Episode 195: I don’t want my horse to stop meeting me at the gate.

Have you every considered asking more of your horse and thought, “I’m afraid my horse might stop meeting me at the gate.” Or maybe you took a lesson or tried a new technique and the next day when you went out you thought, “I’m surprised my horse still met me at the gate.”

If you have ever had a thought along this line, it’s time to take a more in-depth look at where this is coming from. In this podcast, I outline three places these thought commonly stem from. I also explain the stage of learning where it is normal for the horse to have this question. Finally, I share the thoughts I have that have prevented me from every having this thought.


Episode 195_ I don_t want my horse to stop meeting me at the gate..mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] You know, possibly the most interesting thing about this topic overall is that I don’t have this thought.

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: [00:00:31] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I help riders become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. And this season of the podcast, I’ve been sharing with you some of the concepts that I teach to my students inside my programs. Today on the podcast, I want to talk about–Well, actually, let’s start with a little heart-to-heart talk before I tell you anymore. First, I just want to tell you that I’m sorry that you’re here listening to this podcast when you could be doing something else. I’m probably going to make some mistakes in the way that I phrase some of the things that are coming up and I might even say something that confuses you, or I really hope not, but it could possibly offend you. And I promise I don’t mean to. I mean, I really appreciate you showing up. And I’m actually, now that I think about it, not even sure that I should ask you to do anything else. You already showed up. Maybe even recording the rest of this podcast and having you listen to it is too much. I’m sure you have other things that you’d like to do. So why don’t we just wrap it up now? I’m Stacy Westfall. Thanks for listening. Have a great day. Imagine if the podcast really ended right now. Would you think it was just a fluke? If you’re a regular listener maybe you’d come back next week or even try to track me down to see if I’m okay. Maybe you’d send a message to my husband. If you’re not a regular listener would you come back again? How many times would you download the podcast if I kept showing up like that? You know, what’s really interesting is that when I sit down to record a podcast, I imagine you listening. I imagine the problems that you might be having with your horse. I imagine ways to say something to you that you can follow, whether you’re pretty new to horses or whether you’ve been doing it for quite a while. Because what I want to do is I actually want to stretch you. I want you understanding me enough that you can follow along, but I actually want you stretched. I want your thoughts challenged. I hope you grow in your understanding because there is some resistance or challenge or push or question that comes up from listening to this podcast. If you are a regular podcast listener, think back. Has there ever been something that I’ve said and you weren’t quite sure if you followed it? Or maybe there was something that I said and you were not really sure you agreed with it. You’re kind of curious to understand my view, but you were pretty confident that you had a different view, but you were curious enough that you wanted to listen on because you’re kind of right on the fence. Like there’s curious, but there’s also doubtful.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:56] The whole reason I started like this is because I think it’s very possible that the way I presented at the beginning of this podcast could be the way that you’re viewing your horse. Now it might not be as extreme. I needed to say it a little bit more dramatic so you would understand and maybe feel confused. But here is a phrase that I hear a variation of every week from a student in some form. It goes something like this. I’m a little surprised my horse still meets me at the gate. There can be different versions of it. I don’t want my horse to stop meeting me at the gate. I’m afraid my horse might stop meeting me at the gate. You can fill in “gate” for “stall door” or anything else. I’ve had pros say things like this to me. I’ve had nonprofessionals. That means anybody who’s not a pro. I’ve had lots of non-pros say this to me. And I think I run into it a lot because it’s a common theme when someone is learning how to stretch their own comfort zone. And that’s what people do inside of my programs. They’re stretching their own comfort zone. And by the nature of what we’re doing, it often includes asking more of their horse. The more might be more time riding, the more might be more precision, the more might be more layers of understanding. But this thought, this underlying belief that you’re afraid your horse is not going to meet you at the gate, you’re a little bit surprised that they’re still meeting you at the gate, is worth looking at because it’s going to show up in the way that you show up with the horse. Just like me being almost apologetic that you’re listening to the podcast like that is not a useful way for me to be thinking about how you could be spending all of your time doing much more enjoyable things. That’s not going to help me record a podcast that’s going to be interesting, stretching, and inspiring or even worth listening to, because that’s the wrong frame of mind to be in.

