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Jane Savoie


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The Secret to Success in the Horse Business? Resilience

In this excerpt from her book It’s Not Just About the Ribbons, master of motivation Jane Savoie tells us how to go ahead and be discouraged sometimes—just don’t ever give up.

Kerry Milliken on Out and About at the Burghley Horse Trials, in England, 1997. Photo by Brant Gamma.

At one time or another, you’re going to get discouraged about your riding. This might happen when you think you’re just not making any progress. You feel like you’re taking two steps forward and three steps back. Maybe it happens when either you or your horse are sidelined with an injury. Perhaps you get discouraged because your horse is so good at home, but he’s inattentive or disobedient when away.

Your reactions are perfectly normal, and it’s fine to be discouraged for the moment. The problem only exists if you stay that way. The antidote to “getting stuck there” is to be resilient.

Resilience is an important quality in every area of life but it seems particularly necessary if you’re going to survive in the horse business. How many times have you been chugging along, smoothly working toward a goal, and then you show up at the barn and discover your horse is lame and needs a month off? How many times have you been in the top placing at a horse trial only to have a rail down in stadium and get knocked out of the ribbons? How many times have you felt like quitting because you’re riding so badly? At times like these, your resilience—your bounce-back ability—will help you stay optimistic and ready to soldier on.

It really doesn’t matter what the challenge is. You can get knocked down in any area of your life as you pursue your goals. But getting knocked down doesn’t matter. You never truly fail unless you quit. And if you’re resilient, you’ll be able to bounce back after disappointment and stay in the game.

What gives some people the ability to bounce back after a huge disappointment while others quit and run home with their tails between their legs? Denny Emerson thinks it boils down to several factors that add up to this quality we call resilience. It all starts with having a fire in your belly. He explained to me:

“First, you have to be filled with a burning desire. You absolutely have to want to reach your goals so badly that you will do any task, make any change, work twice as hard as the next guy, and even suffer physical discomfort to succeed.

“Secondly, you have to have an unshakable belief in yourself. Look at Kerry Milliken, a highly successful three-day event rider who competed for the U.S. She had H.M.S. Dash and The Pirate and she was on top of the world. Then she disappeared for ten years. But eventually she came back with Out and About. It was ten long years between those horses, but Kerry never quit thinking that she was a great rider.

“Winners like Kerry see themselves as successful. Disappointments are just temporary setbacks. Setbacks don’t defeat them. As a matter of fact, setbacks often motivate them because they annoy them or even make them angry.”

Making a decision and committing yourself to your goal and boldness are other factors in resilience. Denny added:

“Until there is decision, there is always hesitancy—the chance to draw back. The moment that one commits, however, all sorts of unforeseen things come along to support your decision. Things that you never would have dreamed of start to happen.

“I have earned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets, ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.’ A lot of the people who keep coming back for more are very bold. I don’t mean bold in the sense of the word that they would drive a race car, but bold in the sense that they’re going to get what they want. They’re going to do whatever it takes to succeed and when they get knocked down, well, that’s just a step back.

“Boldness enables you to be resilient because you dare to take a risk and perhaps fail. But, you see, resilient people don’t equate failing with being a failure. Failing is just a screw-up in the road. It’s a temporary aberration from your goal.

“In fact, failing can be a positive glitch because it gives you necessary feedback. When something doesn’t work for me, I don’t think of it as ultimate failure. I think, ‘I’ve screwed up and I’d better not do that again. I’d better go take some lessons and learn how to do this or that.’ I think of it as merely a temporary obstacle and I just keep on plugging.

“I tell the kids I teach that they have to be persistent. I say, ‘If you try, if you study and plug, I cannot guarantee in any way that you’ll succeed. But I can tell you this for sure. If you don’t, I can guarantee that you won’t.’”


  • It’s normal to get discouraged from time to time. It only becomes a problem if you stay there emotionally.
  • Look at “failure” in a positive light. It gives you necessary feedback. It tells you what doesn’t work so you can figure out what does.
  • You never really fail unless you quit.
  • The factors that make up resilience are:
  • Having a fire in your belly.
  • Believing in yourself.
  • Committing yourself to your goal.
  • Being bold enough to dare to keep on “keeping on.”
  • Using hurt, such as anger, as a motivator.

This excerpt from It’s Not Just About the Ribbons by Jane Savoie is adapted and reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books ( You can also download the audiobook, read by Jane herself!, here.

Get Up the ‘Go’! An Excerpt from Jane Savoie’s ‘Dressage Between the Jumps

Photo by Brant Gamma, used with permission from Trafalgar Square Press.

In this excerpt from Jane Savoie’s Dressage Between the Jumps, renowned coach and motivational speaker Jane Savoie clarifies the driving aids that will not only give you the forward you need but will also keep you safe.

You need to teach your horse to react enthusiastically to light driving aids. Your goal is to “whisper” with your aids and have him “shout” his response—not the other way around. Remember that your horse can feel a fly on his side. So it stands to reason that he should feel and react to a feather-light driving aid if you train him to do so.

You have four driving aids. They include: legs, seat, voice, and whip. Your horse wasn’t born knowing what these aids mean. It’s your job to teach him the aids, one at a time.

Let’s start with your legs. You can use either one leg or both legs, depending on what you want to ask your horse to do. In all cases, however, use your legs very lightly.

• If you only use one leg and it’s the inside leg (inside the bend), you’re asking your horse for more activity in whatever gait he’s already doing. If his trot is lazy, for example, close your inside calf to ask for more impulsion.

• When you swing your outside leg behind the girth in a quick windshield-wiper-like action, your horse should immediately strike off into the canter.

• When you close both calves, you’re asking for a transition. That transition can be between gaits, like walk to trot or halt to walk. It can also mean a transition within the gait, such as working trot to a lengthening, or from collected canter to extended canter.

If your horse doesn’t react enthusiastically to any of these leg aids, correct him immediately.

When you use a driving seat, you’re asking for an increase in activity, just like you might with your inside calf. Think of “pushing” the back of the saddle toward the front of the saddle. You can get a feel for this action by remembering what it felt like to sit on a swing as a child and “push” with your seat in order to swing higher.

Your horse should react wholeheartedly to one small push. Don’t push every stride or use your seat powerfully. Train him to react to a light seat aid.

When you cluck with your tongue, you’re asking for an increase of activity within the gait, just like you are when you use your inside leg or driving seat. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of repetitive clucking. It has the same dulling effect as using your leg repetitively. Your horse should activate his gait in reaction to one cluck.

The whip can be used either as a correction or as a driving aid. In both cases, it is preferable in these exercises to use a long dressage whip. Don’t use a short jumping bat or crop because you’ll either end up pulling on your horse’s mouth, or you’ll have to take the reins in one hand in order to apply the whip behind your leg. When you use a crop on the horse’s shoulder, you aren’t speaking to his hind legs.

• When using your whip to correct your horse because he’s ignored one of your light driving aids, tap him sharply enough to send him forward into the next gait.

• When using the whip as a driving aid, apply the whip on his barrel, right behind your lower leg. To do this without pulling back on his mouth, use an opening rein and let the whip roll over your thigh. You are looking for the same reaction to this aid as you expect from your inside leg, your driving seat, or your cluck. It should add activity to the gait you’re already in.

Top event rider Carrie Wehle of Western New York says that teaching a horse to go forward from each of the light aids not only makes your horse more of a pleasure to ride, it keeps you safe.

“Dressage has been the foundation for training all of my horses. But it was particularly instrumental in the positive progression of a very difficult horse. This horse was a talented, athletic, off-the-track Thoroughbred named Foghorn J. Leghorn.

“When I bought Foghorn, my intention was to event him. He was described to me as ‘cheeky,’ and I was told that he might show a little attitude once in a while…. Fast-forward to a dressage schooling show. It was my first time off the property with the gelding. He was being a bit naughty in the warm-up—kicking at my leg and being ‘sticky’ about going forward. I ignored it and kept warming up. His ‘stickiness’ continued to escalate as I trotted around the arena, preparing to enter for our test. During the test, Foghorn became progressively reluctant to go forward: He not only kicked at my leg but also started bucking, which soon became a buck followed by a rear. The end result was a very vertical rear in front of the judges. Yes, I stayed on and finished the test (because that’s what eventers do!)

“The first thing Jane had me do with Foghorn was trot around the arena. It was pretty clear the horse was not in front of my leg. (I was sweating and breathing hard, and he wasn’t!)

“By using Jane’s technique of teaching him to be reactive to feather-light leg aids, I was able to re-train Foghorn to go forward from a light pressure from my leg. The new rule became that the horse was to react every single time I applied an aid—not just when he felt like it. Jane also added a series of different dressage exercises where I asked the horse, ‘Are you thinking forward while doing this exercise?’ These, combined with the ‘go forward questions,’ significantly improved his reaction to my aids.”

This excerpt is adapted from Jane’s Savoie’s Dressage Between the Jumps and reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books

Is Your Horse a Wiggle Worm? Straighten up with Jane Savoie

In this excerpt from Jane Savoie’s “Dressage 101,” renowned motivational speaker and riding coach Jane Savoie gives us several tricks to straightening the squirmy horse-centipede that feels like he’s moving in a hundred different directions at once.

Illustration by Patricia Peyman Naegeli.

Do you ever feel like you’re wrestling an alligator or trying to hold onto a greased pig instead of schooling a horse? That’s what riding the wiggly horse feels like. It’s wonderful that he’s so supple, but your four-legged friend feels like a centipede. Not only is this horse difficult to turn because he’s all over the place, but it’s just as hard to keep him going forward on a straight line.

I ran into one of these wormy guys recently at a clinic. His rider was trying to correct him by closing her appropriate hand or leg depending on where he was escaping. But as soon as she corrected him, he bounced off her aids and fell out somewhere else. She had fallen into a cycle of correcting her correction and then having to correct her next correction. The two of them looked like they had indulged in one-too-many!

I suggested that she make a solid, narrow corridor of her legs and hands and let her horse bounce from side to side between her steady, enveloping aids until he finally was able to go straight forward. To help her with this concept, she visualized standing in a hallway and throwing a pingpong ball forcefully against one wall. She “watched” the ball bounce from wall to wall until it finally rolled straight down the corridor.

We went through several stages. The first was to go all the way around the track, keeping him absolutely straight with no bend even when they were in a corner. When they could do that easily in all three paces, they did the same exercise three feet in from the rail with no track to help them. I told her to imagine she was on a four-inch-wide balance beam such as gymnasts use. If he got any closer to, or farther away from the rail, she’d fall off the beam.

Once they could do that with few “falls,” they did several brief lengthenings of five or six strides each while staying on the beam, which was still 3 feet away from the rail. Eventually they added some circles, starting and finishing the same distance away from the rail and then continuing along the balance beam without getting drawn into the track.

The final exercise was to turn onto the centerline, leg-yield over to within 3 feet from the rail, and then stop the sideways momentum with the outside aids so the horse could continue forward along a line parallel to but not quite in the track.

This excerpt from Jane Savoie’s Dressage 101 by Jane Savoie is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (