There is no denying that when we improve our well-being, we grow as riders and horse owners. When we work on our mindset to navigate life, it allows for easier communication, more joy, and less conflict. When we transfer that knowledge, in and out of the tack, it is life-changing for both our horses and us.
As an equestrian mindset coach and podcast host, I have the privilege of speaking with top trainers in our horse industry about how horses have helped them become better people and how the journey of personal growth has impacted their horsemanship, competitive edge, and connection with horses.
Here are the top three lessons I think you should know from some leading riders and trainers that will help make you a better version of yourself for you, your horses, and everyone you communicate with:
1. There is no secret. It takes hard work, consistency, and patience.
In an interview with Franco Bertolani, a top-20 NHRA reining trainer and million-dollar rider, he was clear that achieving any goal with your horse takes hard work and consistency. When asked what the greatest lesson horses have taught him would be, he told me, “patience.”
We spend our adult lives telling children they need to learn to be patient. But we rarely reflect on how difficult a lesson this can be, especially in today’s fast pace where we have food, entertainment, and education one Google search away. We know we should be patient; however, in a world designed for convenience, patience often seems unnecessary. Leave it to horses to keep us humble and make sure we don’t forget that beyond the world driven by fast-paced connection, there is magic in slowing down and taking time to create the connections that truly matter: the ones established on trust, respect, time, and commitment. Our horses show us that patience offers us so much more than convenience and rushing ever will. When we slow down, we develop a feel for our horses and lives that is indescribable and empowering.
2. Who we are as people matters to our horses and everyone around us.
In an interview with Colton Woods of Colton Woods Horsemanship, we discussed why he hired a life coach rather than a riding coach leading up to his second Mustang Make-Over competition.
Everything self-help and personal growth seem to be trendy lately! Everywhere we look, there is home decor with inspiring sayings, and courses offered. All over social media quotes are shared promoting “Good vibes only,” and other messages meant to inspire us to be more positive in our lives. But what does any of that have to do with our time with our horses? Let me tell you, a whole lot. For me, this hit home the most when a mentor once said to me, “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” I began thinking about this and how it applied to my communication with the horses and humans in my life and discovered that when I accepted this, I could also change it. When we learn how to improve aspects of ourselves as people, this translates directly into our work with horses. For example, when we learn how to respond more and react less, we are learning the very thing we are trying to teach our horses. When we take personal responsibility for our reactions, we can work with our horses from a new perspective, one that shifts blame to understanding and frustration into patience.
3. It all comes down to presence.
Our ability and the importance of becoming more present was very apparent in my interview with Warick Schiller, of Warwick Schiller Performance Horsemanship. Warwick and I discussed the shifts he has seen in his work with horses after making one major shift within himself, becoming genuinely present.
Horses are the world’s best teachers of presence. They are the embodiment of the term and show us the gifts being present can bring us when we are with them and tap into it. For our horses to fully trust and respect us, we have to show them that we can be the leader they need us to be. Often we are taught that we need moving our horse’s feet to establish this leadership and ensuring they know we “are the boss.” Warwick explained that he has discovered something quite the opposite however. He has discovered that when we learn how to become present in every area of our lives, this change in our mental state translates to our horses and we come to find out that it doesn’t always take moving their feet (both on the ground and in tack, essentially redirecting their mind and body back onto you) to have them trust and respect us. Sometimes all it takes is for them to know we know: we know where they are mentally, emotionally, and physically when we are with them, which requires true presence. When this occurs, we attend to them when they need us by moving their feet when necessary, however, more importantly, we show them how to relax with us through our energy, attention, and intention. This is, after all, their first language.
We all have room to grow our skills as equestrians, but it turns out the most important growth doesn’t always happen when we are in the tack. When we focus on building a healthier mindset in life, our horses reap the benefits when we return to the barn.
Nikki Porter is an equestrian mindset coach, author, and host of the podcast ‘Take the Reins’, where she interviews professionals in and out of the horse industry to help you become the best version of yourself. Check out her podcast on Apple here.