Business Lessons from Equestrians

Business Lessons from Equestrians

I’m an equestrian – or at least, I used to be. I still consider myself one even though it’s been a few years since I’ve ridden and worked with horses. Once it’s in your blood, you can never go back. But I digress.

While training for competition, I learned many valuable lessons (beyond the kind that made sure you didn’t canter off to your death). The psychology that comes with riding competitively offers a wealth of knowledge that you can apply to all sorts of areas of life, especially those outside the stables.

Let me share a few of those lessons with you:

Never take the little jumps for granted.

It’s easy to take little jumps for granted when the big ones are what you do every day. But any fool can jump big – all it takes is reckless guts and the strength to hang on. Put that person in front of a full-fledged course full of technical complexities, and it’s crash time.

It takes skills to jump small – and to jump well. Master the basics, slow down and pay attention to details. They’ll make a big difference when it comes time to navigate the continual hurdles of business – and you’ll be sailing over those big bars like they were child’s play.

Always look ahead to the next jump.

If you take each jump as they come, you’re only focusing on getting over this hurdle, and that’s narrow-sighted vision. There’s a whole course to complete. By the time you lift your head up, you might be mightily surprised to realize you need to check your speed or make a sharp turn – and you aren’t ready. The result? Crash.

Always focus on the jump ahead of the one you’re taking now – even before you’ve made it past this one. Presuppose the win, and let your mind assume that it’s already made this jump successfully because you’re looking ahead to the next. That’s a good way to build confident success so that you’re always ready for what’s coming at you – before you get there. You’ll be sailing through your business obstacles easily!

Never look back.

You’re almost over and suddenly you hear the dreaded thunk of hooves against wood. You glance back over your shoulder to check if the pole’s down. And you’re out. Done. Finished. You just carried out a useless action that cost you the whole win.

I’m not talking about knocking down the pole – I’m talking about focusing on the past. There’s nothing you can do about mistakes or failures, in horses or in business. Looking back takes your attention away from the task at hand, so stay forging forward and look for the results you can get, not the opportunities you lost.

Go first, even though you really want to go last.

It takes guts to volunteer to be the first rider. Most people need another rider to take the course first before they’ll step up to the gate for their turn. Even then, they’re a puddle of nerves. They’ve seen what they’re up again and the mistakes that were made –they’re already imagining their own mistakes and failures.

When you go first, you aren’t feeding your fears with other people’s mistakes; they haven’t made them yet. You have no competition to beat; they have to beat you instead. You don’t have to meet anyone else’s bar of standards; you set the standard for everyone else.

And in business, it’s exactly the same. Take a deep breath, be brave and slip to the head of the line. Have the courage to say, “I’ll go first.” The truth is that it takes a lot more willpower for everyone else to stand there watching you go ahead while their fears and anxiety eat them alive.

Besides, there’s a real satisfying feeling that comes from going first. You get to ride out of the ring grinning and tell your fearful peers, “Beat that, hotshot!”

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I’ve never been an avid horse rider myself but I can easily see the comparisons you are making. I think it’s an important point not to get complacent and focus on your existing client base and making them happy as well as looking forward and securing new business.

  2. Great comparison with Equestrians!

    I really liked all 4 comparisons and lessons.

    “There’s nothing you can do about mistakes or failures, in horses or in business.”

    Yup, this is true. We can only learn from our mistakes, and move ahead.

    “Have the courage to say, “I’ll go first.””

    This is a really great advice, and which many of us are guilty of not following. We get scared, and some people just cant take a bold new step in their business.


  3. Excellent analogy James. I love the last one. I’d rather be the one that is followed than the follower.

  4. Yep, I’m down with the last one as well. It’s all well and good this learning from others business, but if you have a good idea and you can afford and have the time to go for it, why mess about? Get stuck in and see what happens. What’s the worst that can happen? Apart from that. Or that. Ouch!

  5. Hi James,

    Former equestrian here too! Fun article that returned me to my wonderful riding days.

    #2 — Always look ahead to the next jump – Excellent advice! I also learned that goodie from my riding teacher and it has served me well. It’s key to keeping the forward momentum. Also makes you more likely to clear the jump (project) you’re going over because you’re not hyper focused on it. Horses (clients too) can sense when your worried about something, when your confidence is lacking. Your horse (client) has more confidence when you’re looking out for both of you by seeing what’s coming up next. Takes the pressure of that one jump (project) by forcing you to see that it’s part of a sequence.

