Episode 70: Using more leg on hot horses

Q: After warming up and we’re beginning to work, I have a really hard time keeping his gait consistent, usually start out slow and easy. But as we continue on, he has a tendency to increase his speed and will tense up and occasionally throw his head. Whenever I ask for a change of gait, especially downward transitions in, it most often happens during the lope. It also happens when I’m lunging him prior to riding, and I would like to know your opinion on how my contributing to his craziness and inconsistent gait and how can I do better at helping him relax and slow down?

A: Stacy explains that there are many things to consider such as: lack of balance between riders hands and legs, riders ‘correction’ causing more problems, riders concept of how ‘light’ a horse ‘should’ be, rider not planning ahead, horse ‘trying too hard’.

Expand 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. I just got back from the Washington Horse Expo. Yes. Washington State, where I had a chance to talk to a bunch of horse people and a ton of podcast listeners. Thank you for coming out. I was really impressed with how many people came up to me and said that they were listening. And thanks again for listening. Even if you weren’t at the expo. Thanks for telling your friends. And if you have a chance to leave a review on i-Tunes or whatever podcast player you use, that would be greatly appreciated because it will help spread the word. Because I just returned home. I actually haven’t done much with my horses except for caring for them. Willows hoof abscess seemed to have popped while we were gone and it looks great. It came out in like my farrier friend when I sent him a picture. He said it came out like the perfect spot because it’s not right on the bottom of her foot. So it’s not really a huge hole in the bottom. It’s kind of back on the side of her heel, but a little bit on the downward side.

[00:01:28] So yay. She’s much more sound and Gabby, Presto. were turned out together and he’s alive and very much in line because Gabby likes to keep him in line. And I’m excited to get back to work with them. I’m pondering what to do with Willow, because I’m going to guess that even though she’s really pretty sound running around, I don’t think I’ll be riding her. And, you know, asking her to do much with that, you know, spot on her foot. She’s still a little bit sensitive if you poke. So I’m guessing that I’ll actually probably do some trick training. So maybe I will teach her about or start working on teaching her how to lie down or something like that. Like the the laydown cues the something. I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll come up with something, but it’s going to be something that doesn’t ask her to move very much. And actually, one of the first horses I ever trained to do tricks with was a horse that had a suspensory injury. Years and years ago, this was, you know, 15 years ago at this point. And the owner kept him with me so that I could do the rehab after the vets had done their stuff.

[00:02:40] And at one point, I was like, you know, is it okay if I do like? But it’s okay if I teach him how to bow or lay down or do any of these different things. And I kind of explained what I how I would be doing it to the vet. And the vet was like, yeah, that all sounds fine. So it was kind of interesting that, you know, he couldn’t go out there and do a lot of trotting or loping and he couldn’t do a lot of, you know, turns or or things like that. But he could learn all these tricks. So actually taught him how to bow, lay down and sit like a dog.

[00:03:12] And then I cut some ear holes in a straw hat and got some giant, you know, suspenders, like with an overall bib with suspenders. And and he was a the same color that Willow is,so he was a dun. And he looked really funny sitting there on the ground with his straw hat and his big overall bibs. So I don’t know… Willow doesn’t look like an overall bib kind of wearing horse, so I’ll have to think about it. But the tricks would still be fun. So I’m actually going to answer a listener question that came in today. So let’s listen to Kelly’s question.

[00:03:47] Hi, Stacy, this is Kelly from Wisconsin. I wanted to let you know I absolutely love your podcasts. I’m learning a lot of new things and feeling more confident, putting them into practice. Thanks for that. My question today may have already been addressed in a previous podcast but I thought I’d ask it anyway, in case someone else has the same problem. I have a 12 year old appaloosa gelding that was trained in reining as a youngster. His previous owner mostly used him for trail riding, and my goal for him now is to compete in some beginning ranch riding. He’s definitely on the hotter side of the emotional scale. After warming up and we’re beginning to work, I have a really hard time keeping his gait consistent, usually start out slow and easy. But as we continue on, he has a tendency to increase his speed and will tense up and occasionally throw his head. Whenever I ask for a change of gait, especially downward transitions in, it most often happens during the lope. It also happens when I’m lunging him prior to riding, and I would like to know your opinion on how my contributing to his craziness and inconsistent gait and how can I do better at helping him relax and slow down? Thank you again and happy spring.

