Episode 162: Leave room for the magic

I think there can be a magical dance between dreaming and doing.

In this podcast I discuss:

-dreaming and the nuts-and-bolts of training
-why it looks like some trainers don’t like horses
-how to make progress when you aren’t sure exactly what you want to do with your horse
-the idea that all disciplines share the same foundation training


Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I help riders become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. In this episode, I’m going to talk about the magical dance between the dream and the how, as in, how to get it done. This episode will release the week of Christmas, so the word magic is in the air. It makes me want to say, leave room for the magic. And then as soon as I say that, it makes me think of empty space. Quite literally a few years ago, it’s actually been quite a while, I’m not sure how many years ago, but many, I heard somewhere that you should try leaving a little bit of empty space in your house, maybe an empty drawer in the kitchen or an empty shelf. And it’s actually been a really interesting practice for me to do because leaving a physical, empty space does something to your mind. So what I’m talking about in this episode is leaving room for the magic, meaning how do we figure out that dance between what we want and how we get it? I started talking a little bit in last week’s episode about the unknown. I was talking about the phrase, “I don’t know how,” and the power of wanting something because I think they’re tied together. Wanting something that we don’t currently have a lot of times means we don’t know how to get it. And I think part of the dance is understanding the magic of allowing that empty space to be there. This whole thing got me thinking about a concept that I introduced way back in Episode 3, which was in December of 2018. So when I looked it up and realized it released in December and I was talking about the dreaming phase, the learning phase, and what I call the balanced phase, when I look at the fact that that came out in December again, I think I was being influenced by this idea of this magical time of year. Because when I described it, I was talking about what I sometimes will call like my Disney phase or the part of me that wants to dream like a little girl, like somebody watching the Black Stallion movie or reading the book or Spirit or whatever different version of kind of a Disney movie. It’s basically just a different way of saying having a dream. And then back in that episode, I talked about a lot of times we go from this dreaming phase to a learning phase where we’re learning what I’m going to call the nuts and bolts of how to do things. And then I eventually want to get myself and people to the idea that you can actually have both of those at the same time, which is what I’m going to say this balancing act between this magical dance, between the dreaming and the nuts and bolts of how to do something.

Stacy Westfall: Now, before I go too far into this, I do want to mention that I see these stages, but I’m definitely not saying everybody else does. So you might go somewhere, you know, maybe you go to take lessons and you’re like, It seems like something’s missing. I don’t think everybody is quite aware of these stages or has the same goal of getting to this balance phase. Basically, a lot of times people want to get rid of the dreaming phase. They might replace it with a word like goal and make it sound more, you know, adult than dreaming like Disney kind of dreaming. But I think it’s just interesting to look at it almost a little bit more in the slightly more extreme version I’m going to present here and then see what pieces you can find that you want to include. The reason I’m going to mention this right here at the beginning is because sometimes people will run into this confused moment when they’re in the horse industry. I did, and this week I heard my husband talking on the phone with somebody who had also had this confused moment, and I’m going to describe that here. But basically, the experience for me was almost exactly the same as this person that was calling my husband this week to ask, like, I don’t understand this. And what happened to me years ago was I was a little girl in Maine and I loved all things horses. I eventually found a college in Ohio, and I came out to Ohio, which is where I live now and went to school at a college that had an equine program. And when I was there, what I started to notice as I got experience being around the horse world, trainers that trained professionally, full time, big-time shows, et cetera, what I ended up noticing was that I would come across horse trainers that didn’t seem to like horses, and that was confusing to me. And that’s what this person who called my husband for some advice was also experiencing. Like, I went to ride with this person and it doesn’t seem like they like horses. And it was such a good reminder to me about what this was like decades ago when I first ran into this. Because basically, what happened is I think that these people enter the horse industry with some kind of a dream. And maybe that’s got more of the Disney element, which is what I’m going to claim for myself. Or maybe it’s got more of a, you know, some other version, whatever you want to put on it. Maybe they’ve watched, you know, used to watch westerns and they want to ride, they want to train. Maybe they’ve been watching some of the more current shows that are out there and they–and that makes them want to be a trainer, but they kind of come into it from some sort of a dream-like idealistic, I’ll put it that way also, kind of a thing. Like I would love to be able to train horses full time. Maybe that doesn’t sound quite as Disney to you as my version does, but it’s got this idealistic kind of a version to it. And then a lot of times people go and they look for somebody who’s doing that. So let’s just use this example of, you know, I want to become a horse trainer. I want to ride horses all day. Then they go and they find a horse trainer and they’re like, How does it happen? This horse trainer doesn’t appear to like horses. And the reason, in my opinion, that this happens is because I still truly think, and when I ask people in this situation, a lot of times they can tell me about an original dream that they had and then the way that I’m going to say what happens is that they get into the nuts and bolts phase of the learning and then they stay there. Or they get in the nuts and bolt phase and they end up thinking, This is it. This is what there is. And they give up a little bit of that dreaming side that I refuse to give up. So they give up a little bit of that magical side. Maybe, maybe they’re not even looking for that magical side. I mean, realistically, there could very well be people that aren’t looking for that magical kind of side.

