Episode 188: Moving faster or slower than your horse; physically and mentally


Are you willing to be out of sync with your horse to make progress?

In this podcast, I talk about the idea of moving faster or slower than your horse as a concept that exists both physically, and mentally.

When physically riding a horse, it makes sense that you could be
’ahead’ of the horse’s motion, ‘with’ the horse’s motion, or ‘behind’ the horse’s motion.
When riders learn how to ride, they are taught to move with the horse at all times. What if the next level of learning happens when you aim for another position?

I also share how this ‘ahead’, ‘with’, ‘behind’ can also show up mentally when working with your horse. A listener shares a success story that illustrates how getting ‘ahead’ can bring a horse into a state of being ‘with’…and it feels truly amazing.

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Episode 188_ Moving faster or slower than your horse; physically and mentally.mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] I’m actually asking you not to go with the horse. I’m asking you to come ever so slightly behind the motion.

Announcer: [00:00:12] 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: [00:00:32] Hi. I’m Stacy Westfall and I help writers become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. In this season of the podcast, I’m sharing with you some of the concepts that I teach to my students inside my programs. Today, I want to talk about the idea of moving faster or slower than your horse as a concept that exists both physically and mentally. I’m going to start with the physical because I think it makes a lot of sense when you think about it as you’re physically riding a horse. We could say that a rider could be ahead of the horse’s motion or with the horse’s motion or behind the horse’s motion. So let’s use the canter as an example. Can you picture in your head how a person could be behind the motion of the canter? Just imagine a horse loping off unexpectedly and the rider kind of falls back behind that motion. That would be an example of the rider being behind the motion of the horse. Now, picture the other extreme, someone who’s perched forward in the saddle. And at this moment, maybe they’re urging the horse to run faster, but things aren’t matching up. So can you imagine a rider being ahead of the motion? And right in the middle, we would find a rider who is with the horse’s motion. Now, these three positions, it sounds like an easy enough concept, even if it might not be as easy to achieve.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:11] Most of you listening, if you’ve been riding for a while, have felt the idea of being slightly ahead or slightly behind or a lot ahead or a lot behind a horse’s motion. So let’s say that you’ve spent the last three years getting in sync with your horse, and now things are going okay. You want to improve more, but you actually already know that you’ve improved a lot because no longer does it feel like you might fall over the shoulder or roll over backwards in these awkward moments while you’re steering or turning or increasing speed or slowing down. You can really remember those times where you lost your balance and it was kind of yucky. So now you’ve noticed after three years of riding, that you’re with the horse most of the time. Now in this example, let’s say that you also notice that when you canter off and you watch a video of you cantering, you notice that your horse tosses his head or at least elevates his head and neck in this less than ideal way in the lead departures. And you’re thinking, I’d really like to improve that. And you also notice that once he’s cantering, it feels faster than you want. You wish you could slow it down. This is a perfect example of a place where people often need to be the change that they want to see in their horse.nIn this example. If you’ve been riding this horse for three years, everything’s going pretty well. You notice that the horse is really elevating. You notice that you’re having trouble slowing them down. This is where you want to look and see whether or not you’re matching the horse and therefore compounding the problem. Because if the horse is going to stand a chance of beginning to say, travel more level, then you’re probably going to need to change your riding a little bit.

Stacy Westfall: [00:04:25] So if we look at the horse for just a minute, sometimes when you watch a video like this, the horse will be running slightly downhill. And what that means is that if you’re watching a video of your horse trotting or loping around and you’re riding it–you don’t have to be riding it. But just imagine in this video you are and you notice that the front end looks a little bit lower and that there are moments maybe where the horse looks a little bit more level. And maybe you identified even during the ride that you liked that moment better, or maybe you didn’t. But what you do notice is that you wish the horse felt like it could slow down but still keep cantering. Very often when I look at videos like this, the rider is forward and matching the horse. And then what I’ll often see there is that that horse feels a little bit heavy on the front end, a little bit forward, and the rider wants to gather that up. But a lot of times what they’ll do is they’ll use their aides, they’ll use their hands especially, but maybe they’ll use their hand and their legs because they realize that the horse has broken gait before instead of collecting the canter. And what I’m saying is one of the big things to look at is where are you putting your weight on this horse? Now, if I say that it’s the rider who needs to change just a little bit, can you see how if you stay back or up just a little bit more, ever so slightly, can you recognize how that would then feel like you were not with the horse? Because I’m actually asking you not to go with the horse. I’m asking you to come ever so slightly behind the motion. Now, pay attention here. I am not saying behind vertical. You could be leaning forward, 25 degrees forward. You could be leaning very forward. So you coming back 1 to 3 degrees wouldn’t necessarily be you coming back behind vertical. What I’m saying is that if you’re watching a video of yourself and you notice that you’re wanting that horse to change, do look at yourself and see what influence the core of your body is having on your horse.

