Episode 266: Red zone, yellow zone, green zone

If you notice that you find yourself thinking or saying, ‘look, I messed up there’
or ‘my timing could have been better there’ and you have an underlying feeling of disappointment, this episode is for you.

In this week’s episode, we discuss a simple tool that can help reduce the fear of mistakes and the trap of perfectionism. As riders develop the ability to feel more while riding, the heightened awareness will reveal both the things that ARE working, as well as the things that are not.

One tool for adjusting your perspective is to categorize by zones—red, yellow, and green. Once you understand what these zones represent, you’ll understand why ‘perfect’ timing isn’t always necessary.

This same concept is also a useful way to think when planning, goal-setting, and reviewing your progress.

Show Notes:

“Because again, the more you can feel, the more you’re also going to feel what’s not right or perfect. But here is the best news. You don’t need perfect timing to train a horse.”

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.

Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall and I’m here to help you understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses. In this week’s episode, I’m going to share with you one tool that I find useful in overcoming the fear of messing up the idea of not doing it right, and perfectionism. Because if you don’t address these ideas, you’ll likely find yourself slowing down or criticizing yourself. And if you notice that you find yourself thinking or saying, oh, I messed up there, or my timing could have been better right there, and it has an underlying feeling of disappointment, then this episode is for you. I have said it before and I will say it again the more you develop as a rider, the more you will see and feel. And that sounds amazing, right? Everyone I meet wants to be able to feel more when they’re riding their horse. They want to be able to identify more of what’s happening, because that will help them be able to make more progress. But remember, as you feel more and as you see more, you’ll see both the things that are working and the things that are not working. Pause. Hear me. You will feel more and see more of what is not working. As I record this, it is the end of 2023, but the topic is relevant no matter when you listen to it. Because the theory that I’m about to share with you can be applied in many areas. In this podcast, I’m going to talk about two, your daily work session with your horse and your planning, goal setting and reviewing process.

In next week’s episode, I’ve invited two of my advanced at home students to join me to discuss the process of setting goals in January and then reviewing them in December. In this episode, I want to get you thinking in a way that will help you if you choose to go through that process. Plus, it’s going to help you on a daily basis. So let’s start with the example of the daily work sessions with your horse. One thing that stays consistent with riders across the board when they go out to make improvement in a riding session, is that they begin to realize the value of, understanding the application of, and the release of each cue. And as you develop the ability to understand the timing needed to communicate more clearly to your horse, let’s say in the example of having your horse back up and let’s say that you want that backup to be rhythmic and willing and diagonal pairs of legs moving, you will go through stages that while you’re focused on that, you’ll become very aware of what’s happening. As you develop the understanding of the timing needed to improve the backup, it is common for riders to become very focused on it. You could even call it hyper focused, and it is this very focused state that actually helps you develop the feel for the quote unquote, correct timing.

Or if we want to say it another way, the timing that is more likely to help your horse figure out what you want, that’s the clear communication part, and what that means is that when you’re working on something like improving your horse’s backup, there are moments when you could apply rein, pressure. And as the horse is moving, you can release that rein, pressure. And depending on where the horse is in the step, when you release, it’s possible to say that you released a little bit too early right there, or a little bit too late right there. So in the normal process of training and you becoming more aware, you’re going to begin to notice the timing of a little bit late and a little bit too early. And because you have that new awareness from studying, learning how to apply the technique, watching your own videos, going out and executing, you’re going to get more and more of an understanding of what that quote unquote perfect release would be, and all of those ones that are not quite so perfect releases are going to begin to stand out. Take a deep breath. This is good news. This increased awareness of what’s working and what’s not. This is what it feels like to uncover the next layer of understanding. Because again, the more you can feel, the more you’re also going to feel what’s not right or perfect. But here is the best news.

You don’t need perfect timing to train a horse. Here’s how I want you to think about it. You don’t need to be perfect, but you do need to be in a functional zone. So let’s make this a visual discussion. Even though you’re listening to a podcast right now. I want you to picture in your mind, a gauge, kind of like a speedometer or a temperature gauge in your car that has that needle that moves. And on this imaginary gauge, I would like you to think it’s divided in thirds. And each of those thirds is a color. That first zone is going to be the red zone. That next zone in the middle is going to be the yellow zone. And the final zone is going to be the Green zone. And that needle could point to any of the zones, and it could be within the edge or the middle of each one of those zones. And here’s how I would like to define the zones. The red zone. If the needle is pointing there, that means that when you go out to work with your horse, you’re not seeing any progress after several sessions. Let’s label that 5 to 10 sessions. And inside of that, let’s remember that if you do ten sessions, you need to stay focused on the same technique and a similar pattern to give your horse the opportunity to figure out what you’re doing. If you do ten sessions and you’re not seeing any progress, that’s how you’ll know you’re in the red zone.

The yellow zone is going to be the zone where you kind of or mostly understand what you’re attempting to do. You know, your timing could improve, but if you look at your rides over 5 to 10 rides and you review, you do see progress being made. You don’t know exactly why it’s working, but you have a good idea of what you’re attempting to do. You know, your timing could improve and you see that improvement even though you wish you understood it deeper. Then there’s the green zone. In the green zone, you are confident of how progress is made. You are confident of it even when you’re not seeing the progress. Think of it like this. A professional trainer who has experience, applies the techniques and is confident in the techniques and the communication even when it’s not reflected immediately in the horse. That’s the green zone. And I believe that when people are learning to train their own horses, no matter which stage you’re at, it’s normal and natural to want to be in the green zone. The green zone comes with experience. Think about it like this. When you were learning to drive a car, the thing that moved you from the yellow zone where you kind of sort of mostly understood to the green zone where you now do it without thinking about it, was experience. With your horse. There are probably things that you are in the Green Zone with right now.

