Episode 91: The most common MISTAKE people make trail riding
Take a moment and think about what YOU think might be the biggest problem or most common mistake you see when out trail riding.
Visualize the problem. Here are some common problems that I see as symptoms: Head tossing, rushing up hills, refusing to move forward (maybe mud or water) rushing down hills, dragging riders where they want to go. Pulling on the reins, rearing… and more.
These all have the same common problem: riders using their aids in and either/or method.
Ep 91-The most common trail riding mistake I see.mp3
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: [00:00:23] 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 9 of the podcast and I’m focusing on trail riding. In last week’s episode, I discussed some of the advantages and disadvantages of trail riding versus arena riding. And this week I am discussing the biggest problem that I see when I’m out trail riding. Now, take just a moment here and think about what you might think is the biggest problem that you see when you’re out riding. When I ask myself this question and try to answer it, what I do is I visualize different problems that I see happening out on the trail, and then I break those problems down into the foundation, pieces of training that are not working. So the biggest–or I guess I should say the most common mistake that I see when I’m out trail riding is drum roll, please…riders not using their hand and leg cues together. Now, did that seem anticlimactic? Did you–did you think it was going to be like, I don’t know, rearing or won’t go forward or something? Now listen to this. The reason I’m going to say it this way is because riders using the aids, their hands, their legs, their cues together is really key for keeping a horse balanced. Now, when I say balanced, I can also be thinking physically or emotionally balanced. But what I see out on the trail is riders tend to do either-or. And what this causes is this causes an imbalance in the horse, both mentally and physically. And the reason I’m going to call this the most common problem is because when people name symptoms, what is happening there is the symptom of head tossing is actually has its roots in the riders unbalanced aids or the horse’s lack of training. But a lot of times that lack of training is coming from an imbalance in the rider’s aids.
Stacy Westfall: [00:03:00] So head tossing horses, rushing up hills, horses refusing to move forward, maybe they won’t go through mud or water, horses rushing down hills, horses deciding where they’re going to go on the trail, like dragging the rider to a part of the trail the rider doesn’t actually want to go to and horses pulling on the reins or evading contact like rearing or just, you know, evading contact either up above the bit, as we would call it, if the horse, you know, takes the reins and goes and kind of rips them out of the riders hand and tosses their head up or evading the bit behind the bit like ducking back and not allowing the rider to make contact to steer. And so those are all different symptoms of a horse that’s out of balance with the aids. And when I was preparing for this podcast, I was out riding Presto on the trails and I was thinking of the best way to explain this idea.
Stacy Westfall: [00:04:06] And a couple of things I want to do–I want to use Presto as an example. But just to get you started, I want you to think about driving a car so I don’t know about you, but when I go and get into a vehicle like a rental car–I rented one a month or so ago–and when I got into the car and started driving down the road, I pulled out onto the highway or onto the road in front of the rental car place. And it was probably 35, 45 mile an hour road. One of the first things I do as I’m getting up to a little bit of speed is I kind of loosen my grip on the steering wheel and see if the car pulls to the left or the right. And if you own your own vehicle and you’ve been driving it for a while, you might notice the same thing, like maybe you come out of a turn and you kind of let the steering wheel straighten itself back out, but you start to notice that your vehicle always pulls slightly to the right.
