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Horse training: major breakthroughs and baby steps the path to success

“Stacy, thank you again for showing us, namely with the Jac series, or your blog in general (thinking Newt and the box, among other things) how progress is an incremental process, that can go through thousands of baby steps. We’d all want progress to be leaps and bounds, but while there will be a major breakthrough once in a while, we must learn to recognize and build on the minor, sometimes minute ones, because they are the steps to success, all the same. Failing to identify tries and offers from the horse actually impairs his learning process. We have to be steady, demanding, but rewarding, and above all, patient. And you embody that better than anyone. Thank you so much for being an inspiration, mine anyway.”-Claire D.

Will the horse be an all-round success or will things just be patched together for that one event?I love knowing that people ‘get it’ and understand that the best and most thorough horse training takes time. I often find myself struggling with remembering the importance of ‘all the little steps’ with my own children and their training. It is so tempting while I home school them to make everything about the final school testing. This temptation is seen in the horse world with people rushing horses to get ready for the ‘test’ which could be a horse show, a parade, or a big weekend trail ride. None of these are bad end goals but the methods used to achieve them is important. Will the horse be an all-round success or will things just be patched together for that one event? Is it more important for my kids to be well rounded human beings or to test well at the end of the year?

The great news is we can have both…but they must be in the correct order.

Stacy Westfall Youtube channel

Stacy’s Youtube Channel is where you can find her videos including Newt and the box and Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac.

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2015 in Life, Members Question, Video

 

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How long do you think a horse remembers a person?

Scrapper in Maine“How long do you think a horse remembers a person?”-Sharon H.

 

If the person made an impact I believe a horse can remember a person for a very long time. I know that horses can retain cues and training ideas that they learned when they were young for a lifetime, even if the cue hasn’t been used in years. I believe that horses can remember people who were memorable for a lifetime.

I personally have had a few horses that have also backed me up with this idea by their responses, one was my horse Scrapper. When I was a teenager I bred my mare once and raised one foal, Scrapper. I also timed his birth to line up with my plans to attend the University of Findlay Equestrian Program where I would be starting two year olds my Sophomore year. I attended Findlay for four years and Scrapper was with me for three of those.

I graduated in May, was married in June and then began my married life…broke. Jesse often laughs and tells me that I married him for his money because he had a dollar in his pocket and I had only debt. Within a few months I was at a horse show with Scrapper when another trainer approached me about buying him. She offered me $5,000.00 and left me completely confused. I had raised and trained Scrapper but we were completely broke. After much struggle I decided two things; I would sell Scrapper but someday I would buy him back. I stayed true to both and during the years that I didn’t own Scrapper I kept track of who owned him and how he was doing.

I owned him for six years, sold him for six years, and then bought him back. He had five different owners during that six year period and countless experiences both good and bad. I followed him through each move including a trip to Tattersalls horse auction in Kentucky in an attempt (failed) to buy him back. Eventually he began to have soundness issues and the last owners were happy to sell a not quite so sound horse for $5,000.00.

It was during this time when I didn’t own Scrapper that he taught me a lesson in memory. I was at an AQHA horse show preparing for the reining class when I walked up to the show office, on the way I walked down the stall isles. My focus was on my paperwork but out of the corner of my eye I noticed the horses I was walking by. I think any horseman watches for unusual behavior out of habit. On my trip to the office I noticed one horse that seemed excited but quickly wrote it off as probably a young horse that was new to horse shows.

On the way back from the office I again noticed the excited horse but something else stood out. It was strange how he was pressing himself up against the bars, young horses will sometimes pace like he was…but something was off. I paused and looked at the very blanketed horse. He had several layers of blankets and hoods but even though I could only see his nose, ears and eyes…something seemed familiar. And unusual. It was like he was staring straight at ME. Other people walked by but this horse never looked away, from the time I stopped to look he stopped and stared at me. This was also not normal. Then it dawned on me…could it be? I knew Scrapper was showing at AQHA shows but I didn’t know he would be here. I started crying. Silly horse had picked me out and made a fool of himself to get me to notice. Of course I cried.

I have had enough experiences similar to this one over the years to let me know that horses do remember and recognize people that mean a lot to them.