[00:05:01] Thanks for the question, Kelly. And I’m very glad to hear that the podcast is helping you gain more confidence in what you’re doing. And I love hearing that kind of feedback. And as far as whether or not I’ve answered this question before, I’m going to say yes and no. I actually love answering really similar questions over and over again. And a lot of times when I’m at an expo. That’s what I’ll do is all. Every third person. You know, the questions might be very similar. But what’s interesting is that often the way the person asks will bring out different things. And the fact that an entire book could be written about the answer to your question inherently means that in a 20, 30, 40 minute podcast, I’m not going to hit all of it. It means that if I did a three, four, five, six hour long podcast, I’d be getting closer to unpacking it. But a shorter, shorter answer to that would be yes. I’ve kind of covered versions of this. Some episodes to make note of would be Episode 25 is your horse anticipating and episode 38 which discusses timing and episode 42 which is titled Training Hot Horses. But again, just because I’ve kind of covered it in different angles and different areas doesn’t at all mean that there’s not more to talk about here. So I’m going to unpack it this time in a few different ways. First, I’m going to name a couple of the big causes that I see when I when you are in an issue like you described.

[00:06:42] And then I’m going to actually go ahead and use the Foursquare model and answer the question with each one of the quadrants and then you’re even going to see the inside of that, I could go into a full blown podcast on each and every one of the quadrants. So this is the fun part about training or sometimes it’s the frustrating thing about training when people are getting started and they feel really frustrated. Is that the way I picture it in my mind is it’s all woven together. And that’s the beauty of it, because it’s all woven together in this this beautiful tapestry or this beautiful painting or this beautiful, you know, imagery in your mind. But the difficulty of it is that when you’re learning it, it kind of feels like if you could just break it into individual pieces and handle each one individually, that is what people kind of wish it was. And that’s what sometimes people, clinicians, educators will try to do. And that works better in the beginning, what I’m going to call the elementary stage. It works better when you’re breaking those into those little separate pieces. But really, most of us want to advance at least to the high school stage, if not further. And that’s where it starts getting that more woven together feeling. So let’s go weave together some answers for your question. Two big causes that I see when somebody reports that they have a hot horse with the same symptoms you have like the head tossing the lack of rhythm, the disrupted rhythm or the gait speeding up two big causes that I see would be 1) the lack of balance between the riders use of their hand and leg.

[00:08:23] So this would be that classic like use more leg. Yes. On a hot horse, you can actually use more leg and calm them down. We’re gonna go into that in a little bit. 2)Or the rider actually disrupting the rhythm of the gate with the correction that they use. Let me kind of quickly get you on the page with both of those and then go into the four-square model. So when we talk about using more leg on a hot horse, it initially sounds like a crazy prescription. And I totally get that because I can rewind in my mind back to myself at different ages. And I can remember a time when I would’ve been like, you clearly have either lost your mind or you don’t understand my question. But here’s the reason it works. Because if you look at your legs. So if you look at your legs as being a cue and let’s just say that we could replace the your leg cues as a riding crop, then what this does in your mind is it makes you more aware that like, oh, well, a riding crop is something that a horse can be like a dressage whip or something is something that a horse can be afraid of. So you’ll get people that are like, my horse is afraid of riding crops. And then a lot of times I’ll be like.

[00:09:39] So if you put a riding crop in the feeder where you feed the hay or the grain. Do you think the horse is going to be afraid of the riding crop? Some people will say yes. Some people will say no. But at some point, you can usually tease out the idea that if you just bought 20 riding crops through them all over the ground and there was one in the feeder and one in the hay feeder and they were laying on the ground that the horses pretty quickly would be like, whatever, it’s a bunch of expensive sticks laying on the ground. The reason the horse is afraid of the riding crop is because of the way it’s been used. So typically, horses that are afraid of a riding crop or dressage whip have been sensitized only to that stick, that dressage whip, that whatever you want to call it, the crop. And you can see that if we raised a whole bunch of foals and they just ran around a whole bunch of these riding crops on the ground, this would not be a problem. So it’s not the riding crop, it’s the actual use of it and the horses interpretation of it because of the past use of it. Now, it’s easier to make that association or disassociation when you do something like a riding crop while your legs are actually doing the same thing. If you think about it now, again, it’s also easier if you think of your legs as a riding crop.

[00:10:54] When you think of the idea that you could dismount and you could actually sack the horse out with a riding crop and you could act and do a lot of the things that you would do with a tarp with this whip. You know, you could flap it around, you could tie bags to it, you could make it mean stand still and do nothing. Well, all of those same rules actually apply to your legs. So a lot of times when people think that I’m saying this backwards, but I’m really not. When people hear me say a hot horse needs to be ridden with more leg and the opposite is true, a cold horse needs less leg. The reason you can actually make sense of this if you stop and think about it, is that we’re actually trying to desensitise the hot horse to your leg. So just like a bag. The more we use a plastic bag idea with good timing than the horses. Eventually, like, oh, well, the plastic bag doesn’t actually mean move all the time. Sometimes these humans are just flapping it around there and it doesn’t mean move. So you’re desensitizing a lot with the hot horse. And then the opposite is true, the cold horse where you actually don’t want to make it mean nothing. You want to sensitize use using it. So that’s why quiet horse, you use less leg and you make it mean something hot horse, you use more leg and you make it mean a little less. This is that idea of the teeter totter or bringing them back into balance.

