Episode 98- Teaching your horse to be a thinking participant

Sometimes horses are trained to operate more like robots-‘don’t think, just do what I say’. Other times horses are left to make most of the decisions-which can become dangerous in some situations.
In this podcast I discuss how to find a middle ground where the horse is an active participant in the ‘conversation’ with the ultimate goal of having a horse who is fully aware of their surroundings, is offering feedback, and is listening to your instruction.

Full Transcript

Episode 98-Teaching your horse to be a thinking participant.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: [00:00:22] Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. This is Episode 97 of the podcast. I’m getting so close to one hundred. And if you have any ideas about how I should celebrate, send them in. People have been emailing them and leaving them as voice messages. And I’ve got some good ones, but I’m still looking for more. In today’s podcast what I want to do is two things. First, I want to give you a little update on Presto. And then secondly, I’m going to answer a question that came in that’s basically, to me, a lot about teaching how–teaching your horse how to become a thinking, active participant during the training. So basically, I kind of want to teach a horse how to split their mind and and be 100 percent them and 100 percent listening to me and 100 percent looking at the environment. So we’re going to get into that in just a little bit. But first, let’s do the Presto update.

Stacy Westfall: [00:01:27] I told you in the last podcast that I had just come home from what Presto considered to be his world tour, and we’d traveled on the East Coast, and I still am kind of in shock at what I just did. But I entered him in the Western Dressage World Show online competition. So if you are on Facebook, you can find a little photo that I edited together, kind of announcing that. And it’s got one of Baby Presto’s photos in there, as well as an updated photo and a little screen capture of the entry. But, yeah, it’s kind of interesting because this is definitely one of those examples of, I didn’t even have this on the radar as something that I would do with him this year. Definitely had the goal of trail riding. And to me, the goal of being able to take him and ride him safely down the trail in a group and then ultimately by myself has a lot of training that goes into it as far as building confidence, my confidence in his understanding, his understanding so that it builds his confidence in me, and my decision making. So that was a big goal. But I hadn’t even considered showing in any form. And really, if it hadn’t been such a strange COVID year where so many horse shows went online, including the Western Dressage World Show, I don’t think this would have occurred to me because I’ve never shown in an online class before the World Show, which I need to be recording here in the next few weeks. So the way it works is you enter your classes and then they send you something to print out and you have to hold that card up saying what you’re entered in. And from the time that you begin recording and hold that sign up until you’re done, you can’t alter anything in the recording. So it’s got to be one continuous recording and no audio changes. So they’ve got to be able to hear the horse and all that stuff so that they can hear the background. If you have somebody calling your test for you, they want to be able to hear that. And basically they don’t want people editing these things together. And then at the very end, it’s kind of cool because they have you have the person with the video camera walk around. And so basically they check the horses, equipment and all that stuff also very much like they would at a show. I’m telling you all of this, but I’ve actually never done it. I’ve just read about it so far. So as usual, as I’m learning more, I will share it with you. But I think it’s really kind of interesting, because if the show hadn’t been virtual to where I’m basically riding him at home, I wouldn’t have thought about competing this year, because he’s not mentally up to it when we travel. So traveling would have been a little bit too much for Baby Presto’s 4-year-old brain. Right now, he’s just a little–he’s more immature than most of the other horses that I’ve trained, both mentally and physically at this age right now. And so I’m going as slow as necessary as what he requires. So showing wouldn’t have been an option. But now that I’m showing by riding at home, it is an option. But this is where it gets even more interesting. I know that to show him in that test, which is just open level, Basic 1. So you can search that and you can watch YouTube videos or you can end up on the Western Dressage Association website and I can put links to that in the show notes. And you can see the tests that I’ll be riding. It’s not real fancy. It’s like, A enter working jog down the center. You’re going to come down to a walk, then you’re going to come to a halt, and then you’re going to leave at a jog and you’re basically jogging or loping 20 meter circles. So, like, jog a circle, lope a circle, come down to a jog, come down to a walk, jog a circle, lope circle. It’s not super complicated if you look at it, but I have footage of the very first time that I decided to try it, like no prep, just like, hey, let’s just try it cold and asked my husband to record it. And poor Presto, you would think we were doing Olympic level things because for him, even though I say it’s simple, like jog down the center, transition to a walk, transition to a halt, stand long enough for me to salute, immediately jog off. A couple of things are happening here. That’s not how I normally ride. I normally come out and I do quite a bit of stuff. Like so I might walk to the right, jog to the right. Maybe I’ll go into four leaf clovers to the right lope to the right. There’s not a ton of switching directions for me. And that’s just kind of interesting if you watch, because this very first video, to Presto, there were a lot of transitions. And that’s the truth for Presto. Basic 1 is a lot of transitions. To Willow Basic 1 would be a very easy warm up. So their perception of what is hard and what is easy changes as you’re training them.

