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Training

Hey Stacy, I was wondering, is 21 too old to teach some of the stuff in your videos?

“Hey Stacy, I was wondering, is 21 too old to teach some of the stuff in your videos? As I have a 21 year-old I’d love to do more work with. Thanks.” -Lydia S.

One of my refrigerator magnets.

One of my refrigerator magnets.

I was asked this question years ago by a young girl around the age of 13. She owned a  20+ year old horse. I told her that how much she accomplish would depend on her persistence and consistency and some on her horses willingness. She watched my demos at the expo and before it was over she bought my Bridleless riding DVD.

Several months later I received an email from her.  She sent me a link to a video where she was riding her horse bridleless! The horse was clearly a 4H type horse so her pattern looked more like a horsemanship pattern and her ‘rollbacks’ were simple pivots…but it was AWESOME! One young persistent girl and one older horse. I wish I still had that video link but all of this happened back in 2006 and the computer it was on died. I didn’t have anything backed up so it took all the info with it 😦

I can’t say exactly how far the stuff will take you…but I will tell you that it IS VERY POSSIBLE!

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2015 in Members Question, Training

 

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Stacy Westfall’s first time riding bridleless on Newt

Yippy! Newt is giving bridleless riding a try!

This is a video of the first time I took the bridle off Newt and rode him around. Newt is six years old in this video and I started his under saddle training as a two year old.  I had been practicing the cue system during his entire training. For several months before this I had also been tying the reins up and focusing on riding with only my body, leg and voice cues. I chose to ride with a neck rope (one of my reins removed from my bridle) because Newt liked the familiar feeling of the neck rein cues and was more relaxed and confident.

Please realize that many, many hours of training have happened prior to this and you should not try riding bridleless unless you are confident that you have a clear communication system with your horse that doesn’t rely on the bridle in case of an emergency. The prior sentence is not meant to be reversed to imply that the bridle should be your emergency system…but the reality is that for many people the bridle is their strongest form of communication with their horse in an emergency.

If I sound a bit concerned it is because I know that other videos of me riding bridleless have inspired many people to give it a try. Many have had success but there have been a few that have been injured because they (either horse or rider or both) were not properly prepared. Just last year I met a trainer who said one of his youth girls broke her leg while trying to imitate my ride.

Clear communication through consistent training is the key…I’m just saying don’t just pull the bridle off and hope for the best as it isn’t fair to either you or your horse 🙂

This was videoed in February 2015 while we were in California. You may also find it interesting that I have only ridden him bridleless a handful of times between then and now as I am still continuing to advance his ‘in the bridle’ training.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2015 in Thought provoking, Training, Video

 

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Did my horse step on my foot on purpose?

“Yesterday my horse stepped on my foot! No LOL; it hurt.
Afterward, I decided maybe my horse was being disrespectful??? She knows where she’s putting her feet. If she had a foal, would she step on it? She was squirmy when I put the saddle on, (I can’t remember her stepping on me before this.) and she stepped on my foot with her hind foot as I tried to steady her. I’m not sure if I might have turned her head slightly with the reins… but if I did, is it her job to know where her feet are? I wonder if my feet were mud puddles if she would have missed. The weather was finally looking nice, and she did not have her mind on me, but was looking out at the pasture.
Maybe I’m being stupid… but any comments on this? Was this a show of disrespect?”

Do they take aim or is it an accident when they step on us?

Do they take aim or is it an accident when they step on us?

You make an interesting argument here. Your point about knowing where her feet would be if a mud puddle or a foal were involved were dead on correct. Pretty much everyone who has ridden for long knows that a horse can go to great lengths to avoid touching their foot to an object or mud puddle if they are committed to NOT stepping there.

I think your issue, her stepping on your foot, was YOUR issue, not hers. She clearly doesn’t have the same concern for your foot as she does a mud puddle. Sad thought but…

My guess is that you are probably accurate when you say that she was distracted and didn’t have her mind on you and was looking out in the pasture. She should have some responsibility for paying attention to you and you should have some responsibility for paying attention to her. It sounds like you became aware that she was distracted…was that before or after she stepped on you? Part of your job is to notice the distraction and either correct her for it or realize that you need to be aware that the distraction could lead to ignoring you to some degree, which puts you at risk.

Most of the horses I have seen step on people were distracted and not paying attention to the person near them. Thankfully I cannot remember the last time that I was stepped on by a horse because I am very aware. Around my more well trained horses I expect them to watch me but I am always watching them to know where they are at mentally. When I am around younger horses I take even more of the responsibility upon myself to use self defense and stay aware.

