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Category Archives: Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac

Stacy’s Video Diary: How do you get a horse to relax in the lead departure?

“Hi Stacy, I was just curious how you get Jac easing into a lope so easily. I have a three year old quarter horse who I do a lot of ground work with and when I do ride him he tends to buck a lot when asking for anything faster than a lope. He’s my first horse to train and I know it’s something I’m doing wrong just can’t figure out what yet. He’s still young so I don’t ride him a lot but if I do I get bucked off almost everytime. Thanks for any help. :) “ -Bree H

“How do you teach a horse to relax and make their lope departure quiet and easy? Whenever I start to cue for a lope, my mare tenses up and then explodes into a fast canter.” -Amber W

In this video Al, a former Thoroughbred racehorse, is joining the video to help illustrate some of the points I made in the Jac video diary series. I borrowed Al from New Vocations, a Thoroughbred racehorse adoption program. I hope that by using multiple horses it will make it easy to see how these exercises can help the horses have a great foundation.

Teaching horses to have solid lead departures is a process that begins far before you actually ask the horse to lope. Much like driving a car faster will reveal a wobbly tire, adding speed when riding will also show you pieces that are not as solid.

If you go back and watch the early episodes of Jac (Episode 18) you can see how smooth Jac had become because of the groundwork, ground driving and consistency of the training program. This video shows how fluid Jac is during his trot circles…this is going to make a difference in his lope.

If you look at Al trotting the same circle while I am using the same methods you will see that Al isn’t as fluid. Al is actually raising his head higher and higher ‘looking’ for my hands. From his time on the track Al learned that the rider usually holds steady contact. Al feels a bit lost without that constant contact so he is ‘looking’ for my hands by using animated head movements. This will go away as he learns to carry himself more.

Jac doesn’t exhibit the same ‘looking’ for the bit head movements because he doesn’t have any prior riding experience which can lead to old habits or ways of thinking. When I start training a young horse, like Jac, my training is also a lot of prevention which is why Jac looked so smooth.

I will use the same exercises with Al that I did with Jac but Al will respond differently because of his prior experience. As Al sees the consistence he will begin to find the same rewards that Jac did and with consistency Al can learn the same lessons Jac did.

One key to having a horse be relaxed in the lead departure is to allow them to make mistakes during the transition. You will notice in the video that I am allowing the horses to go from the trot to the lope and then back to the trot. I am not making a big deal out of the transition and if they make a mistake, such as picking up the wrong lead, I am not immediately correcting them. This will help build the horses confidence and then later I can work on body position. As the rider, I am here to help guide him, not to only correct him for making mistakes.

To improve a horse like Al in the  lead departures I would focus on improving the steering and smoothness in the trot circles. Several common things people would be tempted to do with a horse like Al would be; sudden turns in an attempt to get the lead, a sudden kick or whip to ‘jump’ Al up into the correct lead, or a mechanical device to hold Al’s head down. In my opinion those options are more focused on getting Al’s body to perform a body function rather than dealing with the mental part of the training, the change of careers and training techniques, that is going on.

I would rather see Al given the chance to build his confidence in the trot and to participate in finding the ‘right’ answers instead of being rushed into a physical frame. Taking extra time now will pay off in the future much like the 20 + hours of work with Jac lead to his smooth confident look and eventually his beautiful lead departures.

As a side note, Al will be available for adoption through the New Vocations Website in the near future!

 
 

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Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review – Questions about teaching a horse to lie down

Hi Stacy Westfall, regarding Episode 36: Is there any ‘age limit’ or health concerns such as arthritis, that would cause you to refrain from teaching a horse to lay down, regardless of how much it may benefit the horse’ s attitude?

I have barrel horses that can sometimes be pretty hot & was wondering what your thoughts were on getting them to lay down. They seem to be very nervous when I try to do it with them but I’m really just starting trying to get their foot up. Love watching you work with Jac.- Lisa Marie B

I consider both the bow and teaching a horse to lie down to be advanced groundwork. This means that your basic groundwork should be very well established including teaching your horse to: lead, turn on haunches, turn on forehand, back up, trot in hand, lunge easily at all gaits, sack out with ‘scary’ objects, stand quietly while whipping with stick n string, etc. Teaching liberty work, working your horse without a halter or lead, should be in the same category as bowing and the lie down.

Newt likes laying down on the job.

Newt likes laying down on the job.

By the time you have taught your horse all of the basic groundwork skills listed (and more) you should know your horses temperament very well. This will tell you a lot about how your horse is going to handle the process of learning to lie down on cue. Naturally quiet and submissive horses tend to be the easiest to train. These are the horses that are fine with you walking into the stall while they are napping.

Horses that are more naturally jumpy and nervous tend to be more difficult, which makes sense as they are often making plans on how to leave if things go bad. These horses can be taught to lie down but they require a very solid foundation in the basic groundwork skills. They should be so solid in the basics; whipping around, being sacked out, loping one circle on the lunge line and then standing like they are bored, that they should look like they are NOT hot or nervous. These horses also benefit from learning at least some of the basic liberty skill, off line in a round pen, as shown in Episode 14.

I think that the idea that laying a horse down will change its attitude is largely a myth. I have seen horses that were forced to lie down with ropes and although some of them do get up with a shocked look, I have not noticed it to be a look that I want in my riding horses. I do think that the longer, slow process of teaching the lay down does have a positive effect as you will invest more time getting there.

Someone asked me once how young a horse could safely be taught to bow (without force) and I asked a vet. His opinion was that young horses are more flexible and, as long as it wasn’t forced, would be excellent candidates. If I were working with an older horse I would only do what they were comfortable with. If your older horse has arthritis bad enough to negatively effect his ability to lie down on his own in the stall or pasture then I would personally choose to skip teaching that horse. Many vets recommend that horses with ‘some’ arthritis stay active. I have some arthritis and it is recommended that I also stay active. The best thing to do is to ask the vet who diagnosed the horse for their opinion regarding training the horse to lie down.

 

Some basic liberty skills shown here:

Tips on teaching the bow:

 
 

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Why not skip the bridle and just start with a halter if you want to ride bridleless in the end? Jac Review Week

“Hi Stacy! In Episode 13 you start Jac in a bridle, I’m curious to why you start in a bridle instead if a rope halter, I remember something about how Jac isn’t your personal horse, so I’m wondering if you were starting a horse with the intent to do tackles riding, would you still start with a bit and bridle or just a rope halter and why? A rope halter makes sense to me because there would be less steps to tackles. What do you think?”-Jessica C

I can see where the idea of ‘less’ would appear to be a quicker transition to completely bridleless. There are several ways to view this question. First I will start with what I have done in the past. All of my bridleless reining horses have been very well trained in bits. As the horses have progressed through the stages of training I have always used the tools that helped make the ‘correct answer’ the easiest for the horse to find. For example, snaffle bits are excellent for teaching a horse to bend side to side and shanked bits tend to encourage breaking at the poll. These statements may sound like my opinions, and they are, but they have been built on observing many horses.

Your question has one huge variable; ‘starting a horse with the intent to do tackles riding.’ This could mean riding around in a round pen, or pasture, or competing in reining…and those more specific end goals change the answer.

My goals have been to show at the highest levels of reining without a bridle. A variety of bits, as referenced above, are part of the training process I use with my reining horses. This is one of the reasons I started Jac with a bit.

Having said that, I am also sure that there are horses that could be trained in a rope halter and reach a safe level of general riding…possibly even tackless. I just haven’t tried this route because I have always started with reining in mind and general riding naturally came with it.

I believe that bits can be comfortable for horses as well as an asset to many training programs. You may also be interested in reading these other blogs I have written on using bits.

What bit should I use with my horse? Why don’t you always use a snaffle bit? Doesn’t a bit hurt a horse?

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

Stacy’s Video Diary: Jac Review – Teaching a horse to accept the bit

 

In this episode I show all of the things a horse must know before I switch to a bit with a shank.

 

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Does using your legs a lot make a horse dull to leg pressure? Jac Review Week

“Stacy in Episode #23 I notice when you are teaching the shoulder exercises as you are walking your legs are always bumping him is this to keep him in forward motion, does that make him dull to the leg pressure?” Sandra P

This is one of the top three ‘most asked questions’ I receive when I am riding my horse…when they are not fully trained. Once my horses are fully trained, the cues are more subtle and the question doesn’t come up as much even though I am still using my legs in the same way.

I think the reason that my leg movements draw so much attention is that people are not accustom to seeing people use their legs and body cues in an exaggerated way. In the training stages with my horses I exaggerate many cues with my horses. You will notice that I exaggerate my hand positions; during counter bending for example my hands are often held twice as wide as my body…even though in the end I will show my horses one handed and will neck rein. I am exaggerating to make the learning easier for the horse.

I use my legs in an exaggerated manner so my horses will notice and learn the cues. As my horses become more in tune with my legs I will be able to use my hands, the bit and bridle, less and less. Eventually my horses ride ‘bridleless’ or without the need for cues from the bridle because I have moved them all to my legs.

Many people assume that using my legs more will cause the horse to be dull. If you picture a dressage horse or a horse showing in the new AQHA Ranch Horse class being ridden with rein contact then by this same thinking, these horses should be dull to the rein cues. But they are not. Why?

It is widely accepted that horses can learn to accept steady contact on the reins and can ‘feel’ the subtle opening and closing of the riders fingers. Advanced horses can interpret the smallest changes in the steady hand that is guiding them. I believe that the same thing can be done with the riders legs. It is how I trained Roxy, Jac’s mother, to read my body so well.

Just as the upper level dressage horse was taught early on with more exaggerated hand positions and eventually learned to ‘feel’ the subtle cues of the riders finger movements, my horses are taught with exaggerated leg movements that eventually become invisible.

The reason my horses don’t get dull to the cues is the same reason they don’t get dull to my bridle cues: I don’t allow it. I want them to accept my leg movement but if they try getting dull to my legs I correct them. I am willing to ‘wave’ my legs to match their motion.  Lets say that a ‘wave’ is a gentle bounce of my leg that equals 4 ounces of pressure. If the horse gets dull and trys to ignore the 4 ounces of pressure, then I correct them. The horse would become dull if he were allowed to make me carry 4 ounces, then 8 ounces, then 4 pounds…but I won’t allow it. Did you notice that I was frequently carrying dressage whips with me? I use the dressage whips to hold the horses accountable if they try to make me use more than 4 ounces of pressure.

A more direct answer to your question would be: Incorrect use of leg pressure could make a horse dull, the same way incorrect use of rein pressure can make a horse dull. The reward is in the release.

Another thing to keep in mind is that my horses are very well balanced when it comes to my leg cues. I meet many horses at clinics that are either very dull to leg cues or overly sensitive to leg cues. Again, it isn’t the cue that is the problem, it is a feel for the timing of the release.

Watch the following short video that clearly shows how Jac is reading my leg cues. Then take a look again at Roxy’s bridleless ride…can you see my subtle leg cues?

 
 

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What is ‘feel’ and can you teach it? Jac Review Week

Here are three questions I received about the Jac series; Can you see how they are related?

“On episode 6 you talk about when he let you know you were “boring” and it was time to step up the training… What are some signs they give us to let us know they are ready for more?- Stephanie D

“How do you know how much pressure to apply and when to back off “on a good note”?”-Ellen M

“Hi Stacy! Love the video diaries! I had a quick question regarding episode 10. I was working with my colt tonight, and we never quite made it to the point where he was trotting forward. He got to point where he would speed up a bit, but not fully into a trot. Overall, he can be a little lazy. So my question to you…with this lesson, are you supposed to go until he understands he needs to go into a full trot? At what point would you quit? Or move on to something else. I think I was losing his interest.”-Morgan

The thing that these questions all have in common are that these people are all asking about how to ‘read a horse’ or, if phrased another way, ‘how to have Can you teach a horse rider to have feel or do they have to be born with it?better ‘feel’.

“Feel” is that almost mythical word that is frequently used to describe people who are great with horses. Have you heard that word used before?

Many people say that feel is something people either have or don’t have but I don’t agree.  I do agree that ‘feel’ comes more naturally to some and that others may achieve a higher degree but largely I believe that feel can be improved. If feel can be improved, then it can be taught and if it can be taught than it can be learned. This is true in other areas of life as well. Michael Jordan made it clear that when he was young he practiced the fundamentals of basketball over and over, but it didn’t end there. He was well known for practicing the fundamentals his entire career. Was he born with a ‘feel’ for basketball? Without a doubt. Did he learn even more ‘feel’ over the years? For sure. How? Check out Michael’s following quotes:

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

“I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come.”

“I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.”

Now go back and read those quotes again and apply the principals to teaching yourself to read your horse better and to increase your level of ‘feel’. Will you make mistakes? Yes. Will it be hard work? Yes. Will you look back 2 years, 5 years and 10 years later and say, “If I had that horse to train again…I could do it so much better.” Yes. I know because I have done all of these things. Is it worth it? For me the answer is yes…what is it for you?

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Now I am going to give the physical answer for each of these questions.

“On episode 6 you talk about when he let you know you were “boring” and it was time to step up the training… What are some signs they give us to let us know they are ready for more?- Stephanie D

Jac was a great example of a horse that was ready for challenges. Early episodes show him displaying tons of ‘attitude’, head swirling, pushy, and trying to take control. The biggest thing missing from Jac was fear. I am not saying that Jac should have been fearful but I am saying his body language displayed anything but fear. Even when Jac appeared to be running away from me in episode 3…dragging me out of the screen, he never had an attitude of fear. He was simply leaving the classroom! He wanted to call the shots.

The most general way to answer this is, when they horse is trying to take control of the situation or is ignoring you then they are telling you they could move faster. You will notice them looking away from you, finding other things more interesting, missing your subtle cues, offended by your corrections, etc.

Notice the subtle difference between ’taking control of the situation’ though. When a horse lacks training they will likely make mistakes. When they make mistakes and are corrected or redirected they tell on themselves by the way they respond…much like children. If the horse is corrected or redirected and they have an attitude…then you can be pretty sure they are ready for harder lessons. If the horse responds in fear then most of the time it is a sign that the lesson is either moving too fast or the horse hasn’t made the connection yet.

“How do you know how much pressure to apply and when to back off “on a good note”?”-Ellen M

As this question doesn’t apply directly to one of the episodes I am going to give a general idea. I often describe horse training as playing the game of ‘hotter-colder’…did you ever play that game as a kid? If not, here is how it goes; The leader picks an object in the room and as the other person, the player, moves around the room the leader says ‘hotter’ if the player gets closer to the correct object or ‘colder’ if the player heads away. The player will experiment by moving a few directions and then quickly figures out the direction that is correct.

Training a horse is similar. If the rider has clear goals then they ‘release’ or back off when the horse is headed in the correct direction. The difficulty for many people who are first training horses is that  the horse often ‘thinks’ or has a very subtle  thought in the ‘right’ direction…and new learners miss this opportunity to reward. It is lack of experience that causes this mistake. Riding with someone who has experience can greatly improve your timing for reward.

“Hi Stacy! Love the video diaries! I had a quick question regarding episode 10. I was working with my colt tonight, and we never quite made it to the point where he was trotting forward. He got to point where he would speed up a bit, but not fully into a trot. Overall, he can be a little lazy. So my question to you…with this lesson, are you supposed to go until he understands he needs to go into a full trot? At what point would you quit? Or move on to something else. I think I was losing his interest.”-Morgan

This exercise is a great example of rewarding a horse who is ‘headed’ in the right direction but isn’t quite there yet. Yes, rewarding if your horse ‘speeds up a bit’ was the correct thing to do. His slight speed up was a physical sign that mentally he was thinking in the correct direction. If your horse had been experimenting with stopping or slowing down then that would have been a bad time to stop the exercise.

Many exercises, this one included, work well if the slightest try is rewarded because the horse will actually think about the lesson over night. I often refer to the lesson as ‘planting a seed’ because it paints a better picture of the idea that time will also help things grow. I have done this lesson with horses and rewarded them for only walking faster for two or three days in a row, then on day four I asked more and they were ready to trot.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many times doing lessons with similar answers will help the horse improve quicker. For example, if I tell you to trot the horse forward and then back the horse up it is easier for the horse to become confused. Forward and backward are two different answers. However, if you work on trot forward leading lesson, lunge lessons with inside turns, and kiss means lope lessons all week long the message is consistent; forward, forward, forward.

 
 

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What steps do you take to get horses to accept their ears being touched? Jac Review Week

“How did you get Jac to accept the bridle when most colts hate their ears messed with? What kind of steps did you take to make it easier for him?”-Kathy H…Stacy’s Video Diary Jac: Episode 13

In episode 13 I talk about physical and mental training cycles, including bridling Jac for the first time. In that episode I show steps such as running the rope over Jac’s ears and using my fingers in his mouth to prepare him for bridling. Ideally this type of handling has been happening consistently during routine handling which makes the transition easy for the horse.

