Teaching a horse to accept contact with the bit, teaching collection and headset; Jac Review week

The following three questions were posted on Weaver Leather’s Facebook page in response to the Jac videos:

“How do you teach the horse to accept contact with the bit better? “-Julie H

“How should I go about teaching my mare to put her head down and collect?”-Kaitlin F

“How do you teach a horse to accept more contact with the bit? I am transitioning from Western Riding to English and my old guy is telling me to “give me more rein” constantly (PS: he had his teeth check recently)!” Ildiko M


Teaching the horse to accept the bit comes with challenges. The rider must look at two issues;exercises that promote acceptance of the bit, collection and headset in the horse

  1. mentally seeing the importance of teaching contact
  2. physically focusing on how you are using your hands

Many riders struggle with the idea of holding steady, light contact with the horses face. I believe this struggle has roots in the idea that we are somehow unfair because we are not releasing quickly. There are two ways that I look at this mental issue. First, in the beginning training of a horse I want to ‘hold the horses hand’ because it keeps us both safer.

Picture a two or three year old child who is constantly pulling their hand away from their parent as they are walking around a busy parking lot. The child is showing resistance to receiving instruction from the parent and they are also endangering themselves as well as others. The child does not view the situation this way but most adults would.

The horse is not a child and you are not riding in a parking lot. The horse is close to 1,000 pounds and you are on top of them. People have died while riding horses. To keep everyone safe there are times that the horse must allow us to ‘hold their hand’ for everyones safety.

Later on in the horses training it is also important that the horse allows us to have light, steady pressure if we choose. This is not a punishment for the horse and a horse that is comfortable with the riders hands will show no resistance with the rider making light contact. This contact allows us to help ‘shape’ the horse and encourage high level performance. Imagine a golf coach instructing a golfers swing, or a football coach instructing a quarterback on his throw or a dancer receiving instruction from a coach. All of these athletes would receive LOTS of advice on the shape of their body. Human-to-human we can speak and explain, or show video to the student and even then the coach will often touch the student and physically show them where their mistake is or where they could improve.

With the horse it is important that they trust the hands and legs of the rider and that they are willing to be shaped and molded by them. This ability of the horse to trust and be shaped is how the training can progress to a high level. A golfer, football player or dancer who isn’t willing to receive instruction will not be very successful and neither will a horse who will not receive gentle guidance.

For the rider it is important to remember that your hands must be steady and reliable if your horse is going to trust you or willingly allow you to ‘hold his hand.’ Most horses lose trust in the riders hands if the rider is either new and lacks coordination to keep their hands steady or if the rider bumps or jerks a lot.

Can you keep your hands smooth and steady? To find out, I recommend that you try either carrying a cup of water or an egg on a spoon as a test. If you want less mess, and an easier tool to practice with, you can check out the Egg and Spoon set I developed with Weaver Leather. I used this tool for years when I was giving lessons.

For physical exercises that will help improve both the horse and the rider, go back and watch the following three episodes of the Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac series. Watch how much I focus on keeping my hand steady from the early rides all the way to episode 29. I actually recommend that you watch episode 29 first and study the ‘bend and counter bend’ exercise and then watch the previous exercises to see how I built to this stage of training. Watch for how steady my hands are and how Jac reflects this steadiness in his face.

Remember also that just like the golfer, football player or dancer it will take repeated practice to build muscle strength and muscle memory. As the horse builds this strength you will also see the horse carrying their body differently including the head being lowered and the body becoming more collected. Can you see how Jac physically got stronger from Episode 18 to Episode 29? Can you see the headset and collection that has been developed?

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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Stacy's Video Diary: Jac, Training, Video


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Horsetown USA…Norco, California; horse paths, community trails, pens and arenas!