Stacy Westfall: [00:05:05] And when that happens, you start to think. I must need an alignment, or at least that’s what goes through my mind at this point. I remember growing up, I didn’t have that thought, but then I realized that cars can drive easily in a straight line without it being a wrestling match, and now I prefer that. That is a great way to think about riding your horse. And so when I’m riding a horse, I want it to feel like if I loosen my contact, that my horse keeps me in a reasonable arc or a reasonably straight line, depending on what I was doing right before I loosened up the contact. And what happens when people ride in an arena is that it becomes pretty evident whether or not you’re ending up where you want to go. Now, I want to make a couple of points here. I want to talk about trail riding specifically and the use of these aids. But one thing I want to go over is why it’s more challenging to balance these aids on a trail ride versus in the arena. And then I want to also explain why the different training levels of the horse will change this experience slightly. So let me finish up with this one. So when you are trail riding a horse–and let’s finish with that that car analogy–when I’m trail riding on a horse like Presto, and the trails that I’m on are up and down and hilly, and there are rocks and mud and different things when I’m riding out there, it is challenging to have excellent timing on my releases. So if I’m riding in an arena and I’m asking Presto to circle to the right and I feel that he’s a little bit too far into the circle, so I open up my outside rein, and lead him out just a little bit while maintaining the inside bend. I can feel that very clearly because that would be like driving your vehicle on a newly paved road. When I’m out on a trail ride with Presto, the thing that is happening is it’s like driving on a bumpy gravel road. If you drive on a bumpy gravel road and you loosen up your grip a little bit to tell whether or not your car is aligned well it’s not very accurate because the car is bouncing over the potholes, the car is slipping around on the gravel, the car is being influenced by the terrain it’s on. So it gives you an inaccurate reading of whether or not the car is pulling. It might feel like the car is pulling, but maybe you really hit a pothole or maybe you’re so busy avoiding potholes that you don’t notice that the car is consistently pulling one direction. And that is why having correct timing on trail rides is a lot more challenging than in the arena. Now when I say correct timing, I actually just posted a video on YouTube and on my Facebook page where I’ve got Presto on his first trail ride and I hid some things inside of there for you who listen to the podcast. So I didn’t put writing on top of everything that explains–I didn’t explain all of this in the video. I knew that when I was editing the video, I would be able to talk to you in the podcast. So when you go and you watch this video on YouTube or Facebook, what I want you to look for is I want you to look for things like this. I want you to look for right after I mount up on Presto, I want you to look for the leg waving that I do at the beginning before he takes his first step. And that is showing you that he’s waiting on me. He was waiting. You can see my legs, wave, wave, wave. You can see him step off if you’re paying attention. You’ll also notice that he steps off into contact. That means that if you’re looking at the video closely, rewind it. When I ask him to step off on that trail ride, he’s stepping into contact. That means there’s light contact on the reins and I’m wave, wave, waving with my legs. And then right at the beginning of the video, I do actually mention it on the screen. The acorns start falling out of the trees and I want you to watch. I left it in there because you can see him get a little bit charge-y, and that is the acorns kind of falling. And what I want you to see is that when I pull on the reins to slow him down…my legs, if you don’t notice the hugging because my legs do close. If you don’t notice that, what I want you to at least notice is that my legs don’t open because it is pretty subtle. But if you watch when I pull on his face to slow him down because he’s kind of jumping forward towards Willow because of the acorns, you’re going to see me in a matter of a few steps. Squeeze, release, squeeze release, squeeze release. And the reason I left that in there, because this really it’s not that pretty and I could have cut it out so you wouldn’t see it. But I want you to see how that’s working when I don’t want to just clamp and hold, but I need to slow him down. But even though I’m slowing him down and he’s right on the edge, he’s elementary school just moving up into high school. And so I want you to see that put together.[00:11:21] Then as the video goes on, you get to see that as he starts to relax, you’re going to see me relax the contact, but there is still contact. So what you’ll notice is that…you might not be able to…at moments you can see when I’m pulling tighter. But I want you to notice that even as I start to lighten up and loosen up that loosen up that I’m using following aids. What that means is you’ll notice my hands are moving forward and backward the following the up and down of his head and neck.
Stacy Westfall: [00:11:52] And I want you to notice things like his shoulders drifting in and out. So what I mean by that is you’re going to see places where I’m going to move him to avoid mud or while I’m slowing him down, instead of leaving his head straight in front of him, I bend him to the left and either leave his shoulders straight forward or maybe a bend him to the left and move his shoulders to the right. And then sometimes I bend him to the left and have him follow to the right, I mean, follow to the left. So notice that all of those things that I’ve talked about doing in the arena are still being used out there on the trail. I’m going to mention a couple more in case you want to rewind to this part while you’re watching the video, I want you to notice when I’m going down the hills in the beginning of the video, you’re going to notice there’s some places I’m going down the hills and I want you to notice that I’m–I’m asking him to take little short steps. So I’m…I’m stopping and–and releasing and kind of stopping, like, half halt, kind of stopping him a little, releasing and encouraging him to take little tiny steps. And then you’re going to notice the opposite. When I go up the hill at the end of the video, you’re going to notice that I actually widen my hands out.
