Episode 196: Teaching, Testing and Micromanaging: The difference is timing

The difference between testing, training, and micromanaging is TIMING.

If you are not sure of the difference in timing there, is a much higher chance that you will be frequently ‘correcting’ mistakes, or you’ll find yourself trying to prevent mistakes.

There is a way to train your horse that feels like guiding instead of ‘correcting’. In this podcast, I share how you can set your horse up for success, stop micromanaging and ‘test’ when you are confident the horse knows the answer.


Episode 196_ Teaching, Testing and Micromanaging_ The difference is timing.mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] How does your horse respond when you open a gap to test his knowledge in something you’ve been practicing?

Announcer: [00:00:11] 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 writers become confident, communicate clearly, and get better results with their horses. In 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, I’m explaining the difference between teaching or training and testing. I’m going to use the word teaching and training interchangeably because, in my world, training means teaching, educating, guiding, helping. Training as a word, especially in the horse world, I think it becomes a little more skewed. It can involve a much wider range of approaches, some of which I don’t use. But since it’s my podcast and you’re here listening, I want to take this moment to remind us both that although training can have a wide range of meanings when we’re talking about training horses, you always get to choose what type of training approach you want. And I’m saying that mine is going to have a teaching element to it. I almost titled this podcast training versus testing because, in my mind, training versus testing and teaching versus testing is about the same. But I really want to highlight the question for you to answer. What is the same and what is different for you when I say the word teach versus saying the word train? Take a moment, pause and define what you consider teaching, what you consider training, and even if training has like a negative element to it for you, figure out if you want to use a different word for that, or if you’re just kind of looking at it like a, like a sliding scale and you happen to be on one side of that scale and there’s a side you don’t like as much.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:32] Okay, enough on that. Just remember that I consider training to be teaching and teaching to be training. Testing, however, testing is completely different. So let’s think back to a time in your life when you were in school and you had a favorite teacher. They likely had a teaching style that you enjoyed, yet when testing came along, the testing process probably felt different than the day-to-day learning. No matter how that teacher set up and structured the learning, very often the tests, at least the standardized ones, they had really clearly set standards. Remember those fill in the bubble with your number two pencil kind of deals? There’s not a lot of room for creativity there. There’s a pretty clear yes, no, correct, incorrect, on the answers. What if there is a similar element to that when we’re training the horses? What if there is a teaching and training element and what if there is a testing element? Think about the last time that you worked with your horse. During that ride. Can you remember a clear example of something you were teaching the horse to do? Can you remember a clear example of testing that horse’s knowledge? I always imagine you guys listening and right now, I imagine silence. If you are unclear as to whether you were testing during that last ride or teaching during that last ride, then this podcast is for you. And if you are pretty sure that you knew the answer, it’s still for you because I want to see if my thoughts might help sharpen your view on the subject. Here are two of the main points that I want to explore. I believe that the difference between testing and training is timing. And if you’re not sure of the difference in the timing, then there is a much higher chance that you fall into one of these categories. You are often correcting mistakes after they happen, or you are often preventing mistakes from happening. Now for the deep dive. In training or teaching, there is a precise moment where the thing you want to have happen is about to happen, is happening, has just happened, and is over. Can you see other stages of that? Good training rewards when something is happening or has just happened. Great training rewards just before or just as the thing begins to happen. Corrections, pass or fail, the feedback that often happens from testing usually comes after it’s over. Nope. You got that wrong.