I wrote a post featuring the quote, “I would travel only by horse, if I had the choice.” And received the following comment:

“Yes!!! I keep saying, it would be awesome if someone developed a town that only allowed horse travel in the entire vicinity. If the roads were made for horses (soft), no cars or trucks to think about. All the stores could have hitching rails, or better, small corrals everywhere. Especially if you had lots of stores and restaurants….. oooh, restaurants with horse fare  ;) . Friends houses could have a small stable instead of a garage, unless they owned a ranch, of course. And all the wonderful trainers and clinicians in the world (like Stacy Westfall) would want to live there or visit often and host clinics  :D Hmmm…. what to call it…. what to call it?-Rebecca”

Good news! I have been to a place very similar to the one you describe…it is called Norco, California! In 2006 Norco began promoting itself as “Horsetown U.S.A” and even trademarked it.

When I visited Norco I was amazed to see that instead of sidewalks made of concrete there were instead, very well maintained dirt paths. Even the paved driveways had this dirt path running through it! Very frequently (maybe every block?) there were pens to turn horses in or places to tie…especially in front of the stores! And the stores….

I have never seen so many tack stores! Huge! And right beside each other!  New, used, consignment stores, you name it…they have it.

A McDonalds with a hitching rail? Cross walk buttons at horse height? A community riding arena? Community round pens?



Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Life, Video


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Are some horses ‘unfixable’? Are all horse problems created by humans?

“Stacy I enjoy your blogs and thoughts thank you so much for what you do for the equine world. I grew up riding in open shows and for fun and decided that I would like to make a career out of training. I got my equine riding and training degree and spent some time riding under a reining pro. My ethics would not allow me to continue with my chosen profession so I got a normal job and now ride non pro. I happened across a sale with a horse raffle, I watched them start this mare and she was bred really nice. They pushed her too fast through the process since it was a show and they wanted to be riding her the next day. She bucked a lot… I mean a LOT when they first saddled her but by the second day with riding she was coming along great. Low and behold I win this mare. I take her home and start over with her and she is SUPER reactive and add that with cat like reflexes. I worked with her an entire winter on the ground and then started riding her. We had lots of good rides but one day out in the pasture a rabbit jumped out of the brush and she left, no bucking but there was no way I could stay on her. After that she dumped me several more times. I decided to start over again and went back to ground work and saw lots of improvement so the following summer I started riding again. Now when we loped she would suddenly start bucking which led to the very first stride of the lope being a buck. This was never consistent, some rides were great and others were not and she could REALLY buck. I stuck with her for several months for only one reason, I 100% feel the buck came from fear not nastiness. But the triggers were always different, some days there was no trigger, and the ground work prior to the ride was always great. I came to believe the mare had a wire in her head that would suddenly snap and I was tired and a little scared of her so our relationship would never be great.  Whether this came from genetics or being pushed too hard her first few days I will never know. I have started several since her and they are great horses. I know the common philosophy is 100% of a horses’ problems are human created but I do not believe that. Do you believe some horse are just not trainable?”

Avid reader
Ryane C.

My answer may not be popular but it is what I have observed. I have come up with a set of numbers, that although they are not perfect, can be used to analyze horses as a whole…including the possibly ‘unfixable’ horses.

10-80-10 is a term I have coined to describe the natural mental state, or trainability, of the horse population; which is to say that there are 10% of horses that are amazing, 80% that are average, and 10% that need professional or medical intervention.

Brandy belonged to Stacy Westfall's mother, he wasn't physically talented but he was in the top 10% mentally and taught many children.

Brandy belonged to Stacy Westfall’s mother, he wasn’t physically talented but he was in the top 10% mentally and taught many children.

Lets start with the top 10%. They are exceptional. If they were humans they would be Michael Jordans of the horse world. You will see theses horses winning big in their events BUT pay attention; you will also see them at your local open show or trail ride. Even without ‘the right training’ you can spot these exceptionally great minded horses. Sometimes they even stand out MORE when they are not in professional hands because it is even more obvious that it is the horse who is choosing to be good even in tough conditions. You will see them packing kids, green and novice riders around and wonder how their ‘training’ is still there despite the inconsistent hands and mixed cues…but it is not the ‘training’ but really their great mind that you are seeing. My stallion, Vaquero was one of these rare individuals as was my mom’s horse, Brandy, that she had when I was growing up. Brandy never won any thing of note but was always our ‘go to’ horse for teaching a new rider or building up a riders confidence. Brandy was not physically exceptional but mentally he was clearly in the top 10%.

