In my final semester of university, I took a class that was to prepare us for the world at large.
A world of opportunity and excitement, or so the professor suggested. As a 44-year-old soon to hold a journalism degree, I had my doubts.
The class focused on resumes and interview skills. Our dread and fear would be learned out of us. I had concerns given the 25-year gap between my graduating high school and university. Apart from what I studied in school, I had no relevant work experience to list. I’d spent those years training and competing horses. My knowledge and skill in performing leg yields or jumping corners were, I assumed, non-transferable to everyday life.
According to our professor, any well-executed resume will, in part, focus on one’s soft skills. I think I fell asleep for a second when this was announced, total snooze fest.
To help us understand what “soft skills” we each possessed, he asked a series of introspective questions, which he delivered with trademark theatrical flair. A technique, I suspect, to liven up an otherwise dull subject.
“Time,” the professor said, fanning his arms above his head. “What does it mean to you?”
What indeed? At that moment it meant nothing. It was simply a useful construct a clever person created some years ago.
“Punctuality,” he continued, swaying to the right as though he were a tree in a storm.
“Time management,” he said, shifting with the wind to the left. “Write down your thoughts.”
With my head in my hand, I began to doodle.
I was frustrated and annoyed that I was unable to answer a simple question. What does time have to do with horses and how is it useful in regular life?
Everyone was writing something. I drew a clock.
And then in a flash, I realized that time means everything when it comes to horses.
Do I want the horses to kick the barn down if I arrive five minutes late to feed? No, I do not. And what happens if I arrive late for my dressage test? Sayonara sucker, you missed your go. So yes, it turns out I am punctual.
Then I realized that time management is also in my wheelhouse. Grooming five horses at a show and competing my own requires a whole bunch of time management skills. Never mind working the clock for trot sets, gallops and ice boots with a keen awareness of the amount of work left to do before lunch. Time management plays a role in all aspects of working in a competition barn. So, I have time management skills too.
The professor rang a little brass bell, it was an irritating but effective way to get our attention.
“Work,” said the professor, this time fanning his arms in front of himself.
“Teamwork,” he said with a jazz hand to the left.
“Working alone,” jazz hand to the right.
“Work ethic,” jazz hands to the front.
“Work under pressure,” jazz hands overhead.
The flood gates were open and this task he presented to us with much excitement was a snap.
Teamwork was easy to answer. We all know it takes a village to get 20 horses fed, turned out, stalls cleaned, all 20 ridden, tack cleaned, horses brought back in and fed again. High-five for teamwork.
Working alone is all in a day’s work if you are the only groom who went to the show and you must get your coach, his wife and yourself to the ring on time. Working alone, ain’t no thing.
Having a good work ethic is the driving force to riding, competing and grooming. All shortcuts will eventually rear their ugly heads.
The definition of grooming is working under pressure.
The brass bell rings.
“Thinking,” said with a shuffle forward.
I noticed these skills, met with a little pizazz, were in categories.
“Thinking outside the box,” shuffle to the right.
“Thinking ahead,” shuffle to the left.
I think if you work in a barn you think outside the box. Who hasn’t fixed a broken fence board with duct tape and/or binder twine? All us horse folk possess a little MacGyver aptitude. It’s just who we are.
“Never make an empty trip,” I was once told. “If you take something down to one end of the barn, there is probably something that needs to come back to the other end. Think ahead.” Roger that.
Ding a ling a ling.
“Communication,” said with a twirl.
“Active listening,” said with his hands to his ears.
“Customer service,” delivered with a bow.
We always actively listen when the vet comes out. We listen, we nod, we ask questions and then hand over our credit card. We appreciate our vets and when we listen, we get our money’s worth.
Customer service is a fancy way of saying, be nice, be supportive and be helpful. Humans may put up with our guff, but horses won’t. Well, not for long anyway.
The brass bell chimed, and I wondered how much more we could learn.
“Rapid-fire,” said with the appropriate hand motions for fireworks. And with that, the professor unleashed more soft skill essentials.
“Emergencies,” emphasized with a frantic display of firework hand motions.
Horses train us in a wide range of emergency type situations that force us to react fast and think smart. It is what horses do, they aim to educate and keep us alert.
“First aid,” mimed with feigned limping.
First aid for riders is usually something on the lines of duct tape and paper towel. First aid for horses is top-notch. Vets, bandages, ointments, ice, heat, massage, acupuncture, x-rays, scans… You know the drill.
“Attention to detail,” he tugged on his bow tie.
Horses enjoy the art of subtlety. A nick or scratch. A little heat or swelling. A faint unsoundness or oddly quiet. Attention to detail in the barn is like a hidden objects game on your phone, only way more important and generally less fun.
“Humility,” said with a hand slap to his forehead.
Horses equal humility. It’s just the way of the world.
“Resilience,” said with a flexed bicep, albeit slim.
When you fall off a horse you get right back on. If that doesn’t scream resilience, I don’t know what does.
“Patience,” said with closed eyes and hands held out to the side in a meditative way.
“It is better to do Kentucky a year too late, than a day too early,” a perfect quote I overheard some say and it’s all about patience.
“Organizational skills,” said as he tidied his desk.
Horse trailer tack rooms are never large enough, therefore organizational skills are forced upon us.
“Responsibility/dependability,” said with a tap to his watch.
Time waits for no man and neither does a horse. Our horses depend on us and it is our responsibility to be there for them.
And with one final ring of the bell class was over. Phew.
My takeaway from the lesson, taught with a level of excitement never before witnessed, is that horse people have the skills to tackle any job. Never underestimate what horses teach us.