Episode 183-Creating building blocks or rearranging the blocks you have to create something new.
A listener asks a question about changing her horse’s pushy, fidgety behavior on the ground. She asks, “How can I deconstruct a behavior or a reaction and rebuild a more favorable behavior?”
This podcast discusses the difference between training (or retraining) and deconstructing or rebuilding. During training or retraining, the horse is often learning the building blocks that create a solid foundation. Once the horse understands these building blocks, the concept of deconstructing or rebuilding is the idea that those foundation ideas can be rearranged to create many things. Listen to learn more.
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Episode 183-Creating building blocks or rearranging the blocks you have to create something new..mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] But the number one thing it’s going to do is it’s going to make me proactive instead of reactive.
Announcer: [00:00:09] Podcasting from a little cabin on a hill, this is the Stacy Westfall Podcast. Stacy’s goal is simple: to teach you to understand why horses do what they do, as well as the action steps for creating clear, confident communication with your horses.
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:28] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I help riders become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. This season of the podcast has been all Q&A. Today’s question is about retraining or rebuilding. Let’s listen to the question.
Caller: [00:00:48] Hi, Stacy, it’s Kristina from Virginia. I love your podcast and I especially love to binge-listen over and over while doing my chores. You touched on a topic, and because I binge-listen, I’m unable to find which podcast it was in. But you said something about deconstructing, and it has me thinking of a puzzle. I’m hoping you can help me. Deconstructing a learned behavior and rebuilding a new behavior. Specific to my situation, I purchased a horse six months ago for my daughter, a 14-year-old quarter horse gelding. He’s just fine under saddle, but on the ground, he acts like a toddler. He’s pushy, fidgety, yet also fearful. He will dance and paw and push into you. And then when he does push into you, he will quickly swing back as if expecting you to strike at him. My course of action has been to block him from pushing into me, but not to strike back. I have been ignoring that reaction. So my question is how can I deconstruct a behavior or a reaction and rebuild a more favorable behavior? And really that goes for me or my horse. And how can I make this horse more steady on the ground? Thank you so much for all you do and all you give your listeners. We love you.
Stacy Westfall: [00:02:13] Thanks for the question, Christina. I love that you caught one of the words that I use. And I kind of really like playing with words. And I’m going to introduce yet another way to look at what you just described, which is I want to look at this question through the lens of retraining versus rebuilding. Because I think when I was talking about kind of deconstructing something–again, I’ve recorded quite a few podcasts and I’m with you. Like I’ve recorded a lot and I don’t exactly remember which one you’re referencing, but typically when I think about that, deconstructing and reconstructing in my mind, the first place I go is actually this idea of rebuilding. It’s almost like, you know, you mentioned the puzzle pieces. I always used puzzles, but I’m trying to actually move my language over to building blocks like Legos. First of all, I have three now grown adult sons, but there was a time, there were decades, where Legos were very likely to be stepped on in my house. So I have a very close relationship with Legos. But what I love about the Lego analogy over the puzzle analogy is puzzles only go together one way. And when I’m riding my horses, they’re more like Lego building block pieces is what I’m looking at with my training. Because my horses have all of these building blocks, all of these levels of understanding, which means that I can deconstruct that. I can take apart that Lego building that I created that looked like a castle, and I can rebuild that into something else that looks like a boat. I can do different things with these Lego pieces. And so when I’m thinking about it, I’m going to use the phrases rebuilding versus retraining, because when I’m thinking about your horse versus this concept, I can hear a little bit of a difference.
