The #1 Way to Improve Your Horse’s Performance

Everyone seeks a magic pill or silver bullet to make life easy, simple, robust, rewarding, and successful. Marketeers hawk self-help books, products, and programs that range from cheap and silly to excruciatingly extravagant and invasive.

Horse owners are no different than the rest of the population, we just spend more time looking directly into the liquid brown eyes of our beloved equine asking, “What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you do as I ask?”

If you’re a Christian, and I suspect most of you are, you may also spend a significant amount of time in prayer asking, “What’s wrong with me? What do you want me to do? Why don’t you answer my prayers?”

Would it surprise you to know the two are linked together?

“You ask and you do not receive because you ask amiss.” – James 4:3

How would you react if I slapped you smartly on the behind and said, “Do what I ask!”

If I had enough friendship capital already on deposit with you, rather than knock me into next week, you might respond, “What do you want me to do?”

The #1 Reason Horses Don’t Perform as Hoped

The number one reason a horse does not perform at an expected or hoped for level is because the owner/trainer does not know (1) what he or she is asking, or (2) what the right answer looks like.

Motivation, commitment, and passion have no value unless related to do-able action items. Revivalists often gauge success on the level of passion produced in the assembly of the faithful. Some folks accept Christ for the first time, but most who respond to altar calls re-commit lives already staked on Jesus Christ.

Emotions build. Tears are shed. The service ends. Then what?

Horsemanship Tools

Participants at horsemanship clinics are usually presented with POSSIBILITY. Clinicians demonstrate what is possible in relationship with a horse. He or she directs riders through a variety of exercises intended to serve as tools for changing the way horse and rider relate. Folks learn how to ask the horse for a specific response and judge whether the horse did or did not perform correctly.

Tools only work well if wielded by experienced hands. My husband is pretty handy, but even he ran the bit of an electric drill up the cuff of his sweatshirt this week. Ziiippp! That thing shredded faster than you could say “Get your horse soft in the face.”

After three taxing days in the arena, you and faithful Flicka head back home, tired but filled with new enthusiasm, goals, dreams, and equipment bearing the clinician’s logo. How long does the passion last? Does Flicka remember the exercises? Are you and Flicka enjoying new levels of respect, success, and willingness? Are you basking in the glow of transformative relationship?

For most clinician-graduates, life with Flicka soon returns to normal. You invested time, money and sweat. You got pumped up and motivated – and the seminar ended. What happened next?

The Only Effective (Ethical) Horse Training Tool

The only effective horse training tool is worthy leadership. It is also the only effective parenting tool, teaching tool, or discipleship tool. The only tool that produces wonderful relationship and performance results is the skill to use every subordinate tool properly and productively.

When based on simple GOSPEL PRINCIPLES, there isn’t a gnat’s weight of distinction between:

  • Great Discipleship
  • Great Leadership
  • Great Horsemanship

#1 Way to Improve your Horse’s Performance

I bet you’re waiting for me to tell you the #1 way to improve your horse’s performance. Okay, here it is:

Know what question you’re asking your horse before you ask and be able to describe what the right answer looks like.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it. But, like most other simple concepts the problem always comes when you attempt to apply it to real situations. What would happen if I ask you to:

  • “Collect your horse.” Okay, even if you know what that means, can you do it?
  • “Perform a flying lead change from left to right.” Can’t everyone do that?

Real life conversations between instructor and rider (or rider and horse) usually sound more like:

  • “No, your OTHER left.”
  • “Do you know which lead you’re on?”
  • “Eyes up, look where you’re going.”

If you ask your horse to collect, what does that mean? This is not a rhetorical question. Get out a piece of paper and a pencil and WRITE DOWN what it means. If you can’t write it down – correctly – there’s little to no chance your horse will be able to do it.

Have you ever done a flying lead change intentionally? That means where, when, and how you intend to. Not just a trick of changing your horse’s direction at just the right moment to cheat a lead change out of him. If so, right after your description of what collection looks like, WRITE DOWN what your horse has to do to perform a flying lead change from left to right.

What is his foot fall before the change and what has to happen to accomplish the change correctly? Address each hoof, one at a time. What will the position of his hindquarters, barrel, shoulders, neck and head be before the change, during the change, and after the change. WRITE IT DOWN. How will you be positioned, seat, legs, hands, and weight? What cue asks for the change? WRITE IT DOWN.

Flying Leads with Jane Savoie

Flying leads with Jane Savoie

Most of you won’t do the exercise because it takes a very accomplished person to understand the process well enough to be able to  document it step-by-step. If a rider isn’t accomplished enough to know what asking for a lead change means and the mechanics of getting it, how can he or she expect a horse to perform it willingly and correctly?

Remember when I walked up and slapped you smartly on the behind a few paragraphs earlier? “Owwww! What do you want me to do?” Would it ever be okay to spur, whip, or slap you for not doing something when you had no clue what you were supposed to do?

Precise and Disciplined

Your horse cannot be more precise, disciplined, and knowledgeable than you are.  If you aren’t sure what you’re asking your horse to do how do you know if he gave you the right or wrong answer?

Even if you know what you intend to ask your horse, if he doesn’t give you the right answer, how can you be certain he understood the question? Most riders in the clinics I conduct begin thinking the reason they failed to perform an exercise correctly is because their horse said “No.” By the end of the clinic most realize their horse didn’t understand the question or really said “Yes” – but to the question it thought it was asked.

Motivation, commitment and passion are worthless unless married to action items. No revival or clinic will benefit you (or your horse) unless you have a way to APPLY a sincere want-to.

Action Item – Transform Possibility into Accomplishment

The next time you ask your horse, “What’s wrong with you? Why won’t you do as I ask?” stop. Pet your pony. Give him a carrot. Take out a paper and pencil and WRITE DOWN what you want him to do. DESCRIBE exactly how the right answer will look – hoof by hoof and body part by body part.

The point of the exercise is to teach you to be more precise and disciplined. Begin a new habit. If you WRITE DOWN every step you ask your horse to take he will become softer, happier, more responsive, and more secure. Why? Because you will become simpler, softer, more precise, more grateful, and more secure.

Success is built one little-bitty success at a time. Failure is built the same way. If you get your horse to move one foot correctly and then another, you are on the path to success.

The next time you ask God “What’s wrong with me? What do you want me to do? Why don’t you answer my prayers?” stop. Listen for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit to ask you one simple question or one easy action item. WRITE IT DOWN.

The more precise and disciplined you become with your horse the more transformative the relationship you enjoy with him – and with the Lord Jesus Christ.

 “You ask and you do not receive because you ask amiss.”- James 4:3

The emotion of revival dims because there is no action item attached to the experience. What are you supposed to do? Pray more? Pray for what? Spend more hours in church? Volunteer where? Give your testimony to whom?

The revivalist can’t provide the action item any more than I can tell your horse what to do. God is your Master just as you are to be a faithful master to your horse. The challenge is always in the application.


Inquire about clinics by visiting a companion website for Amazing Grays Ministry.

You’ll find more concepts, suggestions, and practical step-by-step examples for discipleship, leadership, and horsemanship in Discipleship with Horses – Journey of Joy.

Practical. Inspirational.

Practical. Inspirational.


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