Episode 197: The delayed side effects of your habit patterns: desirable or undesirable?

Are you contributing to or causing the very habit you want to change with your horse?
Often riders look for the ‘direct effect’ of their training, while the long game is often more impacted by the ’side effects’.
These ‘side effects’ or inadvertently trained habits most commonly come from the HUMANS habit pattern.
Habit patterns are interesting because we often see them later on, which is why I call them a ‘side effect’. The problem area may not even appear to be directly related….because side effects are a thought pattern that has developed in the horse.
As a horse begins to see your habits, you’ll begin to see the side effects of your habits. Listen to learn more.


Episode 197_ The delayed side effects of your habit patterns_ desirable or undesirable_.mp3
Stacy Westfall: [00:00:00] Remember that habit patterns are interesting because we often see the results of them later on in the horse’s physical behavior, almost seemingly in an area that’s not related.

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: [00:00:39] 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. Here on the podcast, you hear about the concept. Inside my courses, I review videos for the students, and I show videos of my own horses that bring these concepts to life. In today’s podcast, I’m going to talk about a couple of those specific examples. But first, I’m going to start with a question. Here’s the question of the day. Are you contributing to or even causing the very habit that you want to change with your horse? What I want to talk about today are habit patterns. Now you’ve heard me teach about physical patterns, and I’ve talked about habits in a lot of the different podcasts. But in this one, I want to share three examples of how habit patterns could be affecting your rides.

Stacy Westfall: [00:01:52] First, let’s talk just a little bit about what I mean by a habit pattern. When I look at riders, most of the time, they think they’re aiming for a direct effect, meaning they think that when they do A. they’re going to get B. But what’s very interesting is if you actually start to look at side effects–When I think of it like this way, it opens up my mind a little bit more to maybe the things that I don’t directly see coming. Everything has a side effect. Some of the side effects are desired and some of the side effects are undesired. This concept of something that you get directly and something that you get as a side effect it happens everywhere. It is one of the biggest reasons why there are so many different bits and theories on tack out there. Because when I look at a lot of different bits, for example, different bits have different direct effects and different side effects. That’s just one example in tack. We can look at the patterns that we ride, as in the physical pattern that we ride, and then we can also look at the habits that we have. Today I want to share two examples of habit patterns so I can illustrate how this works. Just remember that habits are naturally occurring because a habit is just a way for our brain to conserve energy, which is why we naturally fall into habits without necessarily choosing them. They’ve done studies on how people brush their teeth, how they walk through their houses, and we are very habitual in a lot of those things because it just saves us brain energy. The good news is habits are predictable and this can be useful when training or it can be not so useful when training. As the horses begin to see your habits you will then begin to see more clearly the side effects that it will have with the horse. That’s what makes us a little bit more sneaky, and it’s one of the reasons I like to call it a side effect.