Stacy Westfall: Now, I think a lot of people who are listening to this podcast are listening because they want some version of relationship. So in the most extreme form of the nuts and bolts stage of learning, there really isn’t relationship because it’s truly just the for just the function, it’s just the function of the nuts and bolts. And I think that a lot of times when people see horse trainers that they want to, you know, say they shouldn’t be a trainer or whatever like that. Maybe they get good results at shows, but they look like they don’t have a relationship with the horse. It looks mechanical. That’s because that’s an expression of something being really far to the only being the nuts and bolts side of how it works. And again, don’t be mistaken, there can actually be people that that’s what they want. That was their goal. Now I tend to attract people that want both. They want to get results, they want to be safe, they want to enjoy their horses, they want the relationship, and they want the results of being able to do something. Go trail riding, go to a show, learn more, understand the bridleless. You know, there’s this dance between the relationship and the results. There’s this dance between what I’m calling the dreaming phase and this learning phase, this nuts and bolts. I love both. So be careful when you start thinking about the nuts and bolts and the fact that somebody only focused on the nuts and bolts–that doesn’t make the nuts and bolts part of learning, that doesn’t make that wrong. It just means they’re leaving out maybe the relational part where they don’t–they’re not looking for it. They don’t even want it. They don’t desire it. Whatever that is. So I wanted to put that up front because sometimes when people are, you know, all over the world listening to this podcast, they will say, I’ve been listening. I really want to learn more about, fill in the blank. That could be because I do reining and I do all these different things like, fill in the blank and then they go and they’re like, confused because they show up and they find a person. I just want you to be thinking, Am I looking at something that is primarily nuts and bolts and have–has it gone so far that it–it doesn’t contain the relationship piece of it anymore? I’m telling you, I am here. I want to be living proof that both are possible. You can have the nuts and bolts of it and you can have the relationship side of it. But just for those of you who might have run across, you might have accidentally been kind of turned off to the idea of understanding the nuts and bolts because it’s been presented to you as an either-or, especially if you run into somebody who kind of lives in that nuts and bolts world. They a lot of times will tell you, sometimes very directly, that the dreaming phase is childlike, which is actually why I purposely lay claim to the idea of this Disney phase. And hey, you know what? It’s worked for me. It’s where the bareback and bridleless riding came from is embracing the idea that I could have both. I want to understand all four of the quadrants that I’ve built this entire podcast off, from the rider’s mind, the rider’s body, the horse’s mind, the horse’s body. And I don’t want to get so far to one side that we are ignoring the nuts and bolts pieces of it. And I also don’t want to get so far to another side that we’re not acknowledging the relationship piece of it and that dream piece of it, because in my opinion, the magic lives in the dance between all four of these things.

