Episode 157: What ‘they’ say…and what I make it mean about me as a rider.

When someone makes a comment there is; what we hear, what we make it mean and how we can learn from it.
A judge wrote, “You got just about every possible point out of this willing, obedient horse who is just not gifted with elasticity. Good training.” Not everyone reacted the same as I did to this.
I’ve also had people say things that I DID negatively react to. I share my thoughts on why these comments ‘sting’.
The true power in someone else’s words comes from our interpretation of them.




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 some ideas about how to handle things that other people say that might seem hurtful or unkind or unpleasant or untrue. Basically, going to discuss what we hear, what we make it mean, and how we can learn from it. If you have listened to the last two episodes, you’ll know that I recently showed Willow at the American Quarter Horse Association World Show in traditional dressage and Western dressage. One thing that I really like about dressage is that after you show you receive a lot of written feedback from the judge. So each movement is given a number score, which represents a word. So, for example, if you get a six, it means satisfactory, a seven means fairly good, and eight means good. So the numbers represent words and then in addition to those numbers, the judge will often comment on many of the movements that you did during the test. And in those written comments beside each movement, they’re usually either suggesting how you can improve that score or they’re telling you something that you did well. And then at the end of the test, there’s a spot where the judge has a little bit more space to write. And on this back of the test, there’s often an overall comment. And when I get my test back, the first thing I read is the score, so just my overall score. And then the next thing I read is this overall comment. And some judges write something really brief and others will expand it and write longer because now they have more room to kind of summarize the whole ride. So an example of something short would be a couple of years ago when I was showing Willow a judge wrote on the back of one of my tests, “cute pony,” and drew a heart. And for the longest time, this was one of my favorite comments, not because it was super informative as far as like what to improve. That judge had actually conveyed everything she wanted to convey already within the scores and the comment on each movement. But she just kind of summarized her experience with, “cute pony,” and drawing a heart. And I love that comment. When I was at the AQHA World Show, I actually received my favorite comment of all times. Any dressage test I’ve ridden everywhere, I got my favorite comment ever down there, so I’m going to read it to you and then explain some things I learned from it. So the comment said this: You got just about every possible point out of this willing, obedient horse who is just not gifted with elasticity. Good training.