Stacy Westfall: [00:06:12] So I don’t test my horses very often. When I do test my horses I do it because I think they’re very likely to succeed. I do teach and train very often. The difference is that instead of it being a correction or a pass-fail or a nope, you got that wrong experience, when I’m training or teaching it feels like guidance. So what that looks like is I’m setting up a situation where the horse will have a very good chance of, “seeing or predicting what is coming.” And because of this, the horse is going to be much more likely to guess the desired response. They’re more likely to get the correct answer. Let’s put this into an example so that I can try to make it even more clear. Let’s use the example of teaching the verbal cue, Whoa. Testing the verbal cue, Whoa, is pretty easy to imagine. Picture walking along on your horse on a loose rein. You’re keeping your body pretty steady because you’re trying not to cue with your seat or your legs or anything else. You’re walking along and then you say the word, Whoa. And you wait to see if the horse stops. How long do you wait to see? If you’re testing, I would say you might wait 5 seconds or 5 to 6 steps. And in that time you would be sitting there neutrally and you would be observing what your horse’s response was. Maybe nothing happened. The horse just kept on walking forward like normal. Maybe your horse stopped before you reached the maximum time or steps. So before you reach that 5 seconds or 5 steps, your horse stopped and you’re like, Hmm, maybe that’s working pretty good. Or maybe, maybe not so much. Maybe your horse kind of did something in the middle. Maybe your horse kind of slowed down a little bit and step six was almost stopped so you decided to wait until step eight to see what happened. The one thing that’s true and stays the same in all of these examples, one thing they have in common, is that the horse was making the choice without support or guidance from the rider. That’s an example of testing.

Stacy Westfall: [00:09:02] Now to contrast that with training or teaching, the way that I’m going to approach it would be I’m going to shorten the time and I’m going to offer guidance or direction and I’m going to repeat. So let’s use the same example. So picture walking along on your horse, on a loose rain, keeping your body steady and trying not to queue with anything like your seat or your legs or anything. And you say the word, Whoa. For training, you’re not going to wait to see what happened. There will be a hesitation. In this example, I’m going to call it 2.5 seconds. I’m trying to do that to shake you off from being like super structured. So 2.5. It’s going to be enough time, and the time varies a little bit depending on the different exercise. That’s why I’m having a little bit of fun with you there. But it’s going to be enough time that the word in this example can leave your mouth, travel to the horse, be received by the horse’s brain, the horse can have the opportunity to think, that was a weird noise they just made, and then you’re going to guide them to a stop with your reins, back a few steps, turn 180 degrees, and walk off again. If I’m doing this and it’s training or teaching, I would do this over and over again, maybe ten times in a row. And let me repeat this, during that ten times, there is no wait-and-see moment. There will likely be things that will be changing during those ten repetitions. So maybe on the third repetition, you notice that the horse began responding to the rein cue better. Still, not really doing much on the verbal cue, but you started to notice that the rein cue, when you picked up and started to ask the horse to back up, that response was better on the third repetition. And then you keep going. And the fifth time you felt something shift in the way the horse was carrying himself, as you said the word, but he didn’t really slow. And it’s like you almost felt him think something or predict something was about to happen.nBut again, you picked up with the reins, you guided him back. And you notice when you did that that it kind of actually maybe even felt easier than the first and the second time and you turn and you repeat. Now the seventh time, you are pretty sure he’s getting it. He for sure shifted his body and prepared differently before the rein cue was even involved. And you’re actually noticing that the rein cue for that backup is even better than you can remember it being in recent memory. Now I’m going to interrupt this series of ten with a little pro tip here. I want you to stop and notice how tempted you are to not continue on. If you notice that, I want you to notice if you were tempted to quit the exercise at any sign of improvement. So back when you felt the rein improve, the back up with the rein improve, did you notice that you were tempted to quit there? And then when you noticed that for sure he shifted his body, did you notice that it was even stronger desire to quit there? Because if you did this would be an example of what I talked about in the last episode. Notice, because sometimes riders are tempted to quit when things are working, and I think some of that comes from not understanding the difference between testing and training. If you feel like you’re testing and you feel like the horse is winning and you feel like the horse can fail, you’re going to be likely to not want the horse to fail. But we’re not doing that right now. We are training. So we keep giving the horse the answer over and over again. So we’re giving the horse the answer so there’s no failing involved. That’s a huge difference. So especially on a low-level exercise example like this, I want you to think that giving the horse the chance to experience the repetition over and over and over again gives the horse a chance to solidify whether or not it’s noticing what it thinks it’s noticing. So you’re guiding the horse to the answer, so there really won’t be a wrong answer.

