Episode 85: The older & wider rider – a conversation with Suzi Vlietstra

Getting into horses or returning to horses later in life can be a challenge but can also contain many hidden blessings. My guest today, Suzi Vlietstra, shares her experience of returning to horses at age 57. In her words, “So here I am, an older and wider rider hoping to recapture some of the equine magic.” and another quote, “I was now a very adult rider with some unfamiliar fears…” We discuss the challenges of changing bodies, letting go of past expectations, embracing the here and now…and much more.

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Announcer: [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.

Stacy Westfall: [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 eight, which I’m calling conversations with Stacy. And today I’m talking with Suzy Vlietstra about the subject of returning to horses later in life– the challenges and the blessings. I first met Suzy in 2007 at a horse event where I was seated next to her for a panel discussion. And her first comment to me when we sat down was “nice hat”, to which I replied, “I love this hat.” And I whipped it off my head to show her my cowboy hat. I said, “It fits great.” And as I handed it to her and pointed out that it was made by Hobby Horse, she turned her badge towards me. And as I read her badge, which said Hobby Horse, she said out loud, “I made it.”

Stacy Westfall: [00:01:17] And as she says, we had Velcro brain lock from day one. And the next year when I was on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, I was out in California and Roxy actually stayed at Suzy’s ranch. And Suzy met us and helped to take care of the boys behind the scenes, back in our dressing room that we had. And Suzy has been a part of my life ever since. A little bit more about Suzy’s background. She started a Hobby Horse Clothing Company in her mother’s attic when she was a junior in high school. Many of you, if you just Google it real quick, like it is a very prominent clothing company for Western show clothes. She started it in her mother’s attic and incorporated her business when she was still in high school. She then ran it for 39 years until she sold it to a former customer in 2017. And that’s where this part of the story picks up, where she bought a Halflinger to trail ride as a retirement project, and then it turned into a show pony. And then she started on amazing new adventures that we discuss in this interview.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:32] Let’s listen.

Stacy Westfall: [00:02:39] Hi, Suzy. Thank you so much for joining me. Hello. So I’m going to jump right into this because as you well know, over the many years of being friends, when we get on the phone, we could talk for hours and hours and trying to draw a map of our thought process would be impossible to figure out. We loop all over the place, don’t we?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:03:00] Convoluted is a good word.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:02] Convoluted. So in order to keep this as as streamlined as I think I can possibly do, note with as few rabbit trails as I can go on. The first thing I’d love you to do is I want to jump straight into your experience of, I don’t know, let you rephrase it as we go through the talk. But kind of rejoining or getting back into horses again. And the way that I’d like to start is by referencing an article that you wrote. I’ll link to it in the show, notes on on the website. But I would like you to read this paragraph that starts with, “I love horses.” And then I have a couple other sentences I’ve pulled out. And that’s where I’d like to start our discussion today. You good with that?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:03:48] Absolutely.

Stacy Westfall: [00:03:49] Awesome. Read on.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:03:51] I love horses. They’ve been the polestar that has pulled me like a magnet from birth to age fifty six. But with all the chaos of the last decade of my life, I started this year not even sure that I liked horses anymore. The glue that had held together almost every aspect of my life no longer stuck. And I felt adrift from the world of equines and the joy that I used to find with horse people and the familiar rhythms of riding and caring for horses.

Stacy Westfall: [00:04:19] Here are two other sentences. “So here I am, an older and wider rider, hoping to recapture some of the equine magic.” And another one that I read that that really resonated was, “I was now a very adult rider with some unfamiliar fears.” And this is kind of the topic that I want to talk about is, your journey of coming back into horses. Is that how you would phrase it?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:04:50] Actually, the title that I used on that little story that we’re reading from is called, Back to My Future, and I kind of think that that’s how I feel about it. Yeah. Return to horses or re-engagement, maybe, is a good word to use.

Stacy Westfall: [00:05:04] And I guess over the years of talking to you, and actually kind of just staying focused on this little piece, where this pretty much launches off with your Haflinger mare. And then, you know, I end up wound up in the story at one point for– for a minute. It was really interesting to hear you talk about the journey of, you know, first of all, what you just said here, you weren’t even sure if you liked horses anymore. Can you talk just a little bit about that, how that happened?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:05:34] Well, you know, horses are such an emotional entanglement for all of us. And I’ve had horses, like most your listeners, probably since I was a little kid and had a bunch of different horses and a million different horse adventures and so forth. But a lot of time had gone by and I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to get back into it. I think I think we take a lot of baggage forward into new horse adventures from old horse adventures and put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be as good as we used to be or to have accomplishments like we used to be and to know when we were when we were younger and lighter. We were different than the older and wider rider. We were more athletic. We were more confident. We were braver. And it’s pretty daunting, at least for me, to voluntarily go back to that space and find that you’re not the same person. That was daunting for me.

Stacy Westfall: [00:06:29] I’m, you know, reflecting and thinking about just different things. And that totally, totally makes sense. So what was your tipping point because you decided to–to go in? So what was your tipping point? How did that work?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:06:47] Time and circumstances, I guess, was the tipping point where I had recently sold my business that I owned for many, many years. And I was this thing called, “retired”. I still have a big boarding stable. So I don’t think you ever actually retire when you’ve got any horses in your life.

