Episode 186- Specific vs. non-specific riding

This podcast was recorded while I was on a long, ‘non’ specific ride.
I categorize riding sessions into four different types to increase my awareness and effectiveness.
I often teach students how to do short, very specific rides. You’ll hear why in the podcast.
This could be a pep talk for how to ride for time and effectiveness…AND it could also be considered ‘permission’ to do long, nonspecific rides for enjoyment.


Episode 186- Specific vs. non-specific riding.mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] The easiest place to put money in the bank is in your short sessions. Change them to specific because that alone will then change your awareness for all other rides.

Announcer: [00:00:18] 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: [00:00:38] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I help riders become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. In this season of the podcast, I’m going to share with you some of the concepts that I teach my students in my programs. Most of this podcast was recorded while out on a trail ride. I often use this time on the trail ride to think about how I can explain things even more clearly. And what happened this day was I had just finished a full day of coaching students when I headed out, which got me thinking about how I was headed out on a long, non-specific ride. In my programs, I’m often teaching students how to do short, very specific rides and you’ll hear more about why in the podcast. There are several things to listen for in this podcast. These include the dance between the stages of the horse’s understanding and the stages of the rider’s awareness and how the idea of riding specifically or non-specifically, or you could call that general I guess, can be useful at different stages. This could also be considered a pep talk for how to ride when you’re short on time and you want to be really effective. And it’s also permission, if you need that from me, to go do long non-specific rides just for enjoyment. There is one small thing I left out while I was recording it, and it is the idea that after I teach students how to do short specific rides, I then teach them what the pros know, which is how to take those short specific sessions and build your longer ride out of a series of those shorter sessions.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:32] Welcome to the trail riding version of the podcast. It’s going to fit together with some of the things I’m going to talk about today, so I thought it would also be fun to record it while I was out trail riding Willow. So say hi, Willow. Willow says hi. When you are working with your horse, are you working short sessions that are specific, short sessions that are not specific, or do you work long sessions that are specific or long sessions that are non-specific? Right now what I’m doing with Willow is a good example of a long, non-specific ride. So I love trail riding and when I go out here I’m very aware that I’m not riding super specific. It’s actually one of the things I like about going out on the trail. The trail I’m going down right now is a very clear path. So basically I don’t have to do a lot of guiding. And when I’m being very aware that this is what I’m choosing, what I actually do is I set that rein hand down on my saddle horn. So right now my left hand is holding the reins and resting on the saddle horn and my right hand is holding my iPhone, recording this podcast. So can you guess how specific I am with my focus? Hint if you have your phone out, you are not specific with what you’re doing with your horse at that moment. And I can, in the back of my mind, argue yes, but even doing this, Stacy now is way more focused than Stacy as a teenager who didn’t even have the option of having a phone out to be recording. Because relative to that, I’m more specific because of my habitual muscle memory that I have worked on for a long time, very actively, proactively worked on. But having said that, what I’m trying to get you to bring up in your awareness is when you go out and ride, are you riding with a specific thing that you are trying to improve and work on with your horse? Basically, the specific, meaning improving the communication in some way, or are you riding in a non-specific more general way? Because often what I see people do is maybe equate the number of hours that they put in with their horse to the amount of progress that they, “should have achieved.” And when I look at this, when I’m evaluating students, when I see them riding in a very general or non-specific way, I know that the chances of them not reaching their goals are higher because that general or non-specific is not as clear for the horse.

Stacy Westfall: [00:05:40] So right now, I’m not being super clear to Willow. The advantage I have is I’ve ridden her out here hundreds of miles. So in a way, I only have to make a few little executive decisions like I just did when I turned right on this trail right there, and then it does feel like she can run on autopilot. So what I think happens a lot of times for students is that they count this autopilot time as money in the bank time. I’m here to suggest that the way that I look at it is that this is not money in the bank time. If anything, this might be a little bit of a withdrawal, if I say you’re not allowed to have a plateau. And the reason that I say you’re not allowed to have a plateau is I kind of want to get you thinking, am I putting money in the bank or taking money out? And one of the reasons that I like to use that example or that analogy, that idea, that concept is because it’s fun to put money in the bank so you can take money out and spend it. So there’s nothing wrong with deciding that you want to take money out of the bank and go spend it. So, Willow here is a college-level horse. So that means another way we could look at it is that I’ve put a lot of money in this bank account so I can come out here and, for us, on trails that she’s ridden hundreds of times where she can practically be on autopilot. That’s not a huge withdrawal for us. But in my mind when I’m categorizing this ride, at the end of the day, I will put it in a different category when I make note of it at the end of the day. So when I go to tally up at the end of the year, I’ll know what type of riding I did because that’s how much I know it impacts. I’m not just counting the hours, I’m also counting the type of hours. Now, I told you that I’m going to put this into the category of long and non-specific. That does not mean that every trail ride would have to fit into that category. It’s not an automatic thing. So I could come out here and I could make this long and specific. Well, if I came out here and made it long and specific, the first question I have for you is when I say that, what’s your first kind of gut reaction to that idea? A lot of times when I propose it to people, when I suggest it, people will say, Oh, that sounds terrible. Like I want to go out and just enjoy my trail ride. I don’t want to be like actively doing something the whole time.