[00:12:17] So that’s one concept and you’re going to hear that echoed through out the rest of my answers when I get into the four quadrants. But the other thing I want to go into for a minute here is the idea that the rider might be disrupting the rhythm with the way they make the correction. So, for example, at this last expo, there was a rider whose horse didn’t want to stand still. So the horse would start pawing and being antsy about standing still while the rider was answering that with moving the horse. So think about horses, stand their horses like, oh my gosh, I don’t really want to stand here. I’m a little bit upset. Don’t know what to do. I think I’m going to move, OK? Moving is not allowed. I think I’m going to paw. Pawing gets me trotting in circles and in the short amount of time, I watch the rider. Take off to the left every time. Well, what starts to happen, you can see pretty quickly that the horse starts to associate anxiety not allowed to move. Then the rider will drop me off to the left and trot me in circles. So rather than this working in the favor of the rider, then the horse starts to be like anxiety = trot circles to the left. Now, in an elementary level of training, this type of thinking can work for you. I’m not saying it’s 100 percent wrong. I’m saying that it’s situational and that when you move up to high school, your one of the one of the key indicators that you’re in high school becomes that your corrections more and more are subtle and they less and less look like opposites.

[00:13:51] So. So this is a huge concept. Maybe I should’ve made the whole podcast about this, but it’s pretty common in the elementary school levels to be like, oh, look, this classroom full of kids is break nearing a breaking point. Let’s go out and exercise this classroom of kids and move them around and physically get them, you know, sweating and moving and then we’ll bring them back in and they’ll have more focus. That’s essentially what this rider was doing with the horse that didn’t want to stand still. But if you keep repeating that for, let’s say, 10 years in a human example, if you repeat that for a very long time and remember, horses learn fast, they they grow up fast, they learn faster than we do. That’s why they’re up and running. And, you know, we’re riding them as two year olds. So there’s some kind of a different timeline going on here. But if you think about it, if you continue that for a super long time and I’m just gonna exagerated up to 10 years, then at some point it becomes like, oh, whenever I feel antsy, I go run. Well, that’s fine. In some situations, but it’s not going to work well. If your career involves something where you have to do focus work at a computer. So at some point you’ve got to learn how to control your energy, your thoughts and your emotions and things at a higher level.

[00:15:07] And for the horses, that’s where one of the things that separates high school from elementary school is like, so for this horse, I was like, OK, here’s what you need to do, because there’s a lot of other areas. I’m looking at this horse at this expo, and this horse has a lot of other high school level training. Let’s move away from the elementary level of moving the horse around when it wants to move and then rewarding with standing still. Let’s move away from that and go much more direct to when I want you to stand still. I’m gonna teach you this cue, and the cue happens to be a hug. And I’ve shown this on some of the videos. There’s one back with the trail to the world. I’ll dig that up and put a link in somebody remind me if I forget to. But in the trail to the world’s show, I showed this hug that I do with my horses like it was demonstrated on Willow, who actually is a hot horse too. But this horse in the demo was actually being a hot horse. And I was like, here’s what you’re gonna do. Your horse has a lot of signs. It’s in high school. Let’s give it a hug. And that’s the cue to stand still. A hug means you’re gonna close your reins to about 30 percent in your legs to about 30 percent, and you’re gonna give it a hug.

[00:16:17] And when the horse stands still, you’re going to soften up and release. And then before the horse even starts to move, you’re gonna give it a hug and then you’re gonna soften up the release and you’re gonna teach the horse that this hug is the cue to stand still. This is going to come in really handy when you go out to the show pen because instead of standing still, releasing all the aids, that means loose rein, legs braced off. Like I used to when I barrel race and praying that the horse standstill. Instead of doing that, you’re going to actually have a cue, you’re you gonna close all the aids and the horses can be like, oh, relax into the hug because they’re just going to release.

