Episode 3: Responsibility and The Stages of Learning

“Learning more doesn't mean you have to give up dreaming, and dreaming is not less than learning. When you get to the place where balance happens, it's a beautiful place.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

The topic of responsibility is going to be a two-part series. In this first part, I’m going to talk about the stages that riders actually go through when they are learning with horses. The three stages riders go through are the dreaming stage, the learning stage, and the balanced stage. Learn how to understand which stage you are in and how to work towards balance.

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“The beauty of dreaming and learning is when you are doing both it's hard to criticize anyone else who is in either of those stages.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

Show Notes

[01:07] The first stage that riders jump into is the dreaming stage. I call this my Disney moments. This is the stage that most people enter horses through. Whether it was cowboy movies or the Black Stallion books.

[02:00] At some point, people transition into the learning stage.

[02:17] The learning stage kicks off a lot of thoughts about how things function. I call this the nuts and bolts.

[02:35] The third and final stage is the balanced stage. This is where someone believes in both of the stages.

[03:22] Learning more doesn’t mean you have to give up dreaming, and dreaming is not less than learning. It’s beautiful when balance happens.

[03:54] In the dreaming stage, you think everything works, and you give all of the responsibility to the horse.

[04:29] In the learning stage, you can get too bogged down in the nuts and the bolts.

[05:39] Thankfully, I found my way to a more balanced phase.

[06:09] I don’t criticize anyone who is dreaming, and I don’t criticize anyone who is learning, but I love it when they can join me in the balanced stage.

[06:56] You can still experience the magic of horses while learning the dynamics of how things work.

[07:50] People who become horse trainers are often in that learner phase. They often move closer and closer to robotic training.

[09:34] If you’re a professional with horses, you can write your own rules.

[09:48] Take a minute and reflect on the stages and see if you are in predominantly one stage or the other. Are you spending more time in one stage or the other? Have you found balance? Do you switch back and forth fairly frequently? Is there an area where you are stuck?

“If you find yourself just hoping that things will get better, you might be spending too much time in the dreaming phase.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

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  1. Julie T on April 7, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    This was an eye-opening podcast (well, they all are so far, but this one really hit home). I’m stuck in the nuts & bolts (learning) with a touch of dreamer (aka hope) left. I feel like I don’t have anyone to turn to to help me learn the nuts & bolts so I’m trying to learn via videos (such as you, Warwick Schiller, Julie Goodnight). While these are great tools (thank you!!!), they still leave me questioning what I’m doing right/wrong so I can’t quite move forward. I spend a lot of time in tears, doubting myself and wondering what in the world made me think I could enter the horse world. I’m hyper-concerned about how animals feel, being fair and reasonable with them; I want to be my horse’s friend/partner not just the boss. I look forward to finding more nuggets of wisdom/insight as I continue to listen to your podcast. Thank you!

  2. Faye Cormick on December 26, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    In November I started riding again after 25 years, following a back injury. I’ve recently commenced lessons and the reality hit me of how much I needed to get into the learning. I have 3 green horses and need to keep in the learning and not the dreaming. You make a great point about the dreaming and the learning, and I know I still have so much to learn. Thank you for discussing this topic its a great reality check for riders, and helping us to be aware, and strive for the balance. 🙂

  3. Kami on December 25, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    I’m fully in the learning stage as a new trainer, but I also bounce back to the dreaming stage when I see something I want to do or start something new with the horse I am training. I always dream that it would work perfectly the first time, then go through the learning process of how to really perfect it. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed or just straight up mad when I can not understand what I’m doing wrong. When I decide to just step back and “dream” about it and learn with a fresh view. I find the balance again in my mind I usually get whatever it is right off the bat.

  4. Cleo Hampton on December 24, 2018 at 11:18 pm

    The dreaming phase.. I honestly not stuck there. I wish I could do this or that, but Im being realistic here- that will not happen ha! I am ALWAYS learning. I learn no matter what horse Im on, what Im working, or who I’m with. I will always be in the learning phase. That is okay with me. Life is about lessons, horses teach you lessons, you learn from others and put those lessons to use. I may have a dreaming phase but it gets swiped away. I guess ai could be in the balance phase once in awhile. I will say though that just having my mare around is a dream, who teaches good lessons.

  5. Amy Bridges on December 24, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    I think I used to be more in the dreaming phase before I really started getting into horses and before I learned how much I didn’t know. But lately, I have been getting stuck in the learning phase because I get overwhelmed that there is so much I don’t know and can’t do yet. But I am going to work on being in the balanced phase.

  6. Keri on December 24, 2018 at 5:33 pm

    I had a wonderful old gelding who allowed me to stay in the dreaming stage. Sadly he passed away and I am now more seriously in the learning stage with my new horse. I do remind myself that this is a hobby for me and I need to make it fun and interesting for me and my horse.

  7. Keri on December 24, 2018 at 5:15 pm

    I have great leadership skills when it comes to being positive and giving thanks and credit. I have weak leadership skills in taking charge.

