I felt a little guilty leaving for the barn after only eight and a half hours at work. That may sound crazy, but I run a 24-7 news operation full of constant pressures and staffed with workaholics. Long days are the norm.
This had been yet another day of hard decisions and problems with no solutions in sight. By about 4 p.m. the thought of spending time with my beautiful palomino had become irresistible. I left the office with riding clothes in one hand and a big load of professional guilt in the other.
I began riding around the time I started my current job. Horses were my midlife crisis, the thing I always wanted to do. I had been that horse-obsessed kid with her nose in the Black Stallion novels who dreamed of riding but never really got to do it. In my 40s it finally dawned on me that if I really wanted to, I could just go ride. So I signed up for lessons, leased a few horses, then bought one of my own.
Lady was a 9-year-old trail horse with loads of unrealized potential. She clearly was bored with her job of hauling park visitors around the same wooded trail day after day. She walked slower and slower on each ride until they stopped sending her out. But she had a beautiful, forward, lofty trot that I fell in love with. She also had a lot of funny quirks and fears. Drop something on the ground and there’d be a barrage of snorts. Cross-ties, indoor arenas and having her back hooves picked were all scary things for her. We worked through the fears, we worked on bends and we spent hours with trot poles. This winter we even did a practice test in a dressage clinic.
It was rewarding to watch my mare progress, especially on days when I wasn’t getting anywhere at work. When I got to the barn that day after sneaking out, I tacked Lady up, then checked my e-mail before I got on just to make sure nothing was imploding back at the office. What I found wasn’t another problem but a thank-you note from a colleague:
“You have great patience and tact. More than me. I’m in awe.”
Earlier that day we’d spoken by phone during a series of meetings about a project. I hadn’t given the call another thought. But the minute I saw the e-mail I knew what I haddone to earn the compliment: I’d simply applied to my job the skills I’d learned at the barn.
I had been in a meeting where one of the participants became the human version of the horse who is suddenly afraid of the spot of sunlight he’d previously walked through without pause or who forgets the cue you worked for weeks to teach him. The call and the project were suddenly headed off course. Fear was in the air, and no one was sure where we were headed or why.
I didn’t get mad. I didn’t lose patience. I just went back to square one and refocused the group, revisiting what we were doing and why, and rewarded any small steps that got us moving back to where we needed to be. I’d done it all without thinking about it. It seemed like nothing to me, but not to my colleague. And then I realized that before Lady, I would have gotten mad. I wouldn’t have been able to get us back on track. And the project might have collapsed.
All those hours I’d spent at the barn had been the best management training I’d ever had. Lady didn’t know she was signing on as a management consultant when I bought her. But she’s pretty good at her new job.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #455, August 2015.