Stacy Westfall: [00:06:54] Now, the way that I experience this, I can still feel myself being a little ahead, with, or a little behind. The way that I experience it is that I’m influencing the horse by being, on purpose, a little bit ahead, right with, or a little bit behind. Because I’m doing that on purpose I’ll be non-matching on purpose for some of the side effects. The challenging part when teaching students this or you listening to this podcast, is that it’s often not something that an observer, if you’re watching a video, it’s very likely that you won’t even be able to see the shift in my body. Because I’m not trying to be very far behind the horse’s motion, because if I go very far behind, I’ll actually end up against. So let’s go back to this imagining. Imagine that there are different degrees of being behind or ahead. So if I’m riding on a colt, I might be more naturally forward when I’m matching their movement at the canter. So if I’m more naturally where their balance point is, which is more naturally forward, then me coming back a little bit to be a little bit behind that motion often won’t even bring me to vertical. In the way that it feels it’s like I’m only coming back against one or two degrees. I’m definitely not sitting fully back like I would on an upper level, you know, on a dressage horse that was riding like third level or something. And the struggle I see when I’m coaching students is that I honestly think they don’t give themselves enough credit for what they’ve learned when they were just putting hours into riding, staying on top of a horse. So here’s what I see. I see a rider that is doing actually a really good job of mirroring the horse what they have and staying on top. So it’s almost like they’ve learned just as a side effect of learning to stay on and feel steady and, you know, keep their hands from bouncing and stuff, they’ve actually learned how to mirror or match better than they even are giving themselves credit for. So now when I start coaching them and it actually starts to feel like it’s making things less comfortable in their body, a lot of times the challenge is actually getting them to recognize that it’s a subtle shift in their core that’s going to help. Where often I see them stay matching with their core and they’re trying to kind of override it with the hands and the leg cues. They’re trying to stay in that matching with their core and their body because that’s how they’ve learned to be comfortable on this horse and then they’re trying to just make that shift with their hands. That combined with the fact that it’s a feeling and not something that they can super obviously see me changing makes it a little bit difficult and sometimes students will go to an extreme. So instead of coming back 1 to 3 degrees from wherever their current neutral place is, a lot of times they’ll try to go 5 to 10 degrees back from where their current, neutral place is. And for some people, their neutral place is, again, not vertically up and down. It’s going to be very forward. And so if that’s true, it’s actually a little bit of an unpacking process. It’s a little bit of a change for both you and your horse. So it’s it’s more easily done if you’re just bringing that back a few degrees at a time. And what’s interesting is that if you go to the extreme and you come back let’s just say ten degrees, then a lot of times what’ll happen is if you’re on a horse that truly doesn’t know how to collect, they don’t know how to match. Now, if I put you on one of my horses, you might be able to come back that far and the horse would know how to come back to like a second or third level of collection for a dressage horse. But if your horse doesn’t know that, what’s going to happen is you’re going to come back like that and the horse is still going to be moving essentially like downhill a little bit because that’s the way that they’re naturally moving until you teach them level and then uphill. And so when you come back that far, now you’re really against that motion and you’ll get that really against feeling.

Stacy Westfall: [00:11:34] So I wanted to record this podcast just to verify that often when you begin to work on the stages of collection. It’s very tempting for you as a rider to think about making that happen from your hands and your legs from the cues. And those cues are a part of it but your motion, your balance, your body, your weight, your core can be a bigger influence. And in the end, that’s the one that I really want my horse to be reading. And honestly, it is probably for you too. You’re just maybe not aware that when you start influencing it, it’s actually going to feel a little bit out of sync. So the next time that you ride, try recognizing how you interpret the feeling of being slightly ahead, right with, or slightly behind the horse’s motion. Because when I’m riding, I’m aware that this is happening in moments, sometimes intentionally, when I’m influencing them and sometimes unintentionally when one of us gets a little bit out of sync. Just remember, please don’t go to extremes here. Just identify these tiny little ways already and then understand when you’re trying to purposely influence your horse, sometimes your muscle memory default of being with–so go back to that cantering example–sometimes your muscle memory of being with and the way that you go forward when you go into the canter could actually be working against you. So you could be desperately trying with your hands and your legs to do some of these techniques and if you don’t look at your actual core and some of that, then it’s really challenging and you’re actually kind of making it a little bit harder for you and your horse than if you actually think about that whole experience for you and using your body to influence. Now I know I called it ahead, with, or behind because those are the positions that I would describe as. But again, keep in mind what you want it to feel like, or at least the way that I want to experience it, is that I’m influencing my horse. I don’t feel like I’m trying to get ahead of you for no good reason, I’m trying to be behind you for no good reason. I actually think I’m using my body to influence certain movements really subtly. I’m not going so far that I’m going against the horse. It’s an influencing motion. And just notice that you’re not accidentally influencing or confirming that horse should continue cantering a little bit downhill and a little bit fast.