P.S.- I did buy Scrapper back, my kids also had the privilege of riding him and he is now retired and hanging out in Maine with my mom. This is a video of  Scrapper being ridden for the first time by my son Joshua. I know that Scrapper is sore in the video and you will be happy to know that his heart bar shoes with wedge pads have helped tremendously.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2015 in Life, Members Question, Video

 

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How long did you ride while you were pregnant?

“Stacy, I know you have 3 boys, and I was just wondering how long you rode while you were pregnant. Did you compete, or was it more riding for pleasure?Thanks, and I look forward to hearing your response!”-Sharli

“Stacy, Just wondering what ideas you might have for a pregnant gal to keep her horse in shape for next year. I’m 5 months along now and my husband has asked that I stay safe and do not canter or trot my horse. We do mostly gaming. If you have any ideas I would appreciate it. Thank you!”-Crystal N.

I do have three sons and I received differing advice during my pregnancies from professionals. My first advice would be to follow your doctors orders. For fun I will also recap some of what I did.Stacy Westfall's son and horse

I became pregnant with my first son in the fall. I was newly married and I had a job as a bank teller. I had recently sold my only horse (with a promise to buy him back someday) and Jesse and I hadn’t started our training business yet. This made it easy for me to not ride. The temptation of riding a horse I knew wasn’t there and I wasn’t interested in experimenting with other horses. Over that winter Jesse started riding a few horses for people and I grew restless without horses to work. I cleaned stalls, brushed horses and watched Jesse ride. That spring I trained a filly for the yearling lounge line class. I have a win photo from a show shortly after my son was born…but it is buried in my storage unit in Ohio. My Doctor recommended that I wait to ride for 6-8 weeks after my son was born so I did.

When I became pregnant with my second son we were training horses and I was staying home with my first son. I rode, with permission, quite awhile into my pregnancy. I tended to lose weight for the first three months and then it took a month or two to gain back to my original weight. It didn’t seem like a big deal to ride because all of the horses were broke (no colt starting) and it didn’t seem uncomfortable…until around 5-6 months. At that point I noticed several things. First, my balance was affected. Not huge, but it was there. Second, I could feel the supporting muscles in my stomach being stressed-especially at a lope. At the time the doctor and I were both operating under the idea that ‘if I was in shape for it, it probably would be safe’. The thinking was very similar to the runner, Alysia Montano, in California who competed while 8.5 months pregnant.

Stacy Westfall's boys ridingI was due January 1st and when the Congress entries had to be mailed in August 20th I thought it was a good idea to sign up for the Ladies Reining. Keep in mind that shortly after this is when I started to notice the symptoms above. By September Jesse was riding the horse for me most of the time and I would get on occasionally. I did show at the Congress in October and my son was born December 22. I have a photo sliding and placing at the Congress while very pregnant. It is buried somewhere in my storage unit in Ohio…but maybe it should stay there, if I remember correctly it was taken after midnight and we all look worn out, lol.

The third time was a bit more interesting because of one woman I met. My third pregnancy started out like the rest and I rode. People didn’t even know I was pregnant for quite awhile and I continued riding aged horses and showing. One day I was at a small local show and a lady walked up and introduced herself to me. She told me she was a nurse and she worked with my sister-in-law. We visited for a few minutes and then she mentioned that she had heard I was pregnant. I confirmed this and then she said, “I know it isn’t any of my business but I feel the need to tell you something. I am a nurse. I specifically work with newborns. You are an expert in the horse world and I respect that. I also would guess that, as a professional, you have seen more than most when it comes to bad things that can happen.”

I nodded in agreement. She went on, “You have probably learned both from mistakes you have made…but also from mistakes you have seen other people make.” I nodded again.

“I am asking you to consider not riding. I know it feels safe because you know the horses but think of the risk. I work everyday with children who are born premature, who are injured before they are even born. I see the problems and the pain it causes their families. If they could go back and change things they would. What if your horse trips? Just a simple trip could cost your babies life.”The barn help

As you can tell, she was very convincing. I had seen a horse trip and go down in a smooth arena, on a loose rein, for no reason and the rider suffered from a dislocated shoulder. Accidents do happen and as soon as she gave me her perspective I couldn’t erase it from my mind. I went home and didn’t ride for the remainder of that pregnancy. I still cleaned stalls and spent time in the barn. I am aware that accidents can still happen on the ground or driving in a car, but I also had two small children and when I looked at them I knew I wanted to do all I could to reduce any chance of hurting the baby I was carrying.