Stacy Westfall: [00:07:17] So this is going to be a great exercise for Presto’s mind. It’s great for me because I automatically start riding a little more precise and expecting a little bit more when I start thinking about going into shows. So I really think at the end of the day, this online version of showing could be a really, really beneficial thing for horses and people. Full disclaimer, totally excited to go to regular horse shows also because that’s when I get to meet new people and see amazing horses and run up to the side of the ring and watch the horses being shown. But yeah, for sure, this is going to be a great step for Presto that I did not even anticipate being as an option. And there will be video footage of that when I get that ride recorded and uploaded. And I think I have from October 1st to October 19th. So there’s a window in there. And so when I get that recorded, then I will upload it so you guys can watch it. And my mind just sits there because I immediately went to like, what am I going to be wearing? Like, I haven’t even thought about showing Presto. Is presto going to be…uh, black chaps or is he going to be chinks? And I have this problem. If anybody has the answer, I feel like all the different patterns on my western pad, I feel like they kind of clash with the spots on this. But I may be way overthinking this, but there’s something about the spotted pattern on his butt and the way that the patterns on the on the show pads work that I kind of keep having resistance to. So totally open to suggestions on clothing there, too. Well, let’s go ahead and transition over to the question I am still wrapping up for this episode and the next episode, the season of trail riding. So let’s listen to the question that came in.

Caller: [00:09:17] Hi, Stacy. I’m really excited about your trail riding topic for your podcast, because this is exactly where I need some help. Two years ago, I bought a really well trained, retired reining mare. She’s 12-years-old and I bought her to use to learn some ranch riding and then to do some trail riding, which is really my first love. The owner said that they really didn’t know if she had really ever been trail ridden and they were kind of hesitant to say whether they thought she would be very good at that. They said that she might not be real confident. So with the help of some very experienced trail riding friends of mine, I have been able to take her on, I think it’s been 5 successful rides and we probably logged about 40 miles. Except for crossing water, she’s really been pretty obedient, really obedient follower. She never breaks gate. She navigates the hills pretty well. And for the most part, her arena training is kind of transferred over to the trail. However, when she is asked to be the leader, she freezes. She gets really stiff. She looks back at me and she kind of does her nervous pawing thing. And I’d really like to help her become more confident and be able to ride her out alone some time. But I’m not really sure how to best help her. She’s–she’s such a good follower. But, boy, the minute she’s in charge, she clearly is not confident. So any advice or information that you can give me to help me with this would be so greatly appreciated. I just love your podcast. Thank you.

Caller: [00:11:05] Thanks for leaving that question. And I think that you’ve made a lot of great observations and that you’re headed in the right direction by riding with friends and experienced horses. Let me see if I can help you out with some additional thinking so you can help her out. I love that your question kind of kicked off in my mind, a line of thinking about the way that I envision training my horses. So to give you some examples so that everybody listening can understand what I’m trying to convey here, basically, I want to give 3 different examples and I’m going to go to extremes so that you can hear what I’m talking about better. So 3 extremes. Extreme number 1 we’re going to–3 examples. Extreme number 1, we’re going to put, a show horse. I want you to envision in your mind a show horse. And let’s go ahead and make it a reining horse, since that’s my background and the horse in your question. And I want you to think about when that horse goes in to go show how you can see how focused the horse is on the rider. So if you even picture me riding Roxy with the bareback and bridleless or something, you’ve got this the horse really focused on the rider. And in the biggest extreme, sometimes when that training is done, sometimes what the message is to the horse is, don’t think. Follow my instructions immediately, accurately, and right now. Don’t think, don’t ask questions. Be right here. Be a little robot. This is an extreme again, remember. Now another extreme I want you to picture in your mind, a trail horse that’s not very advanced, one that feels vaguely not that under control. But when you point him down the trail, they get on the trail and they just go and it feels kind of easy because it would be fairly easy to say that that horse is doing all the thinking. The horse decides, you know, a lot of times when I run into horses like this out on the trail, sometimes they’re deciding the speeds, but they’re determining for sure where they’re putting their feet. They’re going around things and doing different things. And that can sound good on one hand. But if it’s taken to an extreme, these horses start to become a problem because then they start to go like, I don’t feel like going. I don’t feel like going that direction. No, I’m definitely headed back to the truck and trailer. I’m definitely headed home and so on. One extreme, we have this–I have in my mind this vision of a show horse that’s been told over and over again by the rider, don’t think, just listen. And then on the other extreme, we’ve got a horse, and you can find them in different situations, but trail riding is the most common one, I see this in where essentially the rider’s like, yeah, I kind of point you in that direction than you do all the thinking. And again, neither one is truly that extreme. We’re doing this so you can understand where I’m coming from.

