Episode 121: Overcoming thoughts that rob joy from your horse adventures.
Today’s podcast is on the subject of thoughts that rob joy from our horse adventures. This can apply to anything you decide to do with your horse.
Trail riding. Taking a riding lesson. Even going out by yourself to work your own horse.
The question is specifically about showing but I assure you the mental side of this conversation is happening in every interaction you have.
Clearly identifying thoughts and feelings can be challenging…and for me I tend to learn it best…backward. Ouch.
To download the Free PDF mentioned, scroll down and enter your email address, then click the orange button. Then check your email to confirm the download.
Stacy Westfall: Hi, I’m Stacy Westfall, and I’m here to teach you how to understand, enjoy, and successfully train your own horses. Today’s podcast is on the subject of thoughts that rob joy from my horse adventure, your horse adventure, anything you go out to do with your horse. Really, if you’ve ever been in a situation where you found yourself wondering, I’m with my horse, why isn’t this more fun? You may be ripe for this subject. And basically this can apply to anything that you decide to do with your horse. It can apply to trail riding. It can apply to taking a riding lesson, hauling to a friend’s horse house to ride your horse. Even when you go out to work your horse on a daily basis, you could run into some of these thoughts that I’m going to discuss more heavily at the near the end of the podcast. Basically, what got me thinking about this was a question that was called in and asked specifically about showing, but I assure you that this mental side of showing, the conversation I’m about to have about the mental side of showing, it is happening in every interaction that you have with your horse. And if you listen to it and replace the word showing with something else, I think you’ll find it very, very useful. Before I jump into that, I want to play an audio clip that I think ties well together with this from Nadine. So here’s what Nadine had to say.
Nadine: Hi, Stacy. My name is Nadine Smith. I’m from Informed Equestrian, and I have to say I just listened to your most recent podcast about can you have a relationship and reach your goals with your horse pretty much three times in a row. It really, really struck a chord with me. And I honestly wish that I had heard this in April when all the dreams of competing this summer kind of came to an end. And it just I don’t know, it just struck me in the soul because I feel like as a competitive person who loves horses, you think that the competition is the main goal. But really like it just–I guess what I feel like is listening to your podcast today gave me permission to just do the things that I want to do with my horses, to have separate goals. And I love listening to the fact that you do different disciplines. And I like hearing that you’re in those two different worlds, English and the Western. And I really, really appreciated this most recent episode. And I just wanted you to know that I’m going to do a recap of it and share and take you on our Instagram page just because I loved it so much. So thanks, Stacy, really appreciate it.
Stacy Westfall: Thanks, Nadine. I also wish that I had figured this out earlier in life because I spent many years showing as a professional, showing other people’s horses, robbing myself of all kinds of opportunities that could have been a lot more fun because I didn’t really understand that dance between relationship and results and the idea that you can have both relationship and results. So I’m really glad to hear that feedback. Now, let’s go ahead and listen to Rebecca’s question.
Rebecca: Hi, Stacy, it’s Rebecca from Ohio. I have a question for you in your podcast. You mentioned prepping for the World Show and you and I had a very similar discovery about ourselves, that the horse show nerves and anxieties that we thought would be left behind while recording tests from home were, in fact, still very much present. And I think that we should figure out how to work through that. So I ask you, Stacy Westfall, how do we fix that? What do we do next? Thank you. And I look forward to your answer.
