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3 Leadership Lessons From The Saddle

3 Leadership Lessons From The Saddle

leadership lessons from the saddle

By Anne Gry Ringen

Horses seek out leaders naturally. They want a leader they can trust and that treats them with kindness and respect. And as in any sport, riding is more than just the physical and technical aspect; it absorbs you emotionally and intellectually. 

So when the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world, there are some things that I’ve learned in the saddle during these times. I realized that this is especially important for leaders—and easy to apply whenever and wherever you may be. It is all linked to one word: happiness. 

leadership lessons from the saddle

It goes both ways, whether it’s about leading your string or leading your roster of employees. What does it mean to be happy in different aspects, and how does this affect the people and animals that surround you? I list down three ways—so you, too, can sit down and ponder its significance. Read on!

1. Energy is contagious.

Energy passes through you and your horse. If you want to ride well and connect with your horse, you need to learn how to use that energy. Getting in the saddle feeling angry, nervous, or sad will produce a different result compared to feeling happy, playful, or calm. Riders cannot fake their emotions. It will directly affect the horse and have an impact on its performance.

The same goes for leading an organization. As a leader, you can control the energy in a room. Creating an environment based on vitality, where people feel alive, passionate, and excited will spark life and boost happiness. This energy is contagious and will make people thrive.

leadership lessons from the saddle

According to Gretchen Spreitzer at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Christine Porath’s research, blue-collar workers who scored high on thriving performed 27% better than their lower-thriving colleagues, whereas 53% were more likely to experience positive career progression. 

  1. Being civil works.

An Olympic show jumper once told me, “No respect for the horse means no respect for the sport.” And that is true! The golden rule for equestrians is that the horse is never to blame when things go wrong. Riders are responsible for their horse’s performance, and it is our duty as athletes in the sport to put the welfare of the horse first. 

Research supports that practicing a strong ethical code in business has a significant positive impact on performance and happiness. The cost of incivility is great. Studies show that people who have been targets of bad behavior are often, in turn, uncivil themselves. 

Incivility prevents people from thriving, which is a major loss for a company. I once worked with a client where the manager told his employee, in front of his peers, that he’d done “kindergarten work.” He had a habit of yelling at people, making everyone nervous and feel embarrassed. This led to gossiping and unhappiness, which had a severe negative impact on performance. 

leadership lessons from the saddle
  1. Asking for and offering performance feedback is key.

Your body is a crucial instrument for communicating with your horse. We “ask” the horse for a flying change and use our legs, seat, and hands to signal what we want. In return, the horse gives us feedback through its performance. The same holds true with people. 

Ask people you work with how they see your behavior. Actively seek other’s suggestions on how you can improve. Look for opportunities to innovate and learn, and offer the same in return. Over the course of spending my whole life in the saddle, I have learned that authenticity is the most sustainable way to success. 

Horses have taught me the importance of fostering a transparent corporate culture at work, and to invest in relationships that energizes me. Away from the office, I love playing polo—not only for fun but also to be able to support charitable causes that are close to my heart. We live in a time where job stress and anxiety are sky high. Creating a corporate culture based on happiness is valiant on its own merits—but it can also boost your company’s performance in a sustainable way.

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