Stacy Westfall: [00:14:20] In my mind, I said I wanted to give you 3 examples. Those were the 2 extreme ones. What I propose of what I like to do with my horses is I want a horse that can split their mind in 3 different ways. I want a horse that whether I’m in the show arena or whether I’m in the trail, I want a horse that can be aware of the surroundings, aware of their thoughts, and aware of my thoughts. So in the show arena, I want a horse that’s aware of the surroundings so they’re not holding their breath as they go past that banner on the wall, they’re aware of their surroundings, but they’re dialed in and they’re listening to me. But the awareness of their surroundings is also an awareness of their own thoughts. So they’re aware of the surroundings, they’re aware of their thoughts, and they’re aware of my thoughts. Now, I think I’ve talked in the past about when I’m showing my horses or specifically when I’m doing bridleless. I’ll kind of like–I talk about it like a dial, and I’ll say I’ll dial them up or dial them down. I’ll dial them in, dial them out. I’ll make them more sensitive, rocking the teeter-totter back and forth and getting to that middle wall in this dialing idea. Sometimes when I take this horse that can do that three way split and I take it to the show pen, I do dial it in on me, a little more focused, but I still want it to maintain all three of those things. I talked about the surroundings, their thoughts, my thoughts. Now, the trail horse. When I go down the trail, I want a horse that’s aware of its surroundings. That one makes even more sense when you say it on the trail horse. But I want it there in both. I want them aware of their thoughts. That’s how they can give me feedback. A lot of times I see things on the trail because Willow points out the deer over there or Willow points out the camper or, you know, the campsite that’s filled with people or whatever. Before I can see it, she’ll point it out with the way her body language changes. But I also want her aware of my thoughts on whether or not we should leave town because of what’s going on. So I want a horse that can do all 3. Now, absolutely, a lot of times when I go trail riding, especially with a horse like Willow that I’ve been working with for a long time, I will dial it the other way. I’ll kind of dial her out so it’s not as dialed in on me, and almost turn the dial more towards, hey, a little bit more of your awareness, a little bit less of mine. But this requires the ability to rock that teeter totter, rock that back and forth.

