There’s a lot of people who write about how quitting drugs or learning Greek or taking up skydiving or becoming a champion cupcake baker have made them a better person. I think that what is usually the case is that when one takes up a hobby, or just spends a lot of time doing the same activity repeatedly, one becomes aware of subtly. Who hasn’t been abroad in complete confusion when a group of locals are arguing about where to get the best local speciality when the traveller thinks they all taste the same?
The more time with spend with anything—be it person, sport, book, or place—the more we begin to appreciate the nuisance that exists in everything. When people can appreciate those subtle layers one becomes more critical, able to discern levels that previously went unnoticed. I think that’s why there are so many articles about ‘what X taught me about Y’. I don’t mean to detract from what cupcake baking, for example, can teach one about life, but merely to add to the tapestry of transferable skills and in my case nothing has taught me more about being a good person than being around horses.
Horses are known for being temperamental beasts. One of my favourite horses was stubborn to the point where I felt she was acting like a gainsaying toddler. It took weeks before I was able to properly ride her and another few months before I was able to ride her without incident. While I initially failed to notice certain cues that a more experienced rider might have clocked, like pinned ears for example, with time I learned to read her body language.
Where humans are concerned we have the ability to talk to one another, but with horses (or any animals) we have to behave more instinctively. When I learned to read her moods and respond in a way that de-escalated the situation and allay her fears, the amount of teamwork we achieved was astonishing.
And beyond having a better relationship, I found that on days when I spent a lot of time with her I was more in tune to the moods of friends and family members (who by the way are human). This lesson of being more receptive to others’ and my own feelings has continued to guide my life and be an important lesson learned.
It was not the only one however. Like probably all people who work with animals I learned patience. Where I would have been annoyed with a human, I couldn’t blame a horse for not understanding the conditions of a human world that I was imposing on it. But if a wild animal like a horse and very comfort-orientated animal like a human can learn to work together, it’s a lesson that can be transferred human-to-human.
Riding is not the easiest sport to get into for practical reasons such as geography or finance, but it’s one that in my experience has yielded unprecedented lessons that continue to help me in my day-to-day life.