[00:16:53] And my reward was you stood still, you get a release. So what you’re doing is you’re actually breaking the cycle of the horses anxiety attack. We’re just gonna call it like … I don’t want to be here. I don’t wanna go. I want to take my energy. I don’t know what to do. And the riders, oftentimes when you’re in the elementary level, you’ve got this urge to like release all these aides. And there is a place for that. And this is what the elementary school is for. But at some point, you’ve got to move up to something higher level. And for me, that higher level is this hug. And just to give you an idea. Well, actually, I’m not even to the first one the riders mind. I’m gonna hit pause on that, although I could clearly go on and finish the whole podcast. But just that idea. But I’m going to talk about the percentage thing in just a minute. So let me who let down and re focus and let’s go straight into the riders mind. So I want to do all four quadrants for you. And then anybody who has questions that you want me to go deeper in. Just like I went deeper and deeper and deeper into the spooking idea. I can go deeper and deeper into any idea. You guys want to hear more about and I’m going to know that from your emails or from your voicemails like this one that that Kelly just left, and the way you’re gonna do that is you’re gonna go to my Web site.

[00:18:13] There’s a big orange button on the right hand side. You hit the record button and you record your voicemail there. And yeah, it’s totally easy. Anyway, riders mind number one in the rider’s mind. I’ve written down a couple different ideas, so it’s not. It’s not necessarily number one, as in like the most important, but it may be it is number one very in your rider’s mind quadrant. Explore the thoughts that you have about rocking the teeter totter in both directions, hot or cold. So initially, let’s say you’re riding hot horse. I say you need to explore your thoughts about rocking the teeter totter towards hot or towards cold. Most riders are going to be like, I definitely want to rock towards cold. What are you thinking? Like I asked you the question, my horse is really hot. You might be more polite, but I’m exaggerating this out loud and in what might be happening in your mind. Of course, I want my horse to be colder because it’s hot. And I just called and I asked a question about how to get my horse to not be so hot. But here’s the thing.

[00:19:18] You have to actually look at what the cold side of the teeter totter would be. And then you have to think how you’re going to react in your mind or physically if your horse gives symptoms of being a colder horse. So this goes back to that. Make mistakes in the right direction podcast, the making mistakes, podcasts. So what that means is hot horses typically ask about moving their feet. They typically don’t want to stand still. And usually if I say explore your thoughts, riders are like, well, of course I wanted to stand still. Well, wait a minute. No. The opposite of hot is cold and cold. Horses, when they make mistakes, not when they’re in their perfect self. When they make mistakes. What mistakes do cold horses make? Cold horses make the mistake of maybe they don’t move when you first ask them to. Yes, that’s a pause so that you can think about that sometimes cold horses. You ask them to move and they go…

[00:20:21] “I don’t know.”

[00:20:22] Today might not be a moving day. So what is your reaction if you get on a horse that says that? Because if your reaction is attack. Because this is a major problem that’s going to bleed over because it’s your thought process that this mistake is somehow a greater mistake than your hot horse that won’t stand still.

[00:20:49] I think literally. I think you guys could hit pause on the podcast and ponder the idea that when you rock the teeter totter back and forth, it is not necessarily a thing of beauty. Like when you rock to the harder side Yeah.. You’re gonna get the negative hotter things. And when you rock to the colder side, you’re gonna get some of the negative colder things. So, for example, one horse that I helped at the expo, I was teaching her how to get the horse to stop and back up better. Well, a side effect of that is that when it works, you’ll go see if you go to a reining show and you watch horses out in the warm up pens or something like that. It’s not uncommon for a reining horse to stop, be standing there and then slightly take a step backwards. Now, when the reining world that’s OK. Now you’re not you can’t back more than three consecutive steps in a row in the show pen or else that’s a problem. But outside of the show pen, when I’m teaching my horse, whoa, I’ll be like, whoa means back five steps. I literally rock it that far. But if your upbringing has been like when I take dressage lessons and they’re like, do not take a backward step, if you come from a world where your belief says any backward step is bad, bad, bad, you need to just recognize that because you’re going to correct it different than me over here in my world where I’m like, hey, I’ve been rock towards the backup for the last two weeks.

[00:22:18] I’m super happy that you’re kind of creeping backwards because it tells me you’re thinking about creeping backwards now. Full disclaimer these can go bad either direction. Sometimes people are like, you know, the worst sin is the horse that won’t move forward. And there is some truth in that because forward motion does fix a lot of things. But you gotta also really hold on to this concept. I am not talking elementary level. I am talking high school level. I clearly said in the demonstration with the horse that was creeping backwards a little bit that we’d been working on for a few days. This was a high school level horse. Remember, elementary school is where some of the things that scare you might happen. So like if your horse refuses. Nope, I will not go forward. That is completely different than my horse is creeping backwards. A horse’s creeping backwards and you go now I’d rather have you go forward. They go. Oh, okay. I was thinking about backwards, but I’ll go forward. That is completely different than horses creeping backwards. And you say, I want you to go forward and they go, well, let me buck you off. Not at all in the same range. And this is where I think people get stuck because they think about the elementary level and they don’t think about advancing or they do the reverse and they think about advancing and they start trying to make things subtle, but they’re actually still like falling into elementary school.

