Episode 276: Resolving Resistance: Believe your horse’s feedback

In this episode, Stacy explains how to know if your horse is ready to move to a more advanced technique, or combination of cues, or when you should return to the basics.
If you find yourself wondering, “Is my horse ready to move on?” or if you have moved on, but your horse shows signs of resistance….this episode is for you.

Topics include:

  • Believing your horse’s signals and returning to foundational techniques
  • Muscle Memory and Habit Response
  • Rider muscle memory and habit response in riding
  • Horse muscle memory and habit response dynamics
  • Importance of consistent practice before facing crises
  • Assessing your willingness to put in the necessary repetitions
  • Recognizing the role of consistent practice in improvement
  • Addressing issues like head tossing, reluctance to move forward, pulling on the rein, and excessive speed

Show Notes:

You don’t decide to do the hug to try to become more advanced. It comes out of developing the language, the cue system and the aides and your understanding and your horse’s understanding. The most beautiful thing about all of this is that I’m asking you to believe your horse. When your horse shows a sign of resistance, whatever form that shows up in, and believe them when they say, this is where my problem is.

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. Today I want to talk about action, action, action, action. And I want to talk about this today because I realized when I’m looking back over the last few episodes that I’ve released, that in preparation for my talk on relationships with horses, I talked a lot about the riders mind. So again, the four square model is the riders mind, the rider’s body, the horse’s mind, the horse’s body, and of the four, everything does filter through your mind, so that always needs to be addressed. Yet when you are with your horse, it is body, body, body, body. Now technically it’s mind, mind, mind mind, but we are looking at the body of the horse to reflect the horse’s mind, and the horse is looking at your body to gauge your mind. So we have that intersection. And what I want to talk about today is a problem that I see many riders encounter, and that is wanting to use advanced cues or combination cues without having mastery of the basics. And the problem that this is going to cause is that if you don’t put in the reps to really understand the base cues, and you start going into combination cues, the number one way to know whether or not you’ve gone there too quickly is your horse’s response. So, for example, if I talk about going out on a trail ride with Willow and something happens, a challenge arises.

A squirrel falls out of a tree, a deer jumps out and runs across the path. My favorite way to address this is to close my aids and ask her to stay between my legs, between my hands, my hug. I ask her to stand still, but that is a combination of cues. It is a combination of cues that have to be individually trained. And on top of that, it requires my muscle memory to be such that that’s my go to without thinking, and it has to be her muscle memory, habit response to respond, quote unquote, correctly in that situation. And that doesn’t happen without proper preparation. If I say all of that and you’re like, I think I’m following, here’s how I want you to remember it. Imagine I’m riding Willow down the trail. Imagine a deer comes blasting out of nowhere across the trail. Imagine Willow goes to roll back to the left to run back the other direction. Imagine if, as the deer was exploding out of the woods, that my first reaction would be to close the doors. And imagine that Willow’s response was to yield to that closing. The analogy I would like you to remember is like driving a car. If you’ve ever been driving a car and had a dear blast out in front of you or another driver, pull out, the automatic response that you have was trained into you and has become muscle memory where you probably.

If you’ve been driving for a while, you don’t have to think about what to do next. But remember, just because I understand this concept of what I call the hug, I understand it. I know I can execute it, but if you put me on a green horse, an elementary level horse that’s going down the trail, if that same thing happens, I can’t use that same combination of cues because the horse won’t have practiced it until it was the horse’s automatic response. So it has to be this muscle memory habit response for both the horse and the rider before the crisis or the challenge happens. But now let’s go to the situation where you’re not sure. Is my horse ready to go to the next step? Is my horse ready to do the next technique that I’ve learned somewhere? This thing I watched off YouTube. My interpretation of what Stacy’s saying on the podcast is my horse ready? I’m not sure. Well, if you think I’m not sure, that also means that you think I kind of, sort of maybe have done most of the prep work for it. So let’s just pretend that when you think, I’m not sure, but I want to give it a shot, the way you’re going to know is by your horse’s response. So if you begin to close the aide to close your horse in like that, which, by the way, again, is not an elementary thing and needs preparation if you decide to try it and it doesn’t quote unquote work, whatever doesn’t quote unquote work is the clue as to what needs to be solidified.