I believe that if I had met this lady during my first pregnancy I would never have ridden during any of them.

I wouldn’t feel bad turning my horse out during my pregnancy and accepting the idea that we could both get fit together after my baby was born. I can imagine doing groundwork once the doctor has cleared you for lifting weight, etc after the baby was born and then, when cleared by the doctor, I could see my horse getting fit along with me. Horses that are turned out will stay in shape pretty well. Another option would be to lease the horse to a friend or someone you trust. The options are almost limitless when doing this-you could choose to keep the horse at your house, you could give lessons, you could allow the horse to go to someone’s barn that you trust-the list goes on and on.

Congratulations. Enjoy this time. I loved being pregnant. Keep safe and remember there will be plenty of time for riding in the future. Getting back on after some time off is a little bit like a Christmas present to yourself.

 

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Life, Members Question, Thought provoking

 

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“How do you decide how long a training session with your horse should be?” -brought to you by Weaver Leather

“How do you decide how long a  training session with your horse should be?”-Cindy M

There are many factors that go into deciding how long a training session should be. Often people decide how much training time by how long they have but it is generally better if we can set the goal to be primarily physical or emotional.

In a training session we are either trying to change something physically or mentally with the horse. Knowing what your focus is will help you determine how long the session will be. For example, in this video I am riding Al, an off the track Thoroughbred that is being retrained as a riding horse. This video is one entire training session and yes, it is only about three minutes long. During this session I was mostly focused on the mental training. Al anticipated hard work so I purposely chose to do some very short rides, even if I rode him once in the morning and once in the evening. My purpose was to change the way he thought about a typical ride.

Al also preferred going to the right instead of the left so I purposely only rode him to the left. I was again trying to plant a mental seed of ‘left’ being the answer.

Also, notice that I didn’t try to accomplish a lot of different things in this time period. I stayed smooth and steady which will help Al have a positive experience.

There have been other horses, on other days where I was trying to accomplish other goals so my rides were drastically different. For example, I have ridden horses with ‘relax’ as the goal, so I spent 2-3 hours riding them but not working them hard. This was planting the seed that neither one of us was going to rush through the process so we should both relax.

Other times I have been working on more physical goals such as improving the spin or the slide. Physical training often requires repetition much like learning to dance and it would be common for me to reward the physical improvement.

We are always training both the physical and the emotional but I have a plan before I head out to ride as to which will be my focus for that day. I am free to end the session if I see any improvement or if I am ‘planting’ a seed. Remember, any improvement should be considered a success.

 
 

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If a horse was injured years ago…is there still a chance he can heal?

“Hi Stacy, I met this one horse a week ago that a friend of mine has had ever since birth. Six years ago when Vick was two and a half she had a guy training/acquainting Vick with the saddle he (the trainer) got sidetracked!!! He left Vick in the roundpen alone (with all the gear) REALLY. Anyway Vick took it upon himself to dispose of his foreign attachments. Thus getting all tangled up. Ever since his hind left leg in swollen. Horses are my life in a sense. I would like to have your opinion. If there is still a chance for it to heal? And if so what to do????”-Katie S.lameness

I would recommend finding a vet that specializes in lameness. Often vets that deal with performance horses or racehorses (TB or Standardbred) are excellent leg vets. Get a professional opinion. Much like visiting your doctor vs another doctor, opinions can vary so multiple opinions are also valuable.

Sometimes even long standing injuries can be treated because the horses don’t naturally fully rest like they need. For example, sometimes stall rest can allow something to heal that has not healed in the pasture simply because the horse keeps re-injuring every time he feels better. I am not diagnosing here. I am recommending finding a vet who can take a look and I am saying, yes, there is hope.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2014 in Video

 

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Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac…New Beginnings

Life has many twists and turns and I am constantly intrigued by the directions it takes. When I started my journey with Jac it was a personal milestone for me. It was accepting what had happened with Roxy and seeing that I had something to offer Jac.Jac’s progress was shared with the world.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to video Jac’s progress and share it with the world. I knew it would be an interesting journey…because every horse I have trained has been an interesting journey. There are always questions that come up during the process, some have clear answers; correct Jac when he bites, others are not as easy; do I show him now or wait another month?

What I love about training horses is that there are always breakthroughs. Many of these moments happen in the barn and are never seen by anyone but the horse and rider. Following Jac allowed many of these moments to be caught on film. Most of these breakthroughs are small, incremental steps. These steps lead the horses forward, sometime that is a path to greatness in the show pen and other times it is to a life of bringing joy to someone in their backyard. The point isn’t to make horses that are great in the show pen…it is to make horses that are great individuals no matter where they are.

And as predicted, horses have setbacks, that was illustrated by Jac along the way. Simple things like when I went out of town and Jac didn’t get trained to bigger things like dental trips, vets and chiropractic adjustments. Many of you identified with the sometimes difficult decisions that surround owning horses.

I am very satisfied with everything that I accomplished with Jac. I believe that the foundation he has will be with him for a lifetime. I am also glad that I chose to be a part of Jac’s journey. You may remember that I struggled at first with the idea that he would look like Roxy and the relief that I found in the simple fact that he was a different color. The more I got to know Jac the more I was able to see him as a unique individual, which was a good thing. It was a good thing for me because it helped to move me away from directly comparing him to Roxy. It was a good thing for Jac because he has his own uniqueness and shouldn’t have to spend his life trying to be someone else.

As of Monday, Jac was sold.

As of Monday, Jac was sold.

When the video project started we committed to bringing you the ups, the downs “and everything in between” during Jac’s journey and this week Jac has moved into another phase of his life.

It was fitting that I received this question after last weeks episode of Jac;

“Laughing, really, at my self for thinking this but: What does Greg do? Haha. I mean what does he do to earn enough money to invest in horses, their care and training with you? You are all truly blessed.” -Natalie

Greg really is a regular guy who decided to try reining. He works in a small family business in the office where he manages the accounting. He cleans stalls, saves his money and goes to horse shows when he can. Like many other people across the country he keeps horses in training with professionals because horses are the hobby he has chosen instead of golf or fishing or any other sport. Greg just happened to call the Westfall’s who just happened to know of a horse for sale…who just happened to turn out to be Roxy. Life takes interesting turns. Coincidence or Godincidence? I know what I believe.

Greg bred Roxy because she was an amazing horse and he looked for professional guidance to ensure that his decision would also help to improve the breed. I believe that he accomplished that goal with the four foals that she had before she died.

Like most horse owners Greg also knew that he probably wouldn’t keep them all. He struggled with the decision to sell Roxy’s first foal, Roxter, but eventually chose to keep the filly and sell the stallion. The money from Roxter’s sale helped to fund the breeding and eventual training of Jac. Watching Roxter succeed was a blessing because, although a small part of Greg knew he once owned that horse, another part of Greg knew that Roxter may never have reached that same potential while he owned him.

Roxter also played a part in the decision to collect Jac’s semen. Jac has played a different role than Roxter because Roxter was the first of Roxy’s foals, but Jac was the last. Rationally this shouldn’t change things much, but emotionally it changed things a lot. As Jac’s owner Greg has wrestled with the idea of selling Jac. He sold Roxter because he knew he didn’t have the facility to keep a stallion long term but he was still tempted to keep Jac. Greg is a friend as well as a client and throughout this journey we have been trying to help him with the decision. If you listen during episode (12) you can hear me say that Greg is there watching. He also drove down numerous times to watch Jac while we lived in Ohio and flew down to Texas when we were there. It was easy to see that Jac was a nice horse, it was easy to see that he could be successful…but one thing kept nagging Greg. He had made the decision to sell Roxter because he was a stud, why was Jac different? Long term what was best for Jac?Hindsight may be clear but foresight isn’t quite as easy.

Don’t we all wish we knew what was best long term? Hindsight may be clear but foresight isn’t quite as easy. Jesse and I had decided to sell our house in 2012 and when it sold in 2013 things got more complicated. We want to live nomadically, roaming around the country with our kids and horses for a year or two…but that decision effects other things. Did Jac’s plan fit with ours?

Jac is clearly bred well and he is talented. The reality of being a successful stallion is earning the right to breed, proving that the horse carries the potential to improve the equine world. Am I the right person to give Jac that opportunity? I have confidence in my ability to train a horse but I am also realistic about having the facility and the time.. I have chosen over the last few years to spend less time showing and more time traveling and teaching.

As you all know, I dropped Jac off at Select Breeders to be collected at the end of June. At that time they told us that they would likely need him for a 4-6 weeks. Our son needed to show his horse the second weekend in August in Ohio to finish his green reiner belt buckle points and I told Greg we would plan on picking Jac up after that show. It ended up that Jac completed his ‘job’ at Select Breeders before our son showed and Greg needed to decide what to do with Jac. Greg was still considering selling and we suggested that if he was serious we could suggest a trainer nearby Select Breeders that could evaluate Jac. We knew we liked Jac but there was always the chance that we were biased.

Greg chose to have Jac evaluated and we suggested a trainer that we thought might fit Jac’s style. It turns out that we were not biased, other people agreed Jac was a very nice horse and someone made an offer to buy Jac. Greg accepted the offer and as of Monday, Jac was sold.

It is interesting how life works. The money that Greg received from selling Roxter was used to create and train Jac. Jac was a blessing to Greg, myself and the many viewers of the Jac series and he still has more potential. Will he be a great show horse? A great sire? Only time will tell.

Greg enrolled Jac in the AQHA Full Circle Program

Greg enrolled Jac in the AQHA Full Circle Program

I do know that Greg will use the money to continue the bloodlines. He has kept two fillies out of Roxy and I am looking forward to riding not only Roxy’s sons and daughters, but her granddaughters and more. Greg also signed Jac up for the AQHA Full Circle Program which helps ensure that Greg will always be notified should Jac ever become unwanted or ready for retirement.

Even though I will no longer be training Jac, I still hope to do some follow up blogs and videos. I will aim to attend some of the shows that Jac goes to and I will continue to be his fan. Jesse and I will also be keeping our eyes open for the perfect mare to use some of Jac’s frozen semen with. Riding one of Jac’s foals would be the fourth generation of the bloodline that I have ridden…I would enjoy that.

It is tempting to look at Jac’s sale as an ending but I am choosing to look at it as a new beginning. I expect that Jac will receive exceptional care and planning very similar to what Roxter has. I am also looking forward to the next chapter in my life. I am a trainer at heart and I am seriously considering the suggestion of training a rescue horse as my next project.

I still love the following paragraphs that have been at the end of each Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac, Youtube video. I was tempted to change the first line to “This was the story…” but I am unable to because I believe the story will go on. This is just another twist in the road, and I am excited to see what is around the next bend.

*        *         *

This is the story of Jacs Electric Whiz (Jac), the last baby out of Whizards Baby Doll, better known as “Roxy”. Roxy touched the hearts of horse lovers around the world when she and Stacy Westfall made history with their bareback and bridleless freestyle reining ride. The loss of Roxy in 2012 has left a void in the equine community. Although nobody can replace her, Roxy’s spirit lives on, not only in our hearts, but in Jac as well.

Join us as we follow Jac through weekly videos documenting his training journey from his first session to his first show and more. It is a journey filled with questions, breakthroughs, setbacks and accomplishments… and everything in between.

Below is the video that most of you thought was the end of the season:

Below is the video of our interview with Greg:

 

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Two-seater horse? Two-seater saddle! The double seat western saddle.

What was your first thought when you saw this saddle? When I first saw it I thought ‘better have a long backed horse’!long backed horse

A quick google search reveals that this is considered a ‘double seat western saddle’. As a kid, I rode double behind my mom a lot. We rode on a bareback pad. I tried riding behind a saddle but it really wasn’t fun… but we didn’t have one of these saddles either!

Now I am left to wonder if this saddle would have been a good answer or if bareback pad was the best.

Has anyone ever used one of these? I would love to know how you liked it and how well it fit the horse.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Life

 

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