[00:23:40] I was thinking about it today. I was thinking about recording this podcast. And I thought, what if I could give out a rule and I’m still working this out, but I’m going to share this part of it with you. I’m going to say, if your horse gives you a negative reaction, that would happen in elementary school. That’s threatening, bucking, rearing, biting, striking, kicking at you willfully. All of these are signs that you’re in elementary school. Hopefully you’re in the early stage of elementary school. But if that any day that happens, I don’t care if you just won a major horse show and you walk out and your horse rears up to me, you are immediately back in elementary school because you’ve got holes in the training. And I think that when that happens, you should immediately be set back in your mind for one to 3 months. So I was walking and I was thinking one to three months. Let’s give it even more. I think for 60 rides and I’m I’m flexible on this. I’ll consider this for the next few months and see if I get a little more locked in. But I think for a long time, let’s just throw out 60 rides.

[00:24:51] I’d be 20 rides a month at a professional barn and there’d be three months. But if my horse. What that means to me is somewhere between one to three months, somewhere between I already know this for sure. That is somewhere between 20 to 60 rides. I just haven’t arrived at what I want to tell you for a solid base. But somewhere for those next 20 to 60 rides, I’m going to not trust that horse fully because it fell back so far that it went to some kind of a blatant disobedience. So this is when I say people are in elementary school, but they’re pretending that they’re going to refine it. They’re not admitting how far back they should be, admitting they have been set. When one of these blatant disobedience is happens. But this is my personal opinion. OK, back on track. Stacy, come back. So you want to explore your thoughts on rocking the teeter totter back and forth. This is in the rider’s mind. And then you need to really explore your thoughts around this question how light do you want your horse to be? And I believe there’s been a movement out there where people think they want their horses ultralight. And what I mean by that is that their feather light, you could just barely lay the rein, on their neck and they’re going to respond and you barely lay your leg on their side and they respond in their ultra light in this ultra lightness.

[00:26:23] Must be what lead you to bareback and bridleless riding. And this complete oneness and unity with your horse. And I don’t say this in a dismissive kind of a way. I say this because, oh, my gosh, it totally looks like it would make sense, doesn’t it? Even as I say, it seems like it would make sense, but that doesn’t line up with what I believe. So let me share with you what I believe. I personally want a baseline where my horses are working off. I’m not so subtle cues. So for right now, because this is a feeling in my body and when I’m riding my horses. But you guys can see it. You can see it at different levels. But I’m going to say I want my baseline cues to be operating at somewhere around like the 20 to 30 percent pressure range. And I’m not 100 percent set on how exactly to communicate that to you. But here’s what I’m saying. What I’m trying to say is that if 100 percent is for lack of a better if one hundred percent is as hard as I can pull on the reins or 100 percent is as hard as I can kick. There. I don’t want my horse at 1 or 2 percent. I know this for a fact because I want my baseline average rides to be something around 20 or 30 percent.

[00:27:41] And the reason I’m confident in that is because I know I don’t want to as 70 percent, I also got to meet a horse that was in playing tug of war when being lunged and this horse and rider had accidentally worked out that the agreement between them was that she had to pull with about 70 percent of her strength for him to walk a circle around her. And she and she was like, he pulls away from me at a trot or a lope. And I’m thinking and I well, I said out loud, I said, do not asked for speed.

[00:28:09] Don’t step on the gas pedal when the horse is pulling this hard on you because the horse is already at 70 percent of what you’re capable of pulling like this. I took hold of the rope and I’m like, wow, that’s some pressure right there. And with that going on, you can clearly see that this is actually more of a physical tug of war. Well, there’s a mental tug of war going on there, too. But the reason I’m confident in saying I don’t want my horses at this super light stage is because they relax a lot better when you know how to rock that teeter totter. So for me, let’s just play with some numbers for a minute. Let’s just say that that I want my horse operating around this like I’m good at let’s just call it 25 percent because I said somewhere between 20 to 30. That means that the default mode for Willow would be that it takes like 20 percent, 25. Let’s just say the defaults, 25 percent. And then from there, that’s where I’m rocking it back and forth. That’s where I might rock her. I might tune her up before a show to maybe her sensitivity. The sensitivity level is more like 10 percent, but that also means there’s times that I’m going to make her dial down to where her sensitive activity level might be more like 35 percent. Do you know why it would take her to 35 percent? dulness. Because that’s moving more towards dulness versus sensitivity.

