Over the last six months I’ve been chronicling Brooklyn’s first entrepreneurial endeavor. On one of the many days I was watching her ride, I got to thinking about how many lessons you can learn on the back of a horse that apply to both life and starting a business.

  1. Follow your passion
    There is something about horses and girls. It must be a cosmic attraction. For Brooklyn, the attraction to horses was more than a phase. What started out as a lesson to prepare her for summer camp, turned into an obsession. With riding that drive is a must. You don’t just show up and ride. First, you have to find the horse, then wipe her down, gather your gear, tack the horse, adjust the strirrups, then enter the ring, ride for forty five minutes, untack, clean the horse and return her to her stall. The prep and clean up can easily take as long as the ride. When you find your passion, what looks to be a chore from the outside, is actually something you’ll love. Startups are the same. Every part of the experience, glamourous or not, is fueled by your passion.
  2. Find a mentor
    When you watch experience riders, everything seems effortless, almost easy. Like many things in life, businesses included, the nuances are massive. Even after listening to hours of lessons, I couldn’t pick up on the subtle placement of the reigns, the heels, the thighs or the cadence of posting along with the horse’s stride. None of these things are intuitive. Entrepreneurship is similar. It is difficult. There are nuances. Having a trusted expert provide guidance and words of encouragement is invaluable. It speeds your learning and dramatically increases your chance of success.
  3. Overcome your fears
    Imagine looking up at a thousand pound creature as a young child (Brooklyn started riding when she was 7). Think about everything you would feel at that moment, know you were about to ride this mammoth. Intimidating may not be a strong enough word. Immediately, you might think, “I can’t do this” or “I don’t know what I am doing” or “I could get hurt (physically or emotionally)”. You’re afraid. You’re unsure. But somehow you muster the courage to take the first step. Putting one leg into the stirrup and vaulting over the horses back. That small step gives you a little confidence. You feel safer in the saddle, but still have fear. With each little step you take, with each piece of guidance, you start to believe you can do this. This is no different from starting a company. The best way to conquer your fear is to take the first step.
  4. Learn every day
    Your first day at the barn is filled with new sights, sounds, smells and terms. It is completely overwhelming, but the excitement of starting something new overpowers the fear and you press forward. It seems like you’ll never remember everything or be able ride like the experienced kids. You press one and before you know it you are taking higher jumps, riding faster than ever and competing in shows. Being an entrepreneur is no different. It is impossible to know everything day one. What is important is that you press forward, you learn, you get better and one day you will achieve more than you ever thought possible.
  5. Believe in yourself
    Setting your mind to something and achieving it does wonders for your confidence and self-esteem. Riding is a terrific sport to develop a strong view of self. Every jump you make, every word of encouragement from your coach, every ribbon you win all add up to a strong belief in your ability to achieve. You develop a clearer picture of who you are and what you are capable of. That confidence fuels you to take on the next challenge and the flywheel starts to turn, building more with each turn. As an entrepreneur, sometimes all you have is your beliefs. The belief that you can succeed or belief in your product.
  6. Persevere
    One of the scariest things to watch, and probably experience, is falling off the horse. It happens to all riders and Brooklyn has had her share as well. One particular fall really stands out. She was riding in the arena by herself and I was watching from the hillside. Out of the blue she is tossed from the horse. At that moment I imagine she is in a bit of shock. Immediately there is a decision to make. Stay on the ground, and possibly get hurt worse or do get up. Just like times past, she dusts herself off and hops back on the horse. Any business is going to knock you down. While it may hurt at the time, the choice to get up, dust yourself off and push forward will pay off in the long run.
  7. Take responsibility
    Before you head out to ride, you need to prepare yourself and the horse. Here is Brooklyn’s checklist: riding pants & top, sunscreen, boots, water, helmet. Once at the barn she needs to gather a halter, lead rope, bridal, saddle pad, saddle, girth, clean the hooves, the horse and final tack up. My 10-year-old does all of this on her own now. I could easily help her, but she is capable, enjoys it and she learns a great deal of responsibility. After the ride she needs to cool the horse down, untack, hose the horse down, dry it off and then put it out to pasture. As Brooklyn’s matured as a rider, she now participates in group lessons as well as open rides. She is in charge of the open ride. She decides when she wants to go to the barn, what to work on and how long to ride. I love that she enjoys the experience and that she is learning more than she knows in the process.
  8. Focus
    Whether you are just walking around the barn or riding in the arena, you must be focused. If you get distracted for a second, you could easily get hurt. The sport requires all of your attention, all of the time. Learning how to focus early in life will pay huge dividends while running your own business or simply tackling a new project.
  9. Send the right message 
    The small things make a big difference in riding. A horse is as sensitive to its rider as it is massive. Are you looking straight ahead? Are the reigns tight enough? Are you pressing in with your thighs? Are your heels down? All of these subtle messages tell the horse what is expected of them and they react based on the smallest of those expressions. In business, you are sending messages to your employees, customers and partners every day. They may not always be explicit, but they are being received. In horseback and in business, always pay attention to the small messages you are sending.
  10. Prioritize
    In life and business you are constantly making tradeoffs. Choosing to ride multiple times a week is a big commitment. As parents, we never pushed Brooklyn one way or the other. This has always been and continues to be her choice. She decides how often to ride and as a result what she gives up — time with friends, hanging out and playing, reading or playing games.
  11. Savor competition
    Competition is a funny thing. It provides an extra incentive to work harder and get better. It also helps you learn about goal setting. Knowing you have a competition coming in a few weeks forces you to think about areas you need to improve. However, the decision to get better is still a choice. You have to have a plan and you have to work that plan. Stay on target and the results will show at the end of game day.
  12. Work hard
    I’ve already covered the work that goes into riding before and after you get on the horse. But don’t forget the ride itself. Watching the kids go around the arena, “posting” in step with the horse, is like watching one of the hardest core workouts you’ve ever seen. Posting is when you rise out of the saddle seat for every other stride of the horse’s forelegs. Now do all of that for 45–60 minutes and do it in the middle of an Austin summer. It is hard, hard work! This is no different from being an entrepreneur. If you are not willing to work hard, don’t ever step foot in the arena (for riding or for business).

Special thanks to Kathy Slack, Brooklyn’s teacher and owner of the Bee Cave Riding Center. She is an amazing instructor for both riding and life. Not only are her students learning to be great riders, they are able to see what happens when someone follows their passion and builds a life and a business around it.