Stacy Westfall: [00:07:03] I think, for a pause here, you’re the only person I know of that considers yourself retired with 60 horses in the backyard as a boarding stable.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:07:14] Yeah. But, you know, that’s my–that’s my side gig. And that does give me an interesting perspective, too, because here I was in the midst of everyone else’s dream. Every person on my property comes here to spend the best part of their day with their horse, and they are thrilled to be here. And it’s all positive. And I’m in the middle of this energy field of positive horse giddiness. And yet I wasn’t really participating. And I, I wanted to, but I was kind of scared and I maybe was too lazy in some ways. I don’t know. There are so many conflicting emotions about drifting back into horses. But I did decide at one point that I thought it would be fun to have just a real simple point-and-shoot, no-nonsense trail horse. That kind of made sense to me. And for various, not necessarily great reasons, but various reasons, I decided that a Haflinger was the thing to get. And they’re not very common in California, these little horses. But I’d always loved how beautiful their eyes were. So let’s just say I went back into it for a totally irrational, emotional reason, which is, I love the eyes of a Halflinger. So, yeah. It wasn’t super rational.

Stacy Westfall: [00:08:25] I love it. I mean, that’s it. It totally resonates with me because, you know, I bought Presto. You know, I looked at the rescue website when they’re like, “Hey, could you share? The adoption’s are down”. And I flipped open, and I was like, oh, he’s little. He has long legs. He has spots. I have to have him. Yeah.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:08:50] But that’s something that’s so wonderful about this horse life also is, we are allowed to be emotional and irrational. But we just have to remember there could be consequences. And in my case, they were fabulous, amazing, wonderful, incredible consequences to my irrational emotional decision to buy a Halflinger.

Stacy Westfall: [00:09:13] I kind of want to talk about that. Like, I want to talk about the ups and the downs, because I think that, you know, I know from a lot of the feedback that I’ve gotten from listeners that fear is a huge topic. And I know that you mentioned it in, you know, well, in that one sentence that I read, you know, unfamiliar fears of an adult rider. Can we talk a little bit about what you experienced that was different? You know, I know you’ve– you’ve– we’ve kind of cruised past it. But more specifically, where did that begin? Was it– was it as soon as you swung on the horse? Was it the thought of what you were going to do? Like, can you walk me through some of those specific fears?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:09:57] I didn’t realize Stacy. I didn’t realize I was afraid until I knew I was afraid, because in my mind, maybe like some other listeners in my mind, I’m, you know, 19 and bullet proof, riding bareback, laughing and carrying on and, you know, never met a helmet and all that kind of stuff. That was the freedom and emotional fulfillment. I was sort of looking for, or hoping for, getting back into horses, but I was fifty six years old. And, you know, I’d– I’ve owned a bunch of horses and I’d written a lot in between. But I really hadn’t done much for pretty much a decade while I was running my business towards the end of the business, and building this stable, and having a kid. So a lot had gone on and in– in my mind I was–I was frozen in time as this capable rider. And in my interactions with the boarded horses and so forth–I mean, I’m a fairly experienced horsewoman. I can handle a horse pretty well on the ground. I have this cumulative experience that gets me along pretty well. But to actually do the deal, to walk the–walk the walk and talk the talk again, to have a horse kind of from scratch and do all the stuff. There was fear in there that I never, ever dreamed could exist. And it was shocking when I found it. Not at a particular moment, but over a period of time, a period of experiences where I thought, I’m not sure I want to do this and that. I felt shame. I was–I felt a little humiliated that I was that old lady rider and I really had to deal with that. It was hard.

Stacy Westfall: [00:11:31] I just hope the listeners pick up. This is why I love talking to you, because I can just–I can feel it. You make it real. You’re such a beautiful writer and you’re– you speak like that. And so it makes me want to ask, do you think it was that emotional that…can you even piece it out right now at all? Like that emotional piece of–I–of what you had when you were 19 and that feeling–was it the feeling of that not being there? Did it feel like you were disrupting that, or? And then how did that dovetail with, like a physical like the–did you have a physical fear of riding, of getting on? Was there fear falling, for example?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:12:14] You know, that’s it. That’s a complex question. And it’s kind of like the inside of a golf ball with all those little rubber bands that you find if you ever cut a golf ball open there’s a lot more to it than you thought. But a combination of things for sure, Stacy. And I’ll tell you one that I think affects an awful lot of people that might be listening to this, which is fear around physical change and a huge thing that’s different from when I was 19. I weigh a lot more. My balance is really kind of not at all what it was. I know what it’s like to break a bone now. There is a very primal fear that we just totally tamp down when you were younger. Most of us do. Not everyone, but most of us do. And then all of a sudden, it’s rare, real. And it reminds me of people, for example, that have a fear of flying. I don’t have a fear of flying airplanes. Maybe today, but not generally. But that is such a deep, primal fear that people have to work real consciously to overcome it. I’d never experienced that in any circumstance, but that primal fear was a little a little tension, a little– a little hum in the background. When I started back doing stuff with this young mare that I bought and it just was so foreign to me. I really had to stop and think about it and decide if I was willing to to explore it, decide if I was willing to risk it, and–and truly realizing that I could get hurt. And I had never, ever been afraid before.

