8 Lessons I’ve Learned in the Riding Ring

I have been a business lawyer for 28 years. I have ridden horses for 42 years. It is only recently, however, that I was struck by how the lessons I have learned in the saddle apply not just in the riding arena but in the highly competitive business arena as well:

1) Be a Partner

First and foremost, horseback riding is a partnership, and your partner weighs 1,200 pounds. In a fight, he wins. That means you have to learn to work with your partner to achieve your goals. It isn’t all about you. It is about the team. Great riders and great leaders in business understand that.

2) Face Your Fears

Great riders, much like great leaders, must also possess true courage. There is no rider who has not experienced fear – real fear – the fear of serious physical harm and the mental challenges that then follow. Facing and then overcoming that fear, for many, is the hardest aspect of the sport. Business also requires courage: the courage to implement widespread change; the courage to make unpopular but principled choices; the courage to take risks; the courage to deliver the tough messages. The absence of courage can end a career in business just as quickly as it can end a rider’s career. There are no achievable aspirations without the courage to implement them.

3) Build Your Resolve and Stay Committed

Riding also requires resiliency and perseverance. In our sport, we have a saying: “you go to the hospital or you get back on.” Such is the life of a rider. Riders also regularly face months of struggles until a breakthrough in the horse and rider partnership is achieved. Riding requires patience, determination and mental toughness. Business too values the leaders who are resilient, who persevere, who pick themselves up, dust themselves off and get back on the horse. Business leaders must be able to recover from set-backs quickly and not be dissuaded from achieving their goals.

4) Failing does not Have to be Failure; Attune Your Perspective

Falling off a horse isn’t failure unless you fail to learn. Falling off a horse is is part of the sport. In a group lesson or on a show day, falling can involve a face-plant and a mouthful of dirt in front of a crowd. “Eating dirt” is humbling but the lesson is almost always valuable. “Did I miscommunicate with my horse?” “Did I put him in a position where he could not succeed?” “Did my focus lapse, did I follow the plan?” “Did I not prepare well for this goal?” We should ask these questions whenever we fail in business, just as we do when we fall in the ring. Riding is a process of constantly learning, growing and gaining experience, just as business should be. And it is good for everyone to be humbled now and again – to eat dirt. It is a healthy counterpoint to arrogance or egoism.

Read the rest of the valuable Business Lessons Jana Barbe learned in our October/November issue online!

Jana Cohen Barbe is Partner and Member of the Global Board at Dentons, the largest law firm in the world. She also owns Henley Farms, an 80-acre equestrian facility and working farm in Lexington, Kentucky.