Equestrians and the Art of Negotiation

If you’re a prospective college student with aspirations toward a career in business and you’re a horse person, you may be surprised to learn that you don’t have to major in business or attend a business college to make that dream a reality.  The reason?  As an equestrian, you’re already well-equipped with many of the skills you need!

Remember, you’ve already spent many hours learning to persuade, cajole, and convince a nonverbal animal to do something that goes completely against his or her natural instincts (jump a fence that’s easily ridden around, load into a dark trailer, have pieces of metal nailed to their feet – you get the idea).  So if you stop to think about what it takes to be a successful person in any career (in the business world in particular), the number one skill to possess is that of negotiation.

So regardless of what subjects you study as an undergraduate, you have probably already mastered the following valuable skills:

  • The art of picking up nonverbal cues.  The importance of a good first impression is vital and body language is a key ingredient to success.  When you encounter a new horse, any good horseman will tell you that your success is in the approach.  Confidence is key and a relaxed manner helps to put the other being (horse or human) into a good frame of mind.  If you blow the first impression – spook the horse or put off the business associate – you’re going to spend the rest of your first meeting negotiating an apology rather than your agenda.  Good thing horses teach us how to read their nonverbal cues for signs of irritation before we approach – which can pay off in spades on job interviews and beyond!
  • The art of remaining calm – no matter what!  No business meeting is counted as a success if it ends in a screaming match – which is why equestrians can thank their horses for teaching them (sometimes not so subtly) how to remain calm in all situations.  (It’s easy when you learn that losing your cool could get you turned into a lawn dart, right?)  Unruly horses teach you to manage their antics in level-headed fashion – skills that serve equally well when tensions run high during budget meetings when coworkers’ tempers are liable to flare.
  • The art of making your point without causing the aforementioned tempers to flare.  As an equestrian, chances are you know exactly what items or issues cause resistance with your equine partner – perhaps an event horse who has become “ditch-y” or a dressage horse who changes late behind.  The savvy horseperson learns to work up to these things and make the horse think that it’s his or her idea to do the right thing – just as the savvy businessperson acquires the skill of negotiating his or her way up to a potentially contentious agenda item so that it can be worked through without people spoiling for a fight before the conversation has even begun.
  • The art of retreat.  Though it doesn’t sound like a winning tactic, equestrians can appreciate the value of knowing when not to press an issue – perhaps more so than our non-equestrian counterparts.  The old adage that every time you handle your horse, you’re training him teaches us restraint – as in, if we’re going to teach him the wrong thing, perhaps our best strategy is just not to handle him at all.  In the business world, it’s the same – no matter how adept you are at accomplishing the previous bullet points, astute people know when it’s best to simply table the negotiation for later.  Indeed, some of the best training sessions on my horse come the day after I’ve chosen just to take him for a hack instead of drilling our issues.

By no means does being an equestrian mean that you immediately understand everything about the business world, but it does mean that you will head to college already in possession of many of the skills that your classmates have yet to learn.  In particular, if you hope to join an honors program at your college or apply for a corporate internship, you can refer to these skills in an application and interview to show that you have some unique experiences to bring to the table.  Couple that with some academic success in the college classroom (regardless of your major) and you’re well on your way to building a successful resume toward your post-college career!

(Meanwhile, should you need assistance in determining which school you should take your equestrian negotiating skills to next fall, contact me.)


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