[00:29:30] Well, the reason I would do that is because let’s say I’ve got a friend coming over and we’re going to go trail riding and I’m going to put them on Willow. What I’ll do is I’ll say you don’t need any spur’s. She’ll be fine. And I put her in a dull kind of a bit and I say, Hey, Willow, chill out. Be kind of dull that way. If my friends riding you down the trail and she reaches over to take something out of the trail bag, she wants to get a bottle of water and she accidently pushes with her left leg that you’re not going to do a rollback. I kind of don’t want that happening to my friend while you’re walking down the trail. And because Willow has at the upper level of high school Willows like cool. I really like it. When we go on break like this. I’m in. And so she is completely fine with being dialed down to that, less sensitive. But even when I dial or down to like, you know, 35 percent just for fun, we’ll say it’s like 35 percent. She’s not going to that 70 percent that that horse that I met at the Expo. That was like really pulling like this was like serious pull to keep the horse there. But it’s also not that I’m like, here, why don’t you get on and ride my horse, that if you breathe wrong is going to cause like six different things to happen.

[00:30:40] That also has an effect on the horse’s mind, which officially puts me into creeping away from the riders mind. So slow down Stacy. Wrap up with the idea that in the riders mind, I personally believe horses can be too light. And I also believe the horses can be too dull. And now this goes back to something I said. See if you can hear it. It’s almost hard to get a dull horse like really light. So you’re kind of always working on getting them a little bit more light. And if you’ve got a hot horse, you’re kind of always working on getting them a little bit duller so you can get it, but you can get a sensitive horse too light really easy. Look, do you see where that goes now? You can learn how to balance this out as when you want to become a better rider. Learning how to balance out like, oh, this horse is really hot. I need to learn how to make it a little bit more dull. Or this horse is really dull and I need to make it a little bit more light. That is an option for you if you want to learn how to train both sides. But sometimes you’ll see people that will actually buy a horse that’s the opposite of what they are. So if a person tends to make horses hot, they often get along well with a duller kind of a horse because their nature is sensitizing.

[00:31:59] Or sometimes you’ll find people that naturally dull horses out. They tend to get along with a horse that is naturally light because you know, if they do actually dull them out, they’re going to bring that horse into balance just by their natural way of kind of being. This is why you’ll sometimes see trainers that really like to ride one particular type and style of horse. And I don’t just mean physical athleticness. I also mean the way the horse thinks, because then all the methods that the rider uses might align more with always more dull horse or always more sensitive horse. But anyway, my goal is to learn how to balance both of them out, I think works better in the long run, because when you can rock the teeter totter, that’s going to help you. When you get close to that perfect balance in the middle, which is not something that you achieve one day and it maintains for the next 10 years you’re always rocking the teeter totter, which by default means you’re always getting the horse a little bit dull and a little bit sensitive, even when you’re getting ready to walk in and ride bareback and bridleless in front of 5000 screaming people, you’re still rocking that balance back and forth. It’s just so subtle that no one can see it. So action thought. Have you ever seen a horse that was too light? Have you ever seen a horse this two dull? If you have spare time, go on YouTube and search for both until you find one that you’re like that’s officially lighter than I want.

[00:33:21] That’s officially duller than I want. Now let’s move on to the next quadrant. The horses mind is something else that could be happening. Here is your horse may detect a reward for being light. And so what that means is, does your does your routine, for example, include a lot of spicy stuff that might mean something as simple as you always end after loping or if you’re like for reining horses, a lot of times, maybe they’ll the rider will always end after they do a really big run down slide or really fast spins or something really big. And the balancing act between it becomes I want to reward this really big maneuver, but you got to watch and make sure that the horse hasn’t connected. Like, oh, we warm up quiet and then we work towards the big stuff. And then when the big stuff is done, that’s how we always end. Yay! Let’s do the big stuff. And so the horse mentally gets fast. So don’t always end doing these fast maneuvers. And so an interesting thing, because the way that we’re going to ask your horse about his mind is we’re gonna put him into physical motion.

