My childhood dream was to someday own a horse and it was a privilege to make that dream come true. I was a horse owner for thirty years and after hacking around for the first ten, I began pursuing the art of dressage. Here are a few of the many lessons I learned during those hundreds of hours in the saddle and taking lessons.

1. Just as with life and work, dressage is an exercise in continuous improvement. If you want to learn, enhance your skills, and enrich your existence, you have to focus on what you want, be willing to change, and make a long-term commitment to keep on learning and improving.

2. What feels “natural” isn’t always correct. Use your brain to get the results you want whenever you’re outmuscled or overpowered. For example, when leading a horse, if it rears up or jerks its head back, instead of following your instinct to pull, move toward the horse and then give the lead line a jerk. In relationships, it’s a good rule to remember that what you really want to say might not get you the results you’re looking for. If you really want to resolve things, move “toward” the person or situation instead of away or against.

3. Ask for what you want in a manner that it can be easily understood by the other party. I used to laugh while riding when what I was asking for wasn’t getting through and I’d say to my horse, “Do what I’m thinking—not what I’m asking! A lot of times we want or hope someone will read our mind or we expect they should know what we want by now, but our lack of clarity often sets us up for disappointment.

4. Accept constructive feedback and adjust your behavior accordingly so you can be more effective. Learning to ride correctly meant receiving a lot of instruction and criticism. I didn’t argue with my trainers, they knew more than me. Sometimes you may be tempted to push back or get defensive when criticized, but instead, listen carefully, keep your mouth shut, and consider the merits of what you are being told. The One Minute Manager states “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” It’s true. World-class athletes pay strict attention to feedback. So should we, in our everyday lives.

5. Most creatures (people and horses, for sure) are quite inclined to take the easy way out. In life and work (as in riding), the most effective strategy is often the hardest one. Don’t cheat yourself by only trying half way. Suck it up and put forth whatever effort it takes so you can learn to do things right. Once you internalize the skill it’ll be yours for as long as you live.

6. We are all driven by our own agendas. Like life (and work), dressage is challenging and complex. Just as the rider needs to do what’s difficult, so does the horse, and sometimes the pair will be working at cross-purposes. This also happens in personal and work relationships. Reread items 1 through 5 for inspiration on this point. And practice items 1 – 4 so you can improve.

7. Instead of wishing for miracles, take the initiative. Change is difficult but it’s also necessary if you want to be more effective. Create your own transformations, within yourself and others—by your willingness to alter what you’re doing. I’m talking about the things that aren’t working as well as you would like. You can’t expect another person (or animal, or situation) to change for the better till you do.

Thank you for considering these ideas! —Leslie Charles,

Action Step: While you might never find yourself on the back of a horse, every day you metaphorically ride out to meet your day. Which of above lessons I learned in the saddle most “speak” to you and how will you let them enrich your existence?

About the photo:
Her name was First Lady and I nicknamed her Ladiebug because she was the color of a ladybug. This photo was taken at our first show in Waterloo (MI). We competed in four classes and won four blue ribbons. Ladiebug enjoyed the show ring. She was the last horse I owned, was such a dear; I still miss her. She passed away ten years ago.