Stacy Westfall: [00:13:47] Mm hmm. It’s interesting to hear you say that because, you know, obviously we all have different pasts and because mine has been so much of being a trainer or on the horses that I haven’t had long periods where I stopped. But the one that stands out, that matches up really well with what you’re saying was with my first pregnancy of the three, I you know, I stopped and I waited. And I remember the day that I swung my leg over the first horse. And it gives me, like, I can still remember the feeling. It comes up in my throat. Just it’s just starting to talk about it. When I put my leg over the first horse that I got on after he was born, I knew everything had shifted. And it would have the strangest feeling because this was a horse I knew, it was in my arena, in my backyard. I hadn’t stopped for that long. But all I could put it into words for me at that moment was just a responsibility that I hadn’t felt before and I never knew I could feel it. That deep a level.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:14:50] Yeah.

Stacy Westfall: [00:14:50] And so, when I hear you talk about some of these different things, like it’s interesting because I’ve I’m actually a fairly fearful person, like I’m very conservative with what I do. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do much outside of horses because I really don’t like, like downhill skiing. I’m like, oh, I’m going to break something like the list of how I can answer. I’m going to break something. There’s pretty much everything outside of horses. So I feel it. And I feel it. I feel it inside of horses. I think maybe more than people would recognize because it doesn’t look like it. But I actually think it helps me do what I do because I’m very vigilant about it. So as a as opposed to I do have that memory of being that, you know, for me, like 15, 16 year old, that was fearless and was like, I look back and I’m like, wow, that was really crazy. Yeah. So I think there–stuff shifted. You know, what shifted was every time I got hurt. Yeah. Kept being a wake up moment of like this could be real. This could be real. And the older I got, the the slower I healed. And that combination, that combination has led me. You know, I think I understand what you’re saying, but, yeah, you say it in a better way than I do because it’s a different experience, I think.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:16:14] Well, I’ve I’ve been I’ve been fairly intrepid in my life and, you know, a tree climber from a tender age and all that kind of stuff. But again, this return to horses made me either–I either had to confront, and think about, and deal with these fears or I had to not pursue the horse thing. I did press through. And I feel really fortunate. And the combination of things that happened, I was fortunate that I ended up with a really neat horse and I also ended up with the right people, the right village, to help support my return to horses. That there was some instructors and people around that inspired me and helped me. And I guess the biggest surprise, though, in my return, my back in the saddle was I really had to consciously think about things that had been invisible before and it made it a different process instead of just about another horse and a ride again. I did a lot of sort of soul searching and internalizing and self-talk and all kinds of things that ultimately, I think, got a very positive effect in other areas of my life. So the repercussions of buying a horse because it had beautiful eyes, were actually extremely positive in my life, not just in finding success with horses again and kind of reuniting with with my barn buddies and horse girlfriends and adventures and all sorts of fabulous things that happened. But–and maybe I was ripe for this because I had just retired. Maybe that was a kind of a, what I call, a pivot point in life where you’re more open to to embracing and exploring change. But the horse thing ushered in a whole new rich layer of. Self-awareness or self-discussion? And more than anything, gratitude. Came in like this wave that still washes over me everyday and it’s all been relaunched from the horses. So many, many, very positive, encouraging things happened that exceeded that concept of, I’m gonna have a horse and go riding again. It’s been–it’s such a rich return and actually a rich surpassing of those feelings of freedom I had when I was a kid.

Stacy Westfall: [00:18:31] Hmm. That’s interesting. What I’d like to do–because I think I want to unpack that a little bit more so listeners can hear–so for me, if I was going to summarize it–but then I want you to go. I want to break it down with you a little bit more. You know, you got back in, but even from a distance, because, the little piece that I play–I mean, you’re gonna have to give the backstory. But the little piece that I play in this was, I was like, yes. Suzy, I got caught up in this. And I’m like, yes, Suzy, I’ll show your horse. And then shortly afterwards, like, I don’t know, three weeks later, I was like, Suzy. I bit off more than I can chew. And, and so–but what was interesting about my little tiny piece inside of the story–I want you to unfold a little bit more for us–is that–I might phrase it this way. And I’m totally open to you correcting it. You had come back in, but you weren’t really on and in the way you were after that moment. Is that true? Accurate. OK.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:19:32] Yes.

