Episode 8: Failure vs Disappointment surrounding horses and riders

“If you are in a situation where all you can do is keep your horses healthy and fed, you have permission not to feel like a failure.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

I get a lot of emails and comments from people who are afraid that they are giving their horse the wrong cues. They are afraid they will fail their horse by not keeping their commitment to riding. They are concerned about reading their horses body language wrong. They fear doing the wrong thing. They feel like they are letting their horse down.

When I read these, I wonder where your failure line is.  In my mind, I have a line drawn that is where I would consider would be failing my horse. Don’t leave failing your horse as a vague idea. Consciously decide where that line is drawn. In this episode, I share my clearly-defined failure lines with you, I’ll be discussing failure lines and disappointment lines, because it is important to separate these in your mind.

“It's important to understand what we label as disappointments and what we label as failures, because the words we use and how we speak to ourselves affects us.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

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Show Notes

[02:38] I would be failing my horses if they didn’t have adequate food, shelter, and a basic level of health and enjoyment. This is where I define my failure line.

[02:58] They need access to clean water, safe hay, and enough nutrients that their body scores around 5. They also get their hooves trimmed regularly, dewormed regularly, and a vet called in an emergency.

[03:24] If I couldn’t provide these things, I would be failing my horse. I do absolutely aim to go above this line.

[03:44] My horses see a dentist regularly, have massages, sometimes they have chiropractic work, and some wear blankets.

[04:27] There is a difference between my disappointment line and my failure line. I could be disappointed in the quality of the hay but as long as it’s safe, it should be okay.

[04:43] This also gives me the freedom to treat horses more like individuals and give them the individual care they need.

[05:17] The basic failure line for training is that the horse has a fundamental understanding so that I can hold that horse for the vet or the farrier.

[05:28] I’m not aiming for the failure lines. They are fairly low. The lines I stack above the failure lines are what I would label as disappointment lines.

[06:59] I often see people drawing failure lines as something that I would see more as human disappointment.

[07:22] If you’re running into problems where you feel things aren’t safe for you or the horse, then you should probably get professional help.

[08:38] People often ask too little of the horse as opposed to asking too much of the horse.

[09:35] Picture a kid and a pony and how happy and confident they look. This is a good place to aim for.

[10:16] People often judge themselves, but the horse isn’t judging them. The horse is just trying to figure out what they want.

[12:22] Horses aren’t judging. They are just asking questions and following along in the conversation.

[13:00] The lack of clarity between the horse and the rider is just a chance for them to learn.

[14:28] Horses can become very smart as to where each person is drawing the lines.

[14:48] If you’re holding yourself to a really high standard while you’re learning and you label it failure, it can be really crippling.

[14:58] While you’re learning be really clear about what you are calling failure and about what you are calling disappointment.

[15:32] If you are in a situation where all you can do is keep your horses healthy and fed, you have permission not to feel like a failure.

[16:53] if you’re not actively harming the horse, it’s not as big a deal as it may feel.

[17:14] Professionals get to set their own standards.

[17:52] It’s important to understand what we label as disappointments and what we label as failures, because the words we use and how we speak to ourselves affects us.

“I'm not aiming for the failure lines. They are fairly low. The lines I stack above the failure lines are what I would label as disappointment lines.” Stacy Westfall Click To Tweet

Links and Resources:

The First Horse I Refused to Train


  1. April on January 19, 2021 at 12:54 pm

    Hi Stacy, I’m a newbie to your podcast and can’t put it down. This episode really “hit” me— so much that I started crying when you gave us permission not to feel like a failure. I realized I have been beating myself up for the past year, feeling like a failure all the time. It has always been my dream to have my own ranch and my own horses; I’ve accomplished that dream, but I have been feeling like a failure because that dream included being able to spend time with them every day. Instead, I’m so busy with running the barn for my boarders, repairing things, doing barn chores, taking care of everyone else’s horses, and trying to make ends meet with giving lessons and trying to teach equine first aid classes that, if there is any time left to actually spend with my own horses, I am physically and emotionally exhausted. I work so hard at trying to provide the best care for ALL the horses, that I feel like I am failing my own boys. I don’t know if you still check the comments from your past podcasts anymore, but, if you do, I just want to say thank you for this message. I am not sure how to change things so that I don’t continue spinning my wheels, but just having that permission to NOT feel like a failure, for some reason helps. Maybe it’s because I am not failing at keeping a roof over their heads, feeding them good food, providing them with the care they need when they need it, and keeping them safe. This message of making the distinction between failure and disappointment was one I needed to hear and help me identify that what I am feeling is disappointment, not failure. I need to make some SMART goals so that I can rise above my threshold of disappointment, stop feeling overwhelmed, and begin to enjoy what I’m trying to create here. …on a side note I have subscribed to your podcast, but for some reason the player skips the first season (approximately 14 episodes). I’ve been coming directly to your website to listen from the beginning (I don’t want to miss a thing), but should I be listening to your present podcasts at the same time, or should I continue listening linearly until I catch up?

