The following is the first part of a thought leadership article I am writing for the coaching program I am taking. I will be sharing the rest in regular posts over the next week or so. So, come back and look for the next post soon!


I have spent the last 35 years training horses and riders at one level or another and the last 18 years teaching riding and equine science at the college level. ?During all of those years I have experienced some major life events, some related to the horse business and some not that have shaken my foundation and sent me on the search for life’s meaning and purpose. In this journey I have learned better how to be more mindful and stay in the moment (sometimes) and have also found that it has helped me become a much better trainer. It is a constant work in progress.There are definite ups and downs along the way; falling off the mindfulness wagon and climbing my way back aboard. Each time this happens I feel I am a bit more mindful, a bit better at enjoying what is now and not looking forward or back. Every lesson I learn though these times of struggle helps me to be better in every part of my life, including training horses and?riders. But I am not the only person exposed to the life lessons in this journey. My riders and students are as well. It is quite hard to separate learning a skill from the learning of life. We cannot separate our SELF from the skills we want to learn, as at each step along the way the issues we have with our SELF get intertwined with the learning of the new skill. Until we can take an honest look at who we are and see how we are blocked in our path to learning we will be constantly stuck in a struggle with the learning process.

I am going to share some of my training experiences to help show how life experience is woven into the learning process. The beauty of learning a skill is that, if you choose to do so, you can learn more about yourself and begin to live a more purposeful and mindful life. As you begin to live that life more authentically the new skill you are learning will become much more effortless. This doesn’t have to be about riding horses, it can be about learning anything. It just happens that I teach riding. The other element that makes the process of learning how to ride horses a real life lesson is that, when riding, you are working with another living being. Horses are very honest as they have no agendas like we do. They live in the moment and they mirror back to us how we are feeling and being. They are prey animals so they do remember what scares them and what makes them feel safe. They seek to stay in a comfortable, safe place and get away from the uncomfortable. That is how they survived in the wild. They are very honest about those choices but the rider has to really be in an honest conversation with the horse in order to notice. They have to listen to the answers the horse gives them. The following quote is from Shana Ritter’s article The Horse is Your Mirror.? Sounds a lot like life coaching.

There is an old Arab proverb that says, “The horse is your mirror.” This applies, of course, to physical issues as well, but it is important to not overlook the psychological issues that it applies to. If we are open to what the horse is telling us, and what our riding is telling us, we will learn MUCH about ourselves and our issues. This isn’t always easy. We do not always want to know all of our faults and weaknesses. We don’t always want to acknowledge our impatience and habit of shifting blame (for example). BUT… if we take the opportunity this has presented to us, it is an incredible opportunity to DO something about it. Once you are open to it, and acknowledge it, you can begin to work on it. Just the simple act of acknowledging it often dis-empowers it to some degree. Suddenly we realize there is a pattern here. And it applies to how we live our lives, too, it is not just how we ride our horse, but also how we deal with our boss, our relationships, whatever.

By listening to what the horse and our riding is telling us, and by being willing to acknowledge and work on these issues, we will find that it carries over into other aspects of our lives. When you learn patience in dealing with your frustrations in riding, you realize you can also have patience in dealing with your frustrations in life.

Of course, this is not the easy path.It is much easier to stick to our habits of shifting blame and losing patience (or whatever patterns you may have). It takes great work, and incredible humility, to embark upon the task of improving ourselves.

In the following examples I will show how as a performance coach and trainer I work to shift the rider’s perspective in the same way I would as a life coach. ?Once learned on top of a horse the skills can be transferred to day to day life and once learned in life they can be applied to riding. It is really impossible to separate the two.


Ritter, Shana. The horse is Your Mirror. Artistic Dressage. Classical Dressage and Artistic Dressage. 2000. Web. 26 June, 2012.