Stacy Westfall: [00:04:34] So as we get ready to look at this groundwork example and then a riding example, remember that habit patterns are interesting because we often see the results of them later on in the horse’s physical behavior, almost seemingly in an area that’s not related. But what I want you to see in these examples is that these are often a reflection or a side effect of a thinking pattern that the horse has developed from some kind of habit pattern that you have been doing. So let’s look at two situations where riders might think they’re training one thing, but later on they find out they were also training something else. Here is a groundwork example. In this example, let’s picture a horse that comes out pretty fresh and the rider thinks, I’m going to lunge this horse or turn it loose and let it run around to blow off some steam. When this begins, this habit looks pretty innocent. It looks like the rider makes an observation that the horse is fresh. Maybe the horse is snorting and they lead the horse out and the rider–I’m going to call it a rider Even though you’re leading the horse–the rider takes the horse out, lets the horse run around loose or on the line, doesn’t matter, what matters is that the horse is the one choosing the speed, choosing the amount of energy to blow off. And when the horse chooses to slow down and calm down, then the rider catches them or reels in the line and they go and they saddle up. What’s interesting about this is that on the surface, and maybe even very early in training, maybe this habit looks pretty innocent and maybe it even doesn’t have super apparent side effects. However, if this continues, there is a much higher likelihood that this horse will be under the impression that they choose when and how to blow off steam and how long it takes to blow off steam. So like I said, this is kind of subtle and it might sneak up on you because this pattern could look like it’s working for two months, four months, even a year. What often happens is let’s just pretend a year later that this horse is hauled somewhere and the rider realizes that they don’t maybe have the best footing to let the horse do whatever it wants to do. Maybe it’s not the best setup to let the horse do whatever it wants to do and maybe even go another step further. Maybe this horse needs some rehab from some kind of an injury that requires the horse to have a level of emotional control while the horse is, say, hand walked to recover from an injury. At that point when the rider decides that they now need to step in and control this situation, if the habit has been that the horse chooses it, the horse sets the speed, the length, and when it’s over. Can you see how this habit pattern has now given the horse the impression that when it feels fresh, it gets to choose when and how much and how this exercise looks? Now I will totally grant you that. Let’s just say for the first ten or 20 times that I work a horse. It may look a little bit like this is happening, but what I want you to know is that somewhere in that 10 to 20, 20 to 30-time range, I am beginning to morph how this works because this is not a habit pattern that I want to let go on because of the side effect it has on the horse, mentally and even physically. So mentally it shows the horse that they can choose all of this, no matter if it is a safe or an unsafe environment. But it also sets the horse up physically to possibly be putting themselves at risk. So what I would like to do instead is I would like to, as early as possible, begin interrupting that habit pattern to show the horse that I’m going to be the one that will allow this, let’s just say, blowing off steam. I will help them through that if that’s what’s needed. But it will be in a much more controlled way. So, for example, I would take this horse out and in those first ten sessions of working with the horse, I would have been developing a language of communication.

Stacy Westfall: [00:10:20] If you want an example of that, you can go to my YouTube channel and watch Stacey’s Video Diary: Jac and watch those first ten episodes and you’ll see me doing this with a horse that is doing a lot of what I’m talking about here. And what I want to do in those first ten sessions is I want to be planting seeds so that I have a way to yes, exercise the horse that’s got all this excess energy, but also be shaping this horse to where I am controlling more and more of how that energy is spent. Because as I gain more and more control over it, I will gain control over being able to help them expend that energy in a way that will be safe and even beneficial. So, for example, I want to eventually get to the point within not a long period of time, let’s just say within a month. I want to get to the point where if this horse comes out super fresh, I can control that. It can go around me and it might want to blast around me running as fast as it can and I can control bringing it back to the trot. And it may take itself up to the–the canter or the lope or whatever, and I can bring it back down to the trot. I want to see that the direction this habit is going is that the horse comes out, it looks super fresh, I see that. Horse says, I’m really fresh. I say, we should go do something about this, but I’m going to control how this looks. And something as simple as requiring this horse to trot ten times around me each way before I allow the canter and then when the horse canters me choosing the level of intensity that that gets to. If I do this early on, I will set the groundwork, the fundamentals of the way that this horse uses its body and thinks about a session with me. That habit, that pattern of thinking, which is the habit pattern that I have of how I approach letting this horse get this extra energy out to keep us both safe. That habit pattern will be established in the horse and in me, and this is the type of pattern that will lead to future success in those areas that look like they’re less controllable. Like how do you get a horse that’s really fresh to not blow up in a situation where you’re like, Oh, this is kind of a tight situation. This horse needs to be hand walked for the next two weeks because of an injury it’s recovering from. But that’s going to be a pretty fresh horse if you’ve done this emotional control training by having a habit pattern that influences the horse’s thinking instead of just letting them blow off steam. That is how you will get that type of control and as you might be able to guess, this is what leads to being able to have those horses that can be fresh in moments, and you will have the control to be able to get yourself in a better situation or even be able to ride that fresh horse and completely stay safe.