    Did you ever forget the course? Some of them got mighty complicated.

    Thanks! Giulietta

  6. I’ve ridden a horse ONCE and swore it’d be “never again”… and these lessons still ring true.

    Love the post – love the psychological focus 🙂

  7. Great post. I used to ride, too, but I never jumped. However, I am familiar with that saying, “Throw your heart over the jump and the horse will follow.”

  8. @Rhonda – As long as the horse doesn’t throw you over the jump, it’s all good 😉

    @Peter – Never say never again. Just get a better coach. 😉

    @Guilietta – It’s CRAZY how sensitive to our state of mind horses can be. They pick up everything like a radar – and then they reflect it in their behaviour.

    Same thing in business – if we don’t appear superconfident and convey that to our potential customers, they’ll reflect it in their behavior – by not buying.

    And nope, I’ve never forgotten a course. I have, however, completely destroyed one once. “OVER the jump, you damned nag, not THROUGH it!!!”

    @Iain – I highly agree. And I think there’s actually no worse than can happen at all, because there’s a positive in every negative. Even if you fall – hard – you learn from that experience.

    @Heather – Me too. I always went first 🙂

    @Nabeel – So many people are paralyzed by fear, and their own fear absolutely wrecks any chance of success they had. It’s a little sad to watch someone very good fall apart just by fears they create for themselves.

    @Rebecca – “I think it’s an important point not to get complacent and focus on your existing client base and making them happy as well as looking forward and securing new business.”

    I’ll give you the equestrian analogy: Never get too comfortable with your horse and never get complacent. You have to always push yourself (and it) for more, and your goal is to eventually ‘outgrow’ your horse and need a new one that fits your skill level.

  9. Great post James!

    I rode once and let’s just say I stick to the ground now. 🙂

    I really like the thought on never looking back. If you make a mistake, so be it. It’s not the end of the world and you’re not perfect. I keep moving forward in my life and in business.

  10. Great post! I’m a former equestrian myself, though I didn’t do much jumping (mostly dressage), I still loved this analogy. Especially “never take little jumps for granted”. Great advice.

  11. Great analogies! It’s great that you talked about never looking back. Once a lesson’s learnt, there’s no point dwelling in the past. It can be intimidating going first at times but it does feel really nice to have others follow after you’ve gone through the obstacle yourself. Mastering the basics – great advice. I’ve made mistakes through this before. Having a solid foundation really do matter. Greatest advice I’m carrying back with me is always look ahead to the next jump today. Can be difficult without a great mentor to advice me. But heck, doing something and learn from mistakes is better than nothing, right?

  12. Great analogies! I’m carrying the advice of “Always look ahead to the next jump” today. Can sometimes be challenging without a great mentor to advice me on certain aspects of the business. But heck, doing something and learning from mistakes is better than doing nothing at all right?

  13. Solomon says:

    Hi James,

    I liked the ‘Go First …’. It’s very crucial for one’s success. I adopt this attitude to my freelancing and life. Great Post !

  14. Elizabeth Deitz says:

    A lesson I learned, time and time again, was that one should put their heart over the jump first, and the horse will follow. Somehow, that always seemed to help!

  15. Never looking back, coupled with “regret is the most emotion,” and making sure to NEVER live vicariously through anyone else, are the things that I like to always keep in the back of my mind when the going gets tough, or I try to take my business on a new tangent.

    There will ALWAYS be another hurdle ahead and the things you did in the past are always going to be behind you.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  16. James – I’m an ex equestrian, too … though I hope that won’t be the case forever. I always tell people who ask that the best thing about riding was the way it focused my attention. You just can’t be thinking about work, relationships, or anything else when you’re in the saddle. Multi-tasking from up there could get you killed!

    As a self-proclaimed queen of metaphors, I love the way you’ve translated key riding concepts into business/life lessons. The one thing I’d add (or, perhaps highlight) is the importance of strong committment. Though I did do some 3-phase events that involved both arena and x-country fences, jumping was never really my thing. I could do it, but – more often than not – I was uttering curses under my breath on the approach, and quite possibly had my eyes closed on the moment of take off. The one thing I did learn, though, was that a surefire way to land on your ass was to give up halfway through the jump. Whether you’re flying over with your eyes closed, or doing the right thing and looking ahead at the next fence, you’ve got to be committed to the jump. Hang back even a little on the reins or shift your weight backward & you’re doomed.