My stallion, Vaquero, was mentally in the top 10% and he also had the rare combination of being physically talented as well. He was a joy to train and I believe that he would have excelled in anyones training program. Even if he had never been trained as a reiner any horseman who saw him would have appreciated him. Have you ever known a horse like this?

The middle 80% of horses is a tougher group to analyze. Inside the 80% there is a sliding scale of trainability BUT they all have one thing in common; they are greatly influenced by the training they receive. With good training techniques, horses that belong to this 80% can look like they are one of the top 10% but with bad training or life experience they can also look like they belong to the bottom 10%. Roxy was part of this group. She was not an easy horse in the beginning. When she was a two year old, the girl who worked for me at the time actually told me, “You’re crazy if you ride that horse outside.”…and she meant with a saddle and a bridle. Unlike Vaquero, Roxy could have become insecure and scared. She defaulted to fear and required patience and repetition to learn the proper way to respond.

The biggest difference to note between Vaquero and Roxy, the thing that identified one as the top 10% and the other as the 80%, was not where they ended up, the difference was in the amount of work it took to get them there. With Vaquero I could show him something once and he ‘got it.’ There was no fight or fear even if he was confused but he wasn’t confused often. He forgave mistakes and could handle pressure. He was like training a gifted child who could simply read a book and then perform.

The bottom 10% is generally the most difficult for people to accept the existence of. Notice that I didn’t use the word ‘unfixable’ but rather I said they need professional or medical intervention. It is accepted that genetically horses can be at risk for HERDA or HYPP…but no one is talking about possible mental issues. In humans it is documented that 20% of adults have experienced mental illness in the past year…why can’t these issues happen in horses also? In humans many of these are treated by therapy, medication or by dealing with the symptoms. Are some of these possibly appropriate for horses? Maybe. In addition to the mental component I also believe that there are horses dealing with untreated physical pain that can also cause difficulty. I knew a man who was given a ‘problem’ horse and later it was discovered that the horse had an old wire segment embedded deep in his shoulder.

I have personally seen a small number of horses that I believe had some kind of brain disorder. The one ‘common’ thread that they had was the tendency to ‘snap’ for no apparent reason. I am not talking about horses that lacked training or were in unusual or trying circumstances, but rather, horses that more closely resembled humans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

I am not condemning horses that potentially belong to the bottom 10% for whatever reason; I am stating that it is important to be aware that they can exist. Not everyone is equipped or capable of dealing with these horses which is why professional or medical intervention is usually the best route. Know what you are capable of dealing with and make your decision accordingly. Some people choose to keep these horses as pasture pets, accepting that they are unsafe to ride, other people continue to look for help for the horse, and still others choose the route that was documented in the movie, “Buck“.

Have you seen horses that fall into each of the categories? What category do your horses fall into?

Vaquero had an exceptional mind and I put him in the top 10% of horses, when considering them mentally.

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Posted by on July 28, 2014 in Thought provoking, Video


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“I would travel only by horse, if I had the choice.”

I can appreciate this quote because I also believe that the world looks better from the back of the horse. I love the pace, whether that is walking and enjoying all the detail you would miss from a car, or if it is galloping up a hill feeling the wind, smelling the fresh air and feeling the power of the horse I am riding. Traveling by horse gives me time to think and appreciate my surroundings.


Do you prefer riding a horse over other forms of transportation? Why?"I would travel only by horse, if I had the choice." Linda McCartneyHere is a link to a blog about a man who has been traveling by horseback for years!


Posted by on July 27, 2014 in Life, quote


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How dangerous are horses? Injuries, accidents and ranking against other sports

Bruised leg from being kicked by a horse

What is the worst wreck you have been in or witnessed?