Stacy Westfall: [00:17:05] And so now that we’ve kind of got this idea in mind, let’s talk a little bit more about your 12-year-old mare. So your 12-year-old mare, if it’s like a lot of other reining horses I’ve seen that haven’t been trail ridden, which is kind of what the background sounded like it was, they kind of are used to city life. So the funny thing about show horses that have done a lot of that is that they’re really good around a lot of things that some of the country horses aren’t so good with. So, for example, those horses that are used to city life are often really great when they are unloaded in strange environments and led down strange aisles with all kinds of different horses. And they go into a stall and they can settle in. They can lay down and sleep in the middle of chaos. And you take a little country horse into that situation and their eyes are bugged out of their head as they walk down the aisle-way and they look a lot like Presto actually did on this trip because they’re like, wow, I had no idea there were that many other horses in the world. I had no idea. And they don’t lay down in the stall and they don’t recover well, because they’re used to one type of life. And so it’s cool if the horses can know both. But right now you have a 12-year-old mare that spent a big chunk of time living in city life. So I think you’re headed in a good direction with the trail, riding with friends. And I think that what you said about the obedient, I love that you chose that word, because long ago when I used to train horses for the public and we were predominantly like a training barn, we did a lot of–we did a lot of specializing in show horses. It used to be a big treat for me if we hauled up here to where I live now and went on a trail ride. And there were definitely years where once a year we would do that, because the show schedule was so busy and I had little kids and our life was really busy, that we didn’t get time to go trail riding. So in a way, long ago I did lots of experiments with horses that essentially were raised with more of that city life. And then I would want to go trail riding and we would go trail riding. And I found to be true very much what you said, which is they were very obedient when they went on the trail, but they were naturally a little like, I’ve never done this before, but not to an extreme. It was kind of interesting to experiment with it and see that they were like, all the buttons, all the training that had been done in the arena definitely had a massive carry over. But then you also got to see the horse’s expressions. Every time I picture that, I picture the first time when we were hauling around and we were living in the motor home and we were hauling horses behind us in the horse trailer, we got to a spot in New Mexico. And I just thought it was so funny that when we went to ride into one of the canyons and it had the really, really high walls that you’re basically riding in between that, you know, it’s almost like the the country version, the trail riding version of riding in between really big cities in New York. Like, you know, really big buildings in New York City. And it was so interesting to be riding in on horses that I–we had raised. So we knew they hadn’t seen it. And to watch them, like, turn and look up, it just cracks me up because I love taking my horses along for the experiences, because that’s when you get to see their expressions as they do these new things. And I think a lot of what’s going on for your horse is she just lived in that city life for so long and now you’re transitioning. I want to give you some ideas on how to help. And for everybody listening, I want to go a little deeper into that three way split of the mind idea. Because to me, they’re one in the same as far as the answers. So let’s talk about that three way split and things that you could do to help your mare.

Caller: [00:21:11] Probably the easiest way to visualize this is by doing ground work. So I want you to picture taking your mare out to do ground work, and I want you in your mind to put her on a like a 24 foot long lunge-line type rope. And I want you to have one of those–like an equine exercise ball. So I’ve got these big balls that we use with the horses that are called like an equine activity ball. And they’re kind of heavy duty, like a bigger than a yoga ball and they’re heavy duty. And so what I want you to picture doing is going out into the arena, being able to put this ball in the middle of the arena and teach the horse to while you stay about 15 or 20 feet away from your horse. Can you teach this horse to roll the ball? So that would mean that you’d be able to send your horse up to it like you were lunging, send the horse up, get the horse to engage with the ball and either roll it with their nose or bump it with their legs and roll the ball. And when I give this exercise to people with their horses, what it shows me very quickly is can the horse split their mind in multiple directions? A lot of times when we do groundwork, but even in like for sure, in ridden work, it’s very hard when you’re riding the horse to feel that three way split. In this example, I want you to imagine it’s almost like you could just take a picture for a moment and there’s like me standing there and then there’s the horse that’s 15 feet away from me, and then there’s the ball that’s 15 feet away from the horse. And it’s kind of a triangle. And so now you can clearly see this three way split, these three separate pieces. We’ve got the horse and their mind. We’ve got the handler, me, my mind, and we’ve got the ball over there. And that’s the object I’m sending the horse to. And the reason it’s important to look at it in this like 3 way split is because as I have the horse move towards the ball, I need to be able to communicate with the horse. Yes, that’s correct. No, don’t go on the further side. Turn around and come back. But I need to be able to communicate to the horse in a way that doesn’t make the horse focus 100 percent on me. Can you hear how this gets interesting? So basically, when I’m sending the horse to the ball, I need the horse to be able to be one ear on me, and one ear on the ball. A little bit of the focus on me and a little bit of focus on the ball. And sometimes what that will look like, you’ll see some horses where you can see that switch happening because they will look at you and then look at the ball and then look back at you and then look back at the ball. If you happen to be on Facebook and you saw the video that I posted a while back of Presto wanting me to turn on the fan, what you would have seen in that video was an example of this, because Presto’s worked with me for quite a while now. So he knows how this works. And he was actually using this on me. So he was standing there and the fan was not turned on, but he was standing in front of the fan, looking lovingly at the fan. And I noticed it. And I was like, oh, do you want your fan turned on? And I started walking towards the light switch, would have been off to his left, and he started to follow and look at me. But then he snapped his attention back like I need to keep pointing at the fan so the Stacy knows what I’m thinking here. So it becomes this really cool way that the horses can communicate back and forth with us.

