I recently spent a week at a dude ranch and was able to indulge my latent interest in horse riding (and live up to my name, Philippa, which is Greek for “lover of horses”!) Never having received any formal instruction, I was very receptive to the lessons our wranglers provided.
The week was such a success that we have booked our trip for next year – I just hope that sweet and clever Sundance is still available for me to ride!
Of course, I didn’t give much thought to work during that week as I was having way too much fun, but I did come away convinced that horse riding is a useful metaphor for running and owning a business.
To ride well (and to run a business), it all begins with the basics:
- It’s all about balance:
Tony, who has been riding for 30 years and who must have watched our initial efforts with some amusement, offered his first commandment to ride well, you must find and keep your balance! This means maintaining your ear, shoulder and hip in a line, dropping an imaginary plumb line to the ground to keep your body vertical and aligned with gravity’s pull at all times.Business translation: your Vision, Sense of Purpose, and Core Values must serve as your personal and business “center of gravity”, encouraging your alignment at all times.
- It’s all in the hips:
In order to get all horses to obey commands, we inexperienced riders felt the need to kick, yank on the reins, and mutter “come on baby” to our stubborn steeds.Within minutes, our wrangler had shown us how to use merely the motion of our hips with some thigh pressure to urge our horses from a walk to a trot to a lope, and to change direction!
Business translation: if what you’re doing to create forward motion isn’t working, try finding that one simpler secret to moving ahead. This may involve asking a successful colleague, a mentor or a buddy who’s done this before and is willing to share.
- It’s all about ease:
In keeping with the above idea, we soon discovered that the tighter we hung on with stiff legs and gripped with nervous thighs, the more of a beating our rear ends took. Letting go of the tension in the legs and sitting “into the saddle” made for a much more comfortable lope!
Business translation: if you’re working too hard at succeeding and all you’re managing to do is raise your tension level, it might be time to let go! Straining at something is different from applying yourself industriously and productively.
- It’s all about knowing who’s Boss:
Horses are pretty smart creatures and quickly detect tentative inexperience. More than once, my horse schemed she might be able to dismount me by scraping close to a pine tree or two. It took a day or so for me to figure it out that I had to be in charge. Things got a lot easier after that!Business translation: a successful business requires acknowledged leadership, even when you’re a business of one. You need to quickly figure out who’s in charge of what and how stuff is to get done, and then make it happen.
- It’s all about communication:
It became apparent very quickly that for my horse and me to succeed as a team, we needed some kind of effective communication. I had to learn what my horse responded best to and I figure she had to learn that I was in it for the long haul (or at least the next six days!)Business translation: if you’re in any kind of a business or practice, your success will be largely determined by your ability to communicate your needs, wants, and willingness to listen and respond.
- It’s all about trust:
When confronted with some hideously steep rocky hillsides to descend, I knew I had to let my horse decide where she was going to place her feet in order for us both to get down safely. Even when she slipped or stumbled, I had to trust that we would make it down just fine.Business translation: as a business owner or physician entrepreneur, you have to decide whom you’re going to trust! Be that yourself, your assistant, your web designer, your spouse or your partner. Choose well, and choose wisely, and then trust that these people are doing their best, sometimes under difficult circumstances.