Stacy Westfall: Now let me do a quick review of the stages that I outlined back in Episode 3 so that we can then discuss where the magic comes from. So the first stage that I see most riders come into the horse industry through is some sort of, you know, dream, aspirational stage. Mine, I call the Disney moments, but it could be something a little bit more like, you know, cowboy movies. Could be the Black Stallion books, could be something like that, but there’s usually something that has drawn people to the horses, to the horse industry, and there’s something that’s attracting them there. Now let’s just say that this person goes out, buys a horse, and then they end up at some point, typically transitioning into what I’m going to go back and forth between calling the learning stage and calling the nuts and bolts stage. I’m going to go back and forth between those two because what we’ve got is that dream stage really primarily lives in the mind. It’s very like aspirational and it’s–it’s very, you know, dreamy feeling. And then the learning stage, the nuts and bolts stage is much more hands-on physical. It’s what’s going on there. And typically, the thing that will kick off the learning stage for a lot of people are one of these two things: it’s either safety or it’s wanting more or a combination of both. So what that can mean is somebody watches a Disney movie, wants a horse, goes out, gets one, expects it to behave like Spirit, and then realizes that there’s a lot more to it. So the realizing there’s a lot more to it might be they can’t catch them in the pasture. It might mean that the horse is dragging them away when they’re leading them. It might be that they’re getting on in their riding, and it worked well for the first two months, but now it’s not working so well anymore. At some point, there becomes some kind of friction that typically kicks off this learning. I need to know more kind of a stage or the person buys the horse and goes into it kind of more aware that there is that learning stage. Like they buy a horse and they continue taking lessons from the trainer. They buy a horse and they’ve got goals for showing in Western dressage. So they bought a horse that had the training and they’re kind of on that track. So it’s sometimes people will jump in and be a little bit more in that middle where they’ve got, you know, they’ve kind of got the dreaming and the learning going right from the beginning. Other times people come in with more of purely just the dreaming side of it, and then they learn as they go the nuts and bolts of it. So there’s some kind of a dance between those two things. Now that’s actually what I’m going to consider the third stage. So to me, the first stage is dreaming. The second stage is the nuts and bolts or that learning phase, that how it works kind of phase. And then there is this balancing act between the two, which actually is what I think is magical. So this third stage is to me, when a person can believe in both that dreaming, whatever that dream or aspirational goal was that you had when you decided to get involved with horses, it’s believing in that at the same time that you’re learning the nuts and bolts. And what this means to me is that when you’re learning about the nuts and bolts, you don’t have to give up the dreaming and when you’re doing the dreaming, if things aren’t on track, if it’s not going the way that you were dreaming about, then maybe you need a little bit more of the nuts and bolts part of it. And to me, this is when we go back and forth between the two. That’s when we get into this balance phase where some really magical things can happen.

Stacy Westfall: So just in case this has been a little bit fuzzy, I want to go ahead and put it into a little bit more of an example. And the good news is I’m currently living what could be considered a fuzzy example. So let’s put this into action. Let’s make up a couple scenarios, one make-believe and one real, by using me, where how do we take action on making this dream or aspirational goal, how do we take this and make it real in the world? So let’s say that somebody is dreaming about getting a horse that they can enjoy going on a trail ride. Or maybe they get a horse and they’re they really are dreaming about going to a few shows and–and developing a relationship with this horse and spending time with friends because they have other friends that show or maybe somebody gets a horse and they’re open to doing whatever the horse is suited to. Whatever’s best for the horse is what they’re willing to do. So any which way, those are all dreams. And so this person is going to end up with a dream and a horse in this imaginary situation. I want to talk about it from the point of view of whatever suits this horse the best because I actually get a lot of emails from people who are in that situation. They’re kind of flexible about what the horse might be well suited for. They’re pretty flexible about what they’re willing to do with that. If you’re in that situation like I am, how does this work? Where does the magic fit in? But how do we fit in the nuts and bolts of it? So for me, what I–I’m literally in this exact situation with my horse, Presto. So if we look at my horse, Presto, if you’ve seen pictures of him, he’s the very big Appaloosa that I have. And I adopted him from the Last Chance Corral. You can find them on Facebook. You can see the work that they do. So I picked out Presto from a photo online when he was three days old. He was a nurse mare foal that was taken off his mom at three days old and ended up at Last Chance Corral. Now I chose him for the dream. I chose him for the experience of raising an orphan. That was pretty much guaranteed because of the way that I bought him. I wanted to actually explore this unknown path. So I picked a horse from a different breeding than I normally ride. I ride a lot of quarter horses and I picked this big horse that was a mixture of Appaloosa and Thoroughbred and Percheron. And so I picked this horse from a completely different breeding type situation what I normally ride. I picked him as an orphan. I picked him because of his color. I mean, honestly, when I was like, That’s it, I’m going to buy one, just impulse off the internet. Here I go. And yes, I did make some of my guesses looking at his photos when he was three days old. But what I did totally commit to was I committed to doing whatever this horse was best suited for. And I picked him at three days old, so there was a lot of guessing involved with that. Now, Presto is almost six years old. So what does the path look like with a horse that, in my case, I bought off the internet because he was different than anything else I’d ever worked with, and because I wasn’t clear on what his path would be? So what do I do with that? How do I put that into action? How do I put that into–how do I take the path of whatever suits the horse and not just go out there and like, stare at him and have him stare back at me and wait for him to, like, tell me what to do? Because he’s actually not that clear on like what his path is either. So how do I help unveil that? How do I get anything done in this situation? Well, the way that it works for me is that I have a foundation that I believe all horses need to know. So the way it works for me and what I believe is the reason that I’ve been so successful in what seems like all these unrelated disciplines, whether I’m out there doing mounted shooting or reining or bareback bridleless riding, whatever, you know, these different–western dressage, traditional dressage. When I’m mixing all these different things around, the reason it looks like it’s unrelated, but the reason it works for me is because I see it as related. Because the nuts and the bolts, the foundation, I believe, is the same no matter what the future career is.

