Life lessons from the saddle

by Sara Gordon–

Littlestown, Pa., June 28, 2018 – Warming Up: A rider competing in the hunter division warms up for her over-fences class at the Swan Lake Horse Show. Photo: Sara Gordon

When I was four years old, I was hoisted up onto the back of an elderly Arabian horse and instructed to “grab mane and hold on tight.” Seventeen years later, I never stopped holding on as I continue to enjoy being an equestrian and surrounding myself with what I love most: horses.

My experience riding horses has not only improved my skills as an equestrian but also who I am as a person. When you spend the majority of your life interacting with thousand-pound animals with minds of their own, you tend to learn a thing or two, whether you’re in the saddle or out of it.

1. There’s no shame in falling down.
I vividly remember a riding lesson where my horse threw me off, into a jump, nearly four times in a row. It hurt more each time to stand back up, put my foot in the stirrup and get back on, but I did it. If you decide to walk away after falling off, there’s a high chance you’ll never get back in the saddle again. You owe it to yourself to stand up, dust yourself off and keep trying. Your resiliency and strength will only excel from there.

2. Awareness of yourself will benefit your relationship with others.
Riding isn’t just a hobby or a sport. It requires the formation of a bond between horse and rider, establishing a relationship that relies on mutual respect and reassurance. A horse has the unique ability to sense the emotional state of their rider, which can personally impact the way the horse behaves. When I get nervous, my horse feeds off of that and tenses up. Yet when I ride with confidence, our ability as a pair feels unstoppable. If you respect and believe in yourself, along with those around you, success is guaranteed.

3. The work put into something is more important than what you get out of it.
When it comes to horse shows, the blue ribbon (first place) is seemingly the most coveted prize one can earn. However, after experiencing issues with my horse refusing to jump for a few years, the goal of winning a ribbon became the lowest priority. Instead, I found more pride in the hard work I put in and how my horse improved from that commitment, which helped us get over our rough patch and only made us stronger. Winning is wonderful and it makes you feel good, but the effort you put in to get to that point is something that will always trump the physical award.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can ever do is get back into the saddle.