Stacy Westfall: [00:13:15] But please notice that I widen my hands out and encourage him to lower his head because he’s going to want to lower his head anyway going up the hills. But notice, I don’t drop the contact. I don’t just I’m going to call it throwing him away. I don’t just throw the reins away to him. I don’t just give him a big, long, loopy, you know, rein. At moments, you’ll notice it get a little bit loopy for a step or two. But the reason I’m doing this is because I want him getting constant feedback from me, but I really want him balanced on the aids. Now, what does that mean when I talk about being balanced on the aids and that I see riders making this really common mistake? Well, here’s how it goes when you start riding a horse. So like in elementary school, which is where Presto is just getting out of. It really does feel like on the early rides and horses, it really does feel like it’s a little bit either-or. And so what I mean by that is like, I’ll pull on the left rein, the horse goes left, I loosen up a little bit. So there’s not this input from all the aids at all the times because it’s a little bit more basic. So what that means is, I asked the horse to move with my legs, and so I go like wave, wave, wave, maybe they don’t understand. So maybe I have to use a tap, tap, tap with the dressage whip and the horse starts moving. When I do that, when I ask them to step off, I don’t have contact on both reins on the first ride. So if you go back and you listen to some of the earlier podcasts, when I first step off on the first ride on a young horse, I use inside rein only. And you can actually go back through YouTube and Facebook and find that I just posted about a month ago, Presto’s–video footage of Presto’s first ride. And when I posted that, you’ll notice if you watch it, it’s inside rein only. So that means the outside rein is a wide open door. I leave that door wide open because I want to make sure he has a space to move into. He’s too green, too young, too inexperienced in the beginning to have all those doors closed. Now, by the time I take my horses on a trail ride, I need them. I want them, I guess I should say, at the upper end of elementary moving into high school. And the reason for that is because I want to be able to communicate with them at a higher level than what plain middle of elementary school would be.
Stacy Westfall: [00:16:12] Now, let me jump a little bit ahead so you can understand why. Now, when I trail ride horses, I trail ride–like I’ve been trail riding Presto–this is a great time to mention I just hit 50 miles. So you’re seeing the video that I just posted of trail ride number one, which is where he went from zero to about 3 and a half miles. So it’s a little over three mile loop that I rode with him. And I’ve been riding him pretty consistently out on the trails over the last few weeks, and we just logged the fiftieth mile on trails and so he’s got a fair amount of experience on the trails. But this is where I think things get really interesting. What I want to do for you now is I want to compare. The difference between riding an elementary level horse like Presto and a college level horse like Willow out there. Now. First of all, let’s do a little rewind, and just for the sake of making things even more clear, let’s talk for just another minute about the idea of balancing the horse on the aids. What I want you to have in your mind for just the moment while you’re listening, just this time while you are listening to the podcast, I want you to think that you agree with me that when I say a horse is balanced on all aids, that means that the horse willingly accepts contact on the right rein, and the left rein, and the right leg and the left leg evenly. And the reason I’m slowing down to make this point is because if you just hit pause right now on the podcast, actually ask yourself if you believe that is true, because sometimes when I’m explaining things like this concept to people, sometimes what they don’t understand is they might be already carrying a bias towards the idea that they don’t want that contact on the reins. And a couple of ways, that you’ll know if that’s true for you, even if you’re not quite aware of it yet, is if you watch the video of me riding Presto on the trail and you find yourself thinking, oh, she needs to let go more and she shouldn’t have that much contact, it’s OK to say that to the video.
