Episode 74-Handling stress when you can’t ride your horse.

Have you ever had a reason that stopped you from riding? Maybe you were injured? Maybe your horse was injured?

I find that when I look back there have been many reasons that I have missed time or gone ‘off schedule’ for a number of unplanned reasons. For some of us, this is happening now with the pandemic. When ‘big’ things happen in my life I try to see how they might remind me of smaller events that I have successfully navigated.

In this podcast, I give several ideas on how to handle

  • boarding and not being able to visit your horse
  • stress over missed riding
  • how do horses retain their training during time missed
  • how can riders stay positive in times like these


Expand 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. This is season seven and the theme of the season is Q&A. And I’ve been answering your questions regularly. And one of the comments I made earlier was that I didn’t think I had a lot to add as far as information concerning the current pandemic. And so I was going to stay purely on topic of teaching about the horses. And then Linda managed to write in a question that made me change my mind. So Linda wrote, “I am blessed to be able to keep my horses on property. So being quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic has provided me with additional time to ride and care for my horses. However, many of my friends do not have the same luxury. Many board their horses in barns and arenas where they cannot go at this time. They are worried about their horses standing while they are quarantined at home. Some have the option for paying for additional turnout, but many, but for many the time away from training and riding is giving them great stress. I was wondering if you could share your thoughts about how much horses retain their training during times like these. Do you have any suggestions for those who board in a very social barn situation that may be needing some positive thoughts about the effects of a worldwide human pandemic on horses and their care?” Linda. 

[00:01:59] Good job, Linda. You did find a way to bring me into the conversation. And the reason that I feel like I have something to offer here is because I believe that there are moments that we can draw from that are smaller, that also help inform us on how we can act on something that feels very big. For example, a pandemic. And for some reason, I really felt this popped into my head. So I’m going to read it. And it’s the serenity prayer. So let’s open with this idea that “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.” And I think that’s very fitting right now in this time, because I know I’m blessed to have my horses at home with me. I’m in that category and I’m very aware of this blessing. But I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to answer your question on two different levels. I’m going to answer it kind of from a teacher like perspective, and then I’m going to answer it on a more personal level. When I answer it more from the teacher like side in me, the first thing that comes to mind is the four-square model. And if you’ve been listening to the podcasts from the beginning, you’ll know that the first four seasons each season was one of the squares. But if this is your first podcast with the Foursquare model, is is just picture a plus sign and then in each one of those four quadrants that would be formed by that.

[00:03:42] That plus sign one would be the riders’s mind, another the riders’s body, another would be the horse’s mind, and the final one would be the horse’s body. And I made this up because I would needed a way to be able to communicate with people that something that’s going on in your mind can reflect into your body. Something going on in the horse’s body can reflect into the way that they behave. And there’s this interaction and dance between these four quadrants of this four-square model. But what’s really interesting to me is that if you stop and really think about it. You could interact with every area, every quadrant sitting in your house and on the surface. I think even when I was doing the even when I was recording the first Four Seasons, I don’t think I made it very clear. But the way to clear it up is to say, OK, if I’m staying in my house and I’m not able to leave, let’s just say that you’re injured and you can’t leave your house because you need to heal from a broken bone for the next few weeks. And it’s broken in a part of your body that you can’t get up and leave the house. So you’ve got to stay quarantined for that reason. Well, if you really wanted to. It’s easy to see that the rider’s mind can be accessed while you’re sitting there.

[00:05:08] And so you can you can think about how things work with your horse and you can think about the way that you’re showing up in the barn and you can think about how you showing up stressed could be carrying over and you could think about your fear or some other things. But what’s really interesting is to look at the other four, the other three quadrants in the Foursquare model and ask how you could still access those while sitting in your house with your broken bone. So if you were in that situation, you could think about the rider’s body, you could access the rider’s body quadrant either by physically doing something with your body. So maybe you can do something with your arms still. Maybe there’s something you could do, but you could watch videos of yourself riding in any previous time of your life. And it’s always amazing to me when I watch videos of myself riding. One of the reasons fast forwards your learning whenever you videotape yourself and review it is because it’s easy to train yourself to remember how that felt. So when I watch a video of me riding, I’ve done it enough that I can now feel the ride when I’m sitting there watching the ride on the couch. And so if I give myself permission and fully let myself watch the bareback bridleless ride with Roxy, I can be back in that ride every step of the way.

