8 Unexpected Life Lessons I Learned From Horses

8 Unexpected Life Lessons I Learned From Horses

Hey friends!

I didn’t necessarily grow up with horses – I bought my first horse in high school – but I did grow up with a fascination with them. When I was 14, I used all my savings to buy my first horse – a Quarter Horse/Appaloosa (I call him a Quappy) named Bailey. 8 years later, when I was 22, I bought my second horse, a Foundation-bred Quarter Horse (from a reining bloodline). They were both gingers (I love me some red animals) but were unique, having their own personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. I learned a lot about them in the years we were together, but what I didn’t realize until perhaps more recently is how much I learned about myself. I can’t help but reflect on the life lessons these two beautiful creatures have taught me.

  1. Always look where you’re going, before you get there.
    In the saddle, it’s tempting to look down – whether at your form, what your horse is doing, maybe you’re still looking straight before you make a turn – your horse can sense this. To make a successful turn, you have to be physically looking in the direction you want your horse to move (as well as applying correct leg pressure and giving the correct rein cues). I think this is a little bit like life because after all, if you don’t look in the direction you want to move your life or visualize the results you would like to see, you’ll never get there.
  1. Communication starts with and is mostly about body language.
    How we communicate with others isn’t so much about what we say as how we say it. In ground training, body language is very important. How your body is positioned (your “stance”), what your facial features are doing, and how your voice sounds are all things the horse takes into consideration when thinking about what to do next. And in general, horses can sense your moods by your subtle body language you might not even notice yourself – if you’re anxious, nervous, stressed out, confident, relaxed. So even if you are experiencing any negative emotions, you’ve got to learn to fake it until you make it because your horse will pick up on that and no surprise, they will mirror it back to you. In my experience, people are actually the same way. It seems simple. If you treat others with respect, they will respect you. If you love others, they will show you love back. We are community (“herd”) creatures: we want to mirror each other. Which leads me to my next point…
  1. Confidence, confidence, confidence.
    Horses begin training around three years old. Since both of my horses were young when I bought them, I had to be confident enough for both of us. When they stumble or trip over their own feet, I have to remain calm and collected and reassure them that it’s actually not a big deal. If I were to react by getting stiff, nervous, short of breath, my horse would respond the same way and we’d both be in trouble. This can actually be really hard to do (for me). But I don’t think I need to explain how this can relate to the world of human interaction: confidence is always better. Confidence gets you what you want.
  1. Get creative.
    In dog training, you essentially wait until the dog does the correct behavior you are asking for and then reward them with a treat. Eventually, they learn that the command is correlated with their behavior that ended in a positive (usually food) result. This works with animals that are predators in nature. But prey animals are entirely different. Horses aren’t motivated by food the same way that dogs are – they are more motivated by the path of least resistance. In other words, you have to get inside their heads and make them think what you’re asking is actually their idea. How do we do this? By making the wrong thing seem very difficult to do and the right thing very easy to do. If you want the horse to move right, you apply leg pressure on the left. They will move away from the pressure (left) towards the relief (right). You have to get creative with how you ask them to do new things. “Thinking out of the box”, so to speak, I believe is an important problem-solving skill.
  1. Hone your intuition.
    If something feels off, it probably IS off. Learning to trust my gut is one skill I definitely acquired from horseback riding. Horses can’t speak English, so they need you to pay attention to what they are trying to communicate to you through nonverbal horse language. The closer your bond with your horse, the more you can pick up on the little things. You won’t always get it right, but you’d be surprised.
  1. Work hard and be responsible.
    All my free time was spent at the barn. In training, I had to create realistic goals for my horses and I to accomplish and a plan of how we were going to get there. It took time, effort, and energy. I worked 25 hours a week or more at Jet’s Pizza while in high school to fund my horse hobby: I spent every penny I earned on Bailey – hay, grain, vet bills, equine dentist, etc. It was my first lesson in goal setting, working hard for something I really wanted, and sacrificing other activities to spend time with my horses.
  1. Life is a journey, not a destination.
    I’d be lying if I said that I bought a reining horse because I truly wanted to spend every day trying to get my horse to spin in a circle and only achieving it 1 out of 99 times. I got 99 problems and learning reining moves is all of them. No, I bought a reining horse because I had visions of doing free riding reining trials like Stacy Westfall. I was imagining the end result, not the actual work it would take us to get there. Fun fact: we never did end up getting there, but eventually, once I had had enough of being frustrated, I did enjoy simply learning something new with my horse. It was fun. We weren’t the typical “ride in a straight line” duo, we had a job to do. And actually she was better at it than I was…
  1. And yes, Dad was right… they are $$$. I spent between $11-12k/year to own a horse in Ann Arbor, MI. Learn to balance a budget.
    But this taught me to have a work ethic in high school and motivated me to begin learning to keep a budget at 22. I am very fortunate to have a sister that is a rock star accountant and financial freaking guru who helped me get started. I use Excel spreadsheets and Mint.com to keep track of my finances, even in the penny-pinching days of student loans, horse and home ownership.




A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence. ~ Pam Brown

As always, thanks for stopping by and taking time out of your day to visit & read my blog! 🙂

Do you own pets? What is something your pets have taught you?

Image Credit: Jacqueline Burch, of Violet Hour Photography

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  1. You girls are so freaking brilliant!! Female engineer, rock star financier/accountant and stylist extraordinaire! Your parents are blessed from the visions you dare to dream and live!

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