2019 NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Winner, Lance Johnston, learned about cow horses at 10 years old.
“My dad was working for a guy, running his cattle, who also had snaffle bitters in training.”
Johnston’s parents went to the Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno and came home telling Johnston all about it.
He said, “I’m going to win that one day.”
He watched the event in person for the first time when Sandy Collier won the prestigious title in 1993. Johnston didn’t show a snaffle bit horse until two years later.
Johnston earned an Animal Science Degree from Cal Poly Tech State University originally intending to go on to vet school. He decided instead to go the horse training route.
While Johnston has never worked for anyone he did attend clinics and take lessons with Sandy Collier. He said he mainly learned everything by watching other trainers.
He used to have to shoe the horses he had in training and said that he knew he made it when he could call up the farrier to do it for him!
Johnston’s greatest highlight in the sport so far was winning the 2019 Snaffle Bit Futurity. In 2019 he also won NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Intermediate Open Championship, the NSHA Futurity Open and Intermediate Open, the Reno Intermediate Open & Open Reserve title, and the 2019 IRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Intermediate Open.
What is your training philosophy?
“My whole philosophy in life is to work hard. You can’t control anything else. You can’t control what kind of horse it is, you can’t control the customers, you can’t control the weather or the cattle. One thing you can control is how hard you work at it.”
What has been your inspiration over your 37 years in the sport?
“I love what I do. There’s a lot of tough times. A lot more tough time than good times but I love riding horses and I love to compete. This event allows me to compete and ride horses.”
What are you known for as a trainer?
“I would say I’m known for having really nice fence horses.”
How do you handle nerves and/or lack of confidence?
“[For] lack of confidence, just keep working hard and never quit. Work through it, battle through it and get to the other side. Never give up… I heard Chris Dawson say something — he curls his toes, for the nerves. It’s really hard to do inside your cowboy boots. So try to do it and get your mind off of the nerves. It takes a lot of concentration to curl your toes inside your cowboy boots.”
How do you define feel and can you teach feel?
“It’s being one with the horse…And I have never, in the hundreds of thousands of lessons I’ve given, been able to teach that to somebody… People I’ve helped over the years, whether it be non-pros or assistants working for me, the ones that had feel, it was just natural inside them. Somebody would show with hardly any riding experience and they just have a natural feel. They’re born that way. There may be other people out there that can teach [feel] but I can’t. I feel like you’re just born with it. Doesn’t mean you can’t compete and get along. There are trainers out here that have been successful that don’t have a ton of feel…Those that are elites are just born with it.”
“Everything I do, I try to break it down and explain it to myself so I could explain to somebody else. I try to think through it to make sure the stuff that just comes naturally [makes sense to someone else], I try to think back and analyze what I’m doing.”
Johnston now has his sights set on the World’s Greatest Horseman. He has made the finals a few times but he hopes to clinch the win.
When Johnston is not riding horses he enjoys visiting his son at school in Montana and go hunting together.