Injuries happen. At the last horse show I was at I saw a man in a cast and the first thing I asked was, “Horse related accident?” to which he responded, “No, I just tripped.” We both laughed and I told him he really needed a better story, or at least a better build up. But the incident got me thinking. Horses can be dangerous, but so can many other hobbies. This spring my 14 year old nephew broke his ankle/leg when he landed wrong during basketball. Another friend injured her knee in the same way. Several people I know hurt themselves simply walking, or rather, while simply walking.

Horses can be dangerous but there are ways that we can make them safer including educating both the horse and the rider and by simply being aware.

Here are some interesting statistics;

  • one in five injuries related to horses happens before mounting up
  • most dismounted injuries are more serious than mounted injuries
  • dismounted injuries tend to be kicks
  • mounted injuries tend to be falls

Total pro sports ranked horseback riding at #7 in comparison with other sports-

  1. Football
  2. Basketball
  3. Cycling
  4. Skateboarding
  5. Baseball
  6. Softball
  7. Horseback riding
  8. Ice hockey
  9. Lacrosse
  10. Golf
  11. Tennis

There are many interesting products out there to help reduce the chance of injury. Riding helmets are the most widely known and recommended piece of safety equipment. Others include safety vests and break away stirrups.

How dangerous do you consider horseback riding to be? What is the worst wreck you have been in or witnessed?

P.S.-Here is an interesting video on breakaway stirrups.


Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Life, Video


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What is the best way to teach a horse to remain patient and quiet when tied?

“What is the best way to teach a horse to remain patient and quiet when tied?-Joann L.”Patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting.

If you are referring to a horse that digs holes, moves around and calls for friends; most of the time the answer is ‘more of it’, meaning they need to be tied more. Lets look at Newt, shown here in these photos, as an example.

Newt has been trained to tie from the time he was a weanling. He had all of his groundwork done and he spent the first two years of his life living in a pasture with other horses. He was tied on-and-off during this time. He is lazy by nature.

When I started training him under saddle at the age of two I would tie him for about an hour after each work session. This was generally in his stall. He was pretty normal meaning; he did some pawing, as evidenced by the bedding being moved, but this went away within a couple of months. Sometimes I would tie him in the indoor and when the weather was warmer I tied him outside after working him. These locations made him more likely to paw.

Newt started being hauled more when he was three and four. That is where he excelled at pawing. From the time he was loaded until the trailer moved he would paw. He would stop pawing when the trailer moved…but you could feel him resume if you stopped at a light. It became a running joke because the boys started ‘pawing’ in the backseat of the truck in imitation.Horse pawing displaying a lack of patience. Digging like a machine!

To combat this I wouldn’t unload him until he took a break. Sometimes that meant I would leave him on the trailer for 30 minutes or more after I arrived at a destination. I also learned to load him on the front so we could unload everyone else while Newt stayed behind for ‘training’. I still continued tying him in the stall or around the property after workouts. The pawing didn’t happen at all in the stall, was slowing down when tied in different places but was still there in the trailer.

Newt is now five. When we moved to Texas I went on a mission to stop the pawing. Some people say you can hobble them or put chains on but I wanted to get him to mentally choose to stop. I wanted him to learn patience. Newt is hobble trained because I wanted him to know that skill but I chose not to use it during these patience lessons.

Newt was turned out with other horses more after moving to Texas, which I like, but it aggravated the pawing some. Because he was turned out instead of being in a stall I also lost the ability to tie him in his stall after a workout. Maybe that added to the pawing but either way…Newt was on a mission. It was almost comical to watch because he would diligently begin digging, you couldn’t have trained one to have this kind of rhythm. I learned to ride him early so he could stay tied longer. I even tied a rope in a tree so I could tie him in different locations after his daily workouts. Some days I thought he was improving, other days- not so much.

