Episode 65: The tipping point in horse training.

What is a tipping point in horse training? Why does it matter? How would it help with spooking?

In today’s episode, I discuss the idea of tipping points and how they impact my outlook on training. I see smaller tipping points where the small day after day lessons finally result in a bigger change. I also see larger tipping points, where clusters of training ideas come together to form even larger tipping points…which is when training gets really fun.

I also discuss Resistance (a reference to Stephen Pressfield’s book) and my new course, The Complete Guide to Improving Steering and Teaching Neck Reining.

Click Here For The Full Show Notes

[00:00:03] 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.

[00:00:22] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy and successfully train your own horses. And I am jumping straight in because I have been slaying Resistance (a reference to Stephen Pressfield’s book, The War of Art) all day long by recording and uploading audio riding lessons to my new course, The Complete Guide to Improving Steering and Teaching Neck Reining. So I’m totally wound up and I know that sounds a little bit weird because you would think it would be the other way around because I’ve been doing this all day. But two quick things to recognize. Number one, when you beat Resistance down, it feels awesome. And number two, I really love teaching this stuff. So I get all wound up. I think you’ve probably noticed that in some podcasts. I’m just really wound up. And if you’re new to the podcast, you’ll have to go back. It’s actually a book I’m talking about where I’m referencing Resistance. I’ll put a link to that at the end of the show notes. But today, I want to talk to you about the idea of a tipping point. And this is on my mind for a couple of reasons. One is because Presto just reached a tipping point. But before I describe it, I kind of want to share a different illustration of a tipping point with you and that tipping point. You could go with boiling water, but I’m going with frozen ice to thawing because it’s freezing rain outside right now. So there’s this idea that when it’s really, really cold out, let’s just say it’s negative degrees.

[00:01:59] It’s kind of interesting to think that you can add a degree..and you add a degree..and you add a degree. And nothing changes. But there comes a point where the difference between adding one more degree changes it from frozen to thawing and more frequently I’ve heard that described with boiling. But again, it’s super cold out. Freezing rain. I’m going with the thawing. But the whole concept is that there’s this tipping point. There’s this one degree that looks like it’s really magical. But realistically, all of those little ones below it all mattered. And Presto is at one of those tipping points. And the cool thing, I was illustrating it. I’m making all these crazy little visual charts and stuff. And the thing about having been in the industry for so long and I’m passionate about training my own horses from the beginning, from the first ride all the way to the end, which for a lot of my real famous horses would be, you know, high level reining, bridleless. In reining, you’re talking about high-level maneuvers. And when a person studies from the beginning all the way to the end, for me, it’s this big arc. I keep thinking of this rainbow kind of thing. So I’m swiping my hand through the air, back and forth, left and right, like you can see me like this windshield wiper. But this rainbow kind of motion. And the reason that matters to me, the reason I’m passionate about conveying something like this is because of several things.

[00:03:43] Let me try to slow my brain down and see if I can make any of this make sense to you. But overall, when I’m training a horse, so I start with a horse. No rides. I end with a horse that’s got a high level of understanding and a high degree of difficulty. Let’s just use Roxy. And the bareback bridleless freestyle reining. So there was a full arc that went to her training. But I think the most exciting part about knowing that is that for me, the way that I do my training, it goes in this very orderly fashion. And there is this tipping point, this big tipping point in the middle and that big tipping point in the middle. The reason I want that arc in my mind is because a lot of the early stages do feel like a lot of work. And when you get to this tipping point in the middle, it’s not that everything becomes easy, but it is because everything after that just seems like it’s easy or because you’ve heard me talking earlier podcasts that I believe horses can learn how to learn. Of course, that is if you’re using methods that aren’t intimidation because then they’re just learning how to avoid. But you can go back to that season and listen to the podcasts that are around how horses can learn how to learn.

[00:05:00] And the big deal here is that knowing that there’s that tipping point coming, knowing that it’s not this uphill battle forever makes me a lot more excited as the trainer and the horses are so fun when they start participating with you on this kind of stuff. And that’s what’s got me all wound up about Presto. And his tipping point that he’s teetering on. And I want you guys to understand this because you might experience this with your horses and not recognize it because you’re not quite sure what’s going on there. So let me see how much detail I can give you about Prestos tipping point that’s just happening now because it’s not like flipping a light switch. You know, it’s not like one day Presto doesn’t have it. And then the next day Presto does have it. And I think that’s where looking at horse training a little bit more like looking at this like a dance partner kind of works because it’s like if you’re learning a dance and you’re learning to dance with someone. There are all these steps and missteps. And at first, it really doesn’t look like a dance. And then it starts to get a little bit better and maybe you’re not stepping on each other’s feet. So this is progress. But it’s still not really pretty. But then there’ll be moments where you’ll see things come together. And those are kind of the beginning wobbles of reaching a tipping point.

[00:06:35] And it’s kind of interesting to think it would be wobbly as you reach this tipping point. But that’s how it always feels to me because what’s happening for the horse in this situation now, don’t get me wrong, this happens for people, too. But what’s happening for the horse in this situation? So Presto, the illustration is he’s been direct rein, only. So he’s been, you know, right rein means go right, left rein, means go left. And I’ve done a lot of these riding him around. He’s got 50 plus hours now. And, you know, it’s pretty much been like that. And so it’s not a real elegant stage, but it’s real important. It’s like those degrees. It’s like one degree and one degree and one degree and one degree. And now we’re finally reaching this tipping point where he’s been paying attention to how consistent I’ve been with my body. And now that I’m starting to ask him to spiral out and I’ve been adding these little bits of it, but he’s learning to read multiple things. Mainly, my hands are real steady, my hands are anchored. There’s a lot of consistency there. But he’s learning to read where I look with my body and how I use my legs because hidden inside of all of these techniques, I’ve got, you know, the bending rein, that’s telling him the correct bend for his body. And then I’ve got now that I’m using this outside rein, to spiral out, I’ve got this leading rein, that’s helping him come out.

[00:08:07] But I can’t force him to come out with that outside rein, because if I do it would actually it could it could tip towards like intimidation. But also it’s going to like take away a lot of my forward motion. If I pull super hard, it’s going to pull him into an incorrect position. So it feels like I have to kind of wiggle him to get him out there. It’s like I need to, like, just ask. And I keep it. I keep him very steady. But I step on the gas just for a step or two, and that makes that centrifugal force take him out. Just that little bit. And I can soften up and reward. Well, I’ve been doing this and doing this and doing versions of this really from the first ride. Versions of it have been tied back all the way through there. But it’s just now he’s reaching a tipping point where with confidence and the way I can measure that is he has rhythm and his rhythm stays good and he doesn’t feel real heavy when he does it, but he’s got a fair degree of bend to the inside. So I can easily see his inside eye, I’m not just barely looking at it and I can pick up my outside hand to fade that out. And he steps up there and it is so cool because if you haven’t seen Presto in a while, he’s over 16 hands.

[00:09:22] And when he steps up underneath himself its a way bigger feeling than a little bitty Willow who’s under fourteen hands. And so it’s this big motion that steps up there and it just feels proud and confident and so connected to my reins. But it’s not there 100 percent the time. But it’s right there. I can feel it. And when he goes from these literally just like a step or two, it’s like I’ll get like a step and I soften. I don’t fully drop him because I’m his dance partner. I don’t just go like, congratulations, withdraw everything. So I’m like, congratulations, and I soften just a little bit and he knows that when I soften just a little bit, that’s a little bit like me going like. Good job. That’s warmer. You’re getting closer. Have you ever played that game? Warmer. Colder. So he’s getting warmer and he knows that. So I soften up that little bit and then maybe the next ride, he tries that a couple times. But there’s so much self-control here that I have to exhibit not to try to force the point, which is something that I frequently see people do like they get one correct step and they’re so excited that they think that now if they could just get it one more time, they’d be more sure of it. But that’s not how it works. You got to go just take one degree and then…

[00:10:46] It’s like a little bit closer. You know, you’re on the right track, but you got to put it away and wait till the next day and just move that little bit, that one degree. But then, you know, when you’re right there at the edge of it, that’s where I’m at right now. I’m at this tipping point where when Presto has this solidly downhill just feel like he floats around and I can carry that bend. And the reason this is so important, especially if you rewind to the spooking episode with Presto. If you go back to the one where I said he spooked, I need to answer some questions about that too. But when he’s spooked, you know, I didn’t go into great detail. I went into a fair amount of detail. But the one thing about spooking that I didn’t really go into detail about is when the horses spook. One thing that really throws riders is just kind of imagining. Imagine that you’re riding along in the arena somewhat like I was on Presto. So let’s just imagine we’re riding around to the right and let’s say your horse spook’s at something on the left. As you picture that I’m going to give you just a moment in your head. You’re coming around the arena. The horse spooks… feel that motion in your body. How did it feel for me when I think this could be a spook? What do I think it would feel like? A.K.A What do I not want to feel? What I feel is I feel a loss of forward motion.

