Do you start your training sessions with lunging your horse?

“Hi Stacy! Question for you. Do you start your training sessions with lunging? I lunge my horse every time I ride and also any horse I’m going to ride. Lately I have been talking with other friends who think lunging is not necessary and one who says it makes her horse more naughty and hot. Just wondering what you think about it. Thanks:)” -Melissa T.

What is the purpose of lunging a horse? Is it to physically wear him out? Is it to change his mental state of mind? Is it to teach him a new concept? Lunging has been used with all of these goals in mind at some point…the question is ‘why are you lunging your horse?’I don't always lunge, but I do always evaluate how the horse is behaving on the ground.
Early on in a horses training I use lunging, or groundwork, as a big part of my training. My goal is to begin to change his state of mind, which is a new concept to the horse at that time. Part of this often involves physical exertion because we often work the body to influence the mind. If you go back and watch the early episodes of Stacy’s Video Diary you can see a huge change in the horse’s behavior in a few days. This is because I am doing more than just running the horse around me…I am using a variety of groundwork cues to train him.
As the training progressed and the horses mental state of mind was changed, I began riding more and I gradually reduced the amount of groundwork.
Many people use lunging in an attempt to wear the horse out. If the horse’s mind is not engaged but instead they are only asked to physically exert themselves this should be considered an attempt to wear the horse out. The problem with this is that the horses get more and more fit, requiring longer and longer lunging times. Engaging the mind is far more effective than only trying to wear out the body.
If lunging is making the horse more naughty or hot I would evaluate what methods are being used. This is most common if the horse thinks the only point is to run wildly around the human. If instead of lunging the handler instead uses groundwork to engage the mind then the horse should respond more favorably. If not, then the pair should look at taking some lessons.
I don’t always lunge…but I do always evaluate how they are behaving on the ground. With a horse I know this ‘evaluation’ may take place as I lead them to the area where I groom and saddle and then out to mount up. If I know the horse I can evaluate their mental state in this short amount of time, much like you can evaluate a friends state of mind during a short ‘hello.’ If I detect that they are feeling fresh or seem distracted then I may choose to do some groundwork.
To decide if you should lunge you should be able to identify your purpose for lunging. You may lunge a horse that is new to you for an evaluation, or a horse you know because you detected his behavior was a bit odd, or yet another horse because you would like to improve your communication on the ground.

Posted by on December 18, 2014 in Members Question, Training


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What was your favorite episode from Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac?

This question was posted to me on Facebook:

“Whats ur fave episode?”-Chelsey B.Remain calm and see the problem as an opportunity. Stacy Westfall quote

My favorite is probably Episode 26…the first three minutes. I love it because Jac is asking questions. That means that he is comfortable asking questions while at the same time he is still being respectful. To me this is a beautiful illustration of how the conversation between a horse and human can be.

The interesting thing is that in this episode many people would have said that Jac was being ‘bad’. I knew the history and I knew what I had been rewarding Jac for doing in previous lessons. I was also willing to see the situation from Jac’s perspective.

It is ok that Jac was making mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. How people react to your mistakes says more about them than it says about the one who made the mistake.




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Could you have used a bosal instead of a bit for some of his training? Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review

“Thanks so much Stacy for your honesty about what really happens! I really enjoy reading your blogs:) Back when Jac’s mouth was irritated, could you have used a bosal instead of a bit for some of his training? Happily following you from Williams Lake, BC, Canada” -Jen

A bosal is not the same as a mechanical hackmore. Click photo to see more bosals.

A bosal is not the same as a mechanical hackmore. Click photo to see more bosals.

I had the same thought myself. If you watch the video below, Episode 39, at the 2 minute mark, you will see that I did ride Jac a few times in a bosal. A bosal  has nothing in the mouth and is something that I am even allowed to show in, so I gave it a try.  But it didn’t work.

There were two issues here; physical and mental.