Stacy Westfall: [00:18:46] I can’t actually hear you when you’re doing that. So go ahead, judge me. So if you’re watching the video and you think, why won’t she just turn him loose more, that’s kind of a sign that you might be a little less willing to make contact and balance the horse on all those aid, meaning right rein, left rein, and legs. And so it’s worth actually putting some thought into that, because if you don’t recognize that, you have that belief that horses shouldn’t have contact on both reins on an entire trail ride, then you’ll be fighting against that belief while you try to layer on some of the things I’m talking about in this podcast. And that’s not going to work. So it’s a good idea to hit pause in your mind or pause on this podcast or pause on the video that you’re watching and say, do I believe that horses should be ridden with this level of contact? Now, I’m going to go make the argument for why they should be. So for the sake of this discussion, we’re just going to pretend that we all agree that what we want is the horses willingly accepting these aids. Now, the reason this helps me help Presto is it’s huge for me. So let’s think about Presto in the beginning of the video when the acorns start falling out of the tree and he’s trying to rush to catch up with Willow because he’s been ponied by Willow, he kind of wants to almost climb on top of Willow. He wants to find his security in Willow. When I balance him on all the aids, when I–he’s rushing forward, I need to slow him down. This is going to require some rein contact right now because of the way I’ve been training him. So I’m going to put the brakes on a little bit of the reins, but I don’t want to train him accidentally to be really light on his sides, which would be light to my legs and really heavy in my hand contact. And the way I could accidentally teach him to do that would be if he charges forward to catch up with willow because acorns are falling and I just take hold with my hands and I don’t close my legs, then what’s going to happen is it would be like having your gas pedal stuck on your car and thinking that just riding the brakes is a good answer. And that’s not a great answer if your gas pedal is actually stuck on, because you’ve got bigger problems if your gas pedal stuck on. So in horses, the way the gas pedal gets stuck on is when the horses get really, really light on their sides. And so they won’t let your legs touch and they get heavy in your hand, which means that you’re pulling with your hands and they’re not responding, they’re not slowing down, they’re not steering. They’re just kind of like, you know, people will say that they’re, you know, dull in their mouth or that they need more bit. And a lot of times what’s going on is the horse is just unbalanced between the aids, which is why I make a big deal out of when I apply pressure to the reins. If I’m applying pressure to the reins and I don’t apply pressure with my legs, that means stop–fully stop and back up. If I want my horse to slow down, then I’m going to bring rein pressure and some amount of leg pressure. So you’ll see in the video of Presto, it’s not a lot of leg pressure. It’s not like I’m kicking him while I’m pulling on the reins of slowing down.
Stacy Westfall: [00:22:54] Now, I’m going to take a leap way forward and I’m going to say way forward in college. I might actually pick up on the reins on Willow. And if I pick up on the reins on Willow and she’s cantering, I might actually use a pressure on her sides that would be like a trot rhythm, like a bump, bump, bump. So let’s say she’s cantering is. One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, that’s kind of that rhythm that they would be having that footfall in the canter, I might actually pick up on the reins somewhat firmly, and my legs might actually go bump, bump, bump, bump, bump into the rhythm of a trot. Pretty firm. So on a very highly trained horse, I can actually use my legs even more and have the horse slow down, even though I’m using legs. And this is why it’s a little bit mind bending and this is–but this is why I wanted to talk to you about this right now, because some of the rules and some of the clarity, some of the rules change as the horse gains more clarity. And that is why when I talk to you on the podcast, I reference elementary school, high school, and college for a quick review. If you haven’t listened to all the previous podcasts, elementary school is where the horse gets that basic foundation left. Rein, means go left, right rein, means go right, legs mean go forward. Pressure means pressure. Evenly on the reins means stop. It can mean back up.
