I’ve had a tremendous amount of feedback on last week’s blog posting about students using education to level the playing field in the financially disparate horse industry – feedback for which I thank you, readers. In a rare move for me, I also chose to share the post on my personal Facebook page in addition to my business page, where close personal friends and professional colleagues (including many of my fellow educational consultants) provided valuable feedback and commentary.
What was most interesting were the notes and comments I received from the non-horse people in my life. Considering how fairly horse-specific the posting was (as so many of my blog entries are), one might assume that those unaffiliated with our sport might find the material either A) confusing, B) uninteresting, or C) both. Yet the thing about the horse world that I love most is that the lessons we learn within its confines are usually always applicable to every other part of our lives, from work to education to grocery shopping. (Yes, you read that correctly – grocery shopping. I’m on a personal quest to teach everyone at my local grocery store to pass left shoulder to left shoulder in the aisles!)
As one of my consultant colleagues put it: “Good advice no matter what you’re trying to develop the skills for, Randi. Focus. Time-on-task. Recognizing that what is valuable must be earned, and was looks easy rarely is.”
That’s an outsider’s perspective – and a timely one at that, considering the wonderful editorial from McClain Ward in the July 3 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. He outlines the result of earning valuable lessons for us, saying: “You pick the influences who interest you more, who you respect, and you study their systems, and if you’re smart, you incorporate the parts that work for you. Eventually you develop and, as Kent Farrington says, ‘Learn to be the best version of yourself.’ I think that’s a great line, and it applies whether you’re riding or doing anything else.”
That’s the wonderful thing about adding the riding component to your college career, students – the skills you learn from your coaches (the two-legged and the four-legged) and the skills you acquire as a member of the team are directly transferable to not only your classroom work, but also to the career path you follow after graduation (whatever it may be). And even though I’m sure you think you can run down the list of the basic traits we learn from our association with horses, I find that a lot of the deeper values tend to be glossed over or overlooked altogether when we do so. Sure, time management, organization, and follow through are valuable and not to be under-emphasized, but let’s look at some of the others, shall we?
- Your priorities aren’t always the most important ones. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but horses typically don’t care about our checklists or goals. How many times have you climbed aboard your favorite mount with a firm plan to practice your lead changes, only to discover that there’s a very distracting puddle from last night’s rain at the far end of the arena and you’re forced to spend an hour just getting him to walk and trot past it without shying? Nothing else better prepares you for working as part of a team, I find, than realizing that very often your priorities are meaningless to someone else and you’re going to have to compromise or simply yield on an issue and regroup for another day.
- Karma is real. This one is my least favorite, by the way, but that’s just because it’s true. Karma tends to arrive right around the time you think those training holes you left in your schooling routine aren’t going to crop up at the worst possible moment (or, more specifically, right in front of a judge at the biggest show of the year)? Bad news on that front: They will. Or if you think that constantly putting your own needs and goals ahead of everything and everyone else isn’t going to come back to bite you one day, you’re sorely mistaken – and I don’t just mean that your horse will provide the karma in that situation. The people around you – particularly the people who have fully invested their lives in this industry – are observant. Top trainers can spot a new blemish on a horse’s cannon bone from 100 yards away and detect an oncoming lameness from the slightest hitch in a gait, so don’t think they don’t recognize rudeness to parents or grooms, the amount of time you spend looking at your phone versus tacking your own horse, or an eye roll when they ask you to drop your stirrups again.
- Nothing worth having or achieving comes easily. Riding in a clinic with Michael Barisone on a 14 degree day in December a few years back was one of the hardest things I’ve ever physically done. It was the first (and so far only) time I ever sat on a horse and, after 10 minutes, thought, “I can’t do this. I literally can’t do this.” It was too cold, my horse was too stiff and behind the leg, and I started coming up with a litany of excuses to tell Michael so I could go inside where it was warm. But he’d flown in from Wellington, I’d paid a lot of money for his help, and I’m the most stubborn person I know. “Just give it another five minutes,” I told myself – and sure enough, that lesson turned out to be one of the best ones I’ve ever had, hands down. And let me tell you readers, once you’ve discovered the inner strength (and/or stubbornness) it takes to give your best on a 14 degree day, a lot of other challenges don’t look so – well – challenging. Everyone is eventually faced with a “quit or push through it” moment, either in life or in riding (usually both) and the decision you make will come back to haunt you – either for good or bad – in situations thereafter. (Hint: Push through it.)
- Sometimes quitting is a good thing, though. If you’re going to spend any time with horses, however, it is worth noting that recognizing when discretion really is the better part of valor is a useful skill. Please know that this doesn’t negate the bullet above, but instead applies a rule I’ve personally labeled as the “will this matter next week?” principle. As in, “Will it matter by this time next week what I had for lunch today?” When the answer is no, the decision at hand isn’t of the life-changing variety – it’s low risk. Meanwhile, if the answer to the question is “yes,” you’d better put some real thought into it. So with horses, sometimes it really is better to stop while you’re ahead. (Nailed the shoulder in you’ve been working on for three weeks? And on the first try?! Stop for the day and go for a hack – your horse will thank you later.) Other times, however, you’re going to have to buckle up for the ride – sometimes literally. Horse not in front of your leg? He doesn’t get to quit for the day until he gives a correct response. And this works in your life too – if it will matter tomorrow, next week, and/or next year, you’re going to have to follow through. But if it truly makes no difference a week from today which choice you make (Coke or Pepsi?), don’t lose time or energy over it and quit while you’re ahead.
I’m sure other riders, trainers, and horse people can list dozens of other important skills and experience we can gain through our interactions with horses and immersion within the equine industry, but let’s not bog things down at this point. Instead, let’s just agree that a lot of things we learn through this sport are valuable when transferred into other aspects of our life – our college education, for example. Internship opportunities. Job interviews.
So ride the horse. Join the team. Learn the lessons. (And look out for that karma!)