Physically, at least early on, there was still evidence that Jac’s mouth was irritated, even without a bit. When ridden his saliva was occasionally tinged with blood. I don’t know for sure if the riding irritated his mouth; breaking at the poll requires the lower jaw to slide forward. Maybe his mouth was irritated in the stall or in the run too…I don’t know for sure. I stopped poking around all the time because it bothered him and I wanted to let it heal.

Mentally, because I didn’t know if riding was irritating him…but it become a mental problem for me.

Sigmund Freud once stated, “A man with a toothache cannot be in love.”

Oddly enough, maybe the best way to say it is, I felt guilty riding him. Guilty because I could be causing him discomfort. The idea that I might be unfair in still riding him changed the way I felt about riding him. The problem with feeling guilty is that you ride like you are guilty.

When I ride I know that there is a mental connection. I am always training the mental as well as the physical horse. If I made Jac ‘push through the pain’ would he respect me for it? Would I respect me for it?  If I disrespect the horses feelings here, can I expect him to give me his ‘extra’ when it really matters?

If another similar situation were to occur I would use a bosal again. Just because it didn’t work well in this situation doesn’t mean I don’t like the tool. I like a bosal on some horses. Much like different bits have different ‘side effects’, so does a bosal. I think that riding in a bosal encourages the rider to have more ‘feel’. Some horses respond well to a hackmore but other horses find them easy to ignore. I still keep one around to use at times and the best part is they look AMAZING!


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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?

*               *                 *

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:


Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Life, Thought provoking, Video


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Success story: How would you handle your horse being scared of cattle…that followed you home.

“One of the things I love about horses is learning to go with the flow. Long story short, a herd of cattle followed me home from a walk Saturday, and stayed. I wanted to ride my mare, who was totally bothered by her new friends. I had wanted to go out, get on her and just ride. It took 2 hours to get to the point of catching her. I turned her running around and snorting at the cows into lunging up and down the fence line. I then cheated and used a treat to catch her. Worked her on the ground, then in the saddle. I was actually able, for the most part to re-focus her attention, with the occasional look at the cows. This was huge for me, as I was not that easy about working her in her original frame of mind.”-Karen A.

The Westfall's visiting Lew & Melody Sterrett at Ransom Wind Ranch, Verden, Oklahoma

The Westfall’s visiting Lew & Melody Sterrett at Ransom Wind Ranch, Verden, Oklahoma

I love several things about this story. The first thing I love is that you live somewhere that a herd of cattle can follow you home from a walk, lol!

On a more serious note, it is great that you had the knowledge, skill and took this opportunity to train your horse. At some point you took the time to gain the knowledge of groundwork and mounted exercises that you could use. It is also very likely that you practiced these exercises, or versions of these exercises, to increase your skill before you needed them. 

The time that you took to gain the knowledge and skill paid off for you when you saw the opportunity that…walked into your front yard.

Training situations like the one you described are something that I seek out and take advantage of. I do this because I know that I have put in the time practicing the foundation work; the results will become most fruitful after they are put to use in many places. Just last week my family had the opportunity to ride out to a marker on the Chisholm Trail. Newt has been trail riding many times…but something about this time set him off. He was being a brat!

The hardest part of the situation is remaining calm and seeing the problem as an opportunity. I got more training done on that one trail ride than I had in the previous month of training. Thanks for sharing your story and congratulations on your success!



Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Life, Members Question


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My horse is herd bound, I am pregnant and I’m worried about our safety.

Drummer.“Stacy, this is Drummer. He has such a great personality and is very willing to learn…our issue is that he is herd bound. If he cannot see his 2 buddies, he gets filled with anxiety and it seems like he loses his brain! How do we get through this? We are working on ground work, but as soon as his friends aren’t around he wont pay attention. I’m worried about our safety. I am 5 months pregnant and I am not riding at the moment. Just lunging and doing those simple things for now.”-Victoria H.

I recently wrote a blog answering the question, “How long did you ride while you were pregnant?” but I didn’t go into detail on the groundwork side. You are dealing with two separate issues here; a herd bound horse and pregnancy.

