Cluttered Cues Produce Frustration

Do you ever think your horse ignores you? Try standing directly in front of your horse and ask (without touching him)  to “Please back up one step.” How difficult would that be?

"Are you talkin' to me?"

“Are you talkin’ to me?”

“Come on Pony, all you have to do is move one hoof backwards and I’ll stop asking and hug you for being wonderful.”

You become as obvious as possible; gesturing with both hands; looking with laser-like focus at his front feet, and waving the lead rope or whip – “Back up. Back up. BACK UP!

But those feet don’t move.

Many times horses do nothing because they can’t figure out what in the world the person is getting so worked up about. There’s so much going there’s no clear message.

“Is she asking me to DO something? I wonder what it is? I can’t figure it out so I’ll just stand here quietly like a good horse.”

Cluttered Cues Fail to Communicate

Little kids are usually better horse trainers than grown ups. Why? Because they are direct, simple, and easy for horses to understand. They aren’t cluttered up or confused with irrelevant details. Why did Jesus say we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven? For the same reason.

I recently played with a couple of horses at a friend’s place. She started teaching one of her favorites the first foundational cue I use – “Please back away.”  She gestured widely with her arms, wiggled the lead rope with abandon, and moved in toward her horse with brilliant energy. Her horse did nothing.

The problem is failure to focus. Here’s an illustration to make the point. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so I’m about to save you 4000 words.

Creating Focus

“I would like you to respond to the red leaf for me. Please. Yes, the red leaf. Here it is.”







“Don’t you see it. C’mon! Do I have to shout? What are you going to do about the red leaf?” I can see you furrowing your brow and wondering if I’ve lost my mind.

Let me make it easier. Gee. And here I thought we had something going.

“Now, please respond to the red leaf.”







Is it still too difficult for you. I guess you’re not at your best and brightest today. Okay, I’ll make it easier.

“Will you puh-leeeze respond to the red leaf?”

“What? Still nothing. I am getting a little peeved. Okay, since you’re having such trouble let me make it easier…”







“NOOOO. Not that red leaf, the RED leaf!!!”

Are you starting to get a little irritated with me? I’m certainly getting frustrated with you. Why do you refuse to respond to the red leaf? It’s not like I’m asking you to chop down a tree and chew it up into kindling. Just respond to the red leaf!

And here is where the fight begins or the “trainer” either gives up or begins to make contact with the poor confused pony. Most folks have already condemned the horse as being totally unwilling to behave.

“Maybe if I run you around for awhile you’ll be more respectful.”

If I run you around the block for an hour and a half would you be better able to respond to the red leaf? Maybe by accident…

Create Clear Communication using a Focal Point

There is a really good reason why the most valuable paintings in museums hang on otherwise blank walls. Visitors have no option but to focus on the painting. Hang the Mona Lisa on a wall full of other fine stuff and none of it will be obvious. The impact will be completely lost.

The same is true when teaching cues to your horse.

The blame for your failure to obey my request to respond to the red leaf is completely mine. You are innocent because I didn’t make the red leaf I meant obvious.

How about this?







Now if I ask you to respond to the red leaf there is no doubt about which red leaf. Are your cues as obvious to your horse?

Think about it. Create one point of energy and one cue (focal point) your horse can’t fail to miss. Your horse will get smarter in a heartbeat and no one will be frustrated.

The most successful strategy used by the “ruler of this world” to mess up your blessedly simple relationship with Jesus Christ is distraction and complexity. The more you have to think, to consider, defend or order, the more likely you’ll not hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit asking you to “please back up one step.”

Become simple. Get rid of the clutter. Be blessed and enjoy your journey.

~   ~   ~


For more concepts and step by step illustrations, check out Discipleship with Horses.

Practical. Inspirational.

Practical. Inspirational.

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