And then that little phrase, it might have helped me the most on day four. The phrase, this is all happening for me, may have helped me the most on day four, because on day four in my journal I wrote, Willow and I will ride our best movements from home in the arena, and it will end exactly as it was meant to. But what happened was on day four, we went in and in the middle of my test, Willow had a very bad coughing spell. So we were coming across the diagonal and she coughed a couple of times. We turned the corner to a 10-meter circle and she was really coughing. Like, I’m glad she has bridleless cues because I had to give her her head and she’s fully coughing and then she started to recover, coughed a couple more times into the next movement and then we finished and in the middle of her coughing as I just give her her head and let her cough, and even I’m feeling whether or not she wants to stop or whether she wants to keep going, in the moment of having enough awareness to be fully there for her I was fully there and having the thought, this is all happening for me, even though I have no idea how. And and we finished the test incident-free and just so you’re not worried, Willow is completely fine. The dust–the barns were very dusty. People were using air blowers and they were blowing it, it was creating a lot of dust, and I think that’s all it was because she hasn’t gotten sick or anything. But in the middle of having an incident that was very not planned, like a bad coughing spell where it’s like nobody, it’s like–it’s not my choice, her choice is sort of feels really out of control, it was very interesting to have practiced the thought, this was all happening for me, enough times that that didn’t pull me down in a way I know it would have in the past. When I look back through my journal and I reflect on the show, I think it’s really interesting that I was moving between all three of these concepts. These–they were struggles for me, but they were also things that I overcame. I was moving between these concepts the whole time, although I actually experienced them in the order that I presented them to you here. So the first thing that really was at work for me was this future focus, thinking of thinking about myself December 31st or three years from now. And that really helped get me grounded to the why of I was going to this event. It really helped keep that and put it in perspective. And then my personal definition of success each day was something that was able to help me feel like I had control over what–what was happening for success, despite what the show results might have been. And this–can you feel how that still fits into that future focus? And then that third one, this is all happening for me, that practicing that thought, that one was just amazing, especially as I became more physically and mentally tired. Because in the end, no matter what the outcome of the show was, I knew I was going to get what I came for. I wrote this down in my journal: I’m going to get what I came for, which is learning. And the whole point of this life coaching I keep talking about is maximizing your full potential and reaching your desired results. It’s this awareness that there is this longer and longer-term and yet each of these moments even down to the moment when my horse is coughing in the arena, each of these little moments is what building these future moments. And this awareness of being able to be fully present is just amazing. I absolutely want to highlight that I still had moments of negative emotions, like in a way every one of those mistakes I listed is something I did experience. And the only reason that I put it as almost a mistake is because I was also able to recover from it. So it was quite the adventure. It feels like I recorded last week’s podcast a month ago, not a week ago. So much has happened in the last week. It’s all been sandwiched in there. It’s so much learning and emotion and and and physical and mental and driving and all of it. In the end, Willow and I rode 10 tests in 4 days. We showed in both the traditional dressage and the western dressage. All of our scores for the entire weekend were consistent. And that’s something that is–means a lot to me. And. They were all at the top of our current ability, and they were all qualifying level scores. So I was able to reach my own personal goals for the show. And on top of that, we won three of the four divisions that we were entered in and we were reserve champion in the other. It felt so good to go all-in on this goal. Everything. If anybody has sent me an email, if anybody has sent me messages, you’ll know I haven’t gotten them because I was 100 hundred percent all-in on this goal. And now it feels totally amazing to be home and to be experiencing the contrast of the quiet and the time to rest. I hope you are setting and going after big goals because there’s so much you can learn from them. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

<h3>Links mentioned in podcast:</h3>


Willow (I Can Can I) AQHA World show 2021, Three wins and one reserve championship.


  1. Michele Starling on November 12, 2021 at 1:30 pm

    Congratulations!! You two are a joy to watch! Yes, wisdom in accepting, and even embracing mistakes as a learning experience, comes with age. Lol
    I want to say that I’m so happy I reached my goal this year in “harmony”. My scores went from last year’s 6ish scores to 7.5 scores. Yay! Not 8 but still moving up. Not staying, or going down. My new goal is getting a 70%. My highest thus far is an 68.2%. Excited for next year!
    Thanks for the encouragement! So enjoy your podcast!

  2. Colleen Spada on November 11, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    Awesome job Stacy!! You are really a pleasure to watch take on new adventures! Congratulations!

  3. Ruth McDermott on November 10, 2021 at 10:13 am


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