Rising to the Occasion: Life Lessons Learned in the Saddle

There are certain phrases that are heard fairly frequently growing up such as “you have to make the best out of a situation,” “you need to find a way to work together,” or “in a relationship you are 50% of the equation.” I have come to understand these life lessons, but from an unusual set of teachers: horses. Working with a creature 10 times my size who doesn’t speak my language has taught me patience, compassion and teamwork. It has helped to give me a fresh perspective on how to get through life applying the lessons they have taught me. 

I was drawn to horses at a young age. I loved those powerful, yet majestic animals with those big, sweet faces and the warmest, gentlest eyes. They seemed to move with speed and grace as their riders sat effortlessly in their saddles. I longed for the day when I would be old enough to ride.  

At age eight, I got my chance. My second time ever in the saddle, my horse spooked, scared of a nearby dog and charged around the ring, instantly tossing me to the ground. I learned that although sweet and innocent, like life, horses are unpredictable. Soon, I realized I had entered into a partnership each time I sat atop a horse and took hold of the reins. Our relationship would require me to gain my horse’s trust, and I would have to be patient and understanding for us to be successful. If I held up my 50%, so would they.

Horses taught me to be accountable for my actions. More often than not, if I did something wrong, my horse would be a reflection of it, and I would have to fix my mistake or the ride would not have a positive result.   

At times, frustration got the best of me when I had a horse refuse to go into the ring. I tried gently guiding him in on foot and in the saddle and I was getting flustered. I took a deep breath, patted his face and walked alongside him in a circle until he finally relaxed and entered the ring. The horse you are sitting on senses your emotions and the more tense and frustrated I became, the more frenzied he got. I quickly caught on to keep my emotions in check and focus on the task at hand. If he was out of sorts, I needed to calm and reassure him instead of losing my patience.

Like horses, people like to feel that you are accountable for your actions and will hold up your end of the bargain when it comes to completing work and being punctual.  Sometimes you may struggle to come to an agreement, but if you are patient and discuss the different options, most of the time you can find a solution you both can agree to.  In working with people as well as horses, you establish connections and bonds that only remain strong based on how much effort you put into that relationship.  

Working with horses has given me a deeper understanding on how to handle challenges I face in life. I have learned many life skills that I carry with me outside of the ring, and help me face everyday dilemmas at school, home and work. I have grown into the person I am today because of the lessons these animals have taught me, and I am a better person for it.