I find that most colts don’t have issues with their ears unless they have been taught to by people. I do find that people often expect ears to be a problem and then they become a problem. One example of this would be when I visited Jesse (my husband) at a ranch where he was working in Oklahoma back when we were dating. None of the horses, about 20 of them, had ever had their ears clipped. They were handled just enough to get the tack on for riding and a few were only halter broke. The horses had received no special time spent on groundwork but along with a lack of handling came a lack of issues caused by poor handling.

While I was visiting I decided to clip the horses. I clipped every single one of them in the same day by myself. I rubbed them all over, introduced clippers and shut them off when the horse stood still (before they even moved) and repeated. I might have shut the clippers off 20 or more times on each horse to ‘remove pressure’ and reward. Using this technique, shown on the Jac DVD, I was able to clip all of the horses, including their ears.  I didn’t expect a problem and no one had created one before me…so there was no problem.Technique is huge...but mental preparation is key. Stacy Westfall

There is a difference between preventing problems and retraining horses that already have issues but mostly the difference it the amount of time. The technique is the same but often horses who have issues with their ears have learned evasive ways of avoiding what they consider to be an unpleasant experience. That is when it is important to remember that it takes more than technique.

In the Jac episode below, Episode 11, you can see the technique I use of rubbing Jac’s body with the stick and string. I continue this same method up the horse’s neck, poll and around the ears. The biggest thing to remember though is that technique alone is NOT the key. Technique is huge…but mental preparation is key.

Keep the following things in mind:

  • Episode 11 is also the sixth day in a row that I have worked Jac
  • The training Jac has received in the prior five days has changed him mentally
  • Mentally changing a horse will lead to physical changes

Go back and look at Jac in earlier episodes and you will begin to understand that all of that training is also critical to getting Jac to accept his body and his ears being touched. I knew the technique for rubbing on day 1-5…but Jac wasn’t mentally ready. Look at how Jac is behaving in Episode 2 where he is pawing and ignoring me, or Episode 3 where he is dragging me. Each day Jac is trying new things but he is also improving with the training. Mentally, Jac is having little break throughs and each one of these is leading him closer to trusting me and looking at me as a leader. All of this also plays a part in Jac accepting me handling his ears.

The video of Jac being bridled for the first time (six minutes into video)

Here is the episode where I am rubbing his body and he is standing well after five previous days of preparation:

Here is a video where it is possible to see one of Jac’s mental break through moments…at about 6:45 into the video:

 

 

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How often do horses surprise you with how intelligent they are?

“After watching you work with Jac my question is; How often do horses surprise you with how intelligent they are?”-Holli H.The longer I am around horses and the more I learn about them...the more they fascinate me. Stacy Westfall quote

The answer is one of these three:

  1. Almost daily
  2. daily
  3. every day that I allow myself to recognize and enjoy it
  4. all of the above

You have discovered the key reason I love training horses!

The longer I am around horses and the more I learn about them…the more they fascinate me. The better I can read their body language, the more I understand them, which leads to more fascination, more study, more understanding and the cycle continues.

There are spots in the Jac episodes that capture perfectly how intelligent horses are. Some are easy for me to feel with the horse but are more difficult to appreciate on video. Others are even easy to see on video, for example Episode 26. The following two episodes contain moments where you can really see how intelligent horses are. The two videos after that are just plain funny!

Episode 26

My favorite three minutes that illustrate this perfectly are found in the beginning of Episode 26. It is easy to see how Jac’s choices and actions here are both wrong as well as a fascinating glimpse into how his mind is working.

Episode 14

At 7:45 in this video you can again see Jac making a ‘mistake’ which is really Jac trying very hard to go to the pool…something he has been rewarded for and is trying to repeat. On the surface it looks like he is being bad, when really, he is trying very hard to be good!

Other horses

If those videos don’t convince you of how intelligent horses are then check out the following two videos. While they are not my horses they also perfectly illustrate just how wonderfully intelligent these horses are. Enjoy!

This is the best video of a horse escape…maybe ever!

 

 

 

 

 
 

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