Stacy Westfall: Thanks for your question, Rebecca, and I’m going to approach this from two separate angles and then join them together at the end. And, you know, when I got thinking about this, the first thing that came to my mind when you asked your question was the clarity in understanding the three different roles that a person can have when they’re showing. And this is for sure one of the pieces that tripped me up with showing virtually for the first time. So just as a recap, if anybody missed the earlier episode, I was discussing the fact that this fall the Western Dressage World Show decided to become a virtual show because of the pandemic. And so it changed from the idea of going out to Oklahoma to videotaping at home. And this–this podcast is going to discuss some of the mental trip-ups that happened when that transition wasn’t made very well by me. And–and Rebecca is referencing one of the podcasts where I was discussing like, wow, I was surprised that I ran into this much at home. And Rebecca, the first angle I want to approach this from is that whenever someone goes to show–and I might just use myself for this example-when I go to show, when you go to show, there are three different angles that you can really be looking at that from. So there’s the showman, there’s the trainer, and there’s the judge. If you don’t have an awareness that these three roles are playing into this, then what I often see from people showing is that they switch between these roles really fast while they’re showing and this is very inefficient. Let me give you an example. If a person walks into the arena, if I walk into the arena, and I haven’t done my own mental coaching before this, then I walk in and I’ve kind of got my game face on and I got my game plan and I am showing up as the showman. So let’s say it’s a reining maneuver, reining show and I walk in and I complete the first maneuver and I am there as the showman. And then I take off for the second maneuver and a mistake happens. This is where it gets really fast. This is where the rider will often consider fixing the mistake or fixing the horse or fixing something, and that’s a little bit of the trainer coming out. And then almost simultaneously, the rider is also calculating what this cost them from a judging perspective. So it is not uncommon for this loop to play out many times during a ride. The person is the showman, so they’ve got this one confident air about them and the way that they’re showing up. And then something happens, usually a mistake on someone’s part, yours or the horse. And then the–then the trainer kind of pops their head up because the trainer’s the one that’s riding the horse every day at home, even if that’s you, by the way. Even if you train your own horse, this trainer in this example is the mind of the trainer pops up like, oh, no, what should I do? Should I keep on showing or should I fix this? Air quotes, fix. Fix this so that my horse doesn’t learn a bad lesson or something like that. And then at the same time, it’s not uncommon for that person to be thinking, that just cost me a point. How can I make up the point? And what happens is it’s super exhausting for the rider to switch between these three roles constantly. And it’s confusing for your horse, because if you miscue your horse or your horse is confused or your horse is thinking about the out gate or something and a mistake happens, the only thing you end up doing when you start getting worked up about it is compounding the problem with emotions. So when you go in to show, when I go into show, I’m really clear when I go to show which of these roles I’m going to be in. You would think it would only be the showman. When I go to my highest level shows that is the role I clearly want to be in. I will drop the judge, I will drop the trainer, and I will be just the showman. But when I show at, you know, like when I go when I show Presto in the online show, I was the trainer 85 to 90 percent of the time to the point where I rode the same test–because I was recording it and rerecording it–and I rode the same test and I noticed in the video I kept making the same mistake because I was thinking more about correcting Presto, supporting Presto might be a better way of phrasing it. I was thinking more about how to help him through the turn to the right that I knew was a problem. I was thinking more about that kind of preventing his problems, you know, like helping him through/that would be like a preventative correction. So I was definitely thinking more from the trainer’s standpoint. I did–I–it was so easy for me to put down the judges view when I was showing Presto, because I didn’t have a lot of expectations from that angle. And the showman was a little bit there, but just a little tiny bit. Now, if I reverse that, like showing a horse like Willow who has a lot more training, that was a lot easier for me to be the showman and not really the trainer. That wasn’t a problem to put that down at all. But I had more trouble putting down the judge part. So I would do a movement and then it was even easier for me to make this accidental switch into the judging role because I was videotaping at home because I knew I could do it again. I know now, after the fact, looking back, that that “freedom” to record again actually almost added to the part where I was like, oh, well, I could just be judging this. And it got to the point where I remember with one of the horses that I made a mistake at the beginning of the test. And, you know, I’m recording it so I can redo it. So, so I’m like, OK, scratch, I’m just going to do it again. I realized really quickly that you could be caught in a never-ending loop of like when you make the mistake, just scratching it, doing it. So as soon as I caught on to that and realized, uh-oh, you’re into one of those exhausting loops, I was like, nope, this next one, I’m just flat doing it. And if I’m going to redo it, I’m going to redo it tomorrow. Parentheses in the back of my mind, my brain is like, you are not going to redo this tomorrow because you were not going to get all of this set up and drag all the people out and do all of this. So there were some mental things going on there.