Stacy Westfall: [00:19:33] OK. You know, so. Well, now, what I’d like to do is have you explain kind of– it to me it’s like you got–you decided you did like him. You got in you got your little mare and you–in the most perfect story–you created this grand adventure that you’re doing with this Halflinger and then that and but then it shifted yet again. And then it put you–you switched roles in there somehow. So, yeah. Why don’t you tell the story and tell the role switch, whichever order you want to go there.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:20:06] OK. Pretty eyes Halflinger purchased. Young horse. Now what do I do. That’s the setup. So bought this really nice young horse and thought I would write it on the trails but had a friend help me with her a little bit. Ends up that the horse is kind of talented and just a blast to ride this horse. Her name is Lia. This horse ended up being this amazing catalyst for all this positive change in my life and the lives of many other women. So we ended up, after a period of time, taking this horse to the Halflinger Nationals in the Kentucky horse park in 2018, along with six of my friends–some of whom I had only just met because of this horse. So six of us, seven, including me, go off to Kentucky with one mare and show her in a million classes. I didn’t ride her or show her. I was sort of like the cruise director for this crazy adventure. So off we go to Kentucky. My friend Stacy Westfall comes down to visit us in Kentucky and thinks this looks like a pile of fun. So after Kentucky show, I decide that the horse is going to stay in the east for a while to be prepared by her original breeder for what in the Halflinger breed is called an inspection. But for those of you with warmbloods, it’s a curing. It’s a process to evaluate the horse according to breed standards. So the horse stays in the east and goes to a curing in Ohio near my friend Stacy Westfall. So I say Stacy come over to the curing. So she comes over to the inspection-curing- and we’re goofing around and having fun and I decide, wouldn’t that be great to have Stacy take this horse from here for the next leg of the adventure and go to the Western Dressage World Championships in Oklahoma a month or two later. So I talk Stacy into it. She shows common sense and sort of resisting me, but I overwhelm her good sense. And the next day, Stacy’s driving home with my horse in her trailer. So that brings us up to where you stepped in and you rode Lia for about a month or so and then you called me in tears saying, I just can’t do this. I don’t have the time to do this justice. And that became one of most important things that’s ever happened in my life, because I said, OK, that’s fine. That’s all meant to be. You put the horse on a van back west and I rode that horse at my own home at my stable here for 30 days in a row. And I don’t know that I’ve ever ridden a horse for 30 days in a row. I did not miss a day. I found another friend–who has become a friend–but I had never met her. I Facebook messengered her and I said, hey, you want to go to the Western Dressage World Championships? I have this little Halflinger mare. Nobody that usually helps me is able to go. Would you like to show her? That was my friend Tracey. And she said, sure, let’s go to Oklahoma. So I rode my mare every day for 30 days. Tracy rode two or three times. We put her on a trailer, went to Oklahoma and had the best time ever. My horse won some championships. I competed on her. And keep in mind, I had not been riding her. So because of you Stacy’s saying that this just–you just couldn’t complete this project that we had started. I ended up riding, showing my horse and got this massive new dimension of enjoyment and delight and new friendships. And it just kept unrolling in this fantastic, you know Hollywood worthy way. So that’s that story.

Stacy Westfall: [00:23:35] You know, there are two things that come up there. One is that was an amazingly hard phone call to make. I mean, I stressed so much before calling you, even though I knew it was what I needed to do. I was so worried about. I don’t even know why. I guess because I can’t say I was worried about our friendship, because I know you, but I didn’t want to disappoint you. I just didn’t want to disappoint you. And it was so, so hard. But it was true. And I knew it. And I think that’s one of the most amazing things. I hope people are listening because what I hear even now as you’re talking is like, you know, you’re like it was all meant to be. And, you know, you mentioned the lives of many other women were changed when they went on this trip with you and your, your attitude, your way that you’re choosing to look at these things as they roll at you. I can clearly see from over here in Ohio, while you sit there in California, I can clearly see that it is your embracing that idea that it’s all meant to be and that this is going to play out, even though my horse is in Ohio and Stacy’s telling me no and we don’t even know how it’s going to ship back. And now I don’t know and like– what one person would –could take as a tailspin, you’re somehow staying open was that–I love that about you. Was this a piece of what you’re talking about with the– how did– what part of this came with you or developed during this horse thing? I don’t even know how to phrase this question. Save me, Suzy, save me.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:25:16] Well, I think what happened with the story of Lia is that it was it was my next project after I retired. And certainly, again, a huge pivot point turning point in my life. But maybe I’ve finally reached a certain point where I quit pushing. I quit trying so hard to make things turn out exactly the way I wanted. And this little horse and the adventures we had with her, a bunch of us, I mean, the Lia story like goes on and on and on and on and on. But– in many wonderful ways. But I finally just–I finally just said, let’s let this unroll. And that maybe that’s the most massive lesson that with the gratitude is, is what I got up this return to riding with this little mare and all the people that I roped into it, like you, or that were attracted to whatever energy we were creating– I just let it keep on rolling in. The most recent chapter in the Lia story is a very surprising one, probably to a lot of people that know who this horse is and to me and to you. I sold her. I sold Lia about a month ago to a lady that’s always been a big fan of Lia’s, who is now starting her own set of adventures with this wonderful, little mare who did all this fun stuff for us. And it just seems like the perfect next step. I’m– I’m just delighted with it. And, you know, we’re all the richer for this adventure around the horse. But really, it’s about friendships and it’s about this sport that we can be involved in and trying to just get some altitude on the– on the activities that we get to enjoy.

Stacy Westfall: [00:26:52] When you sent me the message that you’r sold her, I, I sent back like a joking with a laughing, like, that’s funny. Like, that’s a good joke. And you’re like, no, I’m serious. And I was like, OK, we need to talk. But it was also really an interesting thing because, you know, a lot of times when people are generally shocked–it just happened yesterday. Some people stopped by the barn because they were riding by and they saw the horses and–but they were asking–And so I didn’t know these people, and they were just, “Do you sell your horses?” And and, you know, in that sense, it’s–it makes sense when I’m like, yeah, we sell some. But a lot of people are shocked that, you know, maybe a horse that they know, like Willow, from what I’ve been doing, could be for sale. Or Newt when I sold him and I’d followed–you know, he’s on a ton of YouTube videos and I did all this, and we raised him. And people are kind of sometimes shocked when I tell them. But what I also get out of that, what I– is that there’s this openness. There’s–there’s two things for me. There’s a faith that–that there is another chapter that this horse has to offer someone else. I just took Popcorn. I don’t even think I’ve told you this. I just took Popcorn–the horse that I won the road to the horse with and have done, you know, he’s got his Register of Merit in the AQHA in reining. And we’ve done mounted shooting and we’ve done all these adventures together. And I just took him up to Maine so that he can go be the–the horse for a little–a 13-year-old girl, you know?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:28:24] And I saw it. Yes, I saw that. Don’t you think sometimes that these really special horses that we are their–we are their caregivers. We’re their caretakers. But there’s something of a of a pay it forward whether, you know, whether you sell the horse for money or just find it the next–find it its next adventure. But there’s a–I don’t know that we–I don’t know that we possess them. I think we share them in many ways. And it takes some interesting twists and turns, but. You know, what you did with Popcorn was the exact right thing to do in that moment, both for the horse and for the person who now gets to enjoy him. And I feel that same way with Lia. We all had such a great time with her. And I think everybody that was part of her story so far was enriched by the experience. But it’s–it’s now going off in this other direction. And I I think that there’s these emotional and spiritual sides of these horse interactions that are really, truly the richest part of it. It’s nice to be successful with reaching goals and and winning prizes forever. But we are after an emotional experience with horses, and it takes some interesting paths, in my experience.