Stacy Westfall: [00:13:54] Now let’s look at a riding example of how a habit pattern can be happening that maybe you’re not super aware of. So one thing that I often see riders doing that looks really innocent for quite a while is changing directions frequently. And this is one of those habits that looks really innocent. It looks innocent in the beginning. And in the very end, when we look at a lot of advanced horses, advanced horses are changing directions all the time. So it would seem on the surface that getting on, riding your horse and changing directions a lot would probably lead you to the advanced horse that can change directions a lot. One of the side effects that starts to show up in horses when riders do this a lot is you start seeing horses that are really inconsistent with their heads. So they pop their heads up, they snatch their heads away from the rider, they do a lot of these things that seem like resistance in their face when the rider goes to touch them. Another thing that you’ll see a lot of times in these horses is a loss of rhythm. So the horses will be kind of scrambling and speeding up or they might be really kind of resistant to move forward. Or maybe they have a really inconsistent rhythm in the way that they go. So why would changing directions often cause all of these negative side effects? And if it does, how in the world do advanced horses change directions frequently and not have this side effect? The key here is that when changing directions or really changing almost anything when you’re riding the horse is actually challenging the horse’s balance and coordination. And very often when riders are changing direction they underestimate the amount of balance that that horse needs to be able to make that change without feeling like they’re losing their balance. So if you make the change of direction quickly. Very often, horses will reach out quickly with a leg to catch themselves as you change the direction. This is one of the things I see really frequently. If I see somebody changing leads, you’ll see a horse that changes in the front and they reach out and grab and get the correct lead in the front because basically, they were catching themselves, rebalancing themselves that way. But they don’t necessarily change in the hind end because that change in the front wasn’t from a balanced state, it was from a I’m trying to catch myself kind of a state. But don’t get me wrong, this happens way earlier in the training, the lead changes. This happens in very early rides because when that horse goes to change direction, change speed. What’s interesting about this is that there is a balancing act the horse has to do. And you can see that illustrated when you’re lunging them and you can see how the contact that the rider has on the lunge line or the rein. You can see how that challenges the horse’s balance. On another level, aside from just the level of balance challenge that the horse was having on its own, a lot of times riders underestimate the amount of preparation that needs to go into that before the amount of balance they need to carry in their body as they change and the amount of rebalance as that horse takes those few new steps in that new direction. And because the rider underestimates this, a lot of times the rider will move their own body quickly, which will have a couple of side effects on the horse. Number one, it can surprise the horse because with the lack of preparation, there’s more chance for the horse to be surprised by the request. On top of that, if the request seems like it came quick, then the horse will be more likely to lose their balance and more likely to snatch their face in an attempt to rebalance. And in that attempt to rebalance, a lot of times the riders take it as resistance in the horse’s face, and so they snatch the face a little bit more to try to fix that problem, when really it was a loss of balance because the horse wasn’t properly prepared. So if you start seeing unsteadiness in the head, the horse is kind of like snatching his face, popping up in his face, feeling like it’s kind of taking that head away like that, you see a loss of rhythm, or you see your horse getting a little scrambly in the turns or being really resistant to turn, this is a really good time to set up a video camera and videotape your rides and really pay attention to how you’re riding those transitions. Because so many times riders don’t realize how often they innocently change directions, trying to keep things fresh, trying to keep things new. And really what they’re doing is making it way more complicated than they think without enough support. So they’re not actually helping the horse, they’re actually making it more complicated. So again, this is another one of those habit patterns, a habit of changing directions frequently, which, if not done well, will often have a negative side effect on the way the horse is thinking. Because from the horse’s point of view, if they’re not getting enough preparation and they’re having an essentially negative experience by the loss of balance, frequently during a ride, they’re going to get a little more defensive and protective of their balance and that’s oftentimes what you’re seeing that shows up like resistance. So go back and look at your habit pattern that could be creating that pattern that’s showing up in them.