Stacy Westfall: [00:06:27] So let’s look at a couple of the reasons why this might be happening. I see it as two separate issues. One is about you and the other is about your horse. When people say to me, they’re afraid the horse isn’t going to meet them at the gate, or they’re surprised the horse is still meeting them at the gate it’s putting all of it on the horse. I actually want you, if you’re a person that likes to write things down, I want you to have two separate columns for this. You might see at the end that there’s room for a third column, but start with two, and the first column can be titled, You, and the second is, your horse or horses or your horse’s name. And that first column, I want all of the reasons why you’re the problem and therefore, the horse shouldn’t be showing up at the gate. This is going to sound like a list of all of your mistakes, especially the mistakes that you find the most painful or repetitive, something maybe you’re trying to change or you just recently became aware of could be at the top of your mind. It could be really general like I’m inconsistent or I don’t release at the right time, or I might have asked too much of the last ride, or I’ve had this problem, fill in the blank, for this amount of time, fill in the time, and so clearly I’m unable to do this. So again, the first column, all the problems that you bring to the table that are basically reasons why your horse shouldn’t be showing up at the gate. Once you kind of flesh that one out, I want you to go to the other column and I want that one to be about how your horse or horses in general dislike training. Yes. That’s a silent pause for you to think about it. How does your horse dislike training or how do horses in general dislike training? Hmm. Maybe it’s something like this. Maybe it’s really general, like, well, who would want to be ridden when you could just hang out in the pasture and eat all day? Or maybe it’s something like, well, he really likes going back out to the pasture, therefore he must not like his time with me. Or it could be more specific. He still doesn’t do, blank, blank, blank. He still doesn’t pick up his left lead. He still doesn’t stop when I ask, he still throws his head. He still has resistance to going forward. So it could be something more specific like that. So anything that comes to your mind about how your horse specifically or horses, in general, would obviously dislike being trained. Feel free to send me some because I was actually having trouble coming up with those ones because these are not beliefs that I have. So so I’m trying to pull from some of the ideas that I’ve heard. So if you have some great ones, feel free to send them my way, because here’s what I actually think is happening here. What I actually think is happening when someone thinks I’m surprised my horse is still showing up, I’m afraid my horse is going to stop showing up. I think what’s happening here is that the first thing is you’re assuming that your imperfections matter. Another way to say it is you’re exaggerating the importance of your mistakes.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:07] There’s a reason, and I didn’t pull it up, but there’s a reason why. Many seasons ago, I did a podcast titled, Make Mistakes in the Right Direction. Not only do horses overlook our imperfections, if you even want to stick with that phrasing, but number one, they don’t even know what the end game fully is. And number two, I keep changing the rules as we go up through. That’s why I talk to you about grade levels. I don’t know about you, but the rules of life changed from elementary school to high school and the rules of life changed from high school to college. And the rules of life changed from college to the age I am now. The rules just keep changing. Some stay the same, there are some generals, but there’s a lot of the details, there’s a lot of the things that are really flexible. And I think sometimes when riders are exaggerating the mistakes they made, they are assuming that the horse has in mind this perfect rider, and they’re also assuming that there’s perfect steps along the way. But there’s going to be change. And change is a part of the training process. So even when you make mistakes and then you correct them, even if you have all the experience you can imagine it is still possible for my horse to think, well, clearly that must be a mistake, because yesterday you allowed me to do this, and now today you’re telling me I shouldn’t be doing this. Right, that’s a Tuesday when I’ve decided that you’re now moving to the next level. It’s okay, even if the horse views it as clearly. Stacy, you were rewarding me for this yesterday and now you’re changing it. I’m like, Yes, now I know you’re ready for the next step. So do you see how different that is?

Stacy Westfall: [00:12:07] Now, let’s look at the horse for a minute. I still think the major thing that’s going on here is that riders, humans, underestimate horses just across the board. They underestimate what the horse is willing to do, what the horse is capable of doing, what the horse looks forward to doing. Think about it like this. How many of you assume that you think your horse has the opinion that sweating is bad or that they dislike exercise or they dislike movement? What if you have an underlying assumption that horses don’t actually like detecting patterns,horses don’t like trying to figure out puzzles? If any of those resonated with you, you’ve got to go back and listen to Podcast 190, Doing Less of a Bad Thing Won’t Work. If you think having a horse sweat or breathe hard or exercise or have movement or movement more than it’s used to. If you think it’s a bad thing, if you just do a little bit of it, it’s still going to feel yucky. Your negative thoughts are either going to be column one thoughts about you. They’re going to be like self-judgments, self-criticisms, or they’re going to be column two thoughts that are basically either going to be physical or mental discomfort. Those are the main reasons I can think that people would have the thought, I’m afraid my horse won’t meet me at the gate anymore. I’m surprised my horse is meeting me. The way that those two phrases come up is some people hold themselves back because they’re afraid the horse will dislike something mentally or physically. Or in the middle of challenging themselves more and asking more of the horse that’s when you’re more likely to hear the person say, I’m surprised they’re still meeting me. But again, this assumes, like what makes you think horses dislike physical movement? What makes you think that horses are satisfied with hanging out in the pasture instead of figuring out puzzles? Here’s a spoiler alert. I believe that horses are built to detect patterns. I believe that when they’re out in the herd, they are reading the body language and detecting patterns of behavior and patterns of body language. That is their natural default. And part of the figuring out puzzles is figuring out, let’s just pretend that the horses are out with three or four or five other horses, when you take one away, if you watch, you can take horse number three away and it’s fascinating to watch how it changes the different dynamics. It’s fascinating to take horse number two away and see what changees, horse number four away and see what changes. Because what they’re doing is they’re detecting the different pattern that happens when the different dynamics change. Horses like figuring out puzzles. And the way that I do my training, the horses get to figure out puzzles with me. So what if it’s just possible? What if maybe you are interesting and that when you stretch yourself and you learn more, you get more interesting? Maybe your horse actually wants to do more than eat hay and hang out all day. I know he likes returning to the pasture. I like going out, doing work and returning to my home. Just because I like returning to my home doesn’t mean I don’t like going out and doing the work. Doing both gives me a different experience of both. Maybe if you think more of your horse, believe them to be more capable, maybe your horse will find you more interesting and you will get more out of him.