Can a horse ‘take aim’ and step on you? I’m sure it is possible. I have seen them take aim and step on other things; tarps, dogs, and more…but I really hope my horse isn’t aiming for me!

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Members Question, Training

 

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3 Things to Remember with Horses that ‘drop their shoulders’

In yesterday’s blog I explained that the term ‘dropped shoulder’ is often used to describe several things, the most common being 1) the horse wanting to turn to early 2) a lack of elevation/collection combined with the desire to turn (for my full explanation read yesterdays blog)

Why does it happen? To answer that we need to look at it from the horses point of view.

Many people commented that this was happening to them in the arena or when barrel racing. What do these have in common? A pre-definded and predictable path of travel. If you are riding counter-clockwise around the arena for several laps it doesn’t take the horse long to figure out the pattern of; go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left.

If you have practiced the barrel pattern enough times for your horse to know it then your horse is mentally doing the same thing as the horse above only applied to the barrel pattern. In this example your horse could be thinking; run fast, turn right, run fast, turn left, run fast, turn left run fast!

In both examples the horses are dealing with the same thing: anticipation.

Viewed from another angle, your horse is really just trying to help you out, lol.

On the surface it seems like maybe just changing the routine would be the fix, stop going around the arena or the pattern so many times, but I would argue that the dropped shoulder is most often a stage of training. Attempting to avoid anticipation sounds good…but it isn’t very realistic. What we really want- and need- is a horse that is mentally mature enough to see something coming (anticipate) and still wait for the rider to give the cue.

a plan encouragesI frequently ride in arenas but I don’t frequently deal with my horse dropping his shoulder. Why? There can be multiple reasons, I will list three:

  1. good use of the arena
  2. proper seat
  3. horse ‘between reins and legs’

I have inserted a rough diagram of a pattern I use when I lope in an arena. This pattern allows me to be aware of all three of the points listed above. As a rider, I will be more clear and precise if I have a specific goal. Making it around the arena to the left isn’t specific enough. How many straight lines will I make during this pattern? On each of theses straight lines my focus will be on riding my horse straight ahead, straight between my reins and legs. My eyes will pick a point straight ahead.  On two of the curves I will move my horses shoulder out before turning. On the other two turns I will keep him balanced and even. I will be aware if I feel the urge to lean. I will also be aware if I feel the horse lean left or right. My focus on the pattern has lead to (1. good arena use) which has stopped me from leaning (2. proper seat) and I am aware of (3. horse is between my reins and legs).

But what if my horse does lean? What if he doesn’t go straight when I ride him straight? My general rule is that I will help him find the correct answer subtlety once or twice but then I will make a correction. On a straight line that could mean that I pick up to maintain straightness and then let go, notice he is drifting again, pick up to maintain straightness, let go, and then I will pick up and change his path of travel by 6-12 inches while collecting him (the correction). There are many methods for correcting the horse but it becomes slightly less confusing as you begin to realize that you are correcting him for ignoring one of your cues.

When the horse ‘drops the shoulder’ many riders are tempted to ‘hold him up’ causing a shift in responsibility. Eventually the rider feels the need to ‘hold him up’ frequently which is also another way of saying that the rider has to “hold the steering wheel slightly turned to the right to keep the car going straight”….

…that’s a problem.

Which cue is your horse ignoring or leaning into? Is he ‘requiring’ you to hold three pounds of pressure with your inside leg to keep him going straight?  Can you name three exercises or corrections that you have done in the past that cause the horse to be more respectful of the cue he is ignoring? If not, it might be time for a riding lesson or clinic with a pro.

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Members Question, Thought provoking, Training

 

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What is a ‘dropped shoulder’ in a horse and how can I fix it?

horse drop shoulder dropping fixYesterdays blog discussed ‘Confusing terms people use around horses‘ and the following comment showed up on the Facebook post.

 “I’ve been yelled at – and still don’t know what a dropped shoulder is.”-Karen S.

This is a great example of a confusing term. I agree that people over use this term AND I believe it would be possible to sit down with three different professionals and have at least three different definitions of the term.

Dropped shoulder:

  1. the horse leaves the desired path of travel around the arena, cutting to the inside
  2. the horse desires to leave the current path of travel and turn early, the rider uses a cue to keep him from doing so (inside rein, inside leg) resulting in the feeling that if the rider ‘let go’ or stopped ‘holding him up’ the horse would ‘fall in’
  3. a lack of elevation in the front end combined with the desire to turn to soon

In general the term is used when the horse wants to cut to the inside of the path of travel. This happens more often when a horse is ridden in a riding arena. It doesn’t take a horse too long to figure out that if you are traveling counter-clockwise around an arena that the pattern is; go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left, go straight, turn left…..you get the point.

