Stacy Westfall talks about how she got started, natural horsekeeping, and developing a strong bond with equine partners.
Talented horsewoman Stacy Westfall needs little introduction. After all, who hasn’t seen the video of her amazing bareback and bridleless championship ride on Roxy? Her ability to develop such a strong partnership with her horses, and her approachable down-toearth attitude, are exactly why we are so excited to introduce her training article series in Equine Wellness. But first, we thought it would be fun to help you get to know Stacy a little better. We set out to ask her some of your favorite questions, and wow – read on for her great answers!
EW: How did you get your introduction to horses, and what path led you to develop your current training methods and techniques?
Stacy Westfall: My mom loves horses. She was the horse crazy girl in town who didn’t have [a horse] but would ride anything anyone would let her ride. Anyone who knows her also knows of her love for horses and her empathy for animals in general. I credit her with teaching me to “think like a horse”. The instructors at the University of Findlay taught me how the mechanics of horse training work – how to move a hip to change a lead. When those two were put together, with my “always ask questions” mentality, you get what I do now. My techniques are still growing because now I learn from the horses and they keep teaching me new things.
EW: Were you always interested in a more natural approach to horse training and care, or has that developed over time?
EW: What natural or alternative care principles/modalities do you use with your horses?
Stacy Westfall: My mom’s horse had soundness issues. At one point he was so sore he would hardly leave the stall. Three vets told my mom to put him down; it was arthritis, and the cold Maine winters were aggravating it. My mom cried and cried. She couldn’t do it without trying everything first. Someone told her about an equine chiropractor who would be in the area.
We took the horse and the difference was immediate and amazing. He was trotting and playing and taking the lead he would never take! We leave our horses barefoot as much as they will allow. If they get sore because their feet break up, they get shoes. They get shoes to slide. Most of our horses are barefoot up front and sliders (to do reining) behind.
EW: Who were/are your mentors?
Stacy Westfall: I tend to look for mentors in strange places. I have never looked at “stars” as mentors because I couldn’t really know them. I am a big believer in looking at the “whole person”, not just their income or titles. I’m not as impressed with a title or an income if the person sacrificed their marriage or children to get there. My mom was someone I looked up to. Also, Gary French because of the importance of time and family he instilled in me. I look up to my husband because of the whole life approach he has to living, and Dave Ramsey because he is successful in business while being true to himself.
EW: Many people came to know you through the video of your amazing championship ride with Roxy that was dedicated to your father. What made you want to pursue riding without a bridle or saddle? How much work went into preparing Roxy for that ride?
Stacy Westfall: It was actually a long process of smaller goals that led me to something greater than I had ever dreamed. I can remember as a girl loving the book The Black Stallion and wanting so badly to have that connection with a horse. Fast forward to my junior year in high school when a teacher asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. My answer: “I dunno, go to school for accounting or something.” His question: “What do you want to do?” My response: “I want to ride horses but you can’t go to school for that.”
He challenged me to go look, and guess what – you can go to school for that! I attended the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio – one of the top colleges in the world for Equine Studies. The first time I saw reining I was fascinated. The first full reining class I watched was freestyle reining at the Congress on a “field trip” while at Findlay. I instantly wanted to do a freestyle dressed in a duster with my face covered (I was painfully shy as a child, really) and ride to the song Desperado.
It took me ten years to achieve that goal, and in 2003 I showed in freestyle reining for the first time dressed as I had dreamed. I rode Can Can Lena to the song Ghost Riders in the Sky because her tempo didn’t match Desperado, but the two songs have a similar feel. That bridleless ride led to the question: what will I do next? The natural answer was to lose the saddle.
EW: It took over 1,000 hours of training to get Roxy to bareback and bridleless – 800 hours to get to bridleless, and 200 hours for me to figure out how to stay on without the saddle! For anyone wishing to develop the type of bond you have with your horses, and be able to ride bareback and bridleless, what advice would you give on where to start and what to expect?
Stacy Westfall: The interesting thing is that I don’t ride my “bridleless” horses bridleless very much. I do it more at demos than at home. The bond is the same for me with or without the bridle. Without the bridle, other people see the bond more. But nothing changes between the horse and me. Achieve a very high level of training on a loose rein for a long time. If you don’t run into problems, you haven’t done it long enough. When you can fix problems without the reins, you are getting closer.
EW: You are living every horse girl’s dream. What would you say to those who want to make a career of working with horses, but aren’t sure they can make a go of it in this tough industry?
Stacy Westfall: I don’t think the horse industry is much tougher than any other if you want to succeed. You can just clock in and out and get by in life, but in my opinion that isn’t really succeeding. There are opportunities to do deskwork in the equine industry, such as bookkeeping for a breeding farm; or to set your hours by giving riding lessons, for instance; or to ride horses all day by training for the public, as an example.
People need to know their own personal skill set and then apply it to the horse industry. Combine your talents with the industry.
EW: Who your main riding horses now?
Stacy Westfall: My main two are Newt and Jac. I call Newt “Nephew Newt” because his mother is a full sister to Roxy. He is a five-year-old and will be at most of the demos and shows I go to this year. He is a goofy, good-natured gelding.
The other horse is Jac, Roxy’s last foal before she died. I have been videotaping his training and releasing YouTube videos weekly with Weaver Leather. My goal is to show people my training process, which is slow, in more of a real time situation. I am tracking the hours of training on and off camera so you can see what a horse with five, 20 or 100 hours of training looks like.
EW: What are your goals for the future?
Stacy Westfall: We just sold our home and are going to live nomadically for a year, moving around the country with the horses and home-schooling our kids. My goal is to be a great learner during this time. I also have a book I have been writing that I would like to finish. If you want to follow our nomadic adventures with horses, or if you want to ask a question, feel free to join me at WestFallHorsemanship.com or StacyWestFallHorseblog.com.