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If your horse is willing to say ‘NO’ somewhere it should be a red flag.

When I was young I belonged to a contesting club. We ran all kinds of speed events including barrel racing, pole bending and more. It was common, back then, for horses to refuse to go into the show pen. Maybe even more interesting…it was not only common, it was also accepted.

red flagOver all the years that I have trained horses, I have noticed that horses often go through many of the stages that children do when learning. With a human child we understand that there is a stage where ‘no’ is their favorite word. We also understand that as teenagers develop they will often push and test authority as they develop a stronger sense of who they are.

I think horses go through many of these stages too.

The biggest difference that I see is that we adults would not trust a defiant and testy child with things of high value. Yet, through a lack of knowledge or ability to recognize the issue many adults climb onto horses who are defiant and testy….trusting them with our lives.

No person, or horse, or dog is perfect but we should be aware that a willingness to defiantly say ‘NO’ should be considered a red flag.

What does the red flag point to? It could be many things; immaturity, lack of understanding, a questioning of authority, soreness or more. The first step in figuring out what is going on is to acknowledge the red flag.

 

 
10 Comments

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Life

 

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Success story: Teaching a horse to lie (lay) down

“Stacy, A while back you posted a video about laying your horse down… I followed it and today is day 5 and he has been down about 5 times now! Thank you for such a cool way to approach the lay down!” -Alisha P.

success story

Alisha watched Stacy’s video and taught her horse to lay down on cue!

I love finding success stories like this one posted on my Facebook page! It is inspiring for people to read that the techniques shown worked on someone else’s horse. Watching a video or reading tips online can be intimidating but reading about someone having success make it a bit less so. Here are some of the comments and questions that Alisha has received about here experience:

Alisha P. could you share that link for me. Please thank you

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2…

Kyla J…. Hope that link works… If not just YouTube Stacy westfall laying horse down. Such a cool way of teaching a horse to lay down!

thank you.. I have a candiate i want to teach…

Alisha P. how easy was this to teach?? I have a crazy smart apply guy… Would like to try this.. how well did Nelson bring his feet together.

He went down on day 4… First day I just put him on the fence to teach the concept…. Day two expected him to build on day 1. Day 3 started asking for him to walk his back feet up in the middle of the pen off the fence. Day 4 would ask him to hold the position and go further. Sometimes when he would make a mistake he would quickly correct himself and start to buckle in his front end like he was thinking down. When he did go down it was his idea and he was really quite. I have done it 4 times since then and each time he goes down faster and faster. Nelsyn has a really good foundation and was ready for this next step. I found it to be great way to teach the lay down and can’t wait to try it on another horse! Good luck and have fun teaching your horse… Let me know how it goes!

This conversation is happening right now on the ‘Posts to Page’ section of my Facebook account. If you want to ask Alisha a question jump on there and ask her…she hasn’t had any warning but she has been trying to answer people. If you have a question for me feel free to post it in the comments here. I have also embedded the video Alisha used below as well.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Members Question, Video

 

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When your horse refuses to lead do you switch to driving him forward?

does your horse truly lead?

If your horse is willing to say ‘NO’ somewhere it should be a red flag.

You can’t out pull a horse. This seems like an obvious statement but there is a good chance, if you stop and think about it, you have probably tried to at some point during your interaction with horses.

Ponies are practically famous for having moments when they say ‘no’ and refuse to go forward. Is this a coincidence or is this because their ‘trainers’ tend to be small children who don’t fully understand the ideas of pressure and release?

Can you picture a time where you have seen a human trying to out pull a horse? Maybe the person was trying to lead the horse from one surface to another, for example from gravel to black top. Or maybe they were trying to lead the horse from outdoors into a building. When I was a kid I had a mare that refused to walk into a big old barn with a wooden floor that housed cattle beneath it. Or maybe you have seen someone trying to out pull a horse when loading into a trailer.

One popular answer to this issue is to stop trying to lead the horse forward and ‘drive’ the horse forward instead. It is a popular choice for good reason. It is a great training tool and should be used by everyone. But does this mean we must give up on leading also?