Soon the horse thinks, “A left turn is coming….lets do it now.” and the ‘dropped’ shoulder has begun. Keep in mind that the shoulder can’t be ‘dropped’ unless at some point it is being held. Stop ‘holding the shoulder up’ and what happens?

I would argue that most of the time a ‘dropped shoulder’ is nothing more than cutting a corner. Ever been at a 4 way stop in your car? Ever had someone turn and almost hit the front corner of your car? They were ‘dropping their shoulder’….but clearly the car wasn’t leaning. People tend to mean ‘dropping the shoulder’ when the horse is simply ‘turning too early’.

Is it fixable? Yes, but the rider has to be willing to stop ‘holding him up’ and let him make the mistake. When he leaves the path of travel the rider needs to correct it…and then let him go and probably make the mistake again. Ultimately the horse must become responsible for ‘holding’ his own shoulder up because he knows you will correct him and then let go again. There is a huge difference between correcting the issue vs becoming part of the problem.

This is how I define a dropped shoulder…but is that what your riding instructor means?

P.S.-this post triggered a follow up post ‘3 Things to Remember with Horses that ‘drop their shoulders’

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Members Question, Thought provoking, Training

 

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Free Download: Stacy Westfall and Barbra Schulte discuss Overcoming Fear

Ask yourself-What do you have control of-What do I love-Barbra SchulteFear is an emotion. We imagine harm in the future. That thought triggers physical changes: fast heartbeat, headache, irritability, rapid breathing, sweating, trembling, muscle tension and more. Most of us know these symptoms from personal experience…but did you know that you can train your emotions?

Last night Barbra and I spent almost two hours discussing the topic of fear. We opened with each of us telling a story about how fear had negatively affected our lives. The greatest part of sharing the story isn’t the negative side of what happened but the reality that a gold nugget of learning was hidden inside these tough times. I learned how to ‘release the outcome.’

Barbra shared how her experience helped her to find her own inner compass and ask 1) What do I have control of? and 2) What do I love?

Much of Barbra’s teaching is on training human emotion and I know from personal experience that one tip can make a huge difference.

Do you deal with fear? Did you miss the live seminar last night? Great news! You can listen to the whole thing right now at the click of a button. You might want to go ahead and download it…we talked and then answered questions for almost two hours!

Click here for a link to listen right now or download for later.

Be sure that you check out the free download in the top left corner called the “Relationship Roadmap” and if you liked what you heard and want to learn more about “Letting Go of What Other People Think” consider taking a look at Barbra’s Workshop designed to gently walk you through subtle shifts in how you think about yourself and your relationships.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Life, Training, Video

 

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The Back Up: Giving a horse the idea is like planting a seed.

The ideal back upWhen I am introducing a new idea to a horse it is usually done in a very subtle way. I ask for a tiny amount of response and immediately release. Even though the horse may not get the response completely correct, I reward for movement in the correct direction. Lets look at an example.

If I am teaching a horse to back up there are many things I am looking for. Some of these include:

  1. move feet backward
  2. soft relaxed neck
  3. break at the poll
  4. rhythm in the steps

While I might have all of these goals in mind I will begin by planting a seed. This could be on the ground, during ground driving, or it could be while mounted. Either way my main focus when beginning is to get the feet to move backward…even just a little bit. Ideally the horse will not only take a step but will also remain soft and quiet…but that doesn’t always happen. It is more likely that the horse will try something that has worked before in the past. That could be turning to the left or right or even walking forward. It is always interesting to see how many ideas the horse could have depending on their past history.

My job is to apply only enough pressure to motivate the horse to try something…and then reward any movement in this direction. When someone is planting a seed in a spring garden they treat it gently and try to give it the best chance. They prepare the soil, they monitor the water, they don’t walk on the new seeds.

That first step backward may not have all of the idea characteristics but if you are gentle and quick to reward it is amazing how quickly the horse will grow that idea. Their neck may not be perfectly soft, they may not break at the pole and they will rarely have good rhythm…but those will come. Unless the horse shows a dramatic amount of resistance in their neck and poll my main focus will be moving their feet. Later as that seed grows stronger I will begin to focus on planting the second seed of more softness to grow along side the original seed.

Fostering a new thought or a new idea in a horses mind is very similar to planting a seed.

 
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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Training

 

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