    • Stacy Westfall on January 19, 2021 at 9:34 pm

      April- I’m so happy that Episode 8 helped you! There are so many lessons that horses can teach us…half of them are awesome and amazing and we can’t wait for more…others are challenging, heartbreaking and we would skip if we could.

      But when I look at life I see the same thing. 50/50 on things I want…and things I’d rather skip.

      One word of encouragement. Any new thing is hard. Eventually you’ll find a better flow and will be able to see more clearly. When I started the podcast my stress was SO HIGH! I think you can hear it in my voice if you compare episode 1 to episode 100. I still experience a level of stress every week. Part of me thinks it ‘should’ go away…and part of me knows it is here to stay.

      Just TODAY I figured out how to fix the podcast feed. The default is to only release 100 to the podcast players (why…why?…why??)…anyway, they should all be there in your phone app now!
      Feel free to listen any way you want! Go straight through…jump around. Pick your favorite topics. There is no wrong way!

  2. Heather Wimer on December 16, 2020 at 11:20 am

    I have gone back and listened to this episode several times. I’ve also told most of my friends to listen to it. It has made a huge difference for me. I realized that I put way to many things in the failure category and they should just be disappointments. Changing the way I think about that has made a huge difference for me in many areas of my life.
    Thank you so much!

  3. Sarah on March 1, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    How’d I miss this episode??? I listened to this week’s and then this one started and I realized I’d never heard it. This is GOLD. I feel encouraged and relieved and excited. The future is bright.

    • Stacy Westfall on March 2, 2019 at 4:58 pm

      Technology gremlins. Or angels. You needed to hear this message at this time.
      Or maybe you skipped your morning coffee? Lol…now I’m going to go check my podcast player to see if I missed any of my favorite shows!

  4. Amy on February 12, 2019 at 5:31 pm

    This is one of my favorite podcasts so far. I had decided to board my horse this winter so I could have access to the indoor arena during the harsh months. I went in guns blazing with perhaps some unrealistic goals set for the time period he would be there. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to get my horse preform and instead of progressing forward we took huge steps backwards because of my frustration and my anxiousness to execute the goals I had set. I have realized I was a much better and more confident rider when I just simply went out and rode my horse because I love to ride…no expectations, no “time frames”. i was just setting myself up to feel like a failure. I have realized I just need to go in and keep it simple, as we can accomplish a lot more that way. Don’t get me wrong, i still have goals. Number 1 is: it is ok to have a disappointing ride, I am not a failure. Thank you for this one Stacy!

    • Stacy Westfall on February 13, 2019 at 8:59 am

      You are very welcome! I’ve done the same thing myself as well as several variations of it. One of my more recent variations was when I got so excited about practicing advanced maneuvers that I just kept doing them. My fascination let me do more than I should have. Thankfully I noticed a decline in performance and realized, ‘hey, she might need some rest and/or a change of pace.’
      It is so easy to aim for ‘straight up the mountain’ but that path is pretty steep! It is better in the long run to take a path with some plateaus or even places where going backward is a good idea.
      Sounds like you learned a valuable lesson! Keep it up!

  5. Monica Huettl on February 5, 2019 at 1:31 am

    This episode was really helpful to me! I’m in my 60s and have 3 healthy, happy geldings. One is a horse that I bred (I owned his mother). The other 2 are rescues that came to me because I could provide a good home but I didn’t seek them out. I’ve been feeling guilty that I can’t ride and train each one of them to their highest potential. I enjoy quiet trail rides and have no desire to show.

    I’m an AirBnb host and some of the guests want to pet or ride the horses, which I let them do, always with careful supervision. Thank you for validating that the horses are happy to hang out in their little herd eating good hay and enjoying their quiet life, being petted and loved.

    I’m binging your podcasts while at the airport waiting on a five hour delayed flight. It’s the lemons/lemonade thing. Thank you for producing the pods!!

    • Stacy Westfall on February 6, 2019 at 9:28 pm

      I love a good podcast binge! I also have a flight on Friday and I’ll be sure to download a bunch:)
      Thank you for the feedback. I’m glad that my thoughts on the subject helped you out. I’ll keep them coming!

  6. Chrissy on January 30, 2019 at 4:49 pm

    Wow, Stacy – a lot of this episode hit home! Realizing there is a difference between failure and disappointment, and to specifically look at it like that, will not only help me mentally, but I think it will really help positively influence how I show up to my horse when I am facing something less-than-ideal. I have absolutely been holding myself to a high standard, and I -am- learning daily, especially so when my horse answers my question in an unexpected way (we’re always learning around horses, right? 🙂 ).
    THANK YOU for another thoroughly helpful podcast!


