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Life lessons learned from horses - From high school drop out to master in science

Updated: Apr 7

As horse owners, we often think we`re teaching and training our horse. As I’ve journeyed on with horses, they’ve taught me so much. I bet I`m not the only one who have learned a thing or two from horses. There`s even a scientific study concluding that horse girls become excellent leaders.


Horses teach us how to be self-disciplined and have a strong work ethic

To succeed at anything, we need to learn. And, in order to learn, we need self-discipline and routine. When I dropped out of high school as a teenager, I lacked self-discipline and routine. If I was late for school, it didn’t really matter to me. My mum and dad tried their best, but in the end it was the horses who disciplined me.


I my late teens I found myself having wasted a lot of time fluming around doing drugs. I got this strong urge to change my ways and have a career and future, but I did`t have a high school degree which made it hard to get into college. But there was a tiny chance of getting accepted at Holar College in Iceland, because the school put more emphasis on knowing how to ride than formal education. To be accepted at the school you needed to speak Icelandic and pass a riding test.


Based on my experience from dressage and jumping classes I set off to Iceland to work as a horse trainer and learn the language. On the farm where I got hired, I was set to manage a stable with about 20 horses. I was responsible for taming them and taking care of them. I found that if I was late to feed them, sloppy in looking after the stable, or didn’t have a training routine, the horses made it very clear that I was not good enough. I found this to hurt internally a bit more than if an adult or senior person corrected me, and it stuck with me.


Through looking after horses, I learned the value of self-discipline, routine, and strong work ethics. I had to develop those qualities, otherwise I would not have been able to get accepted at Holar.


Put your whole heart and mind to it

If you’re not engaged in something and don`t have a set goal, it’s very difficult to remain motivated. I was supposed to go to high school, but I didn`t really know why. Without a goal, I was easily distracted. My main motivation when working in Iceland was to become a better rider and to pass the riding exam on Holar. Hard work, low pay and several visits to the emergency room after being thrown of horses... didn`t make me quit. By visualizing my goal and the reason for doing this, I was able to motivate myself to stick with it, even tho it hurt.


When you put your mind to something you get much better results and are more likely to reach your goal, even when obstacles come in the way. They always do, it`s just that we don`t plan for them. We visualize a straight path to success, but that`s never the case in real life. I was very motivated to succeed with horses and do my best to become a better rider. This made it easier to finish my studies as a horse trainer and to complete further studies, even though they were not directly related to horses. If you put your mind to something wholeheartedly and keep yourself motivated, you will succeed. Success will motivate you to achieve new goals and set you in a positive spiral of growth.


Confidence is key

Horses are our mirrors. If we are not confident in ourselves, they will pick it up. Building confidence in yourself and in your horse is essential. I good way to build confidence is to start with something that you and your horse can manage. Then move one to something that is a bit more challenging and build confidence by achieving this, before moving on to the next thing.


Before riding the Mongol Derby, the world`s longest and toughest horse race, I decided to ditch the saddle and ride bareback, to train my balance. The first time bareback I didn`t ride off i full gallop. I started at walk and built on that. Eventually I could ride faster and even do small jumps without saddle. If I had started with something to challenging, I would have lost confidence instead of build it.


Same goes for the horse. A confident horse can walk though anything, while a spooky horse will spook at nothing. That`s why it`s important to build confidence even in our horses. The best way to ruin confidence is to force them past stuff they are scared off. When forcing a horse past things, the pressure will happen where the scary thing is, confirming to the horse that scary things are dangerous. Doing the opposite,- releasing pressure by the scary thing and adding pressure where it`s not, will build confidence and convince horses that scary things are not so scary after all.


Be present in the moment

Horses don’t care about titles, fancy homes, clothing, age or disabilities. They want to know if we are present or not. Horses live in the moment and are really good at making us be alive in the moment too. In this sense, having a horse is the best mindfulness course you can ever get. A great way to practice presence is to breathe and recognize if our breathing is relaxed or not. To also notice how your horse breathes will give a good indicator of how he or she feels. Focusing on the breath takes our mind off the future and the past and bring us to the now, where the horses are.


Be yourself and be a leader

Horses are very sensitive. They know if we are pretending or trying to hide something. When around horses it`s no use trying to be somebody or something we are not. Horses don’t appreciate us sending mixed signals or hiding our emotions. If feeling very emotional we better get that stuff sorted before going out to train horses. They tend to like us more when we are positive and have a balanced mind.


As herd animals and flight animals horses are constantly looking for a leader. Someone to take the guard. And they will test us, to check if we are present and capable of doing so. Good leaders pass these tests without becoming upset and blaming the horse.


Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences has done a scientific study concluding that horse girls become excellent leaders. Good leadership is about being able to lead the way through unknown territory, to look up from ones own needs and current state of mind to see the bigger picture. It`s not about controlling or forcing things through. On the contrary it`s about building a partnership and aspire towards a common goal. To listen and inspire, is more important than being in control. Handling and riding horses is to me very much about making my idea the horse`s idea. I strive to be a leader my horses follow, not because they have to, but because they want to.


Horses helped me find myself and achieve my goals, every day they keep on doing so. If you have a horse in your life, be proud because you have probably learned more from that horse than you even know!


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Ride Like a Viking by Cathrine Fodstad

Myrvangen Farm

2500 Tynset, Norway

cathrine@ridelikeaviking.com 

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