So, for example, if you begin to close your aides and the horse starts to go backwards and back up, the horse is giving you information. If you begin to close your aides and your horse starts pulling on the reins or trying to turn a different direction, the horse is giving you information. And the information isn’t necessarily that you’re doing the technique wrong. It may or may not be, but it definitely will be that one of you needs more information. So when you hear people talk about something that sounds amazing to have, like the ability to teach the horse to look to you for guidance in a situation like the deer blasting across the trail. That won’t happen until your horse understands the base cues, until you understand the base cues, and until you’re confident in using them in the day to day. So just to be clear, I’m not asking any of you to go out there and try using the hug on your horse right now. What I’m asking you to do is to notice your horse’s response when you use your aides. I’m asking you to notice what you would do if you imagine that you’re in a situation like the deer jumping out or the horse spooking at something, how are you going to respond? What is your developed muscle memory habit? Because if you don’t know the answer to that question, then you don’t have one.

And is the horse you’re currently riding practiced in the response of your choice? So let’s go back to a more base cue. And that would be bending the horse around to ask the horse to stop. So if your plan is to do that, if the deer jumps out, are you practicing that on the regular? Have you practiced it to the point where when you do it, you don’t have to think about how it’s going to happen. Do you have a natural flow to it? And what I typically find is number one, riders don’t have an action plan for how they’re going to address it. Number two, riders don’t put in the reps to get to the point where it’s a muscle memory habit for them. Number three, they don’t put in the reps to where it is a muscle memory habit for the horse. And a lot of this hinges on whether or not you’re willing to practice when it’s not needed. So when I talk about some of the things that I do like the hug, the ability to close all the doors, leg waving, neck reining, bridle-less riding, I talk about it because I want you to know some of these things are possible. I want you to know that this is a possibility. I want you to know that it is a thing that when you have learned it and when your horse has learned it, it can help horses and riders in tough situations.

But I also want you to hear me say it’s something that must be built in layers. You don’t just go use it to get it. And here’s how I want you to think about that. When I was dating my husband, I knew he played the guitar. I wanted to impress him, so I thought I would take guitar lessons. And I began taking lessons. And I very quickly learned that learning each individual string and each individual movement with my hand was not something I was that interested in putting the reps in to understand. I wanted the ability to play a song, but I did not want the reps of learning how each individual piece worked together. I actually love to use language because I’m much stronger there, so it’s almost like saying I don’t want to learn the letters of the alphabet. Just teach me how to write sentences and paragraphs that are amazing. You cannot write sentences and paragraphs that are amazing, and skip learning the alphabet and the relationship between the letters and the sounds that they make, and the words and the meaning of the words. Those all play together. So when I talk here on the podcast about elementary school, high school and college, one of the questions you have to ask yourself is, are you willing to put in the reps? I wasn’t willing to put in the reps on the guitar and I am not a guitar player.

If you look and you find that you do have the desire, you are willing to put in the reps. But it seems like there’s another level of resistance that you’re running into. The place I would like you to look is your techniques. If your techniques feel like punishment, you won’t want to use them. I typically find that when riders are saying I need to correct my horse, a lot of times they’re using a technique that will feel a little bit more like a correction or punishment instead of like guiding, redirecting, and supporting. And I’m telling you, this is not a phase change. There are actually techniques that feel more like guiding versus punishing. You don’t get to just use the advanced cues. Just like I don’t get to pick up the guitar and just play a song. I don’t get to do that because I didn’t put in the bass reps and putting in the bass reps. That could be true for the rider or that could be true for the horse. As an example, I’ve put in the reps. My muscle memory is without thought. I have an automatic response to how my body will respond as the deer is jumping out, just like you. Probably if you’ve been driving for a while, have an automatic response as you begin to see a deer or a driver or something happening, you don’t think about it.

You automatically respond just because that’s in me. I still have to put that same response system into my elementary level horses. And that automatic response system has to be installed in layers before it can be used in a combination like the hug. And what’s interesting is that many of the things that riders label resistance, like the horse tossing its head or the horse pulling on the rein, or the horse hiding from the rein, or the horse going too slow, or the horse going too fast. A lot of those are actually the red flags for the horse needing more reps in a base situation. One thing I’m very aware of is that oftentimes writers can’t necessarily see the connection between doing some of what I’m calling the reps and what they want to do with their horse. So let’s go back to that example of trail riding versus putting in the reps in a controlled environment, let’s say at home in your round pen, your pasture, your arena, wherever that more controlled environment is when you put in the reps there. What’s very fascinating is that you do get carryover out into the places that could be more random, the places where there could be more challenges. So as I was preparing for this, I decided to go back and look through the success stories that the resourceful rider students share and find one that illustrates this point.