Stacy Westfall: [00:29:39] I second that it’s–yeah. I–I have faith that there are amazing people out there that can get so much out of these horses. So it doesn’t bother me to sell them. But I’m you know, because I have that faith that that’s happening with somebody else too.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:29:57] And don’t you feel in a way Stacy that like, like with Popcorn or, you know, different horses in your past, that–that they’re they’re meant to go forward and bring whatever kind of, you know, horsey, shiny magic they have? They’re meant to go forward and share that with other people than us. I almost feel in a way that it–sometimes we need to we need to push them forward into new areas away from us because we’ve gotten the good and the magic and that we shouldn’t–we shouldn’t keep all that for ourselves forever. And that’s probably pretty “woo-woo”, but there’s some–there’s some element that I’ve expressed that, you know–think of so many–so many of us have been lucky enough to have a childhood pony. And you can keep your pony forever, which is one thing. But many times you’d loan your pony out to a–a rotating gang of children that–that learn with your pony, too. In other words, kind of spread the love a little bit. Yeah, that’s part of the story somehow with some of these horses.

Stacy Westfall: [00:30:57] It is for me. I know that, you know, I kind of view my own life as chapters. And, interesting question. Do you do you view your life as one continual story or are you going, like chapters and books?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:31:09] Oh, I think it’s definitely chapters. For me, it just makes sense to kind of put them into chapters. And I think that’s sort of reassuring, too, because if you’re in a difficult chapter–for me, if I visualize it as a chapter, or a season, or however you want to look at it. Whatever makes sense to you, you know, that it will not always stay that way in both positive and negative sense. So if you’re at a struggling time, you know that that things will change and you’ll be in a more comfortable point. But I also think with, like, with the story of Lia, that chapter of Lia, which has a lot of sub-chapters, but the chapter of Lia was such an enchanted time and I knew it was enchanted as I was experiencing it. That’s the wisdom I wouldn’t have had when I was younger. I knew that this was magic going on around me and for the people around me, and I knew it wouldn’t stay at that level forever. It was not meant to last at that level forever. And that’s part of the reason I decided to consider selling her.

Stacy Westfall: [00:32:06] I think–I think you’re–the wisdom that–that can come with age, I think–I love that you brought that up because, yeah, I know that there were times that I would have wanted to–you know–I remember being like, I want to own hundreds and hundreds of horses and keep them all. But now that was the, that was the young Stacy who had no idea where she was going to keep all these horses. But they were gonna be all different breeds and all different colors and all different shapes and sizes. But now I have so much fun doing what I do, which is I can take them and develop them, too, and take them through. Now we can take it to the horse and take them through those chapters. So there were these time periods where my story and Popcorn’s story lined up so clearly that they were magical, and yeah, much like you just said, they–I felt the magic and the magic was there and–and it was there. But I also knew and– this kind of dovetails back to some of the opening things–I knew, you know, they have a generally much shorter, you know, life span than what we do. And so his aging process, his body changing, his–you know, I’m open to the idea that I like to do a lot with my horses. I ride a lot. I expect a lot. I do a lot. I think I keep it balanced. But it’s also a season of their life that fits really well with what I want to do like that. And when I start to–when they start to get maxed out, that’s when I’m like, you know, it’s OK. Like, you can be happy.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:33:37] Well, horses, as we’ve been talking about, horses or anything else, but horses in this instance–Lia has been a really neat chapter, an amazing chapter in my life. But I’ve also been a chapter in her life. And I’m not the only one. She’s been owned by different people all of whom I–except for one. All of them I know, really, you know, pretty well and neat now and have become friends with through this catalyst of this horse. But we are just chapters in her life as well. It’s it’s a reciprocal thing, which is kind of fun to think about because our relationship with the horse doesn’t necessarily last forever for us. And I don’t know, maybe the horse is sort of–maybe it’s important in their life as a–as a sentiment being to have different chapters and different humans that they interact with as well. I think I think there’s some, you know, celestial balance there somehow.

