I have been a horse girl all my life.
My perspective on being an equestrian has always been that it is a hobby, something I do in my free time—separate from my work. Recently, my perspective has changed. I now see how lessons I’ve learned from riding have a strong correlation and application in my professional life.
I am a recent law student graduate who has just left the comfort and safety of university and thrown myself into the real world. Leading up to my first job as a lawyer, I’ve had a variety of internships and summer or part-time jobs, including working as a waitress, a legal assistant, and most recently as an intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
All these positions require different skills and qualifications, but what I’ve found is that I can apply lessons learned from being an equestrian to each one—and those lessons have been the most valuable.
Here are six skills I’ve learned from my time riding horses that I believe can be useful to anyone in their profession:
As equestrians, we learn early on that no chore is beneath us. No rider is ever so good that they cannot get dirt under their fingernails, sweep the aisles, or clean the tack and stalls.
While horses may be big and strong, they are also sensitive animals, each with their own personality. If we want to be able to work with a horse, we have to get to know that particular animal, and we have to be flexible—able to change our way of doing things according to what fits that particular horse. This applies to humans, too. We never know another person’s experience or what knowledge and skills that person has to offer.
By learning to be humble we can connect and work with all kinds of people.
2. Patience and Dedication
Horses teach us that there are no shortcuts to success.
The saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is absolutely true. A horse will not be rushed, forced, or told to do something it does not want to do. In order to be a good rider, we have to be patient and invest time and dedication in the process. Practice makes perfect, so we set goals and consistently work toward them, knowing it will pay off sooner or later.
The same applies for our careers. If we want to be good at our jobs, we need to work for it.
However, every equestrian also knows that failure is inevitable—it’s part of the game. We know that sometimes it does not matter how well prepared we are, circumstances can change. And when that happens, we brush the dirt off our clothes and get back up on the horse again.
3. Teamwork and Communication
In most workplaces, teamwork and communication are a crucial component of success. It’s the same when dealing with horses.
Because to succeed in riding, rule number one is that it is never you against the horse, it is always you and the horse. A horse, just like our current and future colleagues, has a mind of its own and it is up to us to learn how to work together.
Even though horses do not speak any human language, we can still learn to communicate with them. Horses are herd animals and they are used to having a leader. If we learn to communicate in a clear, motivating, and honest way, the horse—and our colleagues—will listen and follow.
4. Good leadership
There is a linear hierarchy in any herd of horses in order to keep the stability of the group and establish that every member knows their place or task. When handling horses, we need to be the leaders.
Good leadership includes all of the above-mentioned skills, such as humility, respect, teamwork, and communication, but also requires emotional awareness. As riders, our state of mind will determine our horses’ performances. If we are nervous, angry, or frustrated, our horses will sense that.
People are not that different from horses, and the way we feel and present ourselves will have an impact on the people around us. Being aware of our emotions gives us the opportunity to choose how to act and respond in the best way possible in any situation, and it will determine if people are willing to be led by us or not.
In recent years, a study authored by Lena Forsberg, researcher at Lulea University of Technology, showed that being an equestrian—which is the second largest sport in Sweden, after football—creates and facilitates both leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
The work in stables can sometimes be challenging, dangerous, and difficult, which often requires making fast decisions. Courage and quick action are therefore rewarded. By working with horses, we learn to be brave, listen to our guts, and take a leap of faith when it feels right.
Riders understand that we have to learn as we go, and that it’s okay—I would even argue necessary—to make mistakes. Horses are forgiving animals who will give us another chance, and so will life, if we’re brave enough to try.
Forsberg’s study also found that the majority of girls and women who have grown up in an equestrian environment become driven, courageous, and independent, partly by being influenced in a cultural practice where women and girls perform both female and male-coded actions, such as taking a leadership position while handling a horse or repairing the fences or broken equipment. These women and girls are more likely to challenge gender stereotypes in their later careers, such as taking on male-dominated leadership positions.
Finally, riding horses is one of the few sports in the world where women and men, girls and boys, work and compete together and against each other under the same conditions.
As equestrians, we learn that our gender, age, background, or level of wealth have nothing to do with whether we will succeed in our sport, or in our life. What matters is hard work and dedication, teamwork and communication, patience and humility.
And I find that practicing these skills have made me a better lawyer.
As a recent graduate, I sometimes lack experience that others have, but I try to be brave and trust in my own competence. I try to stay humble and learn something from everyone I meet. I try to stay patient when I struggle with new tasks. I work with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, which sometimes takes a lot of teamwork and communication before finding solutions that fits us all and our workplace best.
I encourage everyone to incorporate these lessons in their own jobs. My hope is that this article opens you up to new experiences and inspires you to explore the many benefits of horseback riding.