As equestrians, we often labor under the delusion that we are the ones who are constantly teaching things to our horses; we are the trainers, we are the scholars, and we are the disciplinarians. But this isn’t the whole story – it rarely is – because sometimes horses give better lessons than humans.
I’ve had a lot of horses in my life, and oddly I remember them all. If I close my eyes, I can think back upon each one, and though they all had different personalities, they all taught – and reminded – me of patience. When I was younger and thought that I was the center of the universe, I had a pretty little Arabian gelding who was quite shy and “flighty”. Most people wrote him off as “that crazy Arab”, and told me he would never amount to anything. I started in with my usual training methods, but they just seemed to stall him; I would push and he would react, most of the time badly. I would get angry, throw my hands up in the air, and think, Maybe everyone’s right. Until one day I looked at him – really looked into his eyes – and I realized that he was asking me to be patient, to give him time. And so that’s what I did, I worked at half pace, did things carefully, moved slowly, and in about six months he had become my favorite riding horse. Eventually, he went on to a home with a young teenage girl who had quiet hands and a kind heart, and that’s all that I could ask for.
#2 Being “Right” isn’t Always the Answer
When we think that we know something, really know it, we tend to show that through driving home our points, punctuating our positions, and defending our posts until the bitter end. I wasn’t always the most malleable of people; I had a hard time backing down when I thought that I was right. Horses have taught me that even if we know we’re “right”, it’s ineffective to be harsh and overly critical; listening and understanding a different perspective is always better than ending a “conversation” with anger and regret. Horses may make what we consider “wrong” moves, but they have no conception of “right and wrong”. Being “right” and driving home a point to the bitter end with a horse will usually get you only one place…nowhere. The funny thing is that this is true with humans as well.
#3 Slow Down and Think Things Through
Life is fast paced, and I’m a fast paced person. My mind can run at lightning speed, and there are times when I try to do way too many things at one time. Horses, though, require focus and a steady hand; they don’t respond well to chaos or instability. As I’m driving up to the barn, I’m consciously slowing down my mind, and I’m thinking – really thinking – about what I need to do and how I need to go about doing it. When I’m in the saddle and I’m working on a maneuver, if things aren’t going well, I will stop, breathe, slow down my mind and think through the issue; this always leads me to an answer. It’s amazing how easily the solution to a problem can appear when you clear your mind and lose the negative emotions of anger or anxiety. Applying this in life has been invaluable…just slowing down and thinking things through has saved me from many an argument, bad decision and ill consequence.
#4 It’s Okay to Ask for Help
Humans are proud creatures. We’re taught to be “self-sufficient” and “strong”; we want to believe that we have all of the answers. The truth is, though, that we don’t. Horses have driven home this point better than any other thing in my life. I’ve been riding for over 30 years, and I’ve trained, competed and done things at an intense level for at least 20 of those years. Even so – even now – there are things that I don’t know, newer methods, better ways of going about things, and problems that I come across that I can’t quite solve. A very wise trainer of mine once told me, “even trainers have trainers”, and that’s the truth. Even the most highly competitive and successful riders in the world can benefit (and often need) another pair of trained eyes to help solve problems. It’s okay to ask for help, it doesn’t mean you’re admitting defeat.
#5 Good Relationships Take Effort
Horses, like people, require effort if you want to build a good relationship with them. You can’t just run out to the barn, pull your horse out of the stall, throw on the saddle and “expect” to have a good ride; you have to be observant, mindful, gentle, strong, focused, confident and amiable all at the same time. It takes effort to build a good relationship with a horse; if you don’t put in that effort, you’re going to have problems. It’s the same with people…if you’re neglectful, cruel, unreasonable, overly controlling, heavy handed, etc., you’re going to find that the people in your life won’t be keen on sticking around you, or at the very least you’ll be doing more yelling than laughing or smiling. And sometimes, no matter how much effort you put in with a particular horse, you two may not be a good match. Just like people, sometimes certain horse and rider combinations just don’t work. It’s all about effort and focus, kindness and confidence, and knowing when to keep trying and when to cut your losses, both in the horse world and in life.
So there you have it, five lessons that my horse has taught me better than any human ever could. If you’re observant enough, I’m sure that your horse has some wisdom to pass along to you as well.
Cover Photo: Sarah Williams