Stacy Westfall: [00:25:10] So what that means is when you’re sending that horse up to the ball, they’ve got to be able to make that transition back and forth. Now, this comes in crazy handy for several reasons. First of all, it truly feels like communication because the horse is checking in with you, checking in on something else. Now, right now, it’s rolling the ball. Later, it’s going to be crossing over a bridge out on the trail, going through water. There’s all this back and forth conversation that’s happening. But if the horse just feels like they are not part of the conversation, you won’t get that view of them looking back and forth. So, a common thing with a horse like you described would be for me to go out and to start doing this exercise with the horse and the horse would simply go around like it’s being lunged. So it would be a little bit more of like a mindless circling without checking in with me. That’s the big way that you can tell what’s working and what’s not. Is is the horse checking in with you because that’s when we can get this three way split. Now, it’s not a three way split if the horse is only checking in with you and you’re not sending it out to do this task. And I think this is why it happens more regularly in the arena. This problem of the horse being just focused on the rider can be caused. And it’s because of that, you just need to have the awareness that you’re having this conversation back and forth. And then it doesn’t actually require that outside obstacle. But the outside obstacle tends to be helpful in clarifying that it’s a conversation. So, for example, when I’m riding around on a horse like Willow, I feel a conversation every stride. I feel her raising up her head a little bit, lowering down her head a little bit. I’m aware, I’m highly aware of all the little body movements, which is how she’s communicating with me. So I’m able to keep this conversation going. If you’re at a level where you’re riding around and it doesn’t feel like you have that level of awareness, you’re just having a different level of conversation. And that’s possible because sometimes, like when I’m riding Presto, I have that level of awareness, but Presto doesn’t have that level of awareness for me. So that’s why I’m doing these transitions to get ready for the World Show. It feels like a really big deal to him because he doesn’t know how to do that yet. So try not to get real critical on yourself. If you don’t feel that conversation every step of the way, it is much cloudier when it’s just this nuance between horse and rider. So much easier to see it when you add that third thing, like the ball or the tarp or the trot over log or the water on the trail or the water hole that you make so you can practice that in your pasture or your driveway or your arena. So, in the 3 way split, you’re going to see that horse transitioning back and forth, and I’ll bet that’s not something your horse is used to doing. And that’s why when you get out on the trail, the horse is–is, when you send her out there, she intuitively knows when you send her out there that there’s some decision making that needs to happen. And she’s a little like, I don’t got this. I’m not from around here. I don’t know how this works. Now, you can go back to the arena and you can work on this three way split, because I mentioned that there are a couple of things I like about it.

