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Dealing with the Unknown – Lessons from Learning to Ride

This article was written by Bill Adelson, an architect, MBA, CEO of a specialty solar energy company, and new rider, starting at age 50. Bill has a writing style that is simple and straightforward, but thoughtful, considering multiple angles on a topic.

Bill writes on many subjects, including horses, riding, and the life lessons that come from learning to ride.

I wanted to share his article – Dealing with the Unknown – with you here. Enjoy.

We are all in a place right now where we are thinking about and worrying about our futures.  We are getting out of bed each day not knowing where we will be a week from now, a month from now, and a year from now seems like a lifetime.  We are living day by day.

As I watch the 24-hour news channels, and as I listen to the guests that they invite, I realize that very few of us have experience in engaging with unexpected outcomes and unpredicted events that come our way.  Most humans seek out predictability and consistency in their daily lives, despite how boring that can be.

Horseback riders engage in a sport where we are in partnership with the unknown.  We practice this each week, and we develop the psychological skills to succeed under those conditions.  Perhaps we can help our friends and neighbors by explaining to them how we do this.

First, we work with a powerful animal, but fortunately, it is also an animal that is a creature of habit.  Therefore, the first thing we develop is a daily and consistent routine.  This calms us and the horse, but it also gives us a daily start with some, albeit small, sense of completion.  Here is the famous quote from Admiral William H. McRaven:

“Making my bed correctly was not going to be an opportunity for praise. It was expected of me. It was my first task of the day, and doing it right was important. It demonstrated my discipline. It showed my attention to detail, and at the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task.”

― William H. McRaven, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World

Second, we practice staying focused on the present and we do that by focusing on details.  I remember one of my first instructors constantly harping on me: “keep your thumbs up.”  Silly, I thought (silently) at the time.  How can the position of my thumbs affect the actions of a 1,200-pound animal?  Later, of course, I learned the many reasons why such a small detail can contribute to so many issues downstream (or “down-rein”) from my hands.

My first instructor said to me that riding was about “rhythm and balance”, which I subsequently heard many times in other forms, but I believe there could also be a mantra that says that riding is about thumb muscles and core muscles.

And third, consciously or unconsciously, when we ride we practice “equipoise”.  We practice that mental state of being balanced between a relaxed condition for all but our necessary muscles and at the same time being mentally prepared for literally anything.  Or in an example from Merriam-Webster:

“When participating in any dangerous sport, one should maintain an equipoise between fearless boldness and commonsense caution.”

As riders, right now, we have a lot to offer our friends in their concerns and anxieties.  We can show them how we succeed by:

  • Sticking to a daily routine
  • Focusing on details
  • Practicing equipoise

This has kept us mostly safe, and more importantly, it has taught us to cope daily with an unpredictable world.

We are not alone in these skills.  I come from the construction industry where the best site managers I have met also follow those bullet points above, and although I know little about it, I will assume that first responders and emergency room workers also possess these habits.

Keep riding, especially right now, and help comfort those around you.

Bill Adelson learned to ride a horse at age 50.  Someday, maybe, possibly, if several planets align, he may take a horse to a 3 Day Event at Beginner Novice.  His wife is a 3 Day Eventer at Training Level heading towards Prelim.

Professionally, Bill Adelson is one the dozen or so architects in the USA that also has an MBA. Bill studied architecture at Princeton University and received his MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business. Most recently, Bill was the CEO of Elevated Solar Performance, a specialty solar energy company that designed and built large scale solar energy projects on commercial building parking lots.

Copyright Bill Adelson, March 22, 2020.



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