During my first year of high school, I boldly signed my name up for my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award. Forever the overachiever, I proudly added this achievement to my CV, telling anyone who would listen to me that it would “help me out later on in life”. Little did I know then that the award itself would be rather useless, but the direction it took my life in would be momentous.
Having signed up, I had to find myself a volunteering position and I resigned myself to what I thought would be six months of wasted Saturdays at my local horse-riding stables. I imagined that my weekends would now be filled with boring days spent shovelling poo from the stables. And they stretched out ahead of me, filling me with dread but I was determined to get it over with and get that award added to my list of achievements.
Fast forward twelve years and I’m still at that very same stables, with my own horse. And yes, I have the achievement of completing the Bronze Awards behind me but funnily enough while the award itself never helped me out as I thought it would, that volunteer placement changed my life. In fact, it took me from having never ridden a horse properly before, to buying my own several years down the line. And having a horse has taught me an awful lot more than the Award ever did.
Here are six life lessons that having a horse has taught me
1. The value of hard work
Sure, you could hop onto a perfectly schooled horse and spend thirty minutes feeling like you’re a top showjumper. But really, the best sense of achievement comes from getting onto your own horse that you’ve spent years putting the work into and having a good ride. Whether that’s a hack without falling off, a show-jumping round without knocking a pole, or a dressage test where your horse doesn’t look like he is about to take off. Having a horse of my own has taught me that nothing good comes without a lot (and I mean a lot) of hard work. But when you get there, it’s oh so worth it knowing that you’ve achieved your goal through nothing but your own time, energy and dedication.
2. That the best things often come from fighting through your fears
During the first few months of having my first pony on loan I spent far more time on the floor, watching my pony gallop off into the distance without me, than I did actually managing to stay on her. She was a witch at the best of times, but that first pony taught me that the best things come from fighting through your fears. At my lowest point I was scared to get on and go for a ten-minute hack around the estate, but I got on and did it anyway because she needed riding. A few months down the line, I learned to stay on when she threw in a dirty stop and we had the most fantastic few years. Now, I’ve got my own dream pony but if I hadn’t stuck with Willow and fought through my fears of riding at the start, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
3. When life gets tough, pick yourself up and get on with it
They (whoever they are) say that you’re not a proper rider until you’ve fallen off at least seven times. And I have to admit, I agree. Falling off teaches you the determination to learn to stay on so that it doesn’t keep happening. Plus, there’s that age old saying that when you fall off a horse, you have to get straight back into the saddle. Whilst literally being the case when it comes to riding, it can also be applied to general life – when the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? Having a horse teaches you that with each set back, you have to come back fighting harder to get anywhere.
When you’ve got a horse waiting in the field or standing in a stable waiting for their breakfast, you can’t decide to have a lazy day in bed. Having a horse has taught me more about dedication than any other hobby that I’ve ever had. Unlike many other hobbies where you can occasionally apply a take it or leave it kind of attitude, having a horse doesn’t allow you to apply that mentality. Whether I’m ill or not, my horse needs feeding and often needs exercising too. Day-in-day-out, I’m at the stables caring for him but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
5. To have confidence in what I do
More often than not your horse will look to you to provide them with confidence. They are herd animals and they look to their leader for reassurance, so if you can’t provide them with that then why should they trust you? Having horses has taught me to have confidence in what I do, because if I don’t believe in myself, why should anyone else?
6. To live in the moment
Above everything else, my horse has taught me to live in the moment. Horses start each day afresh, never worrying about what went on earlier and never stressing about what might happen until it does. It’s perhaps the biggest life lesson that having a horse has taught me and it’s one that I’m constantly trying to carry through into the rest of my life. Afterall, worrying about the past or the future does little more than take away your chance of enjoying the moment you’re in right now.