Stacy Westfall: [00:34:31] Yeah. I mean, I can see it both ways. I mean, there’s some that I know that with Popcorn in particular, you know, just speaking to him, I know that for him, I took him up there and, you know, there was the like, where are we? What– what’s going on here? And we took him out the next day and I gave them all lessons on him. The the mom, the dad, the daughter. And at the end of it, you could just see him like be like, I know my job here. And it’s so perfectly suited for him because it’s the perfect chapter. And I have photos and he is–he looks so content. Anyone who knows him, you can see it just oozing out of all the photos from that moment on. And it’s just it’s super fun to be like you’ve–you’ve kind of said like the caretaker of this horse during its chapters.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:35:24] Yes. Yeah. Yes. It’s–it’s a–it’s a succession of relationships in our lives as well as our horses’ lives. And we just kind of enjoying hearing you talk about that, too, because you obviously gave a lot of thought to doing that and you made a good decision. And the horses acceptance because he trusted you and you were able to introduce him, um, makes you feel good about it. I harken back on this one to my favorite horse story, of course, of all time, which is Black Beauty. Black Beauty is literally a series of chapters in the life of a horse. And each chapter just describes a different ownership relationship. The horse had some great, some awful, but they end up peacefully. And aren’t we lucky if all these things and our own chapters end up peacefully?

Stacy Westfall: [00:36:17] You know, it’s interesting because I guess they are just like people where they all have their own storyline, because I think about my– my mare that I you know, this family that has Popcorn now also has my twenty-eight year old gelding, the very first horse I ever bred an d raised. And, you know, he’s he’s at the very closing of his chapter of life. And so his mother was my very first horse. And it’s interesting because her life story was much more of that linear story where, you know, I got her as, I think she– she was a five-year-old when I got her and she stayed essentially with me “slash” I’ll just put it– at my mom’s house. Like from that age all the way through to the end. And yet there I can still see the chapters in her life. But they just, you know, they weren’t as mobile as like Popcorn moving from place to place. So it’s just a fascinating thing to to explore.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:37:18] So I think maybe that’s the purpose of horses, is to help us recognize and write and create rich chapters in our life. And again, that comes back to my renewed or–or refreshed gratitude for having this thing, this horse thing, because so many interesting new chapters with Lia and with other horses I’ve got because of Lia now, and new adventures and so forth. But we–our lives are so much richer for this, so many more chapters, so many more interactions. And I think it brings us great comfort when things seem to come full circle or seem to be justified, like Popcorn having this new thing going on. But related to your very first horse–and in a roundabout way, as the world gets crazier and feels more out of our control, which it certainly does right now in so many ways. Horses are such a grounding comfort. And I just feel so fortunate that that I live in the midst of a whole bunch of them that are the happy part of the day for the people that come to my stable to see their horses here and that I’ve been able to touch it again for myself. It’s so rich. It’s so rich.

Stacy Westfall: [00:38:29] Well, what I’d like to wrap up with is actually kind of–lets–can we take a few minutes and just kind of like speak to listeners who are maybe… I just love your term when you–you know, you used it, you know, “So here I am, an older and wider rider, hoping to recap– recapture some of the magic”. You know, if we’re speaking to that person right now and maybe they’ve been taking lessons and they don’t even own the horse yet. Or maybe they have a horse and they’re just feeling like, “Have I bitten off more than I can chew? Am I in the right place?” There’s so much fear. How can this be the right place when I feel this much fear and discomfort or the words around that? Can we speak for a few minutes about some advice and encouragement for those people?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:39:19] Yeah, I mean, I can talk about it from my, you know, humbling recent return to the the ranks, of course, active activity. My advice is, you know, do it. Pursue it and stop being so judgmental on yourself. You are never probably going to weigh what you weighed when you were 19 years old. You are not that athlete. You are not that long limbed beauty, unconsciously, wild, amazing creature that you were. But who you are today is just as wonderful and just as valid of being able to pursue their their interest and passion and curiosity about horses. Don’t be so judgmental. You may not turn into the rider that you were. You may not go back there or you may not be the rider that you see in your dreams or that you never were. And you want to try and be. But you absolutely deserve the chance to explore your love for horses and be as open-minded and open-hearted as you can to what that love for horses may look like. Now, stop judging what you might have been or what you were and become who you will be with a horse.

Stacy Westfall: [00:40:31] I wanted to add to that, but I have nothing to add. It’s so it’s so perfect because I think that what you’ve–you’ve looped around to a bunch of different times in this whole podcast is the idea that it really does come down to your attitude and embracing here and now and embracing this, embracing what the horses have to offer you, whatever that is. And that takes away so much of the force that I think you spoke to early on about, you know, is this gonna– do I have to go back and show? Like you were competing with your past self when you were describing earlier, you were like, you know, that whole idea, that judgment you’re just speaking to now, like the idea of like comparing yourself to that past person versus just being here and being now and finding those joyful moments and not looking down on it, if it is literally the joy of, like grazing them and listening to them chew grass, which is one of my favorite things to do–like the simple joys.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:41:34] Brushing a horse is such an honor that most people will never know. So if you have that honor, accept it and embrace it. Whatever–whatever that interaction with the horse can be with you for now– whether you own one or whether you know, whether there’s a horse that you take lessons on or whether you enjoy, or whether you just go to a barn and listen to horses, too, and realize that you’ve been accepted into their world for a little while. What an honor. What an honor. And don’t–don’t castigate yourself if you’re not doing what everyone else is doing or doing what you dreamed of doing. Please savor the moment because you never know how long it’s going to last.

