The life lessons of horseback riding

Overcoming fears and developing boldness, resilience and confidence are key to success

Overcoming fears and developing boldness, resilience and confidence are key to success

Sport has always been considered a reliable source of wisdom when it comes to learning the truths of life. more importantly, dealing with these truths. While I’ve always admired certain sports, I’ve never really committed to playing one, let alone mastering it. However, this year, that all changed quite unexpectedly. For the past few months, I have been hesitantly but avidly practicing a fascinating sport: horseback riding. Although I am still a beginner rider, there are some life lessons that I continue to learn.

Any sport is an exercise to develop concentration, determination, strength and self-confidence. My tutors at riding school continually remind me to never let go of the reins no matter what. And that I am the one in control, directing the horse, no matter how strong or how big the animal. (Most importantly, I decide if I fall or break my neck). So while the views from the top of a Thoroughbred are exhilarating, my sincere attempt is to stay focused, eyes forward, hands on the reins. This focus helps me stay grounded in those minutes, completely immersed in the experience of learning a new skill, aware of the present.

Isn’t that the case when you learn a new skill, you may ask. Maybe yes; but in my case, I can confirm without a doubt that the concentration I learned to develop during these riding lessons helped me the most. It drives home that reducing distractions and uni-tasking is the way to go if you want to do something well. This focus also helps me to direct myself, constantly reminding me that I can fuel my ambitions, my goals and also chart the course towards that. The reins are under my control. Still.

Challenging but rewarding

Thus, horseback riding helps me develop my sense of concentration, navigation and direction. What makes this learning process even more special is the fact that it is never as easy as driving a car. We do not have the advantage of working with a motorized or automated system. We don’t develop our senses and knowledge by pushing a few buttons. We are dealing with another living creature, a highly sensitive, instinctive and complex creature like any other human. Knowing how to feel his temperament, his disposition, his racing style makes it all the more stimulating and rewarding.

My instructors make me ride a different horse each time for this exact reason. “Every horse is different and you have to master them all,” they say. While one horse is extremely shy and needs lots of encouragement and appreciation, another is playful and eager to go. Yet another is very sullen and always looking for ways to resist my commands. It’s a bit like working as a team in an organization. Each of us is complex and unique and we have no choice but to understand and recognize this truth. So while we secretly prefer working with one person because they’re sociable or easy to work with, we need to be savvy and flexible enough to vary our working styles based on our co-workers’ personalities. Therefore, horseback riding has helped me better understand teamwork and team building.

Key attributes

Spending time with horses is said to enhance our empathy because we learn to observe their moods and emotions and react accordingly. Revered, loved as a friend and partner to the human race for millions of years, a horse needs to be looked into and appreciated when we communicate with it. All of these are essential when working as a team.

Overcoming fears and developing boldness, resilience and confidence are key to succeeding in the world, not just in the workplace. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I have learned in horse riding. Learning to saddle up in my mid-40s, making mistakes in front of strangers, even allowing myself to make a fool of myself at times, helped me not only to become more confident, but also to not take life too seriously.

So tomorrow, as I begin my day with the horses, I look forward to learning more about these graceful animals. Just as I look forward to practicing these lessons throughout the day.

The author is a writer and literary journalist. She also leads corporate communications at UST. The opinions expressed are personal. @anupamaraju

Clyde P. Johnson