Stacy Westfall: [00:21:04] Now I’ve shared with you a groundwork habit pattern and a riding habit pattern. But this right here is without a doubt the most important pattern that you need to consider, and that would be your thinking. Because your thinking is going to determine how you read your horse. Your habit pattern of thinking is going to determine how you decide what to make of whatever that is that just happened, whether that’s a moment in time or your entire ride. Your habit pattern of thinking will keep you going and progressing and curious even when things get tough or it will shut you down and have you skipping one more ride and one more ride and struggling on the rides that you do show up for. Habits of thinking can be some of the sneakiest ones to try to capture because oftentimes they feel so natural because you’ve practiced them, maybe not even just with the horses, but it’s really common to have habit thoughts in different areas of your life. I want to share a message that one of my students, Donna, wrote, and it says: The day before your podcast Episode 195 about meeting me at the gate, I had overcorrected my sweet, calm horse for a minor infraction, snatching at nose high grass while working. When we got home, I said to him, I don’t know why you even like me. It’s obvious that he does. He’s always greeted me, even sought me out with enthusiasm, and still does. Your podcast gave me peace of mind in what I’m doing, enabling me to understand why my horse likes me even when I make a mistake, and guiding me to new ideas to keep him interested, smart and independent. He’s figuring out puzzles on his own. Things like how to negotiate a narrow ravine, where to place his feet on slick rock, and what the best route through brush is. Some of the things you said that illuminated the path to interesting partnership were, and I paraphrase, horses don’t imagine perfection or the end result. Don’t underestimate your horse’s willingness. Believe your horse is more capable. Horses have to learn about work ethic. Horses like figuring out puzzles. And my favorite, maybe, just maybe, our horses find us interesting.

Stacy Westfall: [00:24:15] I love this message from Donna because it illustrates how many thoughts you can have that could really help you keep on going. I really, really do believe that during their downtime, when the horses are eating their hay and hanging out I believe they like figuring out puzzles. Sometimes that puzzle would be the current herd dynamics. I think they stand there and they chew and they think about it and then they test it. But most often I believe that the puzzle they spend the most time trying to figure out is you. When you look at your habit patterns, even if you don’t see your pattern yet, but you’re seeing an undesirable pattern in your horse begin checking your habit patterns. But before you do that, check your thinking. Because when you begin to suspect that you might have a habit that’s contributing to a habit your horse has, it is super tempting to become judgmental of yourself and very negative. I want to know if you can hold two opposite thoughts and two seemingly opposing emotions at the same time. Can you recognize that you could be contributing to the problem and be excited about the knowledge that the awareness that you could be causing the problem is actually the key to helping you move to the next step of fully identifying and changing that habit? If you cannot hold those two opposite thoughts and those two opposite emotions, here’s how you’re going to know if you don’t want to see the opposite thoughts. You’re either going to see one or the other, or you’re going to avoid the problem at all costs and pretend it’s not there. The other choice you have is admitting and even celebrating that now that you can see your habit. You can at the same time without–you can actually–did you know this is possible? You can skip beating yourself up and judging yourself. You can actually go from, I see the problem and because I see the problem, I can commit to finding the next step or the solution. You don’t even have to know the next step. You can see the problem. Skip the judgment. Skip the beating yourself up and commit to finding the next step. Because if you’re in that cycle right now for the first time that you recognize, welcome to the cycle because it’s the normal part of growth, recognizing where you are, and then trying to figure out how to get to the next step. You heard me talk about that back in Episode 187 when I talked about the backwards cycle of learning. If you’d like some help applying the concepts that you hear me talking about here on the podcast to your own writing. Come join me inside my online program. I even have a module in there on thoughts and thought work, and there are many, many written questions that have come in from students specifically about their thinking. And there are written coaching answers that are so valuable. So many students have written in and said how they’ll read a different student’s question and the coaching answer, and they will be blown away with how it applies directly to them. When you join, you’ll have access to all of that coaching Q&A, as well as immediate access to all of my riding courses. And you’ll have the opportunity to join me on live calls, ask your questions, have your videos reviewed, and watch other students’ video reviews. 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: [00:29:06] 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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