Stacy Westfall: [00:24:47] And then as we move into high school, it’s where we start to add in the idea that horses don’t always follow their shoulders. And what that means to me is if you’ve ever been out riding and you have pulled on the left rein, and you have noticed that your horse kept going to the right or straight ahead, what you will notice in that moment is that, wow, horses don’t always follow their head because I’ve got the head pulled around to the left and I’m not going left. When we’re doing this actively as training in high school is where several different things start to happen. You start to be able to steer the horse’s shoulders independent of where the head is pointed. And that’s what you’re seeing a little bit in the video. With Presto on the trail ride, you’re seeing little glimpses of where he’s actually moving into high school. Another high school thing would be if you can move the horse up through the gates by skipping a gate, so that means can you go from a walk to a canter? So that would be signs of moving up into high school. An elementary school horse–level horse would would go walk to trot, trot to canter. And so when you start to be able to skip the gates, that means you’re in high school. And the reason I want to try to make this more clear to you is because when we go back to the idea of riding Presto in an arena and feeling, is he–does he feel like a car with good alignment? Does it feel like when I set him on a straight line, he’s kind of going straight and I can loosen up the–I can loosen up the reins a little bit and we still maintain going straight? He doesn’t suddenly veer one way or the other. If I’m riding around on a circle in the arena and I loosen up the reins for a few strides, do we stay on that same circle or does he veer? So if the horse is veering off, that would be a lower level elementary school problem to be having as they get to the upper level of elementary school, they’re more between the aids, which means that I can be on a 20 meter circle, which is about a about a 68 foot circle, 70 foot circle. And I can loosen up the aids and he doesn’t just suddenly go from a right circle to a straight line on his own because he’s kind of balanced between my aids. And again, this is much more clear to feel in the arena. Now, when you’re watching me ride Presto down the trail on that video, you’re going to see that as I am bending him slightly to the left and steering his shoulder either straight or out a little bit or maybe even in to the left a little bit, we are also weaving around–around rocks. We are also stepping over things, like these–there are these water barriers going up and down the hills and he’s having to reach and step over those. He’s having to physically balance his own body and me as a rider on his back for the first time on these trails, going down hills and going up hills. So if you think about it, every time I make that pressure and I steer him and I soften up and I release. When I release, there could be 6 different things happening at that same time. I could be releasing as he is stepping over to the right, but also stepping over one of those water barriers and down a hill. And so as that’s happening, what I have to be aware of–if I do this steering and I, and I take hold, pick up, steer, soften and release and let’s say I do that 20 times in 30 feet, which I think you’re going to see, I’m doing it very frequently as I do that what you need to recognize is those 20 different times I need to be aware as a rider. Whether he was pulling down on the reins as I softened because his shoulder moved or whether he was raising his head up a little bit and evading the bit a little bit as he moved his shoulder over where I asked him to.
Stacy Westfall: [00:29:26] What I’m talking about right now is that the release of the aid, the release of the rein pressure, the release of the leg pressure. The release is what really teaches the horse where they’re going to get the reward. And as you’re riding a greener horse down the trail, there are a lot of different inputs happening. I was just out riding over the weekend and I saw many riders out there on the trail struggling with different things. But when I see the rider struggling out on the trail, for example, you know, a group of three riders and one of the horses is stopped and is refusing to go forward. And the other rider is is telling rider #2 how to go forward. And at the same time, their horse is turning in circles, doing little spins to the left and it won’t stand still. So we’ve got one horse that won’t stand still. It’s all fidgety because it wants to keep going down the trail. We’ve got another horse like, I’m not going down the trail right there. And we’ve got another rider in that group where the horse is standing pretty quietly. When I see that what I see is confused horses. I don’t necessarily judge the horses as being, you know, good or bad. It’s more confused. You know, horse #1 who’s in the lead who stopped because horse #2 didn’t want to go forward anymore. Horse #2 is confused because it’s trying to make some independent decisions and the rider is young and unclear about how to help the horse through it. Horse #1 knows the trail, knows where it wants to go, is used to making some decisions and is a little bit put out that the rider has stopped them because the horse has a plan and knows where to go and basically isn’t taking input from the rider and horse #3 is standing quietly watching horse #1 and horse #2. And so when I’m watching these things happen again, I’m not kidding you. What I do in my mind is I think, what is the problem here? You know, so horse #1, the problem on the surface look like horse knows where it wants to go, horse is on autopilot, it wants to go. So it’s a little upset that it’s having to stop. It’s tossing its head and trying to pull the reins out of the rider’s hands so that it can get rid of that aid that’s telling it to stand still so it can get down the road. Get down the trail. And horse #2 is again, the problem is that the horse is, you know, evading it’s like–it’s like it doesn’t know…it doesn’t want to cross the mud and it doesn’t understand the rider’s aids because the riders are a little confused. So when I see all of these different things going on, when I see these symptoms, what I’m always looking for is, what’s the root problem? So I see the head tossing horse who’s saying, let go, don’t do this. And the rider has the legs off, like braced out like I used to when I barrel raced. It’s not like I haven’t been there. I have been there on every single one of these problem horses that I’m referencing.