[00:12:18] I feel the horse who was going around to the right. So it felt like the shoulder was kind of up and maybe even I’m going to describe it as up and slightly to the left because that horse is shaped like the right circle. So there’s a bend to the right. And when that horse spook’s one of the hardest things to ride is when that horse suddenly switches the band and they throw their shoulder away from the scary object on the left and they throw it into the right. And then right at that very moment, they’re pretty much well set up for like a blasting off to the other end of the arena. So what I was describing in the podcasts, a few podcasts ago when I was talking about him spooking was that I stayed with the inside rein bend and I stayed with keeping him going forward because believe it or not, it’s easier to ride that forward motion than it is that loss of forward and then that ducking and rolling through motion. That’s been my experience. If you’re better at it, then you’re well versed in all kinds of other riding. I don’t like riding, bucking, spooking things, so I build my whole program so that the horses know how to handle it and that that’s not really an option. So the technique I had to use with Presto back then was the one where the bend came from.

[00:13:36] The inside rein, and the maintaining that shoulder staying up came from using both legs as a gas pedal. Well, now, when he fully has this breakthrough, when he fully has this breakthrough, he’ll be way less likely to spook and bring that shoulder in through because he’s going to have such a higher level of understanding about all the different methods I have for I’m going to call it standing that shoulder up or leading that shoulder out. And this is how, once Presto has this breakthrough. This is how I will be able to address a horse that is, you know, let’s say I’m circling to the right. There’s something scary down on the left when they want to take their shoulder and throw it to the inside. If I have more than one way to hold that shoulder out and to communicate with that horse, then my chances of preventing that spook when I feel the tension building are just way higher. So not only is it something that I really need to do for later on, like when I’m advancing Presto. And I want to say work on neck reining or everything that comes in between here and neck reining, like trail riding him this summer and not hitting trees because his body is long and he has these big, walking steps, and I can totally picture that. If his head and neck if his feet aren’t really connected to where I want to move them, then there’s a huge chance that I’ll be moseying down the trail on this big giant horse and I’ll see a tree coming at my right leg.

[00:15:17] And I’ll go to you know, the typical thing is that the rider will use the left rein, to pull the horse’s head and body, hopefully away from the tree on the right. And what a lot of times happens is they pull the head to the left, but the shoulders keep going straight and you can still get your knee knocked on the tree. I used to do this barrel racing all the time, but at least barrel’s move. I’m not fond at all of hitting trees because they’re way more stable than barrel racing barrels or pole bending poles. And so when you have this advanced shoulder control, you actually have a way to be able to reliably move the shoulder away from the tree. And that’s the huge breakthrough that he’s about to have. But I think that the advantage I have is that I’ve been training horses from beginning to end for a very long time and I’ve had a chance to learn from a lot of different horses where these tipping points are. Now, I told you earlier about the big tipping point kind of in the middle. Well, this is not the big tipping point, because to me, the big tipping point is kind of a cluster of different tipping points that all would happen.

[00:16:29] So there’s a tipping point in steering and there’ll be a tipping point and stopping and there’s a tipping point for emotional control. And it’s sort of when you get this whole this conglomeration of these different ones that are all functioning, that’s when you can reach this big tipping point in the training, where to me it starts to I’m gonna make it sound like it’s the other side of the arc. So when I say downhill, that’s not a that’s not a bad thing. That’s like a momentum gaining kind of a downhill. It’s like everything gets easier because it’s like this free-wheeling, this amazing conglomeration of how everything starts to spiral for your good. And I’ve explained it over the years because a lot of times people would say, OK, I don’t get it. Like, how did you ride that horse? Meaning Roxy into a colosseum with thousands of people blaring music. And she’s perfectly fine with it. And the reason that works is because she had been passed that tipping point. And the coolest thing is when you go past that tipping point and all areas go past that tipping point. This is the coolest thing ever, ever, ever. Come back to me for a moment. Then what happened is all external pressure drives the horse to look to you as the leader. The horses like, hey, I don’t know what’s going on here, but I know you know everything. And that’s when you can have the ability to take a horse into a colosseum.

[00:18:01] I don’t have thousands of screaming friends that can come practice this at home. So the horse has to have the idea, the concept, the theory down so that when you run into these new things, like when I took her onto the stage at the Ellen DeGeneres Show, yeah, there was like very little practice. And the only practice I got there was no crowd. So the first time those big doors opened up that are like, you know, your brand new cars behind here. When that opened up and that was me and Roxy when we looked out there and it’s all full of people and all full of lights and a cameraman that is literally not even a foot from us like they get crazy close to you. And Roxy is like, yeah, we’re good because Stacy, she’s got this all figured out. And she walked right in. And I’ll tell you, I’m the one that built the system and I’m still shocked at times when it works that well. So this is why I get so passionate about teaching this stuff. This is why I get so passionate about executing it with horses like a little Presto or Roxy or all these different things. So anyway, that’s the long and the short of why I’m all wound up. But I’m going to calm it down just a little bit here because.