Stacy Westfall: What’s interesting is that when I read this comment, I actually got emotional. So I was doing that really weird thing where like, you know, you’re almost thinking about crying tears of gratitude, like these joyful tears while like laughing but not actually wanting to cry or laugh really like out loud. So I read this, and it meant so much to me that I actually drove around with this test, just this one, on my dashboard with that comment side up for the next few days because I really, really love the comment. Here’s why I loved the comment so much. I love the comment so much because I agree with it. So what happened is I read the comment and it resonated with me. I believe that in my training, I’m getting nearly every possible point that Willow has to offer. So when the judge wrote and confirmed this thought, I had an emotional reaction to it. I felt grateful. I felt grateful that the judge recognized the level of training that Willow had achieved, and I was really very thankful that she recognized Willow as willing and obedient. And the part that made me want to do that, like crying laughing, was I was so tickled with the way that she described Willow’s lack because in saying it, she said, “who is just not gifted with elasticity.” And I just really found that humorous and accurate because in my opinion, it’s really true. So I personally think of Willow as this tiny little muscle-bound bodybuilder who’s trying to be a ballerina. So when the judge described her like that, I thought it was really funny because it summarizes what Willow is lacking, but in a way that I thought did it really well, “who’s just not gifted with elasticity.” So this is why I had the reaction to it because I read the words that the judge wrote and I had a thought that it was confirming things that I believed. And I also thought that it was a humorous way to explain some of what Willow lacks, what holds her back a little bit in getting higher scores. So this explains my reaction. Now what’s interesting is that right after I read this–so I read this, I’m having this reaction, I’m kind of like almost laughing out loud. I’m standing near the arena, so I actually don’t want to, like, make too much noise. And I start walking away and I walk about 30 feet from where I just had this reaction and I stopped to share this comment with some people that are standing there. And I basically just said, Listen to this comment. And I read it out loud. And it was really interesting because immediately one of the women responded with, well, that’s kind of a backhanded knock on your horse. And it caught me off guard to where I actually had to read the comment again because I was so caught up in my positive emotional reaction to the comment that I really was like, I don’t understand what she’s saying. So I was so fully in my reaction I couldn’t even tell how she was interpreting it. So I had to read it again. So I read, “you got just about every possible point out of this willing, obedient horse who is just not gifted with elasticity. Good training.” And so I was trying to read it and understand what this person had heard. Now it’s interesting because as soon as she had the reaction to it, that wasn’t the same as mine, I could have gotten defensive. But one thing that I like to do a lot of times is–is I like to pause when somebody says something really different like that and try to see the angle that they’re viewing it from. Because if I can see the angle they’re viewing it from, it doesn’t mean that I have to agree. It just means I’ll understand what slant they’re coming from. So let me try to read it again. “You got just about every possible point out of this willing, obedient horse who is just not gifted with elasticity. Good training.” And it’s funny because even now sitting here, I’m really not great at reading it from a negative slant because I still don’t see it from there, but I can hear how the angle about, you know, just not being gifted could be read as a negative. And what’s really interesting is that I’ve shared this on social media and some other places, and I think it’s really interesting because that one person’s reaction wasn’t alone. I’ve had several other people who have had similar reactions, which is a great reminder to me that the true power in someone else’s words, comes from our interpretation of them. So basically, there’s what they say, and then there’s what I make it mean. So in this example, I made it mean that the judge was confirming my thoughts. I made it mean that we agree. I made it mean that I’ve done what I set out to do with Willow, which is to develop her to her highest potential. And this judge agrees that I’ve done this. So for me, this was a positive comment, even though we can hear that other people didn’t agree with that, and that’s such an interesting thing. Because when I think about things that people say when I don’t agree–I’m going to say it like this–when it hurts, this is where it gets interesting. What if it’s the same thing? There’s what they say, and then there’s what I make it mean. Because after being online for decades and I have published thousands of written blogs, hundreds of podcasts, thousands and thousands of social media posts, I’ve had a lot of people offer their thoughts. To illustrate this, I jumped on and looked at some video comments and found this. Someone left the comment. “Those spurs are cruel and unnecessary. It pains me to see you constantly digging your spurs into this beautiful horse.” They shared their thoughts. And the first thing I do is, I think, does it sting? And it stings a little bit. The first part where it says the spurs are cruel and unnecessary doesn’t actually trigger me. It’s the sentence where it says, “It pains me to see you constantly digging your spurs into this beautiful horse,” and that one triggers me just a little bit, even though I’ve dealt with it a lot. And the reason is the phrasing that I’m digging my spurs into the horse. Because in my opinion, I’m not. So I disagree. So it’s really interesting to–for a couple of reasons. First of all, when the bareback bridleless ride first went up, there were a lot of negative comments about the fact that I had spurs on and it did sting a lot. And people were vulgar and crude and all kinds of different things when they were talking about the fact that I had spurs on. So I’ve actually dealt with this a lot and I can still feel just a little bit of reaction because of the way that this person phrased “constantly digging your spurs into.” And so it’s that phrasing right there. It’s not the phrasing of, “the spurs are cruel or unnecessary,” because I’ve dealt with that kind of flatter version like that quite a bit. But her interpretation of my ride, where she’s saying that I’m constantly digging my spurs in, I can feel when I read it, I can still feel like a little bit of a reaction to the way that she phrased it. And that’s kind of interesting because in general, I have the thought that I see it differently. So when I look on these video comments and people are watching me ride the horses, if I have a bridle, there’s a lot of times if it’s a shanked bit that somebody’s going to have a real problem with that. Sometimes they have a problem with the horse being ridden at all. A lot of times they have a problem with the fact that there are spurs and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have this thought: I see it differently. So when somebody sees all of it and–and they and they write that, you know, they’re impressed with the riding but can’t get past the spurs I understand that I see the use of spurs differently than they do. But I still like to take the time to slow down and try to see their point of view. And when I do that, it allows me to see from their point of view, even if I don’t agree with them. But when I feel that little bit of triggering, when I feel that little bit of reaction to the idea that she’s saying something about digging the spurs in, it’s really interesting to slow down when I can feel that reaction and actually look at what’s happening there. So there’s a little bit of fear that comes up around the idea that she thinks I’m digging my spurs in. When I watched the video, I see a horse that looks completely relaxed, confident, willing and I know because I’m the one riding that I’m mostly using the calf and that–that the spurs occasionally touch. But the horse is not having a reaction to the spur when it touches that’s much different than the leg. So it’s not like the horse is jumping out of her skin when I touch. So I don’t view it the same, but the fact that when I read her description of it that it triggers me, I feel a little bit defensive that she thinks I’m digging in. And so that tells me that there’s this little bit of me that is still really concerned about what other people think when they are watching me. I know that I dealt with this a lot when I was writing. It showed up a lot when I was blogging because back in the day when I was writing a blog every single day for over a year, and I have over a thousand blogs that I’ve published on my website. And with that many blogs, what happened was I really had to coach myself on the idea that I wasn’t going to be able to get it perfect. So I would start to write something and something that could have been a three-paragraph blog would end up being a three-page blog because I was trying to get it perfect because I didn’t want anybody to be able to say something that would potentially trigger me. But no matter how perfect I tried to get it. I realized eventually that people could still see it and interpret it the way that they were going to interpret it. There is still what we hear and then what we make it mean if they’re watching a video, there’s what they see and then what they make it mean. For me, the work really becomes when I feel something trigger me, when people have a comment, a reaction and they share their thoughts with me, I like to take what is useful. And so sometimes that is pausing for that moment to hear how somebody is seeing or hearing something from a different angle so I can learn how many ways you can view something. And sometimes it’s useful because I’m able to pause and really feel what happened in my body. Like, I’m going to say, did it sting? And then what I think when–when I feel something that stings is I think, wow, I should thank them even if just in my head, because this points out a spot that I need to look at. That sting isn’t caused by what they said. It’s caused by a thought in my head and what I’m making their comment mean. It’s a great way for me to practice deciding what I believe on different subjects, because, for example, with the spurs, I want to be really strong in my belief around what I’m doing and when I feel that little bit of a trigger, when I read somebody’s comment or somebody says something, then I know that that little bit of a sting, that little bit of a reaction is actually pointing towards an area where I have some work to do. One of the other comments that was on the–the channel with the bareback bridleless I thought was kind of funny, it said, “I’ve seen better at the circus.” That one was kind of funny because it didn’t trigger me at all. I thought, circuses are pretty cool. I can see that. So again, there’s what we hear and there’s what we make it mean, and then there’s how we can learn from it. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Links mentioned in podcast:


  1. Susan on November 24, 2021 at 1:51 pm

    So, why do you wear spurs? Honest question. I’ve never seen you ride. One of my horse-riding friends has, and admires your horsemanship. So, as I said, this is an honest question.

  2. Sheryl on November 23, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Hi Stacy, Really appreciate you putting yourself out there and being real, it means a lot. People (and judges) only see a tiny tiny piece of our journey, there’s so much they don’t know, the obstacles perhaps that you had to overcome to just make it to the show that day, the countless hours you and your partner have put in to be where you are at that moment, that may or may not be apparent on that day. We of course strive to better our technical scores every time we get out there, but for me the most important scores and comments are about us as a team, our connection and harmony, because for me that is the most important thing, and the better that is the better the technical stuff will get. I always try to keep my sense of humor and take comments with a grain of salt, of course sometimes emotion factors in, but at the end of the day, I know I am always working to be the best for my horse (my partner) and I know how far we’ve come, I hope the judges can see that and mostly they do, and I know, unfortunately, there are people judging others based on a moment they have no context for, and while they can be hurtful I do my best to filter it because, at the end of the day, I will always remain true to the one opinion that matters most to me, my partner, my mare!

  3. Rene Hughes on November 20, 2021 at 10:40 am

    Since I wasn’t able to come to clinic … I listen to my first podcast of yours … really enjoyed … one thing I realized from showing AQHA shows to going to Dressage shows and seeing comments is different perspective and some might not get it … lessons from a dressage trainer is a whole new ball game … But all good for rider and horse… I took judes comments the way you do because when I saw Willow for the first time I said oh how cute ..?.. Can’t wait to listen to more ..

  4. Ruth McDermott on November 17, 2021 at 9:38 am

    Hi Stacy. The link to today’s podcast does not seem to be working?

    Thanks for your help.


    • Stacy Westfall on November 17, 2021 at 5:52 pm

      Thanks for letting me know! I fixed it…should be working now!

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