Stacy Westfall: So I just want to explain recap this kind of there’s the showman, there’s the trainer, there’s the judge. And when I go to an actual show, there are some different layers that I’ve trained myself to look at as some different ways that I can look at it, and I didn’t do a good job shifting into that here at home. So for me, a lot of times when I go to a show, I like to think of it like, you know, showing is like taking a test. So it tests my ability to see what’s coming and to prepare mentally and physically. And sometimes I like to think of it like showing is an opportunity. So it’s an opportunity to accept where I am today. It’s an opportunity to see where I can make adjustments for the next time. There are some times, especially with the younger or less experienced horses like Presto, where I think of the showing as training, and that can be the training before the show. It can be every decision up until we are in the show pen. It can be even while I am showing. It’s every moment while I’m there. It can still be training. And, you know, I think basically showing is training maybe for me, in the best respect, when I reflect back afterwards and I look back at the experience like I am right now, looking back at the Western Dressage World Show online experience, because when I look back like that, a lot of times I can see more clearly than when I was approaching it. The interesting thing is that, as I started to say, when we switch roles a lot, when we switch hats in the middle of the pen, when we’re like, I’m the showman, I’m the trainer, I’m the judge, I’m the trainer, I’m the judge, I’m the showman. It’s really confusing for the horses because they can sense our changing focus. We feel really unsteady. You take that on top of the energy from the other horses and the riders when you’re at a different event. Basically, it’s funny to think that when we go out to show if I take Presto to a show and I want to say that I’m there to, you know, gather information about how my horse behaves there. The really funny thing is this is the same thing your horse is doing to you. When you go to a show or if you go replace all of these showing ideas with trail riding ideas, your horse is constantly drawing conclusions. All about you. Your horse is gathering information about you. And so if you want to go ahead and replace this, it’s like we could say it like this: trail riding is like taking a test. Trail riding tests, the riders ability to see what’s coming and to prepare mentally and physically. Trail riding is an opportunity to accept where we are today, an opportunity to see where we can make adjustments for next time. Trail riding is training. It’s the training that we do before the trail ride. It’s each decision on the trail ride and it’s the reflection that comes after the fact when we look back at the experience. And so it’s so interesting to me that it doesn’t matter whether we’re showing or whether we’re trail riding. Whenever we have these experiences with the horses, we can use them to develop the relationship with the horse. But one of the keys to that is understanding how you’re showing up. This has been really interesting because I’ve actually been teaching a three-week-long advance-at-home course and one of the ladies in the course is using it to prep to improve her showing. And so each each person is kind of having their own custom experience inside there. And so I actually created a PDF that explains these three roles, the showman, the trainer, the judge, and my game plan and outlook for showing. If you would like to download a copy of that, I’m going to put a link in the show notes over on my website so you could download that free PDF that I created when I was trying to explain some of this to her, prepping her for her upcoming show.