The short answer on your herd bound horse is that he isn’t viewing you as a leader, at least not under pressure. The issue may seem like it is the buddies but what Drummer is telling you is that he isn’t willing to listen to you at that time. This could be happening because Drummer needs more training. If he doesn’t really understand the groundwork cues then he will seem to ignore them. If you go back and watch Episode 3 of Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac you will see an example of a horse that didn’t understand the groundwork cues…and wasn’t very interested in sticking around to learn them…which brings me to the next part of my answer.

In your question you mention that you are ‘Just lunging and doing those simple things for now.’  As you can see by watching Episode 3, the horse will play a large part in how ‘simple’ the groundwork will be. When I am training a horse I consider myself to be the teacher and the horse to be the student. Some students ask tough questions and the teacher needs to be able to answer them. Many problems horses have can be traced back to a time when they were accidentally rewarded for bad behavior. For example, if a horse almost runs you over because it is frantic about being separated from his buddies and you move, to avoid the possibility of injury while you are pregnant, the horse may learn two things. The horse learns that you don’t have a clear plan and he also learns that when push-comes-to-shove, he is able to shove you out of the way.

Your horse likely needs much of the groundwork that I show in the Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac, early episodes. If you watch the Video Diary you can see how much Jac changes as he learns the groundwork. The difficulty is that even groundwork carries a risk of injury. I wrote a blog titled, “How dangerous are horses? Injuries, accidents and ranking against other sports” and in that blog I shared the following:

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

The herd bound issue is one that can be fixed, the question is…are you the best person to do it at this time? If it were me, I would stay safe and make a plan to get in shape after the baby is born. Needing to train your horse will be the perfect excuse to go to the barn for a break!


Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Life, Members Question


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Connecticut Supreme Court ruled horses as “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious”

“Hi Stacy! I plan on spending the rest of my working career in the equine industry, hopefully as an instructor, giving people the opportunity to receive a strong foundation with an overall knowledge on horses, how to ride, and starting them off showing. With that, I am somewhat worried as to were the industry is going. I am from a part of New Jersey about 30 miles outside New York City where I get asked all the time about my opinion on the on going protests to get rid of the carriage horses that live and work there. Between situations like this, as well as events like when in Connecticut a boy was bitten by a horse and the case was taken to the Connecticut Supreme Court and ruled horses as “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious” due to one specific case, what do you think the future of the equine industry if things like this are passed? So far people have been able to fight and be the voice of the horses and have been able to save them so far, but if change that is not in favor of the horses are made, how do you think this will effect the equine industry? What are your thoughts on what is going on? And what are actions that educated horse people can do to help educate others and save the industry that makes up ours lives that we love so much?”-Rachel D.

Thank you for brining this to my attention. After reading your question I searched the internet and read an article titled, “Horses the Next Pit Bulls? Connecticut Supreme Court Finds That Horses Are Inclined to Be Mischievous, but They Are Not Presumed to Be Dangerous” on the Hodgson Russ Attorneys website.Texas equine law sign

As a horse owner, it is frustrating. These people chose to approach animals that were confined…it isn’t like they were chased down by a loose horse. They made a mistake. It is a shame that the child was bitten but his parents chose to put him next to an animal. Any animal carries the ability to do harm and generally the larger the animal the greater the natural risk. Hamsters bite all the time, they just happen to be small. I have never touched an elephant but someday I want to touch one, and maybe even go for a ride . Even though I have this desire, and I do hope to go to Thailand some day, you can bet that I won’t be randomly approaching an elephant without being within arms length of that animals handler!

Thankfully many states do have laws that offer some protection for equestrians. I’m not an attorney and I’m not offering legal advice but the general idea is that many states recognize that there is ‘inherent risk.’ These laws are not intended to allow owners to be negligent, but they do allow that equines are not risk free.

But this still leaves A LOT of grey area. And that leaves room for lawsuits.

I wish I had an easy answer. Education and prevention will both be key. Thanks for getting me thinking about this issue.

What do you think?

Ohio equine law sign


Posted by on December 13, 2014 in Members Question


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