Stacy Westfall: [00:28:57] Another thing I like about it is what it does is it gives them better recovery time. So I like that they can check in with me, but I also like that there’s better recovery time. So, for example, maybe you send a horse up to an object. And so let me think, I was lunging Presto at a–at a recent–I was giving some lessons recently, and I was lunging Presto over logs and Presto knows that when we start lunging over the logs he’s supposed to, you know, go up to them. And we were trotting and he was trotting over them and trotting over them and I was talking about him using his body. Well, when I asked him to stop, he happened to be headed towards them and he was like, let’s say, 20, 30 feet away from them. And when I asked him to stop, there was this question in his mind, because he was kind of being drawn to the object because he knew the answer over there. And then when I said stop and turn and face me, he was a little like, yeah, like two options here, not really sure. And that’s that split of the mind happening. And then I can I can be like, come back to me now. So it’s like, as you do something like repetitively, like sending them over the log or going over the top, they’re going to be these moments where they’re unsure. So Presto was like pretty sure we’re going over the logs again. And then I said, turn and face me. And he had that moment where he went. Which one? Continue over the logs, turn and face? And he had to make that–had to make that decision. That is a great place for a horse to learn to recover. And if you have a horse that has a history, and I’m not saying for sure that this is what your hors is, but if you have a horse that comes from a show background that was trained in a little bit more extreme manner…Now, let me be clear. When I say in a more extreme manner, sometimes people automatically think about a rider being really hard on the horse. It doesn’t have to be like that. It could be a rider that was really harsh and hard on the horse, or it could be a very sensitive horse that took things very personally. Or it could be a rider that wasn’t aware of whether or not they were inviting the horse into a conversation or shutting the horse down. At the end of the day, it doesn’t always look like abuse when this kind of shutting down is happening. And I think sometimes people get like a rescue horse and they’re like, oh, this horse is just so unsure. It doesn’t have to come from abuse. This lack of of confidence can be multiple things. It’s not always just abuse. And so I like to give them the benefit of the doubt and be like, oh, you just need more education. And then this will be better because that’s true no matter what the background was. So when you take the horse out and if they aren’t used to being in that conversation, if they do feel like they’re going to get in trouble with making the wrong choice, that will start to become a little bit more apparent. And what happens is like in that situation of sending Presto and he’s kind of on track to go over the logs and then I ask him to stop. Sometimes horses that are really unsure will be like they almost get this shaky, ahhh! Like they overreact in that moment. And to me, that just means they need more of those moments so they can relax and get used to it. So a great example out on the trail was when I started riding Willow out on the trail and I’d done all this, I knew her recovery time. I knew that she’s, for example, she has what you could say is a very high work ethic. But she also doesn’t–basically doesn’t like to get in trouble, which makes her kind of tricky to train because she essentially, like, doesn’t want to ever get in trouble. But when you’re learning something new, it feels like there might be mistakes because they kind of do make mistakes. And when I just redirect her, she thinks she’s in trouble. That’s what I mean about you don’t have to be harsh to have a horse that has these looks because Willow’s desire to be like really, really good and not make any mistakes is not realistic. So a lot of times she had trouble splitting her mind and recovering. So a great example of that was the first year that I rode her trail riding. I did predominantly trail riding that entire year and she shuddered at every single chipmunk. And let me tell you, there are thousands of chipmunks out back here. Not uncommon to have a chipmunk darting across the trail every 10 feet because it’s very windy, wooded, and there’s a ton of them out there. And she would shudder every single time. And that shudder was, you know, she’s focused on me and we’re going down the trail. And the chipmunk happened and she startles. She’s focused on the trail. And we’re going down the trail and the chipmunk comes out and she shudders and then she questions me and then she questions the trail and she questions the chipmunk. And there’s a lot of shudders. So this is what I mean by the recovery time. And for Willow, those little moments, she wasn’t spooking and rolling back and stopping. They weren’t big. They were just little shudders. And at that level, I could just continue riding through them. My guess is that when you’re riding in the group and you go to put her out in the front and you get the big reaction where she’s kind of freezing up and not not wanting to go forward pawing, my guess is that if you go back and you’re in the back half of the group or wherever, she feels more safe. My guess is that you probably will still feel some of that shudder, some of that, you know, extra tension just from things being new. So I would suggest that you do more of that if possible.

Stacy Westfall: [00:34:55] So go back to the arena, start doing the groundwork I’m talking about, start adding obstacles. You already want to do the ranch horse stuff. Add a lot of obstacles, get really creative and help her see how it’s OK to be learning. A lot of horses will be very protective when you’re teaching them to like side pass over a log and, you know, do that from the ground before you do it from her back and then do it on her back. But a lot of horses get really protective because it’s kind of like if we want to use the same words I just did on Willow, it’s like they don’t want to step on that. They don’t want to make that mistake in there. They want to get off from it. And it’s not fun. And calm down, slow down, take a step. Good. Come back to me, think, stop, and then one step, stop, and make sure that they’re kind of–let them have that experience of like thinking about the log, thinking about you, asking the step, don’t rush them through it. And also don’t tell them to not think. Be like, yeah, look at the log. Have your thought. Listen to me, around and around this conversation goes. I would rather deal when I’m training the horses with those little wobbles early on, which is one reason why I’ve spent so much time being consistent with Presto, because I can feel his possibility of being wobbly, but I would rather deal with the wobbles now rather than riding in a way that made him just a little bit more robotic. And I’m using that word on purpose. But sometimes when you ride them, there are definitely days that you’re like, look, just listen to me and don’t question me. I mean, I used to have those days with my kids, too. Like, I don’t want the conversation. Just do what I said. But in reality, I want that conversation and I want that wobbliness. I want to feel that early on, because if you tamp it down, then later on, what you get is you get these big, blown up reactions. And so the little wobbles that you’ll find if you go start teaching your horse to roll a ball or the little wobbles that you might find when you’re riding in the back of the group. For example, you said your horse gets really stiff and doesn’t want to go forward. I would be looking for those 2 symptoms everywhere. I’d be looking for those symptoms. When you’re in the group on the trail, I would be looking for those symptoms. When you go to ride over a tarp, I would be looking for those symptoms when you, you know, get a kiddy swimming pool to start teaching the horse to go through it. I have lots of ideas. You can find a lot of them on the YouTube series Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac. I showed a lot of different creative things that I did in that series.

