Throughout my life, I’ve been an equestrian. A jumper, to be precise. Riding and jumping horses has been one of my escapes from the world. The smell of leather, hay, saddle oil. The rush of being airborne on a powerful animal.

But horseback riding has taught me things about finding purchase for my ideas in business as well as the barn. Here are a few lessons from the saddle that can help you find a path for your plans and ideas this year.

Walk The Course First.

When you’re presented with a new course to jump, the first thing to do is walk it, on your own two feet, from the ground. It gives you the chance to see the course from your horse’s perspective, anticipate distractions, check the footing, and look at each approach from a few different angles.

Projects and plans can have more than one approach, too. Walk yourself through the possibilities – the good and the bad – while you start to lay out your approach. Test your ideas with colleagues and management to see how solid your footing is. And if you can see some of the potential hiccups in the planning process – both cultural and operational – you’ll be better prepared for them when they come about.

Flatwork Is Critical.

When you first learn to jump, it’s easy to get swept up in the idea of always going higher and faster. But like many things, the fundamental elements of jumping are learned in the basics, on the ground. You need a good walk before you can ever get a good trot. You need a good trot if you ever want a solid canter. And poles on the ground help teach you to pace yourself and your rhythm for bigger fences.

Don’t discount the basics in your work when chasing the bigger, shinier plan. Get the fundamentals down, