In the last several years, a young horsewoman named Stacy Westfall of Mount Gilead, Ohio, has captivated the horse world's attention. Stacy has won numerous "freestyle" classes at National Reining Horse Association events by guiding her horse bridleless through an intricate series of maneuvers set to music without even a neck strap. Earlier this year, Stacy also won the Road to the Horse Colt-Starting Challenge, an event in which four contestants have three hours to gentle and train an untouched youngster and ride it through an obstacle course-with 5,000 spectators watching.
"People think I'm a whisperer, but it's not whispering-it's listening," she insists. That's the basic philosophy that she and her husband, Jesse, share with those who come to ride with them.
"Listen to your horse. Understand his language. Speak his language. Once you do that, the rest comes easy," Stacy explains.
While the philosophy is pretty straightforward, Westfall admits that the actual process requires dedicated observation. You have to learn to understand horses and how they communicate, and then approach them appropriately. To her, there's no mystery involved.
"By watching, you can learn how to read a horse's body-then you get a sense of it," she explains. "You not only see the environment and its effects through physical subtleties, but you can feel it. It's like when you can tell what your spouse is thinking."
Stacy describes the horse's demeanor and emotions at any given time as his "state-of-being." Once identified, Stacy can make logical decisions about how to handle problems and foster communication. From tiny nostril flares to a belligerent buck, Westfall's own deductive reasoning allows her to tune in and figure out what's really going on with the horse in any given situation.