Every day I spend with horses, I learn how to be a better leader, mother, wife, and person. But sometimes my equine lessons come with very humxn applications.
The sun was setting, and a dusky dimness gathered in the air as night slowly approached. I’d been out riding and just had come upon a tricky little section of the path. The best approach, though a bit precarious, was a fairly steep concrete wash. The horses had been down it before, so I knew it was completely manageable.
But that evening, Wrangler did not agree. Earlier in our ride, he’d been moving cautiously forward, seeming to feel a calm sense of trust for his rider, Buddy. Then, all at once, Wrangler had quickly backed up. As he did, he’d sliced his rear leg on the corner of a brick retaining wall. In a split second, we’d gone from an able-bodied horse to a three-legged one. We’d been fortunate that despite the surprising amount of horsehair and hide left on the retaining wall, Wrangler’s injuries ended up being mostly superficial, enough so that he’d still been able to carry his rider. But now, despite numerous promptings from Buddy, Wrangler was adamantly refusing to move ahead.
Instead, I took Marbles, normally the steadiest of the herd, and made my way towards the concrete wash. We were about halfway down the wash when he, too, backed out in refusal.
I sighed. Horses could be stubborn, but I’d handled that before. I didn’t want to turn around and go back the way we’d come. I knew horses could navigate it, but we’d already come this far, and it would take longer backtracking with Buddy’s injured leg. Plus, I didn’t want to admit defeat. Rather than retreating, I tried to press on by shifting the angle of our descent.
As I did, I heard from behind me, “Hold the pressure steady, and drop your reins!” Buddy was telling me to keep my legs squeezed around the horse’s stomach while allowing my hands, which were holding my reins, to rest down by Marbles’ mane. In this way, he would know I was asking him to continue forward on his own, without confusing him by pulling the reins one way or another. I let go, and, sure enough, Marbles found his way to the bottom of the wash. Confidence boosted, Wrangler followed him soon afterwards.
All I’d needed to do was let Marbles know I supported him while giving him a chance to find his own way, and we’d easily achieved two goals. My riding time suddenly felt a lot like a coaching conversation, and I realized I’d learned several important lessons from my equine friends. Again.
Here are my four equine business lessons:
- Hold the pressure steady.
These words, pulled straight from my riding time, ring in my mind all day while I am working. While I love my work and am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to do something I love, there are still days when I am exhausted and feel overwhelmed.
On those days, I just think about holding the pressure steady in one small way. “Holding steady” may look like reaching out to one strategic partner or following up with one client to see how our work together is going. Or it might be just writing one blog.
Even when I feel defeated, I still know that consistent, steady pressure leads to forward motion. Ultimately that will lead to progress and success. So when you feel overwhelmed, hold steady. Look for forward motion, but don’t push too hard. Allow momentum to build just a little every day.
- Build confidence with a knowledgeable guide.
At first, Wrangler wouldn’t go down into the wash. After his earlier injury, he felt it was unsafe, maybe even impossible. But watching Marbles conquer it changed his perspective from fear to confidence. This is exactly why having a positive support network and a mentor or coach who has gone through that figurative wash before is so important. Their “been there, done that” insight is invaluable.
- Going back is never an option.
With every passing moment, things change. This means the only thing we know for certain is that once the past has happened, it can never return. We can only go forward, into the future. There are a million paths to get there, so choose one, and try it. If you need to course-correct along the way, you can.
- Just because it hurts doesn’t mean it’s the end.
When Wrangler first injured his leg, Buddy and I thought it was really bad. But when we cleaned him up, it became obvious it wasn’t as bad as it initially looked. It took a few minutes, but Wrangler ended up being able to not only put pressure on that leg but even allowed Buddy to ride him back.
Had we reacted initially with alarm and panic, it would have been two adults trying to carry a horse home (not really, but you get the idea). By maintaining a calm mind and only responding to the facts that were in front of us, we served both our horse and ourselves better than if we had freaked out or overreacted.
Too many times, we make important business decisions reactively, without considering whether we have all the facts. Instead of reacting to what you think is the problem, take the time you need to really evaluate the situation and resources at hand. Ultimately, you will make a much better choice.
Though you may not see the parallels between equine life and humxnity as clearly as I do after decades of sharing my life with my equine friends, in the end, we really are all one big herd. Whether you enjoy riding or not, I hope these lessons from our herd experts resonate for you as they do for me, both personally and professionally.
*Note: No animals were injured for the sake of this blog. Their only role was as inspiration. All animals involved made it home safely, were well cared for, and made a full recovery.