  7. Jenny Wood-Outhwaite on January 25, 2019 at 10:28 pm

    I’m really enjoying these! And you are my first experience with Podcasts as well!!

  8. Amy Bridges on January 16, 2019 at 11:33 pm

    LOVED this episode, as I deal with these thoughts.

    • Stacy Westfall on January 17, 2019 at 9:23 am

      Amy, Sooooo many of us do. I was able to talk about it from first hand experience and I’m here to say that once you set your own lines, things get easier:)

  9. Kami on January 10, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    Just what I needed to hear today! Thanks Stacy! You said” While you’re learning be really clear about what you are calling failure and about what you are calling disappointment.” I often set my goals with to big of steps to get there instead of breaking them down then consider it a failure when I dont get it. I had success today when my trainer got on the horse I’m training and was having success with him. To often it turns out the other way, with me being very disappointed and thinking I failed as a trainer. Your podcast was helpful and a good reminder to recognize the difference. Thank you

    • Stacy Westfall on January 12, 2019 at 9:43 am

      Kami, I’m glad you can more clearly see the difference now. Clarifying our words and thoughts really helps to keep things more positive. I’m not looking to promote a false ‘positive attitude’ but instead become more clear about how we view things. I love that you said you recognize that you often set goals as ‘big steps instead of breaking them down’. Once we break them down there is much more room for small wins which ends up creating a truly more positive experience.

  10. Jjonah on January 9, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    A good friend of mine, who is also one of my equine inspirations, recommended your podcast to me. I listened to every episode back to back, and while all of them were enlightening and entertaining, this episode really spoke to me. I’ve been trying to balance returning to college as an adult while trying to run my farm, keep my horses in training, and pick up a few riding students here and there. Lately I have been questioning myself, and heavily doubting that I am doing my best with my horses. I didn’t think I needed permission, but when I heard you state it, I felt a lot of relief. My horses are healthy, happy, and well cared for. If they don’t get worked as often as they used to, I have to say that you’re right and they aren’t judging me for it. Its just me judging myself, and maybe being too harsh.

    • Stacy Westfall on January 12, 2019 at 9:38 am

      Thanks for the comment! I told myself when I recorded ‘giving permission’ that if it helped one person then it was worth it…thanks for telling me!

  11. Annie on January 9, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I feel like I failed my commitment to a couple of horses in my life. They could have lived out the remaining years of their lives with me, the only home they had known for many years, if I had the money to treat and maintain their health issues, above and beyond the basic needs/requirements. But they both ended up going to good loving homes to live out their remaining years. Even though I did the best I could at the time, it still hurts to trust and let their care go to someone else.

    • Susan Hull on January 9, 2019 at 4:32 pm

      Annie, to me this is not a failure at all! A painful loss, of course, but failure would only be if you didn’t make sure they would be loved and cared for in their next home. I knew a woman who wouldn’t let any of her horses leave her (even though good homes were asking for them), and that was a real failure because their quality of life was not good living with her. You made the hard but loving choice that our animals depend on us to make!

      • Annie on January 9, 2019 at 11:50 pm

        Thank you for the kind words.

    • Stacy Westfall on January 12, 2019 at 9:37 am

      Annie, I agree with Susan that you made ‘a hard but loving choice’. I would not consider that ‘failing the horse’ but I am sure it was emotionally painful for you. I work with rescue groups where people keep the horses for emotional reasons and then fail to provide care, sometimes to the point of death. It also sounds like you kept up with them to some degree which can also be viewed as commitment(not failure). I bet if you had been contacted because those horses were in trouble you would have worked hard to find them yet another option. You were creative for their benefit which is very honorable.

      • Annie on January 12, 2019 at 10:26 am

        Thank you Stacy. And for putting on these discussions for support and guidance.

  12. Susan Hull on January 9, 2019 at 7:37 am

    This is probably one of the most important posts you could offer us! Our human expectations create emotional pressure and then we act it out in our behavior. I feel guilty if I don’t go see my horses whenever I have a spare moment, like they are children I am leaving alone! I saw this the other day when it was raining pretty steadily and I was struggling about whether to stop and slog through the muddy path to go and look at them for a few minutes. Suddenly I imagined them seeing me coming and thinking, “What on earth is she doing out here in this weather?” I know that’s not what they would “think” but it helped me to break the spell of my own demands on myself.

    • Stacy Westfall on January 9, 2019 at 8:58 am

      Susan, I’m glad you said that! I felt it was important but was on the fence about how it would be received. It is something I have clear in my head but have not shared before so it felt risky. Thanks for the comment and for recognizing how it is/was working in your own life.

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