1. Life requires resilience. When you get knocked down, stand up. There is a world famous jump coach who says; “unless you are in the back of an ambulance, you get back in that saddle.” I used to think it was so that the horse knows that he can’t buck you off and get away with it. Now I know that it isn’t about showing the horse how resilient you are, it’s about showing yourself.
If I had a dollar for every time I said “I can’t do it anymore”, I would be wealthy. Good thing that my heart didn’t believe what my mouth was saying or I wouldn’t even be here right now. Life, just like horses, takes guts. It takes heart. In life, just like in horses, you will fall. You will get hurt. The faster you can accept this Universal Law, the more time you can spend on actually living it on your terms. When you do get hurt, get back up. That’s what shapes character. The longer that you revel in the pain, the confusion, the resentment, the longer you prolong your own happiness.
2. Some people should not be a part of your life. Cowboy code states: “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.” That friend of 30 years that you have to think twice about. That uncle that humiliates you. The mother that is emotionally abusive. Guess what? There is no law that states that you must remain in these people’s lives because of length of friendship or blood lines. It’s liberating and taboo at the same time.
Maybe one day they will come back around again, but just like that horse that kept bucking all of us off for no reason, and was dangerous to be around, some people just have got to go. He got a nice life out in Colorado roaming the range as part of the herd on a huge ranch. Mentally send them to a ranch of their own where they are happy and healthy, but out of your life.
3. Look only where you want to go. I had one of the best trainers in the business. You couldn’t slack off with her, but your hard work was always rewarded. That is a lesson in and of it’s self. But she always used to catch me looking down at the ground while doing my half passes. “Is that where you want to go?” She used to ask. In horses, where you’re looking is where you’ll end up. Same in life. If you look forward, you’ll go forward. If you look back, you’ll stay there.
4. Life requires balance. To stay in the saddle you must do 3 things: Keep your head up, shoulders back, and your heels down. It is the only way to stay balanced. If any of the three are missing, you are in danger of falling off, no matter if you are at a walk or are galloping towards a cross country obstacle. In life, if you stay rooted (heels down), keep your head up and shoulders back, you are prepared and confident for any obstacle coming at you.
5. Bulls don’t have tits. Did you ever hear a cowboy describe someone as being “as useful as tits on a bull”? What they mean is that person is useless. Bulls have no use for tits, and cowboys have no use for those that just stand there or get in the way of others making good use of their time. Be of service. Be efficient. If you don’t want to help clean the barn, or change the world, then get out of the way of those doing it.
6. We are only as healthy as our surroundings. I have never been in a dirty barn. Every stable has been immaculate to the point of obnoxious because vet bills are expensive. Horse people know that a clean and well maintained barn is paramount in keeping horses healthy and injury free. While many of us may have a few dust bunnies as pets in our own homes, you will find that we mostly practice what we preach there too. There is nothing like walking into a fresh barn with the smell of leather and hay. It is our sanctuary and sanctuaries deserve respect. Home should meet you in the same way. It should fill your heart to be there.
7. We are only as healthy as our herd. “Birds of a feather flock together”. “You become like the 5 people you are around the most. Chose wisely.” Just like my no vice horse became a cribber while on stall rest by being stalled across from a cribber. Just like my non-aggressive well trained mount became like a rebellious teenager after being pastured with a horse that struggles for any attention over the very little that he gets, we become like our herd. Want to stay healthy, then surround yourself with healthy people.
8. Everything poops. Wake up, feed horses, muck stalls, go to work. Come home, feed, muck stalls, go to sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. There are just some routine fundamentals that you must do in life. Day in and day out. No matter if it is sunny out, or gail force winds with hail. It is called responsibility.
9. The biggest lessons are unspoken. Do you want to know what kind of person you are? Just ask your horse. Do you get bitten? Bucked? Met with whinnies, and nuzzles? Does your outside world match your inside in that when you are out in the world are you met with constant conflict? Or cooperation and collaboration? Your horse, just like your world, can tell yo a lot about yourself.
10. Sometimes, you have to “emergency dismount.” Young riders are taught that if you horse is out of control and running for a cliff or a road, jump off. Horses have a mind of their own that we only pretend to think that we control. However, you can control your actions. If you don’t want to go over the cliff or risk being smooshed by a truck, then swing your right leg over and push off. Same thing with life. If the crowd is running for the cliff and you don’t want to go over with them, emergency dismount. If your bad patterns keep providing you with undesirable results, emergency dismount.
11. Every month, the grain truck comes. In horses you can count on feed bills, vet bills, farrier bills, and stabling bills. You can count on them just like the mortgage note, the car note, the tax bill, the electric bill. These are just the basics, just like in life, there will be unexpected expenses. It never ceases to amaze me that some people forget that the 1st of the month comes every month. Budgeting and financial planning are very simple. Spend less than you make, put some of it somewhere so you don’t spend it.
12. Always end on a good note. Sometimes in horses, we equestrians get into trouble when we say “I’m going to take that jump just one more time.” “I’m going to try for a flying lead change just once more.” When things are good, end there. Don’t drink that one last drink. Don’t have “just one” cigarette. Don’t say that one last thing…stop while you are a head.
13. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Shit happens. We all know that. But what makes the shitty situation shittier is the realization that you could have done something, no matter how tiny the action, to prevent it all from happening in the first place. Car making a noise? Get it looked at. Have a miscommunication with a friend? Talk it over when things simmer down. Waiting until the last minute to change that fan belt or to say I love you is not a good idea.