Lessons from Mr T: You Can Learn a Lot About Confidence from Horses
I started horseback riding as an adult about four years ago and was really determined to pick up the sport because I sensed that I could learn a lot about confidence from horses. My mum was one of those over-protective parents that sheltered us very much, and I wasn’t allowed to even entertain horseback riding as a kid because a classmate of mine fell off. That, and also the sport can be quite expensive.
I actually remember once, while we were on a family vacation at a resort, taking my babysitting money in a Ziploc baggie and sneaking off to the stables to pay for an incognito pony ride. Pretty sure they didn’t have my sign a waiver, so hopefully mum never reads this.
When I signed up for my introductory learn-to-ride package, I remember feeling such electric nerves that it’s kind of embarrassing to admit it now. Would I be awesome? Would I fail miserably? Would I be on my way to wearing a sharp-looking blazer and breeches to compete in dressage? Would I lean towards hj? Would I finally get that British Racing Green Land Rover and pull a trailer?
My first encounter with a horse during that intro program was a Clyde Cross named Mr. T. Yes, that’s right. He pities the fool that is trying to learn how to bridle on him. Mr. T is about 16.2 hh, a good 1,500 lbs., and full of big-buy swagger. He was an enigma sent to test me, or rather to teach me the ability to project confidence. One of the biggest challenges for me has always been my very transparent facial expressions that gave away my delight, disdain, and disappointment all too easily. Getting a handle on that was imperative to becoming a better businessperson.
The moment Mr. T caught a whiff of your uncertainty or nerves, he knew he was going to have a field day. Like a shark in a boardroom, horses sense your emotional state and capitalize on it. Week after week I was so anxious about being assigned to ride him because I thought it meant having to “gain control” over him. How could I control a 1,500 lb. animal? There’s no way to overpower him in to submission (all he has to do is step on your toe with his monster hoof). I had sore arms from trying to reach up to his ears, or was scared when he would conveniently avoid my timid reach like a game of tag. He knew he had me.
But that’s the judo-esque lesson horses teach – the only way to succeed is to lower your heart rate, steady your breath, and be grounded in yourself. When I was able to learn this ability to project confidence and conviction, then I was able to get him to lower his head, or lead him by the reins, or move in to a trot (instead of ignoring my crop and meandering around the ring). After this moment of enlightenment, I then saw how much of a gentle giant he actually is (well, to the people that have established their confidence and calm with him).
This ability to “fake it till you make it” became even clearer when I had my first fall. It took me months to even be able to go near that horse again (let alone jump him), and I talk about some of that psychological battle in Overcoming Negative Experiences – Get Back on the Horse. Now, we enjoy a happy long-term relationship that I couldn’t have imagined when I was in the weeds of fear.
So if there is anything you can learn from the badass Mr. T it’s that everyone feels anxiety, nerves or fear, but that you can steady yourself on the outside and convince your opponent that nothing rattles you. For this life-changing lesson of projection, I am forever grateful to my extremely patient and wise instructor, Anne Talbot, and the devious Mr. T.