Stacy Westfall: [00:14:10] But let’s go on because this could happen. What if on the eighth repetition your horse who has been getting better and better, now you say the word, you pick up on the reins to go to back the horse up, and the horse turns to the left? What happens in your mind? I’d say you’ve got a couple of opportunities here. One, you have the opportunity to simply use the reins to stop that turn from happening and guide him into the backup. And at the same time, you’re going to be making a note. And you’re going to observe and try to see how he predicted that you really were planning on turning him to the left because you actually know you really were. So what? Here’s what this looks like. During these repetitions, there will come a point where your horse will give you feedback on what they’re learning, and when your horse gives the feedback on what they’re learning, you might not always like the feedback. So in this example, when the horse then predicted the left-hand turn, that is an opportunity while you are teaching as the teacher you also get to learn from the student. And the student in this example said, I see your pattern. And I also see that we are always turning to the left. Or maybe your horse said this. I see your pattern. And I felt you lean. And you always lean that way before you turn me to the left. So another difference between testing and training is that testing often ends in punishment where the horse was right or wrong. The cool thing about training is that in the middle of the teaching, the horse is giving you feedback and you are actually learning along with the horse. So let’s look for just a moment at the testing end of it when you’re doing the testing. A lot of times when you reach that eighth one and the horse does something, “wrong,” offers you the actual observation about yourself and the fact that you’ve only turned to the left the last seven times so the horse volunteers that and even tries to help you out by shortcutting and erasing the backup steps, even though you wanted it to be the backup steps. But you accidentally turn to the left every single time, every time, so the horse tells you. And then you’re mad because the horse got it wrong. You are less likely when you are in the viewing of the testing mindset, you are less likely to look for feedback from the student and you are more likely to look for things to punish. It will sound like, they should know this by now. In this moment on that eighth repetition, when your horse started predicting that left turn, you not only have the chance to review your technique, but you also get the chance to realize and rate on a scale how devastated you are that things didn’t always progress in an upward trend. Because I don’t know about you, but life hasn’t worked out for me like that. It’s not all been just constantly better and better and better. So for me, when I’m looking at training, when I’m looking at teaching, I expect there to be ups and downs and different questions. But if we’re looking at pass and fail and then, especially if we’re wrapping up anything about our belief system of who we are in with training the horse and whether or not they give us the, “right answers,” ooh, that can get messy. So when we’re teaching or training versus testing, when we’re teaching, we have a longer view. The teaching mindset is much more likely to look at progress over several days or progress over a week or progress over two weeks. And it is more likely to be predicting trends and noticing patterns versus ehh, wrong, fail.

Stacy Westfall: [00:18:42] So now that I’ve discussed the difference between testing and training is the timing, and I’ve illustrated that with the example of, Whoa, the other thing I want to look a little bit more deeply at is the idea that if you are not clear on what you are allowing for timing when it’s training or timing when it’s testing, if you’re not sure if you’re making any difference between those, if it feels like you are giving releases but then picking up to tell the horse they’re wrong, that very often is a sign that you’re approaching it with a very testing mindset. Because you’re not guiding the horse repetitively over and over into what is correct. You’re essentially just telling them, Nope, that was wrong. Nope, that was wrong. And you’re leaving the correct answer as the one that doesn’t have the Nope, that was wrong answer. So just check in with that. But I think the other category that I really, really haven’t touched on is the category of the rider who isn’t sure whether they’re testing or training because they’re constantly preventing the horse from making mistakes. And as you might be able to predict, if you’re constantly preventing mistakes, you’re probably not using the timing for maybe either one of these. So here’s how it looks. The rider who doesn’t have a clear definition of what is testing and what is training tends to be managing all the time. And I think what comes along with this constant management kind of a mindset is that the rider honestly thinks they’re preventing mistakes from happening, but what happens a lot of times for the horse is that they start to not understand their own role and they start to tune the rider out. Why listen? The rider is going to be doing all the work anyway. I look at it like this. The rider isn’t leaving room in the conversation for the horse. Let me give you an example. The rider is constantly giving cues, often without the two-second hesitation that allows the horse to even begin to think about having a choice. The shortest phrasing that comes to mind is if it feels like you’re nagging or micromanaging, then I’m talking about you right here. And the challenge for this is that if the horse doesn’t have the chance to see how the habit pattern would play out if they were able to have a word in it, they won’t ever see how they can get a reward. That’s why it feels like constant nagging to them. That’s why they start to tune you out. So let’s use that same example of, Whoa. So in a rider who’s doing this, let’s just call it micromanaging, when they approach something like, Whoa! They are much more likely to do it like this. And you’re going to hear how it doesn’t have the timing of either of the things I was talking about. The rider is likely to be riding. Prepare the horse, pick the spot that they want to stop, shift their seat, adjust the reins, change their leg, say the word, pull on the reins, change their seat again, pull on the reins a little bit more. Can you see how inside of all of that, many horses just can’t clearly see their own responsibility? When the rider is so busy trying to help, it actually doesn’t leave room for the horse to have a thought. And the interesting thing about this horse is that depending on their temperament, sometimes they’ll get really dull and just kind of wait for the rider to try to tell them everything. Some of these horses will get really creative and they’ll be watching butterflies off in the distance, and you’ll think they’re really good at watching butterflies. Why aren’t they paying attention to me? And it’s because there’s no room in the conversation for them. And then some others will actually get really, really creative with seeing your overall patterns and predicting things, and they’ll start throwing things out faster and faster just because they’re being creative. And so instead of watching for butterflies far off in the distance or going to sleep and not responding, they’ll just start flinging in a few answers that have worked over the last few weeks and then a few more creative things, giving you the impression that they’re totally ADD.