Stacy Westfall: So I take young Presto and I start basically teaching him the basic education that I think a horse should have. It’s a little bit–I’m going to use the example of like teaching a child to read and write. So that’s one of the skills that we typically want to teach to children because those become some of the skills, the building blocks for teaching them to communicate. So we teach them ABCs. We teach them how to combine those into words. We can teach them how to combine those into sentences. And that all happens whether or not that child is going to be an author. You don’t have to want to write books to understand ABC, here’s a word, here’s a sentence. So what this is to me is that I’m teaching these horses these fundamental things. And as they’re learning these fundamental things, as the horses are learning the reading and writing skills, as I’m teaching them these different aides that the rider has, the way that they’re supposed to respond, what tends to happen is, although I’m going to teach these foundation pieces, I’m–I don’t teach one person a different alphabet than another if we’re all learning English. So we’re all learning English, we all learn the alphabet, we learn the words, we learn the sentences, and then we get creative. That’s what I’m doing with the horses. As I’m teaching the horses the skills I’m teaching them how to respond to the inside rein, how to respond to the outside rein, how to respond when both reins are used, how to respond to the left leg, how to respond to the right leg, how to respond to both legs at the same time, and the balancing act between the reins and the hands. And so as I’m teaching all of those things, it’s very nuts and bolts oriented, except it’s so fascinating when I think about myself going through, you know, I’m going to go back and just think about high school for myself. I remember being in classes where they were trying to explain to us that they’re teaching us how to read because they want us to comprehend. Now, you–so you teach things like comprehension. You teach some of these different things indirectly. You read, you discuss, you read, you just you have these experiences, you write, and you discuss, you write and you discuss you read and you just you go back and forth. So it’s like the nuts and bolts of the thing actually is what brings the–the the less tangible thing to life. And I think it works the same with horses. So if you’re after this dream–so I’ve already said I’m going to work on some of this bridleless riding with my horses this year. So one of my goals that I’m still working on getting into measurable, but I’m going to work on the bridleless riding this year. It’s going to be expressed, bridlelesss riding is going to be expressed, with one–one or both of my horses, Willow and Gabby this year. I’m going to start working on that. Now what that means to me, the bridleless riding is this higher-level aspirational goal, and the good news is I’ve been putting in all this time working on the nuts and bolts that have been leading me there. They’ve learned their ABCs, they’ve learned how to make words, they understand the technique that I’m using. They understand–listen to this–they comprehend what I’m trying to get them to do at a level that when I make the leap to the bridleless riding it’s not a leap, because they went past the nuts and bolts phase of you pick up on the left rein, and you apply pressure to the left rein and the horse goes, I don’t understand this. I’m going to open my mouth. I’m confused. This is scaring me. That is a very early stage where they don’t understand much. They’re confused. Something’s missing. What can eventually happen is that you pick up your hand to take the slack out of the left rein, and the horse already understands what’s going to happen. They understand what you are requesting of them. That’s a different level of comprehension in the same horse. So when I look at my bridleless goals with my horses for this year, I understand how the nuts and bolts that I’ve been working on are going to now be used to create–I’ve been creating this comprehension, this higher comprehension level in my horses, and now I’m going to use these same building blocks and move them up to bridleless riding.