Stacy Westfall: [00:33:03] Super easy for me not to judge these horses or these people because I have been all of them. I have been run away with. I’ve had horses that were tossing their heads, might–I’m not sure how I lived through my teenage years. We used to think it was fun to get on horses and try to figure out what the problems were by just heading off down the trail and being like, oh, look, it stands on its hind legs and turns around and then bolts for home. That’s a problem. And so we’d just be like, well, let’s go out and try to figure that out out there. So I’ve been on all these different horses. And so when I see it now, I don’t just see the symptom, I see the horse that’s horse #1, tossing its head, who’s impatiently wanting to go down the trail, I can also see the rider has their legs braced out and the rider’s a little bit frustrated because they’re trying to give directions to rider #2, who’s horse has stopped. But at the same time, their horse is simultaneously tossing the head, trying to loosen up the reins, and going backwards because the horse is also…doesn’t want to stand still. So it’s backing up, head tossing, trying to evade that contact. And the rider doesn’t have the legs closed. So when I see it, the one common problem I see across all of these riders, including the video of myself riding Presto, is that I see the horses not understanding the balance aids. Now, sometimes I see the video of myself riding Presto and I see that this is–it’s a-it’s a communication in–in it’s in progress.
Stacy Westfall: [00:34:50] So if you watch it, you’re going to see moments of resistance, but you’re also going to see moments where he’s in that really pretty shape where people want to know–and you’re going to see when I do future videos of him, when you start seeing the videos of him at like the 50 mile mark, which I’ll go ahead and make. Coming up here this next week, when I’m out riding, you’re going to see his physical body is changing. His top line, the way he carries his head, neck and back, is changing because I am consistent. Now, does that mean that an elementary school horse, when ridden by a high level rider, doesn’t have any problems? Absolutely not. An elementary level horse is still an elementary level horse, whether it has a person with an elementary level knowledge level or a person with a master’s degree level. Either way, the horse is still learning. So when you see the resistance in Presto, you could or I can see little baby problems of a horse that’s too heavy. I can see little baby problems of where head tossing would start. I can see little baby problems of the refusing to move forward. But they’re in this little tiny range that is…the normal, acceptable range of a horse that’s asking questions and trying to find the boundaries. And to me that looks completely different than the horse where the conversation is happening. So the riders get the legs braced out like I used to when I barrel race. So they’re essentially wide open and off and the horse is simultaneously trying to go forward, bumping into the riders hands, which is what the way I would say it when the horse when the rider says stop moving forward and the legs aren’t on and then the horse starts moving backwards and is tossing the head up and down, trying to shake off the riders hands. And then so the rider lightens the hands, never has to touch the sides because the horse is already stuck in motion. And to me, when I see that, I see a horse that’s out of balance and I see that the rider is accentuating the problem by not understanding the idea that when you close the hand, you need to close the leg because you’ve got to try to get these aids all balanced. Now, I could go on and on. I really want to wrap this up with one more idea, because I’ve covered a lot. And if I’ve covered something you want to hear more about, I could probably go for an hour on several of the different topics I’ve touched on here. So feel free to call in and ask your question, and I will weave that into this season of trail riding. But the last thing I want to talk about is this idea of why a high school or college level horse has a different experience than a elementary level horse on the trail.
Stacy Westfall: [00:38:12] And let me start by saying I’ve ridden Presto about 50 miles on the trail. And right now about the last…I would say the last 7 to 10 miles of trail riding him out there, I was having a stronger and stronger urge to go back and do more arena work. And I think that’s an interesting thing to feel in my body, because it’s coming more from my body than my brain, my brain wants to just trail ride, trail ride, trail ride. There is, however, a part of my brain that recognizes the danger. And I’m going to talk about that in just a second. But my body is the one that really starts to report to me the unbalanced horse. And here’s an interesting thought. I will bet that for a lot of you listening. If I phrase it this way, I bet a lot of you who are listening actually have that same experience in your body, I think sometimes people think I don’t feel any fear or discomfort when I ride horses. And you’ve heard me talk on the podcast and say that I do. What I want to explain is that if you’re on a horse and you start getting that feeling like you want to lean forward or you want to get off or you want to like you’re like, oh, like I just kind of don’t want to be on here anymore. Sometimes that’s your body reporting to you that you can feel an imbalance in the horse. And that can be an imbalance because Presto literally doesn’t know how to balance himself going up and down hills. So he’s going to be