Stacy Westfall: [00:16:17] Now I’m going to challenge myself. When is it that it does seem like horses maybe don’t like to go to work? Maybe they even don’t meet you at the gate. When I was thinking about this podcast, I was thinking, okay, where do you see that? Well, the most recent time that I saw it was when I got my minis. And all my minis were a little older, different ages, but they’d been around people, but they had never been put to work, which is actually a really interesting thing. Scrap the part where they’re minis and let’s just have it say they’re older horses. And I would phrase it like this. They had no work ethic. They had no idea what work was or how to value it or not value it. They had no idea what it was, because basically in the work zone they’d never had a job so they were like elementary school, both in their training because they had none and in their view of work. They, they–it just wasn’t a thing. Now, what’s really interesting is I actually see this more with older horses, or minis in this case, than when you have young horses. I have trained lots and lots of young horses over the years and what’s interesting about young horses is just like young kids or puppies. I have one now. Puppies, young kids, young horses, they tend to be energetic, outgoing. What’s interesting about the way that they’re wired, when they’re in that stage, they’re open to a lot of experiences. So it’s very common for young horses to be super easy to learn what we could label as, work ethic. They’re like, Oh, this is interesting. You’re showing me something. And then they go and they think about it and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before on the podcast. Like, I believe a lot of horses are next-day learners, the majority of them. And so they go and they ponder it while they’re out there chewing their hay and hanging out with their buddies and doing whatever. And they come out the next day and they continue on with the training and it’s actually interesting to them. So they learn that cycle that I talked about way back in Episode 27, which is they learned how to learn when they were young. Now my minis, when they came to me, they had never learned how to learn. That’s the piece where I’m saying they kind of had no work ethic. They didn’t even know what it was. Nobody had tried to train them to do anything. And even in that case, it took about a week. It didn’t take super long. But what that meant is legitimately, when I went out to the paddock to get the minis, they were like, Hmm, yeah, you look like a lot of work. I don’t know if they thought a lot of work, but they definitely look like, maybe not. And so I went into the pasture and I didn’t have the thought, Oh, poor guys, I’m so sorry. I know this is whatever. I actually was like, Oh, it looks like we need to start here in the pasture. And I start moving myself around and engaging them in a way that another horse would engage them to work out communication. I walk here, I watch their movement, I move according to how I want my move–it’s like playing chess with a horse–at liberty in the paddock. I move, they move. Every time they move, they give me feedback. Every time I move, I give them feedback. And so I become interesting because, in the case of the minis or older horses, they’re like, weird. People don’t normally act like this. I actually understand this language. That’s intriguing. And so within a week the minis who were like, Yeah, I don’t know, probably based on their previous experience with people, they now were like, this person is interesting, this person is engaging, this person has something to say. And then even as I started working them, yes, we had our ups and downs because that’s just normal part of learning. But they have met me at the gate the rest of the time, even when things got physically or mentally challenging.

Stacy Westfall: [00:20:28] I was out in the barn riding Presto before I recorded this podcast and I was thinking about when I bought a Bluetooth speaker and put it on the side. And Presto is sensitive to sound. I’ve noticed this in a few different areas and when the Bluetooth speaker showed up on the side, certain songs really would kind of startle him. And so he developed this idea that that spot in the arena was a little bit funny. And I was thinking about it today only because I was getting ready to record this podcast. And it was interesting to me to think back and think even in that time frame of, let’s just say a couple of weeks where he was like, No, seriously, there’s a problem over there. Weird noises are coming out of right there and that’s a problem. Even though we were working around that and you could say it was even something he disliked he never stopped meeting me at the gate. He never stopped engaging with me to be caught or to be brushed or to be saddled or to be lunged. So it’s interesting that even when he was having what we could even go as far as having like calling a stressful season of learning there where I was working and not just forcing him by it, but I was stretching him, his comfort zone, stretching and being close. It was clearly stretching his comfort zone. And yet he still showed up lesson after lesson.

[00:21:53] So is it just possible that horses can actually enjoy the stretch? I think it’s possible and I will even go the other direction a little bit further. Is it possible that a human could set up a situation where horses don’t want to meet you at the gate? And I will say yes. And the two causes that came to my mind right off the bat, one I’ve already mentioned. Number one, when you meet a horse that hasn’t learned how to learn. Again, Episode 27. When a horse hasn’t learned how to learn, maybe they do look at you a little bit like an alien. They’re not looking at you like another horse. They’re not looking at you like you have something to offer. They’re sort of like, don’t know what to do with it. Think I’ll just stay away from it. And you can see how that fits with a wild Mustang or that fits with a horse that’s just been hanging out and looking at humans, like maybe feed dispensers that throw some feet over a fence and they don’t really know what to do with us. They haven’t learned how to learn. So that type of a horse doesn’t see the interaction as a possible enrichment or learning process. It doesn’t–they don’t know that this could be an interesting and intriguing puzzle to figure out. That one’s on the table. And then we’ll go to the final extreme. Is it possible that there are people that train like a drill sergeant, that basically use punishment and reprimand and constant intimidation with horses? It is possible. And that does create a horse that doesn’t really look forward to it, because it’s not really an enjoyable puzzle to figure out, it’s intimidation. And I think that at the root of it, there are many people who, at the deepest level, there’s a piece of them that is afraid they’re doing this. So if you’re listening to this podcast. And you’re a little bit afraid that you might be that person if you ask a little bit more. The fact that you’re afraid that you might be that person means that you won’t be that person. What people miss a lot of times is that the people that are really coming on strong and hard to intimidate are often trying to intimidate. It’s something that they’re doing over and over and over again as a habit. If you are afraid that that might be happening when you are training your horse, set up a video camera video and then watch it and do two things. Evaluate yourself in that moment but also evaluate your horse’s responses. Because so often when I do get a chance to talk to people that think that they might be asking too much, often when we review the video together, if you just watch the horse’s body language you can see that the horse is not reporting that. It’s the fear in the person’s mind that’s coming up. But if you doubt it or you think that could be you videotape and watch it.

Stacy Westfall: [00:25:13] You know, possibly the most interesting thing about this topic overall is that I don’t have this thought. I have not had the thought, I’m surprised my horse is still meeting me at the gate. And because I’ve spent my entire life with horses, assuming that it was an awesome two-way experience, even on the days when the minis were like, I’m not sure about you, I laughed because I thought, I can totally see why you’re not sure about me. Let me come in there and act a little bit more like a horse in my body language and become really interesting to you. But this doesn’t just apply to the minis. Over the years I have taken horses to high levels of competition and I take horses out and I ride them for many, many hours and many miles down the trail. And despite all of this, my horses are still meeting me at the gate. And I think that’s because I show up with the idea that this is a win-win situation. And I don’t come in thinking that somehow I’m doing something that’s a little bit yucky with my horse. If anything I’ve said resonates with you and you would like help applying these concepts to your riding, right now is an amazing time to join my riding course because I just received a saddle in the mail. I haven’t even opened the box yet to see it, but there is a saddle sitting in my entryway that I will be giving away to one of my students at the beginning of December. The entries for it close in November and that will give me time to sort everything out. And whichever student wins, it is going to have either the choice of this saddle that I have in my possession or a similar saddle of their choosing from the Westfall saddle line. That way, if you want a different seat size, I think this is a 16-inch. But if you want a different sized seat or you want a different square skirt versus a rounded skirt, or you could just pick the one I have here and I can just ship it to you. The beginning of December and before Christmas you’ll have a saddle. That’s just one of the things that has been on the table for my students this entire year. Not only do you have access to that when you become a student, but you also have lifetime access to all of my courses, all of the Zoom recordings from this year. And if you join right now, you can join me four times a month for the Zoom calls that go through the rest of this year where you can ask your questions, you can send in videos, you can see videos of other students that are working on the same material. If any of this sounds interesting to you, please visit my website to learn more. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:28:12] 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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