Stacy Westfall: So now that I’ve kind of gone through that first layer layer, Rebecca, I want to go ahead and and go a little bit deeper and more specifically into your question. So basically, I look at it like showing is a place where I get to know myself better and my own habits and my own thought patterns. And when I look back at the experience of showing from home there were several things that I overlooked. And I, if I had just slowed down a little bit and asked a few questions of myself, I would have been able to see that I was kind of walking straight into some some issues here. First of all, when the World Show decided to go virtual, if I had looked at my habit throughout the whole year of 2020 I knew there were online shows happening before the World Show and I had not chosen to enter one. If I stopped for just a moment, I could have pondered, hmmm, I wonder why I haven’t entered one before this and that would have very quickly triggered some questions about, like, my thoughts on showing, showing at home, showing virtually, some of those different things. And what it would have uncovered if I had looked would have been that although on the surface showing from home looks like it’s not as much like a horse show, I would have realized there was actually a lot more in common. Now, good news. I basically signed up without all of this forethought and threw myself in the deep end and got to learn it from actually doing it. So if I had stopped, though, and looked, I could have thought, OK, when I go to a horse show, there’s the prepping for the show. There’s kind of my desired outcome, my goal of going to the show. There’s the timeline for getting ready for the show and getting ready at the show. And if I had actually broken it out kind of into general steps like that, I would have realized that showing at home was actually a lot more like showing at a regular show. But because I didn’t do that, I kind of left myself open for some of my old habits. And I have some old habits from shows that I do well handling now because of some of the some of the habits I’ve built in when I travel to a show. And all those traveling things were gone when I showed at home. So let’s look at it like this. So if I head to a show and I have a thought that’s kind of vague, like I want to do my best. And that was definitely a thought that I had going into the World Show and the thought, I want to do my best. It sounds really innocent, right? But when I say the thought, when I’m thinking about going to a show and I think, I want to do my best, the feeling that brings it brings up for me is pressure. It feels like pressure. And I’ve trained myself to analyze my thoughts when I go to actual horse shows, but I didn’t put myself through this same ritual of of of approaching the show like this at home. So I was learning them kind of like right that moment in–in my face. I think I want to clarify this a little bit more. So I mentioned sometimes this is learned like after the fact. Let me clearly illustrate this for you. I remember in 2019 going to an actual live horse show, and at this point, I think it was like my third traditional dressage show and I knew in the back of my mind that if something happened, if I went off the pattern, off test, if I–if I did something like that, then they would ring the bell. And in the back of my mind, I thought, if they ring the bell, that could happen. Life will go on. So it sounds really innocent. Like the bell could be wrong. It could happen, I could go off. This is, believe me, like I’ve gone off pattern lots of times over the years in my life. But it wasn’t until I actually went off pattern at that traditional dressage show and they rang the bell–as soon as the bell rang, I felt my whole body. I felt like that cold wash. Like, have you ever been really scared or had an intense emotion where it just kind of washes over your whole body? I felt this wash of emotion as soon as they rang the bell and I recognized it immediately as embarrassment. And right after recognizing it immediately as embarrassment, my next thought was that’s an interesting reaction to have because I’ve clearly done this a lot of different times. I’ve gone off pattern a lot of times over the years of showing horses. And then I was able to quickly say, why does this one feel different? And this is literally happening as I’m in the arena walking towards the judge to be able to have them–because you’re supposed to ride over there and then they tell you where to pick up again. They tell you where you went wrong, where you’re supposed to go next. So I’m talking like in a matter of seconds, because I’ve practiced this a lot over the years at horse shows. Had this ring the bell, cold wash of emotion. I identify the emotion as embarrassment. I take a deep breath. I ask myself why this feels any different. I recognize it’s because I’m at a traditional dressage show. This is not my normal place. This is not the people I’m used to being around. I feel vulnerable. And all of this is happening while I walk over and it’s already finished in my mind and my body by the time I get to the judge to have them explain to me where to pick up and ride the rest of the pattern. And so because I’ve practiced processing emotions and identifying thoughts really clearly at horse shows, because I struggled so much with anxiety and all these other things, there are places where I can do that really fast and address it in the moment. And there are loops, there are thoughts that I have that, that I know are sort of like the warm, fuzzy-looking ones, like I want to do my best, but they actually feel like pressure. So I’ve gotten really good over the years at doing this when I travel to horse shows. But I didn’t do any of this when I was at home because I had the thought in my head–I had a couple that were that were kind of insidious now that I look back–I had the thought that this is going to be easy because I’m at home. Yeah, note to self: like when you really want to do your best, like when I go to do my best, when I think I want to go do my best, I generally have a feeling of “focused.” And focus to me doesn’t feel the same as easy. And so I was misleading myself with that innocent looking thought of, this should be easy, I’m at home. And then, you know, I also had this other thought that these are videos. They should be mistake free because if I make a mistake, I can just record again. And that sounded good until the first mistake happened. But even then, I wonder if I looked back, if I could really be back in my body at that moment, if there wasn’t a little bit of tension in me at the thought. These are videos. They should be mistake-free. Because there is a tension, there’s a level of almost responsibility or pressure or tension that I’m putting on myself with like, mistake-free. And again, that one wasn’t so evident until the first mistake. And then the third, fourth, fifth, I was showing three horses in a lot of classes. So I had a lot of of tests to record. And even when we weren’t recording them, I was practicing them. And that was just like I could see like my brain was basically having a battle. And I wasn’t in the mindset that I know how to put myself into at a physical show. I wasn’t in the mindset of being suspicious about wha– what was going on here with that loop. So it took me a while and still I’d made a whole bunch of mistakes that I was like, OK, look, what I feel in my body is a building tension. One of the ways I know it’s really in my body is because it’s reflecting into my horses who are now looking more and more tense. Yeah, that still happens to me. So I’m like, my horse is looking tense. I am looking tense. What I’m going to do today is. And then I could make as soon as I recognized it, identified it, then I could make a plan.