Stacy Westfall: [00:04:17] So here’s what I want you to think. I want you to think that with retraining you are replacing unwanted behavior. So what you described is your horse has some unwanted behavior. And I want you to think about retraining or training as replacing that with desired behavior. That is different than rebuilding, which is what I was talking about a minute ago. So let me go to the rebuilding for just a moment. Well the reason I love this concept is because when I’m riding one of my more advanced horses, or as I’m taking people up through training their horses from elementary school to high school to college, we’re working on lead changes, we’re working on all these more advanced things. A lot of times the idea of taking things apart and putting them back together again is an area of resistance for people, because a lot of times they have this idea that there’s one way that this is right to put it together. For my long-term goal I would rather look at this from a more flexible standpoint, which is I’m teaching these horses these different building blocks, these different concepts, and I can put them together in different ways. What that does is it makes me as the trainer, as the person teaching my horse, it makes me get a very clear understanding of each of these blocks, each of these Lego pieces. And then when I’m working on something advanced, which could be neck reining, it could be like even a leg yield, it could be a lead change, it could be a spin, it could be bridleless riding. The more I understand the building blocks then the more when I’m doing these advanced things, I can see what building block needs to be looked at, examined, reinforced, rebuilt. Because that’s going to be what’s going to help me understand what’s needed in the advanced movements, but also which of my underlying building blocks might be weakened, which the only way you can weaken a Lego is to run it over with a lawnmower by the way. Like stepping on it is not enough. So anyway, so we’ve got–the idea of rebuilding to me is more that I’ve got these building block pieces. One of the reasons I really love moving around into different disciplines so much is that it’s given me this ability to look at the building blocks in traditional dressage, look at the building blocks in colt starting, look at the building blocks in mounted shooting, look at the building blocks in reining. And what I’ve come to know is that I have a really solid understanding of the building blocks. And then it becomes a different art of taking those apart and rearranging them and putting them back together again, which is not an unpleasant experience for the horse. It’s actually really interesting how much the horses enjoy learning something new. I’m going to give you an example of that in just a minute. But what I want to say is that, number one, when we look at it like rebuilding that process is the idea that there are these building blocks. I am–I’ve got these building blocks because I’ve trained them, now I can rearrange them. And the thinking that goes along with that tends to be more flexible because it gives you the flexibility of going back and looking. So it’s not like if you got on a path to teach your horse something like a lead change, it gets rid of this idea that if you did it right, you would never have to redo it. Instead, it becomes this process of as you’re teaching the horse a lead change, you study all the building blocks, you put them together, you get your first attempt at a lead change, and then that first attempt at the lead change either works perfectly well or doesn’t and either way, you know where to go. Either you know how you built it, or you know now when you went to do the lead change and you watch the video, you realize that when you went to change the lead, the horse threw the shoulder because you left that door open with that rein or you moved your seat in a certain way, or you opened your leg in a certain way and you caused the problem and it doesn’t matter who caused it. What we know when we watch the video is that you had the building blocks. You just didn’t arrange them in the right order to create a lead change. And so this thinking of that, it’s just simply rearranging these blocks keeps the rider more flexible. And I’m telling you from my own experience, it makes it super fun because that’s why my horses can go do so many different things. Because at any moment, if I want to return to a more basic technique, I can just go right back down there and rearrange it.
Stacy Westfall: [00:09:17] So the other day I went and took my first working equitation lesson. So got there with Willow and it’s like, here we are. I told the instructor right off the bat, I’m like, I’m not sure. I’m very curious, is this going to feel a little bit more like some of my reining buttons and my building blocks that come from reining? Or is this going to feel a little bit more like my dressage? I’m guessing dressage because it’s got a dressage element to it. Like you literally ride a dressage pattern at one point. And so I’m like, how is this going to go together? And so in the middle of taking this one-hour lesson that’s what I was doing, even with Willow. And this is why I say I think even the horses enjoy it, because Willow was like, Oh, interesting. We don’t usually have three barrels. What are we doing here? Okay, we’re doing this. And she’s experiencing me experiencing the lesson. And, you know, the instructor is saying, okay, you’re going to come around. This is a really tight turn, but I want her to be like this and, you know, turn. But you’re holding this pole. Look up and do this. Do it more from your seat. Do it less from your rein. And it’s like, Oh, great. So I’m now combining basically pieces of like almost my bridleless riding buttons are being, you know, used. So basically the answer was, okay, this is kind of going to be a half-breed between some of the things I do in reining and some of the things that I do in dressage. Because for a lot of this, like I was carrying one of those poles that you’re going to like pick the ring up off the–the bull with. And so I’m loping around through these slalom poles carrying this pole in my right hand, which means that I’m now riding left-handed, which is giving me moments of riding my mounted shooting when I had to train myself to steer with my left hand instead of my right hand. Do you see how there are so many building blocks for both me and Willow going on here? And yet she wasn’t stressed out at all. It was actually kind of funny because as I was doing it, the different cues that I gave her would shift her into different mindsets. So she was kind of going like slower and slower and doing some of these things. I’m like, I understand where that’s coming from and we need a little bit of forward motion right here, even though we’re doing this really squatty canter pirouette turn as we go around these different obstacles. So the idea to me of deconstructing or rebuilding or taking something apart and putting it back together again is more of the idea that I have these blocks and I allow myself the flexibility to say, Hey, Willow, let’s go dress up and play dressage this weekend. And she gets in her little braids and she puts herself in the frame because I put myself in the frame and we go do traditional dressage. And then I can say, Hey, Willow, let’s go do reining. And I can braid her mane and we can put on that tack and we can go do that. That, to me is an illustration of rebuilding. It’s literally taking the same foundational, really well-trained building blocks and then rearranging them into something. And that makes you really interesting as a rider, because my horses, if there’s nothing else, they’re like, we do not know what Stacy will throw at us today. Could be a trail ride, could be a lesson, could be sliding, could be half passing. There’s all kinds of different things that she could be doing. And that makes me interesting because I’m also willing to go back down to those building blocks at any moment that my horse shows me. That’s what’s needed.