[00:06:40] I think the reason I can do this also is because of the level of awareness that I brought to the ride, meaning I was riding in a very present state of mind every step of that ride. So it is burned into my memory differently than if I go out to ride this morning. But what’s really interesting is I went out to ride this morning and I turned on the video camera. I would change the level of awareness that I was bringing to that ride. And then I would be able to remember that ride better.

[00:07:12] This is why I’m constantly encouraging you guys to videotape yourselves. Five minutes. It’s amazing. What? Five minutes. Prop your cell phone up and ride in a small area so you can see it. But what you can do is you can analyze the way that you sit on the horse. You can analyze how the way you sit on the horse looks different than your mentor that you’re trying to achieve, riding more like you can watch all these different things from your home if you are not, you know, if you’re able bodied, which many of us are, well, we’re quarantined right now. You can physically workout. I still do yoga. There’s all these different things you can learn more about the imbalances in your body without even leaving your house. And then the other two quatrains, the horses mind and the horses body. You could actually do pretty good, deep study. And I’m not saying this ever replaces interacting with horses, but you can study a lot of how horses minds work by watching videos if you’re watching with that intent because order, you can watch a video that you’ve seen ten times before, but you never thought to watch the video and think about what the horse was thinking and think about how the horse’s body language was reflecting their mind and literally changing your intention on how you watch the video will change what you see.

[00:08:39] And that is just a fun thing to know. And again, the horse’s body. There are books after books written on the mechanics of how horses move, specially if you head anywhere down the dressage road. You can find the body mechanics of horse and rider mechanics and you can study those in a book sitting on your couch. So from a teaching perspective, those were a few of the things that I wanted to add that you are still able to do. And I think that if you took this time to learn to study some of those things, it’s easier to then carry it over when you are allowed to go back to the barn and ride. Because I know that I specifically do this like during the winter or during the downtimes when I’m not as active. So if I can go out and trail ride or sit at home and study a book, odds are I’m headed down the trail. But that also means I’m leaving out some of that studying. Take this time, do a deep dive and study. You can also be setting goals for the future because future thinking tends to help you in times like these.

[00:09:49] Or maybe I should say it helps me in times like these. And maybe it would help you. So these teacher like things are there. But one of the other things I really want to touch on was the personal side of it. And the reason I feel qualified to answer this is not because I’ve lived through a pandemic and I can say, hey, I did this before. But what’s interesting is I have lived through unforeseen unplanned reasons that I was not able to ride. So when I look at my past and I look for something that this reminds me of, even if it’s just on a tiny scale, even if this is if this feels like a big like 100 hundred percent big. And even if I can find something that finds 10 percent of an echo, I can probably pull some lessons that I learned there. So what I’m going to do is I’m going to say to myself, in the past, was there anything that looked similar to this in anything that I could say that was the same? How is it the same? How is it different? How did I learn from it? And what’s really interesting is that I don’t have to look very far back.

[00:10:58] To find a place where I had an unplanned stretch of not being able to ride because during this quarantine time I managed to hurt my hip. And so I won’t go into it. But it was basically like kind of like bursitis of the hip thing going on and. It really hurt, like I’m limping along very badly in my house, going out to ride wasn’t an option. At one point I decided I was gonna go out and do something with horses and I hobbled to the bottom of the hill from my house towards the barn and got to the bottom of the hill and was regretting having hobbled down because I was going to have to hobble back up. So instantly, here I am not able to ride well. This also echoes back to a few years ago. I travel a lot and I had basically like bronchitis and then I was on a round of medicine and that didn’t work. And then I was on another round of medicine.

[00:11:55] And basically I missed three months of riding between relapses. And then when I did get better, it had been severe enough that I had this insanely sensitivity to dust. It was crazy. Like I couldn’t even sit in the arena and watch Jesse ride a horse because the dust of a watered arena was still too dusty.

[00:12:20] So I was outside of the arena with a mask on and it was still like borderline how much I could do that. So I was very sensitive in my lungs to any version of dust. And it wasn’t worth pushing it. So I ended up missing three months. And then let’s add to that. In the past I’ve had horses get hurt. And again, I don’t have to look very far back because three a little over three weeks ago now, Willow was turned out and I was watching her because I had turned them out and the three were running around like they’ve done hundreds of times. And she made a funny move where she tried to hit the brakes and turn and do all six different moves at one time. And it didn’t work. And she did like a horse version of a belly flop. So her back legs kind of went like straight out behind her, but she was turning. So they went out straight behind her. But her body was turning and twisting and she fell. And it was just it was one of those moments where she fell and she popped up and I thought, oh, good. And then she, you know, went forward about 100 feet. And then she stopped and was holding up a leg. And I thought. Yeah. That was a weird enough fall. This could be career ending and we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And, you know, it was like now I’m managing this while limited contact with the vet and going back through photos and emails and back and forth. And that’s a whole nother story.

[00:13:48] But the reason I’m saying this is if you think about it, there are probably a lot of reasons why you’ve missed a fair amount of time in the past. And I know this feels different because it feels like it’s being like externally put on us because it’s happening in a different way. But I’m telling you, it’s the same idea and same concept of if you’ve ever been hurt or been in a situation where you had to not ride for a certain amount of time. I know that when this just happened to me, I had to trust whoever was taking care of the horses. So I had to trust in the systems that I’ve had in place. And I’m not saying that that’s easy. That’s one of the reasons I was like hobbling down to the bar and like, I just need to be out there. I just need to see I just need to touch. But I’ve had times when horses have been hurt. I’ve had times when I’ve been hurt. I’ve had times when I’ve done that. And I’ve worried a lot. And I’ve had times when I’ve done that and I’ve chosen to trust, and what I’ve learned from that is that I am in the situation and the situations really happening. But I get to choose what I feel about that situation because worried didn’t change what was happening in the barn. I didn’t show up better to discuss what I wanted to have happen or to get feedback from the people in the barn when I’m worried, because then I show up in a weird way that makes everybody interacting with me, not want to interact with me.

[00:15:31] So if I show up with more of a trust in the system and I still ask for the same information, it comes across way more pleasantly. I also wanted to add some specific answers to some of the specific questions that you have. Because I do think they were they were well framed, which is what made me come into this, Linda. So thanks again for asking in this very specific way. One of your sentences was they’re worried about their horses standing while they’re quarantined at home. And I would encourage somebody in that situation to allow the worry and make a list like be like, OK, my assignment for the next 15 or 20 minutes is to fully worry and put it on paper and make a list. Because some things you’re going to be able to take action on. So maybe you can have your horse turned out or lunged, but maybe there are some pieces of it that you’re worried about that you need to accept that you cannot. And again, I think that’s why in the very beginning. The Serenity Prayer of ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.’ Because you’re going to probably be in all of those situations. Now, it’s interesting because one of the lines that you said was, you know, they’re the they’re missing the time away from training and riding and that’s giving them great stress. The missed time would be a fact. The stress about it is more optional than you might think and it might not feel like it.

[00:17:16] The stress so much of the time, especially if you have any kind of a history like I do, where stress was like I felt like it was my friend. I felt like it somehow helped me. It didn’t. But there are times I’ve learned now how to do a better job of picking it up and putting it down. So like when I would feel when when my hip was hurt. And I was losing time. I would feel the stress come up. And then I would literally do what I’m recommending. I would make a list of why the stress was coming up. And then that made it easier to be able to decide what I could do about it, what I couldn’t do about it, because stress isn’t helpful for your body. You can find hundreds of articles online that will explain to you in great detail how stress is bad for your body. The last thing you want to be during a pandemic is stressed out and weakening all of your systems, because if you can accept the things that you cannot change and change the things that you can. You’ve done what you can do now. One of the other things that that Linda brought up was she said, I’m wondering if you could share your thoughts about how much horses retain their training and learning during a time like this. And maybe this helps me because it’s shocking how well they retain it.