So listen to this success story and listen for the base cues. Listen for how she’s been practicing for the problem that’s about to happen, and how the practice has actually improved the horse’s response when the problem or challenge occurred. Last night, I had a moment that could have seemed very ordinary, but because of my increased awareness about all the little details of my horse and how she thinks, I recognized it as a huge win. This time of year we ride a lot as it’s getting dark and often finish when it’s dark. Last year around this time, I realized that the confidence my horse had found in the daylight in various circumstances was still shaky as it got dark. This year, when daylight savings happened and we started riding more and more in the dark, I could only feel little wobbles in her confidence. When she isn’t certain, she loses forward motion. We’ve been working with that in canter transitions and being willing to step right into the canter while I’m holding a lot of collection and positioning her head, neck and hip. So last night we rode as it was getting dark. There’s a new temporary electric fence that has been put up on one side of our farm road we were on. It has a red blinking light which is super obvious as it gets dark. She questioned it and then moved right on. Next. On the other side, there were about a dozen deer hanging out about 100ft off the road.

She was so with me. I wanted to practice canter departs not on a circle, particularly to the left. On her harder side. She let me easily position her and she stayed calm, quiet and held lovely contact. When I asked, she stepped perfectly in to the left lead, right between the flashing red light and the deer. What I want you to hear inside that success story is the level of awareness that this rider is riding with, and how what we could consider arena work has translated into her being able to support the horse in a non arena situation. When I think about the situations that make me want to have a higher level conversation with my horse. It typically falls into one of two categories. Advancing for the sake of advancing, which oftentimes points towards showing or something like that, or safety. And when it’s aimed at safety, it still requires that same level of being able to communicate with each individual aid and then the aides working in combinations to the point where there is muscle memory. So for me, and the way that I think and work with my horses, I am preparing them for life. Whether life happens to be going on a trail ride where there might be deer, or in this case, the flashing electric fence and the deer, or whether that is improving lead departures because you want to practice something more advanced, like training your horse to do a lead change.

The beautiful, amazing thing is, if you’re looking at developing the ability to communicate more clearly with your horse, you’re going to have to always keep coming back and making sure that the basics are there, and that you can then start using them in combinations. And any time the combination of cues doesn’t work, you must be willing to go back down and practice the basics. You’ll know when you’ve practiced them enough, because you’ll return to them and all the symptoms, the problems, the head tossing, the resistance to move forward, the ducking, the diving, the speeding up, the anxiety, the tension. All of that goes away when the horse goes back in to the more basic exercise and finds rhythm and relaxation and consistency there. And then you begin the stretch again, and you are a more aware rider who’s watching to see what combination of cues then brings out that problem, whatever it is like in this success story, she said. When she isn’t certain, she loses forward motion. So she’s been working on this with transitions upward, transitions, holding collection. So that’s very specific how she’s been addressing the forward motion issue in a more advanced way. But that’s not where you would start. If you have a plain old elementary forward motion problem, you would always go back down to the elementary version of it, and then you would begin to add the next layer and the next layer until you have that ability to hold that collection while asking for forward motion.

That’s where you begin to naturally use these more advanced cues, like the hug, like leg waving. You don’t decide to do the hug to try to become more advanced. It comes out of developing the language, the cue system, and the aides and your understanding and your horse’s understanding. The most beautiful thing about all of this is that I’m asking you to believe your horse. When your horse shows a sign of resistance, whatever form that shows up in, and believe them when they say, this is where my problem is, I’m not willing to go forward. They’re telling you with their body where they have questions, I’m pulling on the reins. When I’m over here. They’re telling you where they have a question. You just need to believe them and answer the question in a way that feels like guiding, redirecting, and supporting because then you’ll be more willing to use the technique, and you’ll be building those base cues that become the cues that combine into these more advanced techniques. That’s what I have for you today. If you have questions around this topic, go to my website and click on the orange tab on the right hand side that says send voicemail for podcast use. That’s where you can record your question and submit it so that I can review it to possibly use on a future podcast. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit Stacy Westfall. Com for articles, videos and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

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