[00:34:26] So an example of asking your horse this question would be go out and ride for five days in a row where you ask the horse to do this. You walk for five minutes and then you trot for five minutes. Then you walk for five minutes. Then you trot for five minutes and you do this for 45 minutes straight on a boring pattern. That could be my four leaf clover pattern. But I don’t actually think that’s the better one for this. There’s a pattern that I demonstrated in a YouTube video when I did the Trail to the World Show last year. And it’s called Circles Inside of Circles. I’ll put a link to it at the bottom of the show. Notes on my on the on my Web site for this podcast. And it shows circles inside of circles. So as big 20 meters circle with 10 meter circles at every quarter. And I would suggest you do that. You’re literally walking for five minutes. Sometimes you’re doing the big one. Sometimes you’re doing the 10 meter one, sometimes the 10 meters, you know, at the first quarter, sometimes it’s at the second quarter, sometimes the third quarter, sometimes the fourth quarter. And you literally just do walk four, five, trot four, five, walk four, five. Try to provide do that for five rides in a row for forty five minutes and see what your horse gives you for feedback.

[00:35:45] Because a lot of times doing something kind of boring and repetitive like that, which there’s actually a ton you can do with a pattern like that, but something that’s very monotonous like that will actually reveal your brain desire to go do something different or your horse very commonly. A very common side effect of this is that because I want you to do half of that, all to the left and then half all to the right. And what will happen with a ton of riders is after they do five minutes, walk in five minutes, trot to the left. And that’s not even they’re not even halfway through that first side. And the horse is constantly pulling to the right. Certainly pulling out to go to the right, to go to the right, to go to the right. And that’s because the horse’s body is telling you that their mind is like we always go left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right. Which is kind of busy. So give that a try and ask your horses. Mind what it’s thinking by riding that boring pattern. Now, let’s talk about your body just a little bit more. Do your corrections disrupt the gate? And so I talked about that a little bit when I was talking about the correction with the horse at the expo that didn’t want to stand still because the disruption of the gate there was that the rider wanted the horse to stand still, but their correction was to trot circles.

[00:37:04] That is almost misleading if you continue doing it for a long time. So your correction needs to help or enhance the gait. So the gait we were looking for there was standing still. So the correction needed to be the hug to stand still. So some other things you could be doing. Are you moving your hand quickly when you make a correction that could play into your horse, throwing the head. So videotape yourself. A great tip for this is to videotape yourself, get a cheap tripod off Amazon, prop your phone up between a couple, whatever you have. Like you can do amazing things with rubber bands and soda bottles or different things and like prop your camera up and videotape just five minutes and then review it and say, was I frequently changing direction? Was I changing my mind at the last minute? Was I like, Oh, I’m going to go in the straight line and then I’m going to turn. And so you move your hands quickly. Do you do a lot of transitions? So here’s a trick thought, and that is that when you’re in elementary school. You do a lot of like me when I’ve got a horse in elementary school. I do a lot of rhythmic patterns and boring patterns like the circles inside circles, because it encourages the horses mind to be more quiet.

[00:38:23] But it also encourages the rider to ride more quiet. When you move up to high school, the transitions in the way that you ride them become very revealing, because in high school you have to balance the riders aides with proper timing, especially in your transitions, so that you can get the effect you want. So, for example, if I say go out and do 20 transitions, I want you to go out and ride 20 transitions like so pretend this is happening. And I say go out and I want you to do walk to trot, trot to walk. And I want you to do transition every quarter of the circle. And so some circles, you’re gonna do it every quarter and then some circles you’re going to do it every half. So you’re mixing it up a little bit. So let’s pretend that’s a clock. So you’re going to transition at 12 o’clock, nine o’clock, six o’clock, three o’clock. Next time around, maybe you’re gonna do it at nine o’clock, three o’clock. Next time around, maybe you’re gonna do it and you just keep mixing it up. Now if I say that, you can do a lot of transitions. First of all, this is automatically saying we’re working on high school level stuff. This is not how I ride my Colts ride to the beginning. So we’re moving up towards high school.

[00:39:38] But the big deal here is I can do 20 transitions like that and have two opposite side effects on the horse. I can do 20 transitions like that. And if I reward the upward transition, I can be sensitizing the horse in that same 20 transitions. Or if I reward the downside of the transition the downward, then I can be rewarding the horse to become a little bit duller because even inside of the transition, it matters how you ride it. That sounds really crazy and it’s a very deep idea, but I need you to ask yourself the question. Can you believe that? You know, can you feel that the way you ask for the upward transition could make the horse more reactive or the way that you ask for the downward transition could cause the horse to have either a longing for that downward transition or anxiety about that downward transition? I need you to think about it, because what I most often offer people for hot horses that are head tossing and and needing to practice that downward is that you consider the idea of that slight hug, that slight closing, and this might just be a two percent closing, like maybe it’s just a two percent closing with your legs because you usually ride around with embraced off. But is the idea that somehow when you ride those upward and downward transitions, you will be either sensitizing the upward or desensitizing the upward. You will be sensitizing the downward or desensitise and the downward.