Stacy Westfall: [00:37:36] But as you’re coming up with those things, it’s like…kind of be excited about finding the little wobbles, especially when you have the experience you do, where you felt the bigger wobbles, the full blown expression of not moving forward, you’re going to see little tiny pieces of that if you start looking around. And then the little the thing about the pawing, you’re going to find little expressions that maybe while you’re doing the groundwork. Look for the smaller versions of it. I love training the horses and putting them in different situations because like riding Willow on the trail and feeling the chipmunks, you know, the reaction in her body when she had those little chipmunks. That’s another opportunity for training. And it’s happening right there. Gabby, naturally more confident than Willow, she has never had like problems with the chipmunks running out there. We did have one squirrel acting really weird, but I was even a little scared of him. But in general, she’s really confident on the trail. The most split I’ve ever felt her where I could really feel it working against me was actually last year at the Western Dressage World Show during a leg yield. So I’m in the arena. She hasn’t been to a lot of shows, and there were a lot of things going on. And in case you don’t know, Gabby is the queen. And as the queen, she knows she should control all things. And so as we are in the ring and there’s horses showing in the ring next to us and there’s a warm up behind us and there’s a judge at the end and we’re going around and there’s an announcer and I’m asking her to leg yield to the left. And she just kept getting slower and slower. Because on a confident horse, a lot of times when they short circuit, that’s what they look like. It almost seems like you could see the smoke rolling out the ears like it’s all short circuiting, is all melting together because that’s what it feels like on her where Willow feels like jump-shudder, shuddering, shuddering out on the trail, like every time that the chipmunk runs through. But what I know is that I want the horses to have all these experiences. And it’s not a fast process. It’s just not a fast process, which is why I wasn’t thinking about taking Presto this year and why 5 rides in, if you’ve been having some great rides on your horse when she’s in the back, I would double check back when you have 30 rides in, when you have 40 rides in and you know, you can take this stuff out, you can go to ground work on the trail. How mind-boggling would that be to your horse if you were like, we’re going to go do this all as an in hand walking experience? Your horse would be shocked. Most of my horses are shocked. The first time that I do that with them, they’re like, what? I didn’t know we could do that. And then you’ll be able to really see that 3 way experience because you’ll be on the ground out there on the trail and they’ll be you and they’ll be her and they’ll be the trail. And you can do the same thing that you would have with the ball in the arena. Basically, at the end, I know I started with the 2 extremes, I started with the show horse that’s overly dialed in and doesn’t know how to think on its own and the trail horse that doesn’t really– basically is almost like ready to blow off the handler and be like, whatever, I’ve got this, but I’m going my own way and I wanted to go to the left. So that’s where we’re going, because that’s where it eventually ends with a lot of those horses. I know I went to both of those extremes to kind of get you thinking. But I really want to leave you with the thought that I know I can have all of these. I can have a horse like Roxy who was confident on the trail and confident in the arena. I know I can have a horse like that and I can dial that horse in to where there can be thousands of screaming people and blaring music and the horse is like, I’m with you. And the cool reflection in her body wasn’t just, I’m with you, but she’s like, I’m with you and I’m a confident partner. And then I also know I can take that same horse and I can turn the dial the other way. And now I can head down the trail with Willow and I can say, let’s go to the left. And now you make a bunch of choices. And she goes, totally fine. Got it. And she doesn’t even speak. Now, when there are deer jumping out and all of that, she’s completely just fine with it. Ultimately, what I’m looking for, I’m looking for a horse that can look at the environment and whether that’s city life or country life, I want them to look at the environment. I want to hear their feedback, and I want them to look for guidance from me. And I totally believe it’s possible. I think I’ve proven it’s possible, actually. So I want to leave you with that as the goal.

Stacy Westfall: [00:42:25] Thank you for listening to the podcast. If you’ve been enjoying it, please consider leaving a rating and review in your podcast app that you’re listening with. And I’ll talk to you again in Episode 99!

Announcer: [00:42:43] 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:

Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac- Episode 14- Listen to me; swimming pools, training ball and distractions https://youtu.be/GGkaZQFBV_U


  1. Courtney Thompson on December 17, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    This was such a good episode!!!!!! I have a VERY smart OTTB who is ALWAYS thinking and I love that about it. I really love how Stacy teaches to see the horse as a partner and not a thing. I think my horse would really love this episode too- I should play it for him! 🙂

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