I remember the first time I ever sat on a horse.
I was completely terrified! But I was also completely in awe of these majestic, gentle creatures and begged my parents to let me keep taking lessons.
Over time, I grew more confident handling horses and riding, and I even started competing. I carried myself differently. I became more self-sufficient and responsible, even disciplined. I couldn’t get enough of the barn and being around horses and learned some important life lessons over the years—some good, some bad.
I loved horses enough that I became a professional for several years, training and showing young horses. I travelled the world, worked for different Olympians and soaked in everything horses had to offer.
Recently, I decided that the hectic horse pro lifestyle wasn’t for me and settled into a “big girl” career. This decision filled me with so many regrets—the regret that I didn’t get started on my career sooner, regret that I gave up riding horses for a living and even the regret that I put myself in debt in order to be able to show at a professional level.
However, everytime I sit on my amazing young horse and let the world melt away, or receive praise at work for some skill I acquired through riding that has propelled me up the ladder, I remember all of the good that riding horses has brought to my life and how it’s shaped me into the person I am today. I will never regret the things I’ve learned or the person I’ve become because of horses.
So here are 5 things horses have taught me (about life in general) that I will always be grateful for.
1. Always get back on
We’ve all been there—sitting in the dirt, looking up at our horse and wondering how we ended up on the ground.
If you ride horses, then you know that falling off is just part of the gig. We’re taught from a young age that when you fall off, you ALWAYS get back on the horse (barring a potential concussion, of course). This helps you to conquer your fears, learn from your mistakes and ensure that you’re confident and able to get on next time.
It’s also probably the most important and useful concept riding has taught me about life. Life is no different than falling off a horse. We’re constantly faced with challenges and failures that knock us to the ground, but as long as you remember to pick yourself back up and stare adversity in the face, you’ll always be able to conquer your fears and keep learning from your mistakes.
You can’t succeed if you never try, or give up on the first go. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on that metaphorical horse.
2. Be patient and stick to your distance
This one is for the jumping riders in the house, but I’m sure we can all relate. You see a distance, you anticipate and get anxious and before you know it: BOOM. You’ve swung and missed, stopped or had a rail.
We’ve all kicked ourselves for not riding the rhythm and making a big move too late in the game. I think we can all admit to times we’ve guilty been of this in our lives, as well. We want things RIGHT NOW and are so focused on making a move that we forget to just relax and let the rhythm work its magic.
With a good canter, rhythm and balance, we can make any distance work. The more tense and anxious we are, the more apt we are to make mistakes. The same is true in life. The more we try to “make” things work, the more we interfere with our own intuition and we end up making mistakes. Sometimes the best thing you can do in life is to be prepared, stick to your guns and just be patient—the right distance/decision/opportunity will always work itself out.
3. Perfect practice makes perfect
It’s something our coaches—and George Morris—instilled in us from a young age and something I hold up to every aspect of my life today. It’s not good enough to just practice endlessly. You have to make a point of perfect practice so that you’re not reinforcing or practicing bad habits.
Perfection is unattainable, of course. But if you strive to make all of your riding sessions as technically correct as they can be, then when it really counts in competition, you have the tools to succeed under pressure.
This concept definitely holds true in real life. Whether you’re practicing your golf swing or your speech at your wedding, it’s not enough to practice often, you have to practice RIGHT. The more you focus on being the best you can be in the smallest moments, the more likely you are to succeed on a grander scale later on (and the less likely you’ll develop bad habits!).
4. Always go back to basics
This is a philosophy I felt very strongly about and my students either loved it or hated it: when all else fails, go back to the basics.
Have a horse who gets late rails behind? Go back to basics. Having trouble with transitions in your hack class? Go back to basics. Swinging lower leg? Go back to basics. There is not a single issue, rider- or horse-related that cannot be fixed with going back to basic riding fundamentals of flatwork and correct position and form, in my opinion.
I learned this lesson in life the hard way. Even now, I have to remind myself of this riding philosophy almost weekly. Sometimes, we hope or wish for an outcome that just isn’t realistic. When we allow ourselves to take a step back and re-evaluate what is really important, we can get a clearer perspective on what we want out of life and how to get it to work for us. Life doesn’t need to be more complicated than it is—simpler is (oftentimes) the better way.
5. HAVE FUN!
I was always a very competitive kid and became more competitive as an adult. I’m an excellent sportsman. But everything I did, I did for the sake of succeeding in competition. I took every riding session or lesson so seriously, and almost never missed a day of riding—not for fun, but because it meant it may cost me a ribbon!
Something that has always stuck with me from my coaches of my youth was that they ALWAYS reminded me that horses were supposed to be fun. Showing was supposed to be fun! Sometimes, we take competition so seriously, it takes the joy out of doing what we love and can even create anxiety or resentment.
Life is clearly no different. The more we work or strive for something, whether it’s a bigger house, a nicer car or getting that promotion, the easier it can be to forget that sometimes, there are more important things in life. If we forget to have fun along the way, then what are we doing this for in the first place?
Having goals and striving is an admirable thing, but not if it comes at the cost of our sanity or our happiness. Riding at a high level taught me that winning isn’t everything and that it can sometimes even ruin something you love. It’s important to enjoy life as it is now, and not focus solely on that ribbon, or winning. Life is too short to make everything a competition; you have to laugh, love and live your life with purpose and passion.
About the Author
Sarah Eder is an avid blogger, horse professional and closet fashionista trying to live a balanced life with her crazy Grand Prix horse and boyfriend in tow.