[00:18:34] I have been doing little experiments on my own for many, many years. And it is just amazing to me how well horses hold onto it. So if any of you did watch the Stacy’s video diary Jack YouTube series, you’ll remember seeing places where I started to teach him to lay down. But I decided to stop. So part of the process was teaching him to bring all of his legs together and drop his head down low. So he actually looked a lot like the end of the trail statue. And so he would bring it all of his legs together and he would put his head down. But if you go back and listen to the episode where I talked about, you know, his training. Are you training tricks or you’re training problems in the episode? I said, you know, with new my own personal horse, I was like, oh, he’ll never make the leap. And then he did. He he decided to lay down as a question while I was riding and one day had to admit to my husband that, yeah, apparently that was a risk I was taking. So I didn’t own Jack and I knew Jack was going to be for sale. So I decided not to finish teaching him the full blown all the way down into the into the lay down. So what was interesting is he got sold and I didn’t see him for I forget how long it was a year, something like that, like he was off being trained by other people.

[00:19:59] And I met up with him and was able to go visit him. And I said, would you mind if I ask Jack one question? And they were like, go ahead. And I tapped him under the belly. He immediately went right straight into that end of the trail position. It was so cool. And they were like, what the heck is that? Then I got to explain to them why. But horses are really, really good at remembering that kind of stuff. And I think another really neat example is that many years ago, Jesse and I had stopped to visit a stallion that he had admired and he was talking to the owner. And the owner knew like of Jesse and showing and knew that people that Jesse had been working for. And in conversation, Jesse was like, man, I would just love to know what he would have felt like to get on and ride. And she was like, well, he hasn’t been ridden in like 10 years, but if you want to ride him, you can. And yeah, we couldn’t pass that up. So Jesse got on and rode him. This stallion had been a breeding stallion and he hadn’t been ridden and something like 10 years or more, I think it was more I’d have to ask Jesse.

[00:21:12] He’d remember, but Jesse got on him and it was so cool. This was a training horse. Jesse got on him and he was just as sensitive to the neck rein, steering and to going into the spin and all the cues. He was just as sensitive as the day he was put away. In the day he was put away. He was a winning show horse. So he would maintain that level. It’s not like he dropped back to kindergarten level training. He came out right there ready to go. And I think you’ll find that that’s more true the higher up the level they go. I find that they kind of backslide and I call it return to wild because it always cracks me up when I’ve got this really well-trained horse. Roxy used to do it when we’d turner out for the winter. She’d get turned up for the winter and she’d come back and she’d be like, I am a wild horse. And you’d be like, Oh, OK. And you’d let her, you know, like blow off some steam and you start working. And she’d be like, OK, I’m not wild anymore. But I think I always call it returned to wild. Well, if they’re just you know, if they’re just in, you know, the third grade, they’re more likely to return to a more legit wild stage than Roxy, who was in college.

[00:22:23] And she was pulling off her like, look at me, I’m a wild horse. And then she worked for a few minutes to show like Okay, I’m good. And she just, you know, jump right back into the level she’d left off. And so just kind of interesting to note, but all the horses are gonna do a little bit different. But I for sure know the higher level they are. They’re very they they return very quickly. So training wise, I know they hold on to a lot. Now, that stallion that had been just a breeding stallion, he wasn’t fit to spin a plus one and a half. The training was there. But they’re at some level becomes a physical fitness thing that can stand in the way. His intentions were the same as what they had been. But just like you, if you had been playing a musical instrument and you put it down for ten years, there’d be a little rust there until you had to warm that up. So interesting to know. Now that brings up something that I meant to Google, but I’m gonna give it to an assignment for you guys. When I was in college, keep in mind, this was more than 20 years ago now when I was in college. They had they cited studies and they do a lot of times they do a lot of studies with race horses because race horses are very well studied individuals, but they do a lot of race horse studies with their fitness level and then fitness level and then rest.

[00:23:44] And I remember that the that the facts back then were that you could if you had a fully fit race horse, that that horse could be essentially put on stall rest for, let’s say, some kind of an injury that required healing but would heal within a month. That horse would lose next to nothing. And I do not remember if that was age dependant because obviously most race horses are younger. But I remember there was a shocking difference between how well horses held onto their physical fitness level and that is different. Holding onto it is different than building it up. And so I just remember that and I meant to do a Google search before I got on here, but do some and do focus it around race horses because those are the ones that get studied a lot. But it’s actually really cool because the horses. Two things I notice when they’ve held on to the how to or the the mental knowledge of it, something like spinning that they hold on to crazy. Well, well it’s just like me when I took up running. Running for me was awkward because I didn’t play any sports. I avoided all sports if it didn’t involve a horse.