[00:41:21] And that might be a whole podcast in itself, because that’s a really big concept. And I want to go a little bit further here. So let’s jump into the horses body, I said before that when your horses mind is reflected in the body. And one thing you might be experiencing is your horse might be avoiding your aids. And again, this goes back to maybe you’re moving your hand too fast or maybe he thinks he’s trying to do you a favor and get ahead of the request. Either way, even if you’re not moving your hand too fast and he’s just trying too hard. Which does tend to be a tendency that these hotter horses have. They’re over there almost like over pleasers. They’re they’re trying so hard. And so they’re they’re trying to get ahead of you, which goes back to that podcasts, “Is your horse anticipating?” But if your horse is trying too hard, he’s almost avoiding the aid, even if he doesn’t have reason to be scared of it. He’s literally just trying too hard. So he’s reacting instead of waiting for the cue because he’s almost just jumping out of his skin to get it done. If he stays in that mindset, he’s going to stay tense. So here’s a thought in the horse’s body and therefore in the horse’s mind, it’s very helpful if your horse can see each aid as possibly having two different meanings.

[00:42:52] And sometimes these are even two opposite meanings. For example, if I’m riding along on my horse, if I’m riding along on Willow and I’m walking and and I’m not I’m not I don’t have her in a state of collection. So things are relatively loose when I give her a hug and I close my hand and I close my leg and I give her that hug and she shortens up her step and she goes, oh, what does this mean? In her mind and therefore in her body, I want to feel her say this could mean we’re getting ready to do a lead departure or I want her to also think this could mean Stacy’s collecting me, giving me a hug and she’s going to soften release and that’s all that ever was. When your horse can hold both of those ideas in their mind, this sometimes we close and hug, collect, have them take a few steps in collection and then we soften, if they think that’s a possibility or it’s a possibility that you’re going to collect hug and that mean might mean collecting bottling up and then you’re going to cue into the lead departure when the horse can hold both of those thoughts in balance. That’s when they get physically where you want them balanced. Typically what happens is the riders don’t give that hug and then release. And on a hot horse, a lot of times you need to have a ratio that’s very skewed towards this means nothing.

[00:44:26] That’s the whole dulling side of it. So maybe you hug and hold that for you know, I’m just going to say three or four steps and then you soften. Maybe you do that six times before you even ask for a lead departure. Maybe you do that 10 times before you asked for lead departure. But the ratio is probably not going to be 1 to 1 on a hot horse now on a cold horse. It’s a different concept, but can you see what I mean? Like that? That leg hand closing needs to have almost two contradictory thoughts. That’s when things get really, really cool. That’s when the horse starts to be more mentally in balance. This is why I’m so often encouraging you to hug your horse with your aid when I hug a Willow. At that 25 percent, she can be like, oh, cool. I wonder what’s next. And that’s when you know that the horse is not looking at your hand or your leg as a punishment. They’re looking at your hand and your leg as a guide. And that’s when they’re like, oh, I wonder what my guide is getting ready to tell me. I wonder what the next request is if your horse is looking at your aids as punishment. It’s going to be very difficult to break that cycle. Now, I’m thinking about making the next season all Q&A.

[00:45:45] I would love your feedback on that idea. Or I’d love to hear your ideas of what other seasons could include.

[00:45:52] And the way you can give me that feedback is by going to the Web site using that orange voicemail tab on the side of the website, or you can send me an email at Westfall horsemanship at gmail.com and put podcasts idea in the subject line. Thanks again for listening and I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

[00:46:13] 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.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Episode 25: Is Your Horse Anticipating?

Episode 38: Rewarding Physical And Mental Changes In Your Horse

Episode 42: Training HOT Horses

Teach your horse to stand still: trail and arena Episode 3: The Trail to the World Show

Training Exercise: Circles inside of circles- Episode 17


  1. Karen l Forgione on March 19, 2020 at 8:06 pm

    I was given a horse that was too light. She was trained to be a cutter. I had no idea how to ride a horse like that. The first time I rode her she immediately backed up and in forward motion turned only circles. I had to learn how to ride her. She anticipated everything. You ask to trot twice in the same spot, she would trot the third time anticipating that you were going to ask. I took lessons on her for six months in dressage. She now is super chill, I just needed to learn how to handle her brain. Her desire to do well was so overwhelming. She is the best trail horse I have ever had now. She is just a super confident horse. I would clone her over and over. She taught me how to ride correctly.

    • Kelly Butler on March 21, 2020 at 2:31 pm

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I have a lot to learn but am excited to get to the point you are at now. It’s so amazing to hear and watch the incredible way people and horses can work together once they figure each other out!

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