Stacy Westfall: [00:12:43] So this is a different concept to me than what you presented when you were leaving your voicemail about your horse. The voicemail about your horse is, to me, a little bit more of a retraining, which again is like a replacing unwanted behaviors. Right now, what you said in your voicemail is that you’ve been preventing or basically like blocking him from pushing into you and you kind of, you know, you illustrated it pretty clearly what you think he’s going through and probably how it was even created. And what I want to know is right now in this voicemail, if you think about it, you’re in a tiny bit of observer mode, which I talked about in a previous podcast. Like in Episode 182, I was talking about being more of an observer. And so it’s good that you’ve observed this and now is time to switch out of observer role, which you were a little bit switched out when you’re like, I’m blocking him, I’m stopping him from doing this, and I’m not, you know, playing into the like pushing him back out idea. But, where do I go? is kind of the essence of your question. What I’m saying is that I want you to start adding behaviors. So right now we could also look at it like this horse has questions. This horse is interested in engaging. I mean, he’s interested in engaging enough that he’s willing to be dancing and pawing and pushing into you. So he’s not he’s clearly not fully afraid of being in your space because he’s pushing into you. So I’m thinking, okay, this horse has questions. You want to know how to make this horse more steady on the ground. Where I want you to go with your mind first is like proactive versus reactive. So this is actually what your horse is doing himself. Like your horse is being a little bit proactive when he pushes into you. Like he’s like, Hey, I got a question. Like, What do I do with this energy? Is this allowed? And it kind of doesn’t matter how you vocalize that question. A lot of times you guys will notice I just leave it as like, your horse has a question. Because sometimes it’s tempting to give it like a negative connotation like he’s trying to be pushy and do something negative there or, you know, he’s afraid and that’s why he’s doing this because he’s afraid of XYZ and so he’s running into you. I kind of want you to drop a lot of that idea of why and just go with like he’s being proactive. He is the one initiating. And then it sounds like at some point somebody was handling him in a reactive way, which would mean that he would ask the question they would, by the sounds of your description, we’re just going to accept it, they would react. And then that’s what causes that jump-back cycle. He, when I hear this message, is like, he’s still like, okay, I get that the game involves like this and then I jump back. But I’m still kind of like hungry for more information. And when you look at it from that angle and you go like, Hey, this horse is hungry for more information, then what I see is a horse who’s like, ready to be taught more, more layers.
Stacy Westfall: [00:15:59] So what I want you to start doing is teaching him where you want him to be. Now, when you think about this, when you think about teaching them where you want him to be, you could think of that in one way where it’s like, I want to teach him to be this. You know, I want him to teach him to just be right here when I’m leading him. And he just doesn’t move out of spot. He’s just like, he’s beside my right shoulder, you know? And he’s his eye doesn’t pass me. And he stops and he does whatever. But think about the level of behavior that that would be. So if you’re describing him right now as toddler-like at moments, then we’re teaching the horse that’s a little bit more in elementary school, who’s also active and being like, teacher, teacher, I have a question! I have a question! Even if you want him to end up with like this college level where you go to lead him and he’s at this perfect position beside your shoulder and you walk faster and he walks faster and you stop and he stops and you back up and he backs up and it all feels really magical. The middle in between those two is going to be what I often call high school. And in that process of teaching him where you want to be, a lot of times you’re going to have to be a lot more engaging. See the college level horses in my barn find me engaging but they’re reading super subtle clues. By the sounds of what you’re describing his horse is not reading super subtle cues because he’s running into you and then running backwards. So as you already said, he’s kind of he’s got this bigger view going on. So I want you thinking about when you start teaching him where you want to be that it’s not necessarily trying to drill him into a specific spot. Think of it more from his mind than his body first, okay? So this is where I typically in other podcasts have talked about teaching the horses to lunge or work at a distance. And the reason I like that is because I still firmly believe in the concept that I came up with, which is we both have to earn the right to be in each other’s space. The way you describe this, I’m not quite clear that either of you have earned the right to be in each other’s spaces because it takes two to play this bumping-into game. So what this means is that I would actually be leading this horse and keeping him enough out of my space that bumping into me would not be of real–he would have to, like, make a four or five-foot charge toward me. He wouldn’t just be so close to me that he could just bump into me. This is why I very often when I’m talking on here is I talk about like sending them out and they’re like a lunge line distance. So they’re further away from me and I’m teaching them how to turn and face, how to turn left and right, how to back up from that distance where they’re not as tempted to view me as they would another horse in the pasture. Because a lot of times another horse in the pasture, when they’re within two or three feet, one of their combinations of talking is bumping into you, or the other horse, with their shoulder.