Stacy Westfall: [00:42:21] It makes me wonder if on your journey when you were–how did you say?– orchestrating the whole Lia thing but you weren’t riding her. It makes me wonder if you weren’t stepping towards and towards and towards this openness that you were saying, like the the idea of it’s all meant to be and rolling with it. And that’s why when the door opened, when I said no and you stepped into what that meant, that that whole–just that whole process you’d been going through. It’s all meant to be, you know, you were orchestrating how many horse people? Six, seven, including yourself? And so that openness that you’ve had to carry–and to like, I mean just–I would imagine coordinating schedules alone would have had to require an open mind, let alone the travel from California to Kentucky and every… As you–as you–as you discovered, opening every step of the way. That’s so interesting, though, because when you got on the horse, it’s like now you were ready to be open to who you were then versus the day you were thinking about getting back in and you were–had that idea of comparison and judgment.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:43:32] It took quite a long time for that dough to rise, as it were, for that yeast to do its thing, and for it to turn–turn into this moment for me to participate in that different way. But it was so fun watching all these different people interact with with my horse. And I–I get so much delight from being able to provide this adventure for everybody. It just–it will remain the absolute highlight of my life. But the the outcome from the other side is this–this renewed interaction with horses and…gratitude for it. And the crazy footnote to the whole thing right now is I have another Haflinger. A big silly gelding. And through this pandemic quarantine time, my 18 year old son has decided he loves to ride.

Stacy Westfall: [00:44:30] And was that a surprise?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:44:33] That is a surprise like me becoming an Olympic diving gold medal. Like not in the realm of possibility. You know, my son was raised on a ranch, but he’s a–he’s a musician and all these other things. But all of a sudden, I see my son riding this horse. The–the flat out joy that a horse can bring to someone. And he–he had a lesson the other day and he got off and we’re driving back. And he said, “Mom, that was epic.” And he explains to me, “I didn’t know that you could… I didn’t know you could ride a horse with your legs. I didn’t know you could steer him with your legs, Mom, that is so cool. Did you know all of that stuff?” And I sort of grinned and chuckled and I said, “You know, I did know that. But you’re reminding me again”. And it was so rich. And it is awesome.

Stacy Westfall: [00:45:23] Do you think. I know–I know he grew up near it. Do you think your changed attitude of… Do you think–Do you think he felt it? That the shift in you when you were pursuing the Lia thing and now with this new horse, do you think that that shift made the horses more inviting to him?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:45:41] I’m not sure. I think–I think it’s kind of independent, but I will say that I have become so much more patient and so much more tolerant of other people’s interaction with horses. And so now, you know, two months ago, three months ago, he really couldn’t hardly get the halter on the horse, you know, and he he’d had it–he’d been to horse camp, you know, 10 years ago and stuff like that. But I was able to just let him figure his way through it to let him find the moments with the horse that were meaningful to him and to let him problem solve for himself where before I probably would have stage managed it more because, you know, as horse people we’re so incredibly judgmental. I’ve heard it said, “Two horse people, three opinions.” Right? And, and that’s another kind of patience and altitude thing that I have had reinforced through my recent adventures is, let people figure it out for themselves. If they’re not in mortal danger, let them figure it out and let it–let them personalize their own adventure with the horses. And I can tell you, having a boarding stable, it’s hard sometimes if somebody is struggling to not step in and to not, you know, show them the right way. But people generally figure it out. And the coolest thing is that the horses show them the way. That’s how it works.

Stacy Westfall: [00:47:00] I like the advice if they’re not in mortal danger. My–couple of my boys just drove halfway across the country, and that’s what I kept having to say to myself. If they’re not in physical danger, you know, like driving on the wrong roads, getting lost, not showing up until 4 a.m.–these are–these are all the learning moments. They’re not actually in danger.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:47:19] Yes. And that’s what horses do with us, too. You know, I mean, as we get older fear levels are different. And we do realize that these are giant animals that can smash us like a bug if they feel like it. But we also maybe are a little bit smarter about learning how to interact with them in a more thoughtful manner than we might have when we were younger, especially when we thought we knew it all when we were younger. And then we come back to it and we have to re-learned a lot of things with horses. I always wish there was a thing called adult 4H, both for the newcomers and people that may have sat out the horse thing for a while, but are curious to get back into it. We almost need like training wheels to get back into our horse thing, and I needed it as much as anybody. And fortunately I ended up getting it and getting back into this in a really satisfying way. But, it’s a very different journey than I would have guessed initially.

Stacy Westfall: [00:48:15] I’m glad I was a piece of it, and I’m glad that you went on it. Is there a closing word of advice you would give to a listener out there who feels like they’re in that same situation of getting started again?

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:48:30] Explore it. I would just say explore it and try not to be judgmental of yourself. There’s so many different things we can do with horses, if just a million different things. And look at look at the way other people do stuff with horses and how they interact with them and how they enjoy them and see if there’s not some new places for you to explore as well.

Stacy Westfall: [00:48:56] Well, thanks again for joining me. And, you know, I’m–I’ll stop recording, but we’re overdue for a two-hour-long chat.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:49:04] Absolutely. I look forward to that. And I’m just–it’s so exciting to talk with you again and to think about how our paths have crossed and continue to cross and just feel how rich our horse life this.

Stacy Westfall: [00:49:22] I am quite sure we will pass again and meet again and be on another adventure.

Suzy Vlietstra: [00:49:30] Absolutely. Happy trails, Stacy.