Stacy Westfall: One of my favorite videos from the World Show is actually a video where I am riding the test. And my husband was miraculously, he was reading all of my tests. I think there were a couple I memorized, but the majority of them were complicated and I was switching horses and doing them really fast. So for the majority of the time, I had a friend recording and Jesse was reading. There were a few times where he miraculously was able to read and video, which in my arena is a little bit of a challenge because you actually have to run backwards at one moment when I go into one corner and run forward. It’s–it was challenging because of the layout of my indoor arena. And so there’s actually a moment in one of the tests that I ended up submitting for the World Show–once I’d made that identification and switch in my mind where I actually come down through the middle and turn to the left and he reads the test wrong because he’s been he’s trying to video and read and do a bunch of different things. He reads it incorrectly. But I have presence of mind enough to know what he did. I even know why he did it because of the flow of the test. And I went ahead and rode it correctly, even though he read it wrong. And then he realized his mistake and picked up and finished reading the test correctly. And I think that one, when I–when–when that ride happened, that’s when I knew I was fully back in my body, fully present in my mind and fully there. Because that’s the–that’s the presence of mind that I know how to trigger when I travel to horse shows. But I know that I’ve also now, after the fact of doing this video-showing, I know that I’ve trained myself well to examine my thinking. Like before I travel to the show, while I’m packing for the show, while I’m driving to the show, while I’m unloading at the show, while I’m warming up at the show, none of that happened here. And so these are some of the reasons why showing here at home virtually didn’t go the same–well, in a way it did go the same. But it went the same as a show where I’m not aware and not under control. I now have the ability when I show and travel to see these gremlins coming and make these thoughts that could be, they kind of the innocent-looking thoughts like, this should be easy. I can rerecord. Like I know how to sit with that thought for just a minute and look for the underlying things that–the underlying feelings that are going to creep into my body. Because at the end of the day, those are the things that the horses are reading. They are reading the energy that comes off for me. They are reading my attention or my confidence. They are reading those feelings that I’m having. So I’ve gotten really good at training those when I travel to shows. And now because I put myself through this and now I have that ability to reflect back, now I know how I can bring those two worlds together when I do show again virtually from here. So basically what happened was Stacy, the trainer, lives here. Stacy the judge visits here. You know, I’ll judge what I’m doing here and there. Check-in with myself. Stacy the showman, she is out there at shows. She’s not usually here. So bringing Stacy the showman in here made this little conflict between Stacy the trainer and Stacy the judge and Stacy the showman that I didn’t see coming. And so at the end of the day, whenever I find myself in those situations, as long as everybody stays safe, those are great opportunities to learn more about yourself. And the more you learn about yourself, the more you’re going to be able to show up the way you want to with your horse. So I hope this helps you out, Rebecca. And thanks again, Nadine, for the amazing feedback. Thank you to all of you for listening. And remember, if you want to download that free PDF game plan for showing, go to Episode 121 on my website. And if you’re interested in the advancing-at-home where I help you by coaching you for three weeks, go to my website and click the “work with me” tab and you’ll find the information for that right at the top of that page. Thanks. And I’ll talk to you again in the next episode.
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