Stacy Westfall: [00:19:04] So let’s just pretend for the sake of the length of this podcast, that you’ve done some lunging work. And let’s even say that he goes as far as being good at that, because you already said he was good at the riding. So somebody taught this horse grandma’s rules. That somebody taught this horse, it sounds like by your description, that he’s almost more advanced in the riding than he is in the leading. And that happens when people prioritize the riding more than they do the leading. And so it’s also possible that he lunges pretty decently because they treated the lunging differently they did–than they did the leading up close. So you can start to see how there’s all these different layers that we can look at. And you are clearly experiencing this problem when you’re leading him. So let’s just for the sake of the podcast length, pretend that he even knows how to decently lunge out there. But let’s also pretend that when he comes in closer to you, let’s say that you’re leading him and you could reach your arm out and pet him because he’s within arm’s distance. Let’s just say that when he’s been led in that arm distance, that people have been less than consistent. Maybe they were checking their phones, maybe they were leading multiple horses, maybe they were distracted and talking to a friend, and they didn’t notice him either asking questions or literally like not paying attention and bumping into them. And then they were sending him back with a lot of energy by kind of throwing their arm at him. So he’s kind of got this cycle and he just doesn’t even know where to be. So what I want you to think about is I want you to be proactive in the training. And if he does have some decent groundwork from a distance going on and he seems to just be asking these when you’re up close and in this close or touching range, which is what we’re going to pretend for the podcast, what I want you to do is I want you to simply be more creative when you’re leading him because this doesn’t sound like you have the total building blocks, at least up close. So to be more clear, this is why I tell you guys to build the building blocks at a distance. So at the end of the lunge line or further back, I want you to be able to turn them and stop them and turn and face you and send them left, send them right, whip around them and stuff because that is building those building blocks while they are further away from you so that rearing or striking or any of those other things, bumping into you, aren’t really an option because of the distance.
Stacy Westfall: [00:21:31] Then when you start bringing that horse closer to you, I want you to also maintain some of those rules, but I want you to think about being creative while you’re leading him. So now you’re walking with him and you’re leading him and you’re keeping him, let’s just for fun, say four feet away. That happens to be the distance of like if you have a stick and string, the stick parts about four feet away, and that’ll give you enough time that you have a little bit of reaction time. And it also will teach you not to be hanging on super tight and kind of almost hanging off from the halter. It’ll teach you to lead with more awareness and precision because you’re actually trying to maintain a set distance of like four feet. But I want you as you’re leading him to think about walking 20 feet. I’m picturing my own setup here. So I know like some of my paddocks are, let’s say there are a hundred feet away from the barn. So I go out, I catch the horse, I start leading them. To me that starts as soon as I open up the gate. A lot of times I open up the gate and if you’ve led a horse in and out of that gate and let’s just say once a day, that’s a lot of going through the gates. Once a day you go out of the gate and you go do something and you go back in the gate. And when you do that a lot, a lot of times, one of the first places that a horse like this will ask a question is when you’re going out through the gate or a stall door. This is a really common place for them to say, I know the answer. We’re inside, we’re going to end up outside. So these are the moments where I start going, Hey, stop and back up and wait for me to lead you forward. Good. I’m leading you forward now, three feet, stop. Good job. And right now, even just doing that, the horse will start to be like, What? You’re not just, like, leading me all the way to the barn a hundred feet. So I start being picky right away there, and then I start walking towards the barn again and I really common one for me to do with these horses because you mentioned him bumping into you is I do a lot of stop and back up. And then my second favorite combo is stop, back up, and pivot away from me, because again, that’s going to push that horse out of my space a little bit more. But the number one thing is going to do is it’s going to make me proactive instead of reactive. And you’ll start to notice when you’re doing this, if you just do this with one horse one time, you’ll start to notice how boringly routine you are. A lot of times when you go get a horse from a paddock and lead it in. So a lot of times when these horses are being the ones that are proactively asking questions, a lot of times it’s because you’re just boring. You’re not very interesting. They have lots of questions or thoughts or things they want to express and they just don’t know because you already described him as a toddler in elementary school. So start getting creative.