    … and now I’m going to go do a search for local stables.

  17. Hi James,
    I love your post I used to barrel race my horse when I was a kid, I always loved being the first one out of the gate, I didn’t think about the competition part of it as much and enjoyed the ride more

  18. @George – Alright, you and Peter need to get your tails over to my place, and I’ll bring you back out on a horse in a way that’ll make you get off saying, “But we just started! Can we do it again?” (I was a trail guide for 5 years – turning horse fearers into horse lovers in 15 minutes or less was my job, and believe me a crucial one!)

    @Mokibobolink – You’re welcome!

    @Jan – Doing something is always better than doing nothing, hands down.

    @Solomon – Thanks!

    @Elizabeth – Yeah, I like that one myself – but I always did like to make sure I wasn’t just taking a leap of faith 😉

    @Joshua – Talk about living vicariously through someone else… Plenty of parents sign their kids up for riding/singing/dancing/music when it’s really them that wants to be doing the activity. The kids ALWAYS know it, hate the activity and quit. Kind of sad.

    @Jamie – Getting in the zone was the best feeling. Couldn’t hear anyone, couldn’t see anyone – just me and my moment and the control. Was fantastic. (Ahh, now you made ME want to ride!)

    You’re very right about what you added. If you’re going to do it, DO IT. 150% percent. Horses are incredibly perceptive. In business, it’s your own mind that’s incredibly perceptive, and if you hang back a touch…

    Boom. You didn’t make the jump. Self-sabotage at its best, eh?

    @Cheryl – You have my undying respect as a barrel racer. Now that’s some riding right there!

  19. @James – I love the concept of my mind as my mount. Gives me a whole new set of tools to “ride” myself out of self-sabotage mode – heels down, seat in the saddle, back straight, arms relaxed & go! 😉

  20. Hmm horsies and writing *drool* … two of my favourite ways to pass the time. Thanks for sharing. Have you also found that horse training psychology (i.e. making the desired behaviour easy etc) is helpful for human training psychology? 🙂

  21. Hi James,
    “Never takes the little jumps for granted”
    I love that phrase. I really got me thinking on what I have done in my blogger years. Well, I can’t really say “years” as I had only start blogging only on July last year. However, it was quite a journey, as I started only with blogspot account and now I’m having my own domain and self hosted it.
    If I am an Equestrian, I would imagine my horse to be the wild one. Sometime it run too fast and sometime too slow. I really need to tame my horse so that I can control my pace.
    Thanks James, you made me think out of the stable 😉

  22. Ooh, I’ve got one! “Don’t beat a dead horse.”

    I could say something smart about learning to fail quickly and moving on from bad business ideas… but I’d rather just chuckle at the idea of someone beating up a dead horse.

  23. Former sort-of equestrian here too. As a kid, I taught my little Welsh mix pony to jump based on the lessons I had on the thoroughbreds with my friend’s mom, who truly was an equestrian as far as the shows and jumping/dressage and so on went….so anyway, yup. If I wasn’t watching where we were going as we cleared those jumps we were likely to crash into a tree lol Look back? No way. You can’t.

    They were just little jumps but what success since we were both learning. Love your going first idea too. Lots of lessons here. One thing my pony taught me–wild stallion stud boy that he was–never let go of your horse no matter what! He might run away to the mares over the hill lol (don’t let go of your project/goals or there might be problems 🙂

  24. @Leah – Love your story. It’s always the ponies that are the “stud boys,” isn’t it?
    Great point about never letting go of your horse. In addition to always looking ahead with confidence to the next jump, you have to make sure you’re actually looking ahead at the jump … and not getting distracted by those pretty mares across the way. We too often self-sabotage by letting shiny new objects distract us from our destination. Stay the course & you can go back and make nice with the mares later.

    (PS – Love your blog’s mission. Consider yourself RSS’d!)

  25. @Jamie–thanks! You’re funny–he really was distracted when the wind was blowing a certain way. I could tell some stories! Yeah he did make nice with the mares lol…apparently teaching him to jump might not have been the best thing to do 😉 Thanks about my mission! Peeked at yours too–totally get the dog story–will have to stay the course right now, finish a post and make nice with your blog later on lol 🙂

  26. Hey again James.

    Wow…that’s cool. I gotta say if I did live nearby, I would take you up on that offer. My wife is a horse lover and I would love to ride with her and show my kids too. One day I will get back in the saddle!

