Cherry Picking Optimizes My Riding Experience

Editor’s Note: We hear this week from Nancy Lowery of Calgary, Alberta. Lowery has been blogging about her Leadership Learning through Horsemanship Experiences for more than a decade. A recent interview series began as “One Foot in the Arena” to explore what Calgary leaders have learned through their relationships with horses.

Lowery writes:

I love horses, riding, and the comfort of my Western saddle. For winter riding, shotgun chaps are perfect. But that’s about where my love affair with the Old West ends. I guess you could say I’m a ‘metro cowboy’ as my wardrobe is outdoor technical and I choose ball caps over brims.

I don’t listen to country music, cowboy poetry, or go to the rodeo. It just seems to rob me of time I’d rather spend riding. I don’t compete. For me, riding has no end game; it’s all process.

With all that cherry-picking, how do I fit into a culture that seems to attract a certain religiosity, a certain uniformity?

Go to any Western horse event and you’ll see spectators dressed like they stepped out of a fashionable 1880’s scene. If the guys walked downtown in any big city dressed like that, it wouldn’t be girls hitting on them. The strangest sight to me: straw cowboy hats worn in the middle of winter. (In the summer, I find that chaps are too hot.)

I have been to events where the emphasis on wardrobe seems to take precedence over horsemanship. My first run-in with the perfectly attired was at a Ray Hunt clinic. Ray said ‘Stop your horses,’ so, I did. This well-dressed rider plowed into the back end of my mare. Needless to say, my mare wasn’t comfortable and I wasn’t impressed to learn that the rider and her husband spent the rest of the clinic warning everyone to stay away from us.

On Day Three, when the gentleman asked Ray to talk about soft feel, Ray replied “If you haven’t been listening these past three days, there is no point me repeating it now.” Ah, Karma.

My goal is to develop a bridle horse and I will consider myself lucky if end up with a pretty good snaffle bit horse. I have shelves full of books on lightness, dressage, bridle horses, and traditional Vaquero style riding. I attend clinics when I can and I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the connections between what I offer and what the horse understands. I now see the accuracy of the statement: “The first horse you start will be the worst job you ever do.”

I admit there was a time I wished to be included. At one clinic, I was invited to the ‘circle’ at the end of the day. It was not what I’d expected; when people ran out of shared clinic experiences there was an uncomfortable silence. It seems the only topics allowed are ones in common and agreed on. Politics, religion, the environment – all topics of importance to me – were out. When I brought up a recent event, I was told “this is not the place to talk about that.”

I’ve reached a point in my life where I brace against compliance simply for the sake of it. I care less about what others think and more about what my horses tell me. If we are brave enough to get away from mindless compliance, horses can bring out our creativity. I am endlessly curious about what will engage a horse. The more curious I am, the more creative I become.

I’ve gained some wisdom over the years along with quite a few bruises and trips to the emergency room. It isn’t about fitting in to a crowd as much as being comfortable in what I know and how my horses respond to me. How I do something might not comply with someone else’s approach, but my priority is being consistent with the horse.

So, yes, nowadays I cherry pick my moments, my engagements, and with whom I hang out with. I gravitate to people who inspire me, challenge me, and are willing to engage in meaningful conversations and ask great questions.

My life and my business focus on those connections. I’ve come along way since I started and I’ve had some amazing teachers along the way, horse and human.

Horsemanship and leadership are journeys that require endless curiosity, care, and concern. That same curiosity and concern apply to everything and everyone in my life. I believe I’ll continue to cherry pick.