Stacy Westfall: [00:08:18] So the first thing you want to kind of gut check and double-check how that kind of shows up for you is, do you believe you could do that and not drive both you and your horse crazy doing it? So if I come out here, for example, there’s a reason I’m not recording this while riding Presto. I know that when I ride Presto, he’s on the bubble now, but I’m just going to use him as an example, especially like, say, go back last year, the year before, when I’m riding him, even if it’s a long trail ride I wanted to be specific. And another way you could look at specific is very present with the horse, very aware of all of the surroundings at all times so that I can be proactive in the way that I’m going to handle those. So, for example, when I started riding Willow out here, when we first moved here, she was very reactive to chipmunks and deer and all kinds of little things. And now, many years later, she’s not. And so I don’t feel that same need to be there for her for this moment. And again, that’s another reason why for me, I’m able to categorize this as that long but non-specific kind of ride. I’m talking to you instead of paying attention fully to my surroundings or my horse. But if I want to be specific, then I just simply would be not on my phone. I would be very focused on observing my surroundings. I would be very focused on what the horse was observing. So like right here, I just noticed, like, Willow’s left ear flicked back and then her right ear flicked back and she’s kind of going, it’s kind of cute, she’s going like left ear and then right ear. And that’s a little bit of a different pattern for her. But the first thing it makes me think of is I’m also doing a very different pattern. So even though I’ve said we’ve got so much money in the bank, this won’t hurt anything. If I look down past my iPhone and I look at my horse, I realize that even though this isn’t really this huge, big, dramatic deal, there’s something different going on for both of us in that I’m not that present. So she’s kind of like checking in. It’s like my–my autopilot system on my horse is going like, that’s a little unusual. You’re usually fully present. Even if I’m not actively guiding her all the time, typically, when I’m out here on the trails, I am very aware and enjoying my surroundings. I like looking at the birds, I like looking at the chipmunks, and all of that brings me into a level of presence that I do not currently have because I’m recording this right now.

Stacy Westfall: [00:11:06] Now, you can do long and non-specific, long and specific. I’ll just spend another moment there. So when I’m riding Presto, I’m much more active with him about where I want him to go. So right now I’m approaching this kind of wider spot in the trail where there’s some mud and some rocks. And with Willow, at this stage, I have a tendency to let her pick her own way through. But in other stages, like with Presto, I want to double-check that I have the option. And I’ll still do that a lot with with Willow, I’ll say yes, I recognize, because even when I’m letting you be non-specific, I’m still generally very here. So I will notice, oh, she always goes through where there’s kind of three options here she always chooses this one. She always chooses this one. So then maybe the fifth ride through, I’ll say, ah, let’s choose this other one. And I will rate her response to that request. Squirrel over there running through the trees. And that is how I will check in with ultimately kind of where the relationship is even though I’m not currently putting money in the bank. That would be more just like when I choose that different path that she doesn’t normally choose on her own. That’d be more like when you go to the bank and you say, Can you tell me the amount that I have in this account? That’s all I’m doing. It’s–it’s just kind of a check-in. It’s not really being–doesn’t change the whole ride to proactive. It just gives me an idea of whether or not that account is dropping low.

Stacy Westfall: [00:12:45] So now I’ve talked a little bit about long and specific and long and non-specific. Let’s talk about short and specific. When I am teaching students whether that is in the riding bundle in my online courses or whether that is in my one-on-one, I teach them a lot of short, specific exercises. And one of the reasons why starting wit short and specific is a beautiful thing is that it teaches you how to be aware of the entire work session because the entire work session is only 10 or 15 minutes. And that is an amount of time that is much easier for both the horse and the rider. This is one of my favorite spots to trot, so we have to trot too. So that’s one of the easiest ways to be able to get the horse and the rider kind of dialed in is if you aim for a short specific cycle because then the rider can get really proactive with what they’re looking for or what they’re going out there to do. And the horse can begin to be aware of what the rider feels like when they are showing up that way, like, Oh, my rider is being different today, what does this mean? And they start to do that just like little Willow’s ears were kind of rotating in this unusual pattern, because I’m acting unusual by talking like this on the trail ride. And that starts to get the horse into the awareness that there are times you’re going to act different and have these sets of expectations.mAnd to me, that’s one of the reasons why I like to talk about these. You’ll hear me talk about the different training levels on the horse, elementary, high school, college. You’ll hear me talk about concepts like this because I think it’s important to me not to say that one is right or wrong. I’m not even here to suggest that every trail ride or every ride you do on your horses needs to be like long, specific trail rides. What I’m saying is you do need the awareness of how often you are riding specific or non-specific. So short and non-specific is something that will happen a lot of times if you’re kind of feeling rushed or you’re like, I only have 15 minutes, so this–at least I can get something done. But what’s very interesting to me is that the amount of effort that it takes to switch from short and non-specific to short and specific, it is the easiest place to put money in the bank instead of making a withdrawal. If you are running into or close to safety issues, that is a very good sign that you were in some version of elementary school. And so if you are having any kind of safety issues, then your rides, I would say, need to be the active, very present type of ride, the very specific type of ride, no matter what the length of the ride is. And the more money you have stored up in the bank account, then you start to have a little bit more flexibility in when and where you want to spend some of that money. And there are different ways that you spend more money, but that’s another podcast.

Stacy Westfall: [00:16:11] So my main point here was I just really wanted to bring up your awareness so that you can actually begin categorizing what type of rides you are doing frequently. Because at the end of the year you might be able to chalk up an X number of rides or a certain amount of hours ridden. And that I’m saying that the quality of those hours, the intention, the specific, the non-specific of those hours really does make a difference. The easiest place to put money in the bank is in your short sessions. Change them to specific because that alone will then change your awareness for all other rides. Thank you for joining me today. Thank you, Willow, for providing the backdrop for this podcast. And thanks to all of you for listening. I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:17:19] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Do you want to take the concepts that you are learning on the podcast to a deeper level? Come join me: Click here to learn more.


  1. M.L. on June 14, 2022 at 11:30 am

    I learn more from you than any other instructor -short tid bits to think about really assist me.
    Thank you!

  2. Roy davis on June 12, 2022 at 3:23 pm

    Love your help

Leave a Comment

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get the latest content and updates by email.