Saddling Up to Life: Who Took My Hammer?

It’s been a while since I have blogged. Life has been getting the better of my schedule. I added school, a new horse and hammershow season into my life and got a little lost. No excuse but it is reality. Getting back to blogging was actually the result of a lesson on horsemanship from my horse last night.  Writing helps me process.

Last night I had a riding lesson. I will admit up front I knew I was going to struggle. I haven’t ridden much in the last couple weeks due to work and that always presents a challenge, my body is tight and it is harder to use my seat and legs well to communicate with my horse. I also had a long week and my mind wasn’t quiet. What I wasn’t expecting was that my horse would also be having one of those days also.

This is where the non-horse people amongst my readers probably will need to stop and think about the difference between riding a horse and playing football or participating in most other sports. Riding is a unique challenge as an athlete because your “equipment” has a mind of its own. We ride a living, breathing being. They have days they feel good and are in sync with us, and they have days that they are hot or tired or have a stomach ache or their leg is sore or they are mad at a pasture mate or any of the other physical and emotional challenges that come with being alive. And we have to factor that into our riding. Some days the ability of our horse to think and feel is a great asset to a rider, some days not so much. Yesterday was a not so much for us.

As frustrating as I was with our ride, I am realizing today how much what went on is a really great leadership lesson. What I went through was no different than a parent with a fussy child who feels overwhelmed when their child is upset and nothing soothes them or a CEO who is trying to placate or help an employee who never is happy. While we often feel frustration at the other person, the reality is the frustration is really that our toolbox is empty and we don’t know what more to do. We have given our all, we have tried as hard as we know how and are out of ideas and options. It is a very helpless feeling and registers as failure.  I will admit when I got off my horse so someone with more experience than me could jump on a few tears rolled down my cheek.

toolboxThis whole toolbox concept is something I have only identified in the last few months. It was a big ‘ah-ha’ moment for me as a rider and as a leader.  Our toolbox is not something we think about, it just happens. They are the skills and lessons we have learned from past experiences. We store them away until we are in a similar situation and need to recall them. They are our go-to actions and responses. We build this toolbox through education and actions, through successes and failures. They are the sum of all our learning, active and passive. How full our toolbox is determines how quickly and effectively we can react in a situation. Another factor around this toolbox is how well can we repurpose a tool when we are facing a unique situation.

I have a great toolbox related to work, it is very full and I am a master of using a hammer to do a million things it was never intended for.  I can react fast and with great confidence. My toolbox came very easy to me and I never had to try. I was wired from birth for those tools.

Riding is not natural for me. Or maybe it is more accurate to say riding is natural for my mind but not my body. Partially due to just not being natural with moving my body (omg you should see me attempt to dance, its FUGLY) and partially from the nerve damage issues I have. Anything that requires fine motor control is a huge challenge for me. I started riding with an extremely empty toolbox, and some days it feels like there is a big hole in the bottom that things I knew yesterday fall out of.

Until I realized this whole toolbox concept I would get really down on myself when others could easily do what I struggled with. Everyone else can get their horse to speed up and slow so easily, everyone else can control their horse’s headset, everyone else can get their horse to track in a straight line, everyone else can keep their horse from breaking gai11018570_10206993553662304_4554196132549957362_nt, everyone else starts loping on like day 2. What is wrong with me? I came very close to giving up. The more of this comparing I did the harder I was on myself.

But somewhere in the last few months, I think somewhere in Texas while riding Smoke, I had the reality check that I am very young as a rider. I have been at this just over 4 years. I was comparing myself to people who had spent decades filling their toolboxes. I have physical challenges others don’t  have and because of that, many of my tools have to be hand-crafted. We can’t just shop at the big box store for them. Where others can mount from the “normal” side of their horse, I had to learn (as do my horses) that I mount on the opposite side because of my leg. Where others can feel their legs and where they are, I can’t on my one leg, and  it is going to take me longer to get the squeezing with my calves. My list of tool tweaks goes on and on. They are hand-crafted, they take experimentation and a lot of time.  And I need to give myself that time without punishing myself.

I also have to be, and this was the big lesson last night, comfortable looking in my toolbox and realizing it is empty and it is time to let someone with more tools step in to finish the task. I need to see watching and learning from the person with more tools as a way to fill my toolbox and not a failure on my part.

Being part of being a good leader, whether you are guiding a horse around an arena or running a fortune 500 company, is knowing your limits, acknowledging them as a positive chance to learn, and being willing to bring in others to help until you have the appropriate tool. Consider it not a failure but an apprenticeship!

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