Stacy Westfall: [00:23:24] So I’ll say this one other way. If you can’t clearly identify times in your training when you are teaching and guiding and informing, then there is a really good chance that you’re either micromanaging or you are giving pop quizzes or tests all the time. But if you’ve reached this point in the podcast and you are still not sure, there is one way you can find out, go ask your horse. Because this concept of training, guiding, testing, micromanaging, this concept is true in all areas with your horse. It’s going to be true lunging the horse, leading the horse, steering the horse, stopping the horse, doing anything advanced like lead changes, spins, you name it. The next time you go out, how does your horse respond when you open a gap to test his knowledge in something you’ve been practicing? If you allow 5 to 6 steps where you don’t help as much in the steering or you test your stop or you test whatever advanced maneuver or movement you’ve been working on. How does the horse respond to that gap? Does the horse get lost when they get lost? Do they continue on? Do they get worried? Do they fill in the blanks with something else? And let’s just say that you are giving that horse 5 to 6 steps of freedom and you’re not really clear whether they had a wavering thought. The next question is when you take contact again to support the horse after that, how does the horse respond when you pick up that contact? So let’s even just say that you were trotting a circle and you lower your reins down to see if that horse stays on that ten-meter circle that you were trotting. And when you lower your hands down for 5 to 6 steps and you’re not quite clear, maybe he left the track a little bit, maybe not, it’s kind of questionable. When you pick up the contact what is the horse’s response? Does the horse duck behind the contact? Does he throw his head up or does he dive in or out? You can give feedback from the horse during the release, during the 5 to 6 steps of freedom, and during the taking up of the contact. Because in my world, this is how it works. Your horse is the student and the teacher. You are the teacher and the student. At least that’s how I would encourage you to look at it. You can always be learning from the horse while the horse is learning from you.

Stacy Westfall: [00:26:31] Here is a recent aha moment or success story from one of my students. It says: I typically approach ride days from the perspective of “riding my horse,” as in I’m going to go out and “ride” or “practice, Whoa, on a 20-meter circle to the left.” I have a plan and I go. This week with all the examples and repetitions of the differences between testing and training that you’ve provided it finally connected in my mind. I realize I’ve been riding as though I’m being tested. Shifting from “ride” to “train” or teach my horse gives me a completely different sense of my role and responsibility. Thank you for your repetition and consistency. It finally got through.

Stacy Westfall: [00:27:25] That’s what I have for you today. And if you would like some guidance so you can take the concepts that I’m teaching here on the podcast even deeper and apply it to your own riding. Come join me inside my online program. You get immediate access to all of my riding courses, including Whoa, and the opportunity to join me on live calls, ask your questions, have your videos reviewed, and watch other students working through the process. And it’s totally risk-free because it has a 30-day money-back guarantee. Thanks to all of you for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:28:04] 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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