Stacy Westfall: [00:14:28] So now let’s put a little twist on it so you can view it from another angle. What if this idea exists mentally too. What if the idea of you being ahead of, with, or behind your horse can actually be a mental thing too? Listen to this success story. This was written inside of my course where the students can submit success stories, which explains the first line here. I hope you’re not getting tired of me submitting success stories, but I continue to be amazed at how much success I’m having with my horses. It is truly shocking to me and so much fun. This success has to do with the podcast where you answered a listener’s question about her mouthy horse. You talked about the horse likely having lots of questions and being naturally inquisitive. You discussed trying to create what you want instead of focusing on what you don’t want. In short, you said that the human needs to become more interesting, and you gave several examples of how to do that. Well, I have a horse, Rooster, who has lots of questions. I started playing with him during groundwork using your example of creating a different routine. You suggested mixing it up using something like walk, stop back three steps, walk, trot, circle away, etc. I’ve been mixing it up like crazy and doing this with all the horses. They love it. I’m stunned at how tuned into me they have become. They watch so careful and really pay attention to even subtle actions or intentions in me. My daughter and my husband have commented how fun it is for them to watch the horses move when I move, stop when I stop, match my trot, match my fast walk, match my slow creeping walk. They back in step with me. They do smooth, rhythmic turns away. This connection has even translated to our riding, which just continues to improve and become more fun. I’ve thought a lot about how my awareness of how I show up affects the success I have with the horses. Before I would get frustrated at Rooster for trying to play with everything. It would cycle into negativity, and I would find myself getting mad at him for not being attentive. By changing myself, becoming more interesting and adjusting my attitude and creating more fun and curiosity everything in our relationship has changed. Once again, thank you so much. It all seems so simple. I’m amazed at how forgiving and responsive the horses are to us. I could never have found this success on my own. I’m so thankful for you.

Stacy Westfall: [00:17:21] Well, I’m so thankful for you putting in all the time and being willing to be creative. I would say this listener was behind her horse’s thinking process. Can you see how, if that’s happening, then her horse, Rooster, was like, It is a little boring here. This classroom’s very boring. I’m going to start becoming the class clown, the problem student. And what happens a lot of times when someone gets behind the horse in the thinking process, a lot of times the person gets reactive. That’s one of the key signs that I see. When somebody is being reactive, a lot of times they’re behind in the process. So once this person listened to Podcast 182 and started being proactive, she changed the dynamic. She got ahead and started engaging the horse’s mind and then tried it on all the horses and ended up with multiple horses who are with her. So do you see how she actually had to get creative and go a little ahead? She was behind, she went ahead, and now the horses are with. And when I reflect on training horses, I use this theory on purpose all the time. And again, I often see students who are so interested in being with the horse at all moments that they can’t really discover how being slightly ahead or slightly behind could be a good thing, could be an influencing thing. So here’s one final thought. When I’m training a horse to a very high level they are actually oftentimes being asked to go slightly against me. Maybe slightly ahead of me or slightly behind me. Let’s just do one example because I’ve already put a lot out here. Don’t want to leave your mind spinning. We want to leave this in a nice, solid spot. Here’s one example of where the horse might need to be slightly different than me on purpose. Let’s think about a sliding stop. I want this horse to build and run and then commit to stopping not only his body weight but also mine. So can you see how the commitment level that that horse would have to have to be able to stop that forward motion of a running down, when I say, whoa, when I give the cue? I don’t throw my body back and throw them off balance. I’ve got to try to balance up there. And with or without me having the perfect balance, that horse ideally will put their own body into a motion that literally goes against the current motion of both of our bodies. Can you see how that could be viewed as a slight mismatch? So playing with this idea a little bit doesn’t just benefit you in influencing it. It also makes the horse aware that some of these moments are going to exist as the training progresses. So there’s a little food for thought for your next ride. If you would like some help taking these concepts that you’re learning here on the podcast and applying them to your own riding check out my website and learn more about how I can help you reach your goals with your horse. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:21:18] 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:

Episode 182-How to deal with a mouthy horse and prevent biting.

2 Comments

  1. Ryan adamson on September 15, 2022 at 3:58 pm

    I have a trainer that when she gives pressure to work him. She give three stages of pressure ( going big, a flick with the whip, then she as hard as she can whips him across the rear). He is now scared of the round pen and the whip. I never had to use the whip and he worked perfectly fine but she’s going on how you have to whip him because you need to act like a horse as in heards. I asked her not to whip him and she says I don’t know what I’m talking about when I trained other horses just didn’t have time for this guy. What is your opinion on whipping. She thinks because I’m a heard there’s an alpha and omega the omega will get beaten up. But I tried to put it like Will you whip your dog and her only response was a dog is not a horse.

    • Stacy Westfall on September 21, 2022 at 9:48 am

      The best place to see my thoughts on this in action is in this YouTube video series.

      There is a series documenting the training of a young horse for a year which is extremely informative.
      Here is a link: Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac: https://youtu.be/TO6nyP_28QA

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