Have you ever watched a horse and rider performance that brought you to tears? I confess that my eyes have welled up from watching some of the Budweiser Clydesdale commercials that air during the Super Bowl game, so perhaps you’d call me a push over. Nevertheless, I cried when I watched Stacy Westfall and a horse named Roxy perform a bareback and bridleless freestyle reining routine. The routine was performed to the song, “Live Like You Were Dying” song by Tim McGraw and the real tearjerker, Stacy’s father, a true cowboy, had recently died. Even the announcer, a friend of Stacy’s father, choked up. It was a very touching, authentic, performance that even a non-equestrian would appreciate.
I had the opportunity to attend an intimate horsemanship clinic with Stacy at The Resort at Paws Up near Missoula, Montana. I’m pleased to say that she is as friendly and authentic in real life as she appears to be during her performances. Stacy, along with several Cowgirl Hall of Fame honorees, was at the ranch as an inductee into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Stacy’s voice had all but disappeared after back to back speaking engagements at the Midwest Horse Fair in Wisconsin, the Equine Career Conference in Pennsylvania and the Cowgirl Spring Roundup in Montana. For all intensive purposes we really were listening to a horse whisperer.
“Women train horses differently then men,” said Stacy Westfall during a horse body language seminar in Montana.
“Women train horses differently than men,” noted Westfall during our seminar. “I have to force myself to hold a grudge.” Westfall was relating her experience with horses and sharing a story of horse dominance with a stallion and a lower ranking younger horse in a shared pasture. The stallion was not happy with an interaction he had with the young horse and he pinned him to the ground to teach him a lesson in dominance. “It’s fascinating to study horses,” continued Westfall. “Some are bullies and some are messed up.” Of course, the same could be said for humans.
In working with Kidd, the Quarter horse from The Resort at Paws Up (shown above and below) Westfall was demonstrating the release of pressure on a horse. “It’s all about where the release of pressure will be,” added Westfall. With the emotional control of the horse, Westfall attempts to teach him to separate. She notes that you can teach a horse emotional control. “We want to teach them that they can mentally think fast, but that doesn’t mean they have to move fast.”
“I think ground work is amazing for people. iPhones are great for equestrian training with video,” shared Westfall.
“Horses operate on Grandma rules,” laughed Westfall. “They start as a blank slate. Some people hold you accountable here,” (raises hand high into the air) “and others here.” (Raises hand lower) Westfall used the analogy of her young boys earning money picking fruit on their grandma’s ranch. Grandma rewarded their efforts with cash. In this particular instance, the boys quickly learned that quantity was rewarded over quality. Grandma paid them regardless of the quality of the product. While this analogy is certainly not comparing apples to apples, it gave us a good idea of what Westfall expects in her work with horses. Bottom line, in training horses, hold them accountable and keep the bar high.
While my description of Westfall’s seminar doesn’t do justice to her real-life, on-the-ground clinics, she certainly gave us a wonderful glimpse into the body language of horses. “Can you imagine if we were all forgiving and thorough with our horses?” Listen intently to what they are trying to communicate to us. Go back to the basics when our language gets broken and remember to remain calm. “When I draw a line in the sand, he will know where I want him to go,” she concluded her presentation with a whisper and a smile.
Stacy Westfall and her husband own and operate Westfall Horsemanship. When Stacy is not training horses, she enjoys spending time with their three boys in Ohio. Stacy may be found on Instagram and Twitter @stacywestfall. Article by Travel Writer and Cowgirl Nancy D. Brown. All photos courtesy Nancy D. Brown.