Stacy Westfall: Now, going back to Presto, Presto is still in the middle of learning these building blocks. He understands quite a few of them pretty well. I’m using him inside of my courses to show people the building blocks so you can see his first ride in there. You can see him as he’s learning these different things, and you’re going to see him all the way up through because I’ve decided that when I’m working with these horses, my other horses are in there too. I’ve decided that when I say building blocks, what I’m picturing in my mind is Legos because I have three sons. And when they were young, my house was full of Legos. We have stepped on so many Legos over the years that my feet should be shaped like a Lego. And do you know what you can build with Legos? You can build pretty much anything with Legos. If you can dream it, you can build it with Legos. So when I’m teaching my horses these foundation blocks, I’m picturing it like Legos. And so each horse’s path is a little bit different. But those building blocks, those Legos, those pieces that are underneath there that are forming the foundation for me to then be able to go combine in all these different things. Maybe these Legos need to be words. And these are like these Lego, and we can combine these into these different sentences, we can build these different towers, and so Presto is still learning some of the words. Gabby and Willow, they understand all the building blocks and what’s being expressed with them right now is different combinations of the building blocks. So someone was over here. I did a couple of Western dressage clinics here at my house back in October and November, and somebody was asking a question about the leg yield. Well, the leg yield is a combination. It’s one of the beginning combinations of the different building blocks then being put together into what forms a leg yield. And so this building block idea is so helpful to me because with Presto, on his path, I don’t know where he will end up. I picked him because he did not look like he would lend himself well to reining. And I do a lot of reining and I wanted to do something different. He’s big. He looks like he could do dressage really well. And what I’ve mostly focused on has been building blocks. And one of the first things I always build with my Lego building blocks is a trail horse because I love trail riding. So Presto has gone hundreds of miles out on the trails back here behind my house, both with horses and alone. And so those building blocks have already created a horse that understands my aides enough to get me to the point where I can trail ride with other horses and alone safely. I took him to his first horse show and showed him last year. Well, this year. I’m already talking like it’s 2022. And so those building blocks have already gotten me that far with him. And yet listen to how I think a lot of times people end up holding themselves back. I think sometimes when people like you are listening to the podcast, you want to compare your path, your horse’s path to one of my example horses. And so a lot of times people have seen the bareback and bridleless and they learn that Roxy did that when she was five years old and they’re like, Oh my gosh, that’s just like unicorn behavior. Now what’s really interesting is that I also rode my other horses at bridleless at five years old. Now, here’s another fact. Same person, different horse. Presto is five years old and we are nowhere near bridleless. And so it’s different paths, different horses. Different paths is OK. Presto’s, path has been slower than some of my other horses. But if I compare Presto, this is really interesting, to Willow, who I’ve won so much on in the last few years right now. Presto’s further ahead than Willow was at age five, although they’re both behind where Roxy–do you see–OK. It doesn’t matter. Each path is unique, so I think it’s interesting to know there is a path. I think it’s interesting to see how the path works. I think it’s very useful for riders to understand the building blocks and to understand how to tell when the horse is confused about the aides, because I think all of that helps illuminate each individual horse’s path, each individual rider’s path. Basically, I’ve committed to being on the journey with Presto. And sometimes people want to be like, I’m on the journey, but I want to know exactly all the how. But the blending of the dream that I have of being on the journey with Presto and letting it reveal itself, not knowing exactly where it’s going to end, the dream is the exploration of the unknown of where we’re going while I blend the how. So the magic is blending this dreaming and this doing. In 2022, so that’s just not too far from now, I am coaching riders who want to learn more about both the building blocks and the dreaming. If what I talk about here on the podcast resonates with you. Consider joining my email list so you can learn about upcoming live webinars that I’m going to be offering. The best way for me to get that information to you is by emailing it to you. And during those webinars, I’m explaining how I can help you and your horse with that dreaming phase and the nuts and bolts, the how, the doing. I can teach you the how and we can leave room for the magic to happen as your path and your horse’s path is revealed. Thanks for listening, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

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