Stacy Westfall: [00:49:37] I hope that you could hear the Velcro brain lock that Suzy said we had from the first moment when we get on the phone. It is not uncommon for us to talk for hours. It is one of those things where at the end of the conversation, when I get off the phone and my husband asks what we talk about, I don’t even know where to begin because of the twists and turns and amazing directions that we can go. And we were trying to stay kind of controlled and a little on topic for this one. But, boy, it turned loose. We can wander all over the place. I hope that this was inspiring to you, especially if you are an older rider that is facing some of the challenges that Suzy and I discussed. I love the way that she phrases certain things. And I know if you want to find out more about her and her adventures, I will link to some of the magazine articles and to her Facebook page in the show notes so that you can find her online. She is an amazing person. Thanks for listening. And I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.

Announcer: [00:50:55] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos and tips to help you and your horse succeed.

Links mentioned in podcast:

Back To My Future: Haflinger Adventure, By: Blogger Suzanne Vlietstra

Suzi on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Rancho-de-Felicidad-111294485602046/


  1. cindi hansen on October 11, 2021 at 2:20 pm

    I loved when Suzie said that she wished there was an adult 4-H !!!

  2. Anne Hunter on December 17, 2020 at 10:56 pm

    I laughed so hard!! I am an “older” woman and have a t-shirt that says I should be called a Queen-Ager! This year, this Covid has created more anxiety in me than I ever knew. Anxiety that turned to fear. Can I stay on if he does …….. I have taken a hard look at myself and what are my abilities. I have been taking lessons and working on my body to be stronger and in better shape. I had thought of selling my horse; even tried. I think we are meant to work out our issues together and getting help to do that is what we are doing.

  3. Kim Baker on October 14, 2020 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Stacy, This podcast hit me like a brick. I am 52 years old and think to myself so often that how can be I have that fear of something I love so much. To listen to this podcast and hear that I am not alone made me feel like my horse and I will be okay. We may move forward a little slower with our relationship, but when I listened to this it made me feel like we will be okay together. Thanks for always giving me hope that all is possible with our horses.

  4. Colleen McCabe on July 4, 2020 at 11:14 am

    Amazing episode.. Hits so close to home. So inspirational.

    Thank you so very much.

  5. Joanne Stephens on July 4, 2020 at 2:50 am

    Wow, what an awesome interview! Really really hit home with me everything Suzi said about being the “older wider” rider! I think every trainer that teachers older amateurs should be required to listen to Suzi’s wise words. You just don’t understand what it’s like until you reach a certain age. So many wonderful encouraging trainers out there, but they don’t all understand the additional challenges of us more fearful older riders, not to mention the challenges of energy and additional aches and pains at our age! In addition to finding the right trainer, finding the right horse at our age is crucial! We need to feel safe which makes riding much more enjoyable. I just bought my perfect little match last month, I’m the VERY lucky person that bought Lia. ?

  6. Martina Brown on July 2, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    Hello Stacy
    I like this Podcast. It makes me think about my current situation. As you know I just had my third hip surgery. My surgeon had suggested to not ride as hard as I used too….meaning lope/trot everyday and that is why I am trying tricks and liberty. At first I was upset that I had to tone down my riding, however I had to look at the positive side —I can still ride and enjoy my time with Hildy plus Hildy is getting a little older and slowing things down a bit is probably good for her too. I still lope and trot just not everyday. I try and alternate what we do. This Podcast definitely made me think and help me to embrace where I am today and not dwell on what I used to be able to do when I was younger. I am thankful to be able to still ride and enjoy my time with her. I was listening to this while I was doing my wonderful hip stretching exercises. LOL Honestly stretching really does help. I have been having fun riding bareback again which I could not do before because my hips/legs were not strong enough. I remember the story about Lia the Haflinger. I wondered what happened—now I know. You too have such a nice friendship. I enjoyed listening to her advice. Anyway thanks for the great information!

  7. Karen Vogel on July 2, 2020 at 6:38 pm

    Wow, this really hit home for me. Suzi, in part, described me. First horse at 19 years old. Second horse at 68 years old. When my first horse past away, in her 20’s, the horse chapter closed and I moved on. I was the young, fearless, athletic, city kid who loved horses forever and got the chance to work with a small palomino quarter horse, from scratch…both of us. At 68, I got the chance to adopt a retired standardbred harness horse, barely broke under saddle and no manual. Snoopy was not quite15HH, Avalanche is 17 HH! FEAR… When you’re older you realize horses are big and there’s potential danger..”what if”. Well, one “what if” happened. He bucked me off in February. Landed in snow, but right thigh hit the horn and tore the muscles…hematoma time. Strangely, after that I wasn’t so worried about being tossed. Now, I remembered what it was like.

    Avalanche has physical issues, stifles, arthritis in his back, but I love this horse and even if I can’t ride him, I have the honor of brushing him, loving on him and exercising him. I’ve had him almost a year, now, and the bond gets stronger each day. I say it’s because he loves me, my horse friends say it’s the treats.

    This podcast with Suzi really touched me. So many things she said were what I’ve been dealing with. The fear is lessening, the confidence is coming back. I rode another horse last month and it was awesome being on a wooded trail again. More rides to come.

    I am grateful to have my horse and for the new, old friends I’ve gained because of him. Everything happens for a reason and I will cherish every minute given to me for as long as I can.

    Thankyou, Stacy, thank you Suzi. Nice to know I’m not alone in livin’ the dream, AGAIN.

  8. Carol J Domansky on July 2, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    Great episode. Suzie is so inspiring with her positive and accepting attitude. Thank you both!

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