unbalanced. Or that could be unbalanced because the aids are getting unbalanced and the horse is tossing the head and your body is telling you, I don’t want to be here. This doesn’t feel safe. Now, I feel that in my body and I now know how to diagnose where it’s coming from. So this is why for the last 7 to 10 miles of the trail riding, I have had a stronger and stronger urge to bring him back into the arena and ride. Because I can’t maintain–at least on my trails, you’ll see them on the video. They’re very up, down, rocky. There’s all kinds of different things. I can’t put him on a 20 foot, 30 foot, 40 foot, 50 foot circle. I can’t go in a circle and help him balance. I actually totally believe horses balance easier on that bend. On that circle. I feel it. Everything in my body tells me that that’s true. If you can teach them to be on that bend, like even the size of a lunge line bend, they will learn how to step more correctly up underneath the middle of their belly with those hind legs and carry weight and be more balanced. I struggle with getting an elementary level horse to do that on the trail because when you see the trail footage, they have to stay very straight. Well, at least on my trails, that favors a horse that’s in high school or college. Now, this is where it gets fascinating to me. Let’s go to extremes, because sometimes when we go to extremes, it’s easier to see the difference. So if I take an extremely green young horse like Presto is in that video–and he’s not extremely green, but he’s still very green in my book–that’s as early as I would want to take one trail riding is with the level of training he has. So when I take one very green, it feels a lot more at moments like a tug of war. Like when I go to leave and the acorns are falling and he’s kind of bolting forward. That’s more pressure than I actually want to put on his face. But I’ve got to because it’s going to be dangerous. So it’s right at the breaking point of too much, which is another sign that I could go back and do more in the arena. So the opposite thing happens when I’m out there with a college level course, so with a college level horse, what’s interesting is one of the big differences between an elementary level horse and a college level horse–and we spend lots and lots of time in high school getting there–is that a college level horse knows how to read a lot of subtle cues from the rider.
Stacy Westfall: [00:42:38] So on a college level horse, I can ride those same trails on Willow, who’s a college level horse, and I can have a completely different experience where I can use those ups and downs on the trail. The hills going up, the hills going down. I can use the moving to the left, the moving to the right. I can use all of those same circumstances, all of those same physical things that I’m going to run into on the trail and I can actually help her become more and more balanced out there pretty easily because she knows how to listen to a whisper. She knows how to pick up on very subtle cues, and Presto is much more elementary, black and white. And when we go into high school, he’s got to start learning how to read those subtle shades of gray that are in between there, but what happens right now is when he has so many different inputs coming in, he starts to get fuzzy. He starts to have a lack of clarity, and that’s why I’m having the urge to take him back in the arena and help him clarify, because that’s the difference. He needs to return to the basics, get solid, and then go back out for another round of trail riding.
Stacy Westfall: [00:44:18] It’s really challenging to apply the aids correctly if you don’t understand how each works individually to help you understand some of the concepts I’ve talked about here. I’ve made a free downloadable PDF that explains some of the common problems that I’ve mentioned and the combination of aids that I find useful in changing that behavior. If you go to stacywestfall.com, I will put links to the page where that PDF is and I’ll probably go ahead and put that on the front page, too, of stacywestfall.com. If you would like to take a deep dive into the concepts I talk about here in the podcast, my online course, The Complete Guide to Improving Steering and Teaching Neck Reining is now open for enrollment through October 20th, and some of the students inside the course have sent me feedback. Natalie said, “I’m impressed with how much this course has improved my riding and communication with my horse. It has helped me fix a lot of mistakes I didn’t even know I was making. Thanks for making it available. I know I will watch and watch the content again and again.” And another person, Jesse F. said, “Stacy’s videos and instruction in the course are clear and well illustrated. I love that she tries different level horses on the patterns, especially when she takes a college level horse back to the elementary school exercises. It’s really drove–it really drove home the point that the concepts are layered and that each individual piece is important. So if you skip or omit or cheat, it leaves a hole. You’ll need to find and fill in at some point for either you or the horse. It was absolutely well worth it. I thank you and my horse is doing well.”
Stacy Westfall: [00:46:17] Thank you both, Natalie and Jesse, for sending in your feedback. Thank you guys for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next episode.
Announcer: [00:46:32] If you enjoy listening to Stacy’s podcast, please visit stacywestfall.com for articles, videos, and tips to help you and your horse succeed.
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WHY IS MY HORSE...?