As women, we live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded with messages to be less. Or sometimes, to shrink our ambitions to fit in. We have managed to put gender equality on the global agenda, but we still have a long way to go. Ladies are bearing the brunt of the economic and social disruption brought about by the pandemic, and according to the United Nations, violence against women and girls are among the most pressing human rights issues today.
Good thing that we can take motivation from those who surround us—including our beloved riding partners, the horses. In fact, these magnificent beasts aren’t just beautiful companions, they also empower and inspire us to be brave, take risks, and set boundaries, especially for young girls. Below, I list down the ways.
Horses teach us confidence
As an equestrian, it is easy to overlook how much we learn from horses every day. I remember my first pony well. She was an Irish sports pony, tan face with black feet, known for being cheeky and fast. I think I fell off her everyday, as she knew exactly what to do. She would trot really fast towards the fence then stop, put her head down, and I would go off. After dragging me to the ground for the thousandth time, I finally found the confidence to tell her I had enough. I put my head up, shoulders back, and changed the tone of my voice—and she listened.
Imagine the impact interactions like this can have on a timid child, when they come to realize they have the power to control such a large and powerful animal. These moments build character and leadership skills. It prepares them to be an empathic leader in adulthood and recognize when to stand up for themselves.
The power of no
Our identities are often tied up in what we do for others. According to Psychology Today, this especially holds true for women, where research suggests that females are the relationship managers, the orchestrators of all things holiday, and in a pressure to over-perform. For some, just saying the word “no” can make us feel childlike, weak, nervous, or guilty. In the equestrian world, the power of no can make the difference between failure and success, accidents and progression.
If the horse turns his hind towards you, it’s a no. If it starts nipping your shirt, it’s a no. If it gets into your personal space, it’s a no. However, our no is not necessarily communicated in words or with aggression. Anyone who has lunged a horse has seen the effect of the physical boundary we convey with our body language. We send them off in the lunge line, while focusing our eyes and body towards their hind end. When we are ready, we allow them to come in. We move our attention to their head, where our eyes create a shifting boundary that the horse respects. I would assume many girls could benefit from knowing what their personal boundaries are and communicating them confidently. By letting our girls create a baseline in the stables, we invest in their future, mental health, and safety.
Knowing when to walk away
Your horse does not care who you are outside of the stables. They don’t know how much money you have or if you’re up for a promotion at work or popular in school. But what they do know is whether you bring your authentic self or not. I always spend time with my horses before a competition or polo match. Because horses mirror our energy, and if you’re not mentally balanced, your horse is the first one to pick it up. Practicing the rule of “stop-breathe-think” is a way to get your emotions in check. It teaches us to let go of the past and walk away from what no longer serves us, which makes horse girls more emotionally mature and impervious to peer pressure.
Horses may not solve human rights issues or close the gender gap. But it teaches us to use muscles we thought we never had, to think outside the box, and be honest and compassionate with ourselves and others. Because having a horse is not just a thing you do—it becomes the very essence of who you are.
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Anne Gry Ringen is the previous patron of Paisano Dragons Polo Team and currently the managing director of Miit in Norway.