  27. Going first is always a freak out, not just with horses. You don’t get to learn from anyone else’s mistakes, but they get to see your mistakes.

  28. @Dave – That’s when you look lofty and say, “I meant to do that. Clearly, you need help telling the difference.” 😉

    @George – You’re on, buddy! One day it is.

    @Leah/Jamie – I just want to say I think it’s great to see commentators chatting together. Love when that happens.

    @Leah – I used to care for 12 Shetlands. I now firmly believe they are the most arrogant, ill tempered, stubborn and willfull creatures on earth. Well, second only to my 5 year old, that is.

    @Joel – I take no responsibility for dead horses. I had nothing to do with that. Nuh uh. Can’t blame me.

    @Noor – Wild horses does sound like blogging, doesn’t it? But let me tell you – even the horses you know like the back of your hand can surprise you every now and then. Keeps you on your toes!

    @Sea – The horses had far less need of psychological assistance than the riders did, sadly. What I enjoyed the most is watching how much horses brought out of humans, and in a way, forcing them to deal with many, many issues. It was a fulfilling job and taught me a great deal about people.

  29. Hmmm… Seems there’s a pattern with writers and horses.

    I’m with Peter having road a horse just once. And that horse sure knew he was the one in charge that day.

    Your message reminds me of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”

    Except the horse wouldn’t appreciate the jumping off cliffs part.

    Joe 😀

  30. @James – 🙂 Thanks for giving us something fun to connect on.

  31. I see I’m not the only one with horses on the mind this week. 😉

    Great analogy. I’ve only been on a horse once, but here’s what I learned: telling it what to do doesn’t work. You need to be a little more proactive.

  32. Right. That’s it, then. Mark, Peter and George all need to come hang out on the ponies. *schedules it in*

    @Mark – You should see it sometimes. People sit there, then they flap the reins and clap their legs and end up looking like turkies trying to fly. The look on their face is priceless. “Why isn’t it doing anything? Go, horse. Go.” (You should see the look on the horse’s face, too!)

    @Joe – Likewise, your business knows when it’s in charge, too. It’ll run you ragged, take you for a wild ride and leave you exhausted trying to control it… if you let it.

  33. I LOVE the timing of this. I’m an equestrian and just completed an event (Stuart Horse Trials) which I set as a goal four years ago. I’m also a business writer and my experience at Stuarts fired me up to write an article on the same topic. Always look ahead is definitely true. I’ll add achieving true balance, establishing a plan,commitment to excellence, and setting realistic goals to the list.

    I was schooling over cross-country fences and our first go around was rather wobbly. I asked my instructor if we could do it again. She said, “NO! Because you’ll do it much better and be filled with a sense of false confidence. You need to be focused on how to use your aids to do it to your best ability the first time.” It’s true…you can’t hit rewind when working with people. In cross-country you’re severely penalized for not getting it right the first time.

  34. @Karen – I knew you’d like this. 😉

    My first 3-phase event was comical. I barely had a chance to walk the course & then had to mount up and just go for it. I was terrified. In retrospect, it was much how an entrepreneur charges ahead without really knowing the lay of the land. Luckily for me, I trusted my mount – an ugly old man names Yossarian (Eo for short … don’t ask me how they got Eo out of Yossarian). He was part warm blood and part I-don’t-know-what – long back, skinny neck, wonky legs, but the sweetest face and biggest heart you could ask for. He took care of me from starting gate to the finish & by the time I was done, my fear had turned to elation and I wanted to it all over again. My only regret is that I didn’t realize the cross-country was a timed event. If I’d pushed a little harder, I would have (based on my dressage and stadium scores) have come in 2nd. As it was, I ended up 5th. Still not bad for a first go.

    Additional lessons:
    * At some point, it’s just time to GO – whether you feel ready or not
    * … usually, once you get going, you’ll start to have fun and wonder why you didn’t start earlier!
    * It isn’t always about “pretty” … sometimes experience, heart, and gumption are much more important assets
    * Trust your mount (mind, gut, inspiration) … it usually knows how to get you from point A to point B

    Loving the horsey vibes!

  35. I like your comment about being willing to ride first. Learning to overcome your fear and be the first will go a long way toward building self confidence!!


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