When I say that if your mind immediately jumped to no. Notice that. If I say you’re probably in the green zone right now, think about it. Where would you be in the green zone right now with your horse? Maybe it’s putting on a halter. Maybe it’s cleaning out hooves. Maybe it’s any number of what you’re going to call regular tasks, something that you’re confident in, so much so that you didn’t even notice it as an option when I said you might be in the green zone somewhere. That’s actually one of the signs that you’re probably in the green zone is that you’re taking it for granted because it seems so natural and easy. Here’s your reminder it’s normal to feel unsure as you’re learning something new. Plus, I think many of you might accidentally imagine that professionals all have perfect timing all the time. I don’t think I do. I can feel the moments when I release a second early, anticipating a certain response from the horse. But if it doesn’t happen, then it’s just a release with not the best timing. That’s a great example of where the timing might seem like it’s off, and technically after the fact the timing is off, but maybe you could also look at it like it isn’t off, because I actually release right there in that last second to let that final step be from the horse.

But they don’t always take it. And then it didn’t happen. And then that is why I can go backwards and label that, not the best timing. The biggest difference is I’m confident even when it’s not working. I actually like to marvel at how smart horses are. And sometimes when I hear someone say that their horse is very forgiving, I think we’re saying the same thing. And that ends up boiling down to as long as we are reasonably consistent or operating in what I’m calling the yellow zone, things will progress. Now let’s apply this to something more broad planning, goal setting, and reviewing your progress made on your goals. And if you’re new to setting goals and reviewing, sometimes it can seem like there’s no good place to start. Like you’re in the red zone and you don’t know how to get out. I would like to offer that right now is a great time to start, and just by choosing to start, you automatically move into the yellow zone. Also, keep in mind that setting goals and reviewing can be a pretty simple process. If you’re really resistant to it. Double check. There’s a really great chance that you’ve used prior goals to beat yourself up with, and that would quickly explain why you don’t want to enter into this process again. I’m going to go into more detail in next week’s episode about how I like to review my year, but I’ll start by saying this you can review your year.

Even if you didn’t set goals. You can review your year even if you didn’t have a specific way of tracking. So if this is you and you feel like you’re in the red zone and you’re maybe willing to consider setting goals and reviewing this year, here’s where I would like you to start. First decide that you can do this in about 30 minutes. Then you won’t buy in to your brain saying you don’t have enough time to do it, or this is going to take way too long. Decide it’s going to take about 30 minutes. Set a timer and sit down with a pen and paper or computer if you prefer that. Either using your memory or your calendar if you tend to write things down on your calendar so you have a calendar you can look back at that’s useful. Or if you don’t, you can use your memory. Or if you take photos on your phone of things that can be really useful, go back through each month of the year and write down 3 to 5 things that stand out to you from each month. These could be things that you did with your horse, or it could be something like I was sick for two weeks out of that month. And if you didn’t have a goal last year, you’re doing this exercise simply to observe what last year was like. You might find that you didn’t ride much in January and February, but you did a lot of riding June, July and August.

Maybe you’re going to look back and see there was a time when you were injured, or a time when your horse was injured, or a time that one of you was sick, and that changed what you were doing. And all of these things are worth noting if they stand out to you, because it will help you understand what your default was before you start planning, which is what I’m encouraging you to do next year. Then when you’re in the middle of, let’s say, 2024 and you feel like you’re in a red zone because of, let’s say, an injury or a sickness, you can actually remember because you took just 30 minutes right now to look back at your year. You can remember, oh yeah, this is just a normal part of life and part of the path. Now, if you’re listening and you are already established in goal setting and reviewing, you can do the same thing and you can add a few more layers. One thing you can notice, especially as you go through the months, are if there were decision points worth remembering. For example, for me, in January 2023, I was in a car accident and broke my dominant hand. I made many decisions after that based on wanting the best possible outcome for my hand, having a full recovery. When I look back now at that decision point and I remember why I made those decisions, it gives me a strength that I can remember I have.

Even though those decisions took me off track for some of my goals. Another example would be a decision to go on a family vacation, or as I was healing and I was able to begin writing, I chose to prioritize one horse over another. And again, these might not seem directly related to my goals, but they are, because they show the pattern of my thinking. They reflect the way that I made decisions when I had to make choices, when everything that I wanted wasn’t an option. What did I do then? 2023 held twists and turns that I did not see coming. And some of them, like the car accident happened. And then I got to decide how to respond. Others like my choice to sell some of my horses and buy another horse were choices that I made throughout the year. For me, this is how I determine which zone I’m operating in red, yellow, or green. If my decision making is keeping me in the yellow and green, that’s what I’m looking for. In next week’s episode, I’ll share more details on how I do my year end review, and you’ll hear from two of my students, Diana and Reese, as they reflect back on their year and what they discovered. Thanks for listening. Do the exercise and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

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