Stacy Westfall: [00:24:20] Things you can do, aside from stopping and backing up or walking, is stopping and backing up and pivoting. You can walk and lead him and lead a big circle. You can walk and do a giant slalom S shape on the way back to the barn. You can be doing the S shape and notice whether there’s moments in that turn that he pushes on you and you can stop and pivot him there. Then you can switch to the offside, the opposite side that you normally lead on and do all of it again from the offside. Lots of stopping and backing happens to be one of my things in the situation you’re talking about, because then I like to go like this. I like to be like, Oh, you look like you’re in a rush this morning to go out to the green grass pasture, Willow, let’s walk really slow. Good job. Did you catch that? Stop. Good job. And back three steps and then trot and we trot ten steps forward and we stop and then we walk real slow. And so even though initially when I got her out of the pasture, this may have happened this morning. Even though initially when I get them out and they know like this is the morning walk to the big green pasture and they might be very excited. This is a perfect opportunity to take this horse and switch it into a very engaged mode. Because if I catch them in the pasture and I can just see that little frenzied look in their eye, like green grass, green grass, I’m so excited. It’s spring in and the green grass is here. This is a great time for me to begin practicing switching their mind back into focus on me. Yes, the green grass is there, but I want you engaged the whole way there. And it’s–I just last week was doing this in and out through the gate thing going into the green grass pasture with Willow because she was so excited about it. And again, this was just like really slowing it down, seeing her switch into that mindset. Because to me I want you to listen to this podcast and think, Where does the training or the retraining, where does the replacing the unwanted behavior, where does that go from unwanted behavior to building block? Because if you have been listening, you can actually see where your horse was bumping into you. And now we’ve replaced that with you being much more proactive in how you’re leading, stopping, backing, forward, pivot, trot, stop, walk, pivot, ask curves, back up. You start doing all this stuff that which in your case we could label retraining because it wasn’t being initially installed but it’s just training. It’s just–it’s just building blocks. As you’re doing that, in your case, you’re currently replacing unwanted behavior, but you’re also instilling the building blocks. And then once you have those building blocks solid, that’s when you start to be able to do the rebuilding or the deconstruction or whatever you want to look at it as. Because for me, if I want to rebuild like that means to me that with Willow, I can put her in showmanship mode, which means I can say, be beside my shoulder. I want your eye beside my shoulder. I want loose lead in between us and I want–I should be able to walk, jog, stop, back, pivot, turn and you are just right beside me. I can put her in that mode. I can also decide that I’m going to go out jogging on the trails and she’s going to be my jogging buddy and carry my water and carry me across the water when we get to it. And I can put her on a halter and lead rope and I can send her back to the length of the lead rope behind me, let’s just say eight feet behind me. And I can jog on a narrow trail with her jogging behind me, eight feet behind me, because in 30 seconds I can rebuild. And so she now knows that eight feet behind me is the correct spot, not right beside my shoulder. And then I can come home from that jog and I can take off the halter and I can pick up two whips, and I can do liberty work with her. Because again, in another 30 seconds, the same horse that I could wiggle the rope on the trail and send her eight feet behind me and have her following me and aware so that if I do trip and fall, which has allegedly happened at least once, that she doesn’t run me over. I can have her in that mode and I can come home and I can take the halter off and I can pick up the two whips and I can say, okay, now you are a Liberty Horse. And she is now really tuned in because again, I’ve switched the cie stuff and I’ve just basically rebuilt my Lego blocks over again. I’m sometimes you’ll hear me on the podcast, especially when I’m riding, talking about dialing it in or dialing it out. It’s another version of this rebuilding.
Stacy Westfall: [00:29:11] And so that’s the way that I want you to think about your horse that has so many questions. Thank you for bringing up that term. I know I’ve used it before because it is the way that I look at the idea of when I’m doing some of these higher-level things with my horses and people go, How are you doing traditional level dressage at this level and then turning around and showing in reining or ranch horse stuff and doing neck reining? It’s because this concept is alive and well. Once you get your training building blocks installed, that’s when you can start stretching into this concept of being able to rearrange your Lego blocks. And guys, if you’re a podcast listener and you’re interested in learning about this at an even deeper level, this is the kind of stuff that I teach with actual video inside my online courses. So if this stuff interests you and you have questions about rebuilding and how in the world I can be riding the horses in all these different disciplines, check out my online courses. I’m teaching over there live every single week. I just got off a call so I’m all pumped up and excited. I’m glad I got this podcast recorded because I’m about to go hit the trails. Thanks to all of you for listening and for leaving your questions, and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.
Announcer: [00:30:35] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos and tips to help you and your horse succeed.
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