Leading is closely related to tying. If you find your horse having moments where he says ‘No’ during leading and you must switch to driving you should be a little concerned that this refusal will eventually pop up in the area of tying.

 
7 Comments

Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Thought provoking, Training

 

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What is your input on blanketing a horse or not in the winter and also how cold is too cold to let them out in pasture?

“What is your input on blanketing a horse or not in the winter and also how cold is to cold to let them out in pasture?”-Kimberly M.

I think that there are valid reasons both for and against blanketing horses and each person needs to evaluate what is best for their horse.

StacyWestfall'sfirsthorseI grew up in Maine and we never blanketed our horses. Sometimes the thermometer, without windchill, would go as low as -40…below zero. It got cold. Thankfully the wind didn’t blow when it was that cold and our horses grew thick coats and never shivered. All was good.

My mom still lives in Maine but she has different horses. One horse is in his 20’s and is a hard keeper. He grows a thick hair coat and doesn’t shiver but putting a rain sheet or waterproof blanket on him when it is extremely cold helps him to conserve energy and hold his weight better.

The other is a middle aged mare who is an easy keeper but naturally doesn’t grow much hair. I know because she lived with me for years and we kept her in a pasture with a run-in shed. Each year everyone else in the pasture grew enough hair to stay warm but this mare would only grow an average hair coat and then would shiver. Some people have told me that shivering is ‘natural’, which is obvious in one sense of the word, but whenever I have personally experienced shivering I have found it to be very unpleasant. I am convinced that some horses are ‘naturally’ given to growing more or less hair and as the mare can’t migrate south…I sent my mom a rain sheet and a waterproof blanket.

When I have horses in training that I am riding multiple times per week I keep them blanketed. I do this because if I don’t then they tend to overheat when working…imagine dressing in your best winter overalls and coat and then shoveling snow for an hour straight. Heavy winter wear is not the best when you’re doing heavy work. Every time I make that mistake I end up needing to remove layers, something my horse cannot choose to do if it is hair. By blanketing my horses that I am working I can help them regulate their temperature plus I can help them cool out quicker. A horse with a heavy hair coat that does get soaking wet from a workout can take hours to cool out and dry properly. A horse that has been blanketed can be cooled out in thirty minutes or less with a wool cooler.Luke, I am your father!

The choice to blanket also comes with the responsibility to check and maintain the horses regularly. If I have horses that I am blanketing it is a lot of extra work in the fall and the spring. I have to pay attention to the daytime and nighttime temperatures and change their layers accordingly. For a fully blanketed show horse it is normal to change their layers every ten degrees. I do not choose to blanket horses just for the fun of it…it is far too much work if that is the only reason.

If you don’t need a short hair coat because you are working the horse regularly but want to blanket sometimes then consider only adding below a certain temperature. If you choose to only blanket when the temperature is below ten degrees then your horse will still grow a pretty thick hair coat. Plus by selecting a low temperature like zero or ten degrees you won’t have all of the extra work in the spring and fall.

I prefer to leave horses that aren’t working regularly without blankets and allow them to grow as much hair as possible. I also recognize that some times blanketing can be either helpful, as in the training situation, or best, such as with the hard keeper.

As far as how cold is too cold I think there are different factors to look at. How healthy the horse is, what type of shelter or wind break is available, and how much forage is available are all part of the equation. Keep in mind that a great source of internal heat for horses in the winter is digesting hay and fresh, unfrozen, water is always a must.Mini horses in snow

Each situation will be a little different and I’m sure that many people will leave comments about the temperatures their horses have successfully lived in. Here is a comment following my blog on “How cold is too cold to ride a horse.” 

“Up here in Canada if we don’t ride when it’s “too cold” – we wouldn’t ride for half the year! 😉 At our barn we just make sure we ride the horses according to the temperature. On the really cold days we might just play with some trail obstacles or do ground work in order to not sweat the horses up. Oh, and I’ve discovered that “hot paws” are a girl’s best friend in the winter! They are little heated pads that go inside your gloves and boots. Life savers! (or should I say “digit savers”!)”-Kim

I have more often kept my horses in because of ice or poor footing instead of the weather being too cold. Unfortunately, someone will leave a comment saying that it is totally natural for horses to endure any weather. While it is true that horses live in the wild, they also can suffer in the wild. I have personally seen horses with half their ears because the tops were frozen off…natural, yes, but not something I’m interested in.