[00:24:53] I said no. So when in my thirties I took up jogging. It was awkward for me to use my own body that way. And so what was interesting was there was like a legitimate like figuring out how to do it, that if I had maybe run track when I was in high school, I wouldn’t have had such a struggle with, but I hadn’t. So I had to learn at that point while learning it then and maintaining it, even when I’ve dropped it and picked it back up, it’s never been as hard as picking it up for the first time. So you’re going to notice what I notice always when I’m when I have horses going in and out of training because I want the horses to have downtime. I always notice that when they’ve learned how to use their body, they’re more efficient at it. So if I go out and I jog now, I’m instantly more efficient because I went through that learning phase already. And so the efficiency is there, the knowledge is there, but the fitness isn’t there. But because I’m more efficient. The fitness comes a little faster. So there’s this interaction between that mental knowledge, that muscle memory and then that muscle fitness. And it’s really interesting because I do notice that the horses, they appear to have a better. Pick up and go. A lot of people and my husband quotes more studies on how quickly people decline and it looks like it’s just fast.

[00:26:17] But I’m going to let you guys do all those Google searches on your own. But it’s out there with racehorse stuff. And the last question that was asked was, do you have any suggestions for those people who board in a very social barn situation that may be needing some positive thoughts about the effects of the worldwide human pandemic on horses in their care? I’ve already mentioned look at the options you do have and pick the best options available. And I would say. Trust that you’re doing the best you can. Because when I was trying to figure out if I actually had anything to offer here, I suddenly remembered. I’ve been here before. Every time my child was sick or injured, I remember as a parent. It was like. This jumpiness of like, do we go to the hospital forever injury? Do we go for every sickness? You know, how to handle not knowing and feeling like such a big thing. So your horse is standing over there and you’re far away and you’re like, I don’t know. Am I doing this right? Am I doing this right? You know, when is this going to end? Am I doing enough? Am I. Am I doing too much? Am I doing? Am I doing? It’s probably not too much because of the situation you’re in.

[00:27:32] But you might be doing too much worrying. You might be doing too much because in a way, when we worry a lot, what we’re doing is we’re saying, will I regret the choices that I make right now? And regret is a choice you have.

[00:27:50] You might know more tomorrow than you do today. I know that that is literally the goal of my life is to know more tomorrow than I do today. But if your goal is to know more tomorrow than you do today, you need to figure out how you’re going to handle regret, because a lot of times regret is condemning yourself for not knowing yesterday what you know today. This is why some people almost look like they don’t want to learn. I think because they look like they don’t want to learn, because they don’t want have to face the fact that they could have regret. But regret is a choice, because if I know that I’m doing the best I can today, then tomorrow when I know more, I know that me in the past, I did the best I could.

[00:28:39] And that’s all I could do. I hope that that helps people that are listening because I think realistically what horses have taught me is life lessons and this is one of the life lessons brought to you by horses. Thank you for listening. And I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

[00:29:01] If you have a question you want to call in. You know where to go. And I would invite anybody who wants to learn more about this mental side of horse training and life. I am doing an online class with a good friend of mine, Ginny Telego. You’ve heard her on some of the podcasts. It’s on goal setting and problem solving, because if you set goals, you’re going to find problems and you can find information on that course.

[00:29:31] And the live version of it is happening April 21st, but you can find information on that course on the home page of my website at Stacy Westfall. Dot com. Thanks for joining me.

[00:29:45] 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.

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  1. Linda Coyle on April 16, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks Stacy! Your answers were perfect! This podcast will bring a lot of insight and peace to many horse owners and riders right now. I can’t thank you enough! I’m sharing with all of my horsey friends. 🙂

  2. Carol J Domansky on April 15, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    Great episode! FWIW, for a young woman, you sure are smart ?

    • Stacy Westfall on April 15, 2020 at 7:24 pm

      Aw, thanks! Life has been a great teacher!

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