  8. Susan and chloe on December 24, 2018 at 5:08 pm

    I think in the dreaming phase I need to write down my dreams so I can learn techniques to achieve them

  9. Nancy Reppert on December 24, 2018 at 4:50 pm

    I am definitely in the learning stage. Learning something new that involves horses is never wasted. My husband and I enjoy learning training methods from many clinicians and instructors so that we can grow to become better horseman. Not every horse fits perfectly with just one clinician and knowing when to use a different approach is so valuable. Learning is also embracing constructive criticism. Thank you Stacy for another great podcast.

  10. Bekah on December 24, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    I really enjoyed listening to this. It has so much truth in it! My dreaming stage started when I was young, reading all the horse books and watching all the movies I could get my hands on. My favorite was The Black Stallion movie, especially the beach ride scene.
    I feel like I am borderline between the learning and the balanced stage. I seem to kind of jump between the two, but I’m slowly making my way to the third stage!

    Thank you for this podcast!

  11. Jamie Miller on December 24, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Definitely a Dreamer! I started with the Throroughbred series and Black Beauty. It was difficult to learn that there was a lot more work behind the scenes. And also the heartbreak from a setback and also the jubilation from an “a-ha” moment.

  12. Helen Talley on December 24, 2018 at 12:04 pm

    Stacy, you do a very good job of breaking things down into understandable elements. I remember very well the dreamer stage, I too had the Black Stallion books to thank for that. I remember getting frustrated with riding lessons later on when the horse I was riding always put up a good fight to return to the barn prematurely. I remember thinking “this isn’t fun anymore”. Then came the years of working under a horse trainer and becoming fixated on that learning stage and how everything worked. I started to forget why I was doing the “horse thing”. I recently returned to school to finish my bachelor degree. I took a course in memoir writing and found myself writing about my younger self and the dreamer period in my life. That course unintentionally ignited that spark of magic once more and I am learning how to find my balance. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

  13. Bob Gornichec on December 24, 2018 at 11:37 am

    Wow! Another great podcast! I followed a similar path in dreaming as a kid reading Black Beauty and the Black Stallion from the school library. Then as a teen working on a Belgian Draft horse operation I began to understand that there is a lot more to understanding horses than the books indicated. In 2002, we were finally able to own a couple of horses. It became very clear to me that to stay safe and to fully enjoy our horses, the “nuts and bolts” become EXTREMELY important. The dream can become a total nightmare without them. My 11 year old horse crazy granddaughter is totally stuck in the the dreaming phase and not so concerned about the nuts and bolts. My challenge is to lead her to that beautiful balanced place. I will be sharing this podcast with her today. Merry Christmas Stacy to you and your family and thank you for these podcasts.

  14. Lisa Marie Crowe on December 24, 2018 at 11:27 am

    Moving into the learning g stage. It takes time, an open mind, hard work and dedication.

  15. Kim P from Maine on December 24, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I think I am mostly in the dreamer phase. I need to get to the learner phase more often and build from there. I also believe I need to read and understand and exucute cues to make sure my horses understand what I am asking for.

  16. Martina Brown on December 24, 2018 at 12:33 am

    I would like to touch on what Karen said. I have accepted that I may not get to that high level and neither will my horse because one she is 18 now and I am also getting older and worry a little more than I used to about what “could” happen” I used to be daring when I was younger and did not have a care in the world–Didn’t we all. LOL What I have accepted is that there is a lot to learn and I am having fun doing it. I think that is what matters to me the most. There are two things I still want to accomplish and that is learning how to do a lead change and perfect her lope. I rode in a trail class last year for the first time and I was proud of my accomplishments and my horse. I was very proud of her and proud of myself because I know I have worked I also agree with what you said Stacy–I am also getting better at working things out in my head before I use my body. It is very rewarding when you think and plan about how to do something with your horse and it WORKS!!

  17. Amy Gilman on December 23, 2018 at 11:23 pm

    I strive to learn something every day. I feel that the more I can learn the better off I will be.

  18. Connie Reide on December 23, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    Never too old to learn.

  19. Linda Pearson on December 23, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    Another great podcast Stacy, you explain things very well and clearly. I dream of competing in the Australian Ranch Horse events – I’m learning how to do that, very slowly and it may take a few years before I’m ready, no not seeking perfection just ability and confidence. I was interested in the area where you talk about robotic trainers. Is it possible that these trainers become disheartened by people and not the horse or the nuts and bolts of training. My close friend is an Instructor and will carry out some training but unfortunately due to health reasons she has cut back. She has the skill and ability to handle different situations with horses which result in fantastic outcomes and she loves that but has been disheartened by people. I do know for a fact though that she is constantly learning but also dreams of achieving more herself and I have witnessed those balanced moments she has had with her horses and the absolute thrill of that moment. Even I have had those balanced moments with my young horse that you just want to bottle up and keep forever.

  20. Chelsea hampton on December 23, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    Stacy I really appreciate you taking the time to cover this topic. I am an instructor and have personally been stuck in one stage and have seen other equestrian stuck in one stage. It can really be such a frustrating thing to have to deal with, especially when things get so focused on the nuts and bolts that it can be very easy for one to walk away from something that once made them happy. I have been in that position and have had rides where I’ve take my boots and spurs off with the intention of never putting them back on
    I completely agrer that it’s so important to find a balance to keep that passion alive but to never stop learning as there is always something new to be learned especially in the horse world! I am glad to say that even though my journey in the equestrian world and my flip flop through the stages, I have found my balance. I have My passion and dreams back but I am always trying to learn something new to benefit not only my horses and myself but my students as well! I want them to pursue their dreams but to remember that dreams don’t work if you don’t! Success comes with life long learning but keeping the dreams and passion alive. Great topic to cover, it really helped me personally reflect on myself and what I have overcome to be where I am today! Thank you Stacy, have a wonderful holiday with both your two and four footed family members!

  21. Heidi Harrington on December 23, 2018 at 10:26 pm

    I really like this subject, it’s nice to hear most non-pros switch back and forth between the stages. I think the dreamer phase needs to be there for motivation to kick start and keep up in the learning phase. It’s easy to get into Disney mode after you’ve had a really good session with your horse… But if you had that really good session, that means you paid attention to your learning phase!

  22. Patti on December 23, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    I am not a horse trainer, just someone who has always loved horses. When I was older and could afford my first horse I bought one that was not a good match, he made me very unsure of my riding capability. After I finally thought I needed to get a new horse I bought a 2 year old and he only had 30 days,( you know where this is going) After breaking my leg I knew if I was going to continue my Disney stage I need to learn and build my confidence and a relationship with my horse. I thank every day for the trainers who help us horse owners grow. I am a lot older now and I will always look for more information and guidance. Thank you Stacy!

  23. Hannah on December 23, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    After taking lessons for about a year and a half, I switched to the learner phase. While I love the mechanics and techniques of riding, I have to remind myself that riding is FUN! It seems like certain horses bring out the dreamer stage in me and others bring out the learner stage. I’ve had moments when I’ve balanced the two stages, like when my horse and I executed a perfect side-pass for the first time, and that is truly magical!

  24. Darcy Taylor on December 23, 2018 at 11:22 am

    A lot of people get started with the dreamer phase but dont realize they have to put in some work to get to the learning stage. The learning stage isn’t easy to master when you keep looking at the dreamer phase. You need a good balance of both to be able to keep enjoying horses and become closer to your horse.

  25. Shirley Danford on December 22, 2018 at 11:02 pm

    I am glad you broke this down into 2 parts. As a trainer it is easy to see how I got there with my analytical side. But I sure do miss that Disney magic.
    Sometimes as the trainer, I think the magic is gone and it is all repetition. Then something happens like a student in trouble on trail, a loose calf or a loose horse. Then my horse responds to the lightest pressure, is instantly and fully engaged as we respond as a well oiled team to master the moment. I love that feeling and that oneness.
    I know we need more balance and would like you to cover that more.

  26. Christine E on December 22, 2018 at 7:06 pm

    Great topic to think about, Stacy. When I evaluate my own dreamer verse Lerner status, I admit that I jump back and forth fairly frequently. It seems to depend upon outside factors in my life, those that don’t even really have to deal with my horse wife, but I take to the barn with me. Something to think about for sure!

  27. Cat Friske on December 22, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    I truly enjoyed this one, as I see the stages I have personally been through, especially the stage of imbalance in every aspect of my life till I recognized and confronted “IT”. Years of training, teaching, coaching, competing… mostly given away because of early learned habits of other peoples opinions matter…FIRST. It’s the glue so many get stuck with in turning out work, horses, giving and caring in the mistake of that’s what one must do to be allowed to survive.
    Recognizing my own personal ability to connect with my own sense of amazing ability that created the talented horses and people I assisted. Actually came from learning to believe and have faith in myself. To stop long enough to really learn who I am and what it is I desire for me… my light of belief in myself attracts those who are seeking to be more of their true selves. So entirely found in each of your podcast, post and emails. Thank you! “.”

  28. Marci Wommack on December 22, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    You are so right it can be so easy to get down until you find the balance. The balance is really great place to be. Thank you for these podcasts.

  29. MaKenzie Wicks on December 22, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    I’m not sure if I’m in either stage. When I’m not riding, I’m dreaming of when I can own my own place, my own stables, my own horses. Maybe even my own hippotherapy center. I’ll be the horsewoman I’ve always dreamed of. But until then I’m riding three different horses… learning and trying to grow. I don’t know half as much as I think I should… I have so much to learn. But I’m learning and trying everyday. It’s a process but I love it. One day, maybe I’ll be right where I wish to be.

  30. Frances Goodwin on December 22, 2018 at 12:58 pm

    You are so correct. I know I am a dreamer and when you said that you just expect a horse to know it is so true. I have to admit when things go wrong that it was me who doesn’t know how to communicate and I need more nuts and bolts to truly get what I desire. I leaned it the hard way with pain from falling to get more training for us both.

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