Horse pawing displaying a lack of patience.On top of this I happened to start hauling him a lot. He was hauled to Texas in February. Hauled round trip from Texas to Ohio and back in April. And round trip from Texas to Ohio and back again in May. Each one way trip is just over 1,100 miles, for a grand total of 5,500 miles. In between hauling I was still riding and tying him out. By May I noticed a huge improvement everywhere; while tied out, at shows and even in the trailer he was pretty much not pawing.

Now he pretty much doesn’t paw. I just had him tied yesterday because I saddled up and realized that lunch was ready. I tied him, saddled, in a strange barn away from all of his pasture mates. The surface was sawdust, making it easy to see if he pawed. Nothing. He was tied for an hour and looked like a pro. I joked that if I wasn’t careful he would be mistaken for one of the camp horses and be headed down the trail before I got back.

Most horses aren’t this diligent, but some are. Work and time are my favorite training methods for this. Also being aware of when you are untying them is important because untying them is a reward.

It is also interesting to note that horses can regress in this area also. Popcorn was excellent at this but I haven’t been riding him regularly and he has become fond of his pasture mates. He was tied in the same sawdust floor yesterday and dug a nice sized hole by the time I got back. Can you guess what I have planned in his future?

camp horses have learned to stand quietly tied





Posted by on July 25, 2014 in Members Question, Training


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Mistakes and lessons that can be learned from spurs…

a bike will teach

Sometimes riders will turn their toe out and poke the horse on accident…a bike is not so forgiving.

While riding my bike to the barn, I was reminded again of how important it is to know where your spurs are at all times. I wear my spurs while walking, driving, and of course riding but recently I have added bike riding to the list also. Really I’m just being too lazy to walk BUT maybe there is a lesson hidden in this ‘bike riding with spurs on’ thing.

Know where your spurs are at all times.

Often people will ask me if they should wear spurs. The first consideration is your horse. Would your horse benefit from them or not? Remember spurs are for refinement…which means that both horse and rider need to be in this stage. I wrote a whole article titled “When and why to use…or not to use…spurs” if you want the full story.

The second thing to consider is do you have enough control over your legs? When I was young I was great at staying on about any horse I rode. I could ride bareback and would jump on horses that others thought were crazy…for fun. But I didn’t wear spurs. I knew that I wasn’t aware of my leg positions, I was more interested in staying on like a monkey!

And all this talk about spurs reminds me of a blog I wrote titled: “Spurs and underwear?…weddings…Walmart…Your stories have mine beat!” which is so funny that I am going to share it again here. This was first posted in December


Cowboy boot and spur

I never thought twice about wearing my barn clothes to down… one day while grocery shopping I noticed quite a few people staring at me but figured it was the spurs. I was close… on my dash though my (messy) bedroom before heading to the store I snagged a pair of underpants on my spurs and were dragging them through the store….-Kim V

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

I love the spur stories – here’s one I’ll share. I am a veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. My wife and I were married in 1968. I wore my “Service Order #1″ which is the red serge, breeks, boots and spurs, to the wedding – standard procedure. During the ceremony I stood at attention with my heels together and toes apart – normal military “at attention” position. By accident, I crossed my spurs – didn’t realize that had happened until I stepped off after saying “I do”. Fell flat on my face in front of my bride, the guests, the preacher, and 31 other Mounties. Highly embarrassing, but on the up side, we’re been married now for almost 46 years! -Ross M

alfalfa cubes

After a fun morning playing with my mare and her filly with alfalfa cubes, I ran to Walmart (of all places) for A few groceries.I looked like a hobo and smelled like a barn (filly spit) I had put cash in my pocket and when I paid the cashier loose alfalfa (from the cubes) fell on the counter…I apologized but the clerk madly swept up the bits of alfalfa and stated in a panic, “baby your bag done broke” “OMG no…it really is alfalfa,” I insisted. She winked and tried to give me the loose hay back…I left the store quickly and never went back. -Marj G.


Posted by on July 24, 2014 in Life


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