[00:19:14] Have you ever noticed that when you’re driving somewhere for the first time, this is a slight change of direction? My friends sometimes will say squirrel, OK.

[00:19:23] Slight change of direction. Have you ever noticed that when you’re driving somewhere for the first time and you kinda think you might be lost? Have you ever noticed how long the drive feels? But then let’s say that you drive there 20 more times and it seems like every time you drive there, you’re like, man, that didn’t take as long as I remember the first time. Man, that’s really fast. That’s how I think learning is sometimes. So I think sometimes when you’re in the middle of the learning process, you’ve got that like I feel slightly lost in the dark. This feels really long. This feels really slow. But if you keep. Go in there 20 more times as you keep doing this. It’s going to get better because you get a chance to practice it. And I know learning feels like that for me and sometimes I wonder if it feels like that for the horse, because I know that when they go back to their stall and they chew on their hay as innocent as they look, they are totally thinking about whatever you did that day.

[00:20:21] Anyway, I got to stop. When this podcast comes out. They’ll only be three more days left to become a Founding Member and my course and a Founding Member means that you get early access to the course. A 20 percent discount and a free founding member T-shirt, physical T-shirt that I’ll be mailing to you and then I’m gonna close the access down on Saturday.

[00:20:43] And then that way I can go deep into the course, answer all the student questions that are there, and I’m creating an entire troubleshooting section based off from the questions that I receive. So I’ll be making unique content for that whole module. And I’ve made this course really concise because I want to be conservative about how you use your time. So I’ve been making these really concise videos that are very easy to navigate, but probably what I’m the most excited about is the interaction between video and audio, because obviously I record podcasts. So imagine watching me teach in a video and then downloading the audio ride guide, which is like a riding lesson podcast that specifically talks about the technique and the pattern you just watched. It is awesome and I’ve created eight of these audio ride guides already. And so that’s like 8 Riding Lessons with me and some of these lessons. Some of the video lessons are on free preview and there’s actually 35 minutes worth of of lessons on free preview. So even if you don’t buy the course, you can check out the free stuff over at Stacy Westfall.com and just click through to the new neck reining course and you’ll be able to watch the free previews. They’ll be the ones that are in the bright orange, not the shaded orange.

[00:22:04] But I’d better jump off here and calm down because I kind of want to be able go to sleep tonight. And this is me on adrenaline, not coffee. So it’s a different you know, I got to come down off my adrenaline rush. But thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

[00:22:24] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit Stacy Westfall dot com for articles, videos and tips to help you and your horse succeed.Link to Pressfield book, link to new course.Link learn how to learn podcast

Links mentioned in podcast:

Stacy’s new course: The Complete Guide to Improving Steering and Teaching Neck Reining

Book on Resistance: The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield 

Stacy’s podcast on horses learning how to learn: https://stacywestfall.com/episode-27-horses-can-learn-how-to-learn/


  1. Chrissy on February 27, 2020 at 4:02 pm

    Another great podcast, Stacy! Listening to this particular one was a bit of a “tipping point” for me, also… I realized, after listening to your application of it with Roxy and how she’d walk with you into anything, that some of the issues I’d had over the last several years with my gelding (aka partner of going-on-18-years) was that I thought he had reached that tipping point before we had the problems, but it was a bit of a faux one… I was probably deceived because prior he had the additional support and leadership of my older horse who had reached that tipping point and would go with me anywhere; after Hank passed he no longer had that “help.” Through the concentrated work we’ve done after the “breakdown” in our relationship, though, I think we’re there or darn close. 🙂

    Thank you as always for your ability to take these concepts that are there but often not mentioned and help us all think through them!

    (P.S. – come back to Minnesota SOON! :0) )

    Blessings to you and yours,

  2. Martina Brown on February 25, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Hi Stacy
    I love your enthusiasm! So can their be a tipping point with people and their horse??? I think so—when you showed me the “second hand slide” and introduced the hugging technique, that was a HUGE BREAKTHROUGH for Hildy and I! I will never forget how easy that was to incorporate into the training and she picked it up fairly easily because I had done all the previous work. I am loving the new course you have and the audio ride guides are awesome. It is like you are right there with me guiding me along the way. You have taught me so much and the methods you use to train your horses are so simple and very easy to follow. Anyone that wants to learn how to improve their steering and learn how to neck rein should definitely take your course. It is really clear and straightforward. Loving what you are doing and I am so excited to see you and Presto progress. I cannot believe you are riding him. I remember watching the video of you picking him up and saying to myself it is going to be forever before I see you ride him—-now here you are riding Presto.

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