While googling for info I found a great article on Discoverhorses.com quoting Dr. Joyce Harman, “There is no temperature where it is too cold for a horse to be ridden or to go outside if they are adapted to it.”

I think each person needs to evaluate their situation. Some places are going to get extreme wind, others extreme snow or ice and still others extreme cold, each brings its own challenges. Keep in mind that sudden or unusual weather won’t allow the horses time to adapt.

Often I have to laugh when I go out in the cold with my horses. Some of my best memories are with my horses in the winter. They tend to be fresh and full of energy and for the most part they seem to handle the cold weather much better than I do.

 
25 Comments

Posted by on December 22, 2014 in Life, Members Question

 

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Who needs insurance for their horse?

Who needs insurance for their horse? This is the question that I asked and insurance agent. What do you think he said?

I was expecting him to say “everyone” but to my surprise he didn’t.  His answer was, “If you can’t write a check to replace the horse, then you should consider insurance.”

Hum, this sounded a lot like the training I had received about insurance when I took Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class. And it was fairly similar to advice I have given over the years.

I have never, personally, insured a horse…but I have recommended that other people do. Why the difference?

The last person I helped walk through this decision was a lady who had been saving up to buy a really nice reining horse for several years. She purchased a horse that was ready to show for about $20,000. What she had purchased was a sane, sound and ready to show horse that had several years of training with a professional. She had also purchased a friendly, kind horse that was a joy to be around. Insurance would not be able to help her through the pain of losing her horse but it would give her the ability to purchase one trained to the same level again.

The most valuable horse I have personally owned was my stallion, Vaquero. I purchased him when he was three and he died at the age of six. I had considered insuring him but I chose not to. My reasoning was that I could not walk out and buy another one that was trained to his same level. If something were to happen to Vaquero then I knew I would be starting from scratch with another horse and would be investing years in training. Essentially, I could have insured him for his ‘raw’ value, the untrained value, but either way I was going to be putting in the time again.

I had no idea that I would lose Vaquero so young. He died in 2012 and I just now –almost -have a horse trained to that level again. Although I didn’t have insurance I did have the ‘next’ horse already standing in the barn, Newt. Insurance would have paid me for my time but nothing can help me know if the horse I am investing my time in will ever reach bridleless competition level.

Do I regret not having Vaquero insured? Yes…and no. The money would have helped pay for the vet bills that I ran up trying to save him and it would have given me the opportunity to possibly purchase another young prospect. But, there was one moment where I was very happy NOT to have insurance.

THE FOLLOWING is not a reason to skip insuring…but I do wish I had been more emotionally prepared.

When things were looking really bad for Vaquero and we were at the vets they have to try to tell you how bad it is. One of the ways they tell you is they will say, “Insurance company guidelines will allow…” and this makes sense. You don’t want vets declaring horses beyond saving…if they really aren’t. But when the vets told me that, had Vaquero been insured, the insurance company would have approved euthanizing…I remember feeling conflicted. There was a moment where I was glad that he wasn’t insured because I WANTED the feeling of loss and I didn’t want a feeling of gain. I didn’t want to wonder why I made the choice.

In hindsight this was a very emotional reaction at a very emotional time, but I am still thankful that I experienced it. I know I made the choice I would have made either way. Maybe in the future I will have an insured horse and will have to make the same decision again. I really hope I’m NEVER in that situation again though. Maybe it will benefit someone who reads this though. From my experience when the vets say it is this bad…it is bad.

The majority of horses that I have had in training over the years have not been insured. Do you have your horses insured? If so, what are they insured against?

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Vaquero after his second trip to the vet, just before his last trip to the vet.

Vaquero six months earlier.

For the rest of Vaquero’s blogs:

 
15 Comments

Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Life, Thought provoking, 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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Successs is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

Successs is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2014 in quote

 

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