Deadlines and Guidelines

If there’s one thing we learn from horses, it’s that our self-imposed schedules are irrelevant much of the time.

This can be both advantageous (when it comes to teaching life lessons) and a detriment (when it comes to actually living life). After all, at work and at school, deadlines are a real thing and meeting (or missing) them is often the simple difference between failure and success. Moreover, it’s usually one hundred percent within our control to meet the deadline. Extremely rare are those cases where the dog actually eats your homework or the family computer picks up a virus at the exact moment your final paper for English is due; typically if a deadline is missed, it’s because you forgot or thought it had been extended or – worst of all – completely blew it off to do something fun. (I see you, students who tanked your math assignments to go to horse shows!)

The college admission world is likewise full of deadlines. In fact, most of higher education lives and dies by its deadlines. Dates when applications must be submitted; dates when students must drop or add their final courses for the semester; dates when all final coursework must be submitted by students who intend to graduate.

It’s funny to pair that world – the rigidly scheduled world of higher education – with the horse world, as we too have our fair share of deadlines (we call them “closing dates”), but remember, we’re dealing with horses. Thus, much like in The Pirates of the Caribbean films, our deadlines are generally more like guidelines.

Take Ricochet, my older FEI dressage horse. During turnout, he ruptured a tendon in his left hind leg four days before our big May clinic – the clinic I had already paid for and the one strategically placed three weeks from our first targeted horse show date. I had a plan for the two of us this summer – dates marked on my calendar, entry fee money set aside in my bank account, the whole shebang. Yet life happened and the show money became vet bill money; likewise, my goals were reset and so were the deadlines I erased from the calendar.

Yet as always, I’ve learned from Rico’s latest go-round with injury and recovery. (His file at the vet’s office reads like War and Peace, readers.) In this case, as we’ve moved through the stages of rehab, I’ve found a different – better – trot than the one I previously had. And because we spent so many hours hand-grazing this summer (because obviously turning him out was impossible), our partnership has deepened once more. So while I didn’t meet the goals and deadlines I wanted to this summer, I think it’s fair to say that I wound up where I was supposed to and when I was supposed to; I just didn’t know it until now.

So maybe horses are, in fact, the best preparation for higher education, readers – especially if you’re a high school senior who’s well into the college search and application process. The lesson we can take away is that the world is full of deadlines and hoops to jump through and most of the time, we’ll turn things in on time and clear the hurdles before us. Most of the time we’ll be pleased with our success – after all, we put in the hours of training, we concentrate, and we put forth our best effort on the day so there’s a level of expectation that such preparation will pay off.

But when we don’t succeed – when we miss a deadline or when that oh-so-perfect first-choice college rejects us – it’s not a failure; it’s instead an opportunity to look around at where we are and discover where our true path really leads. Based on my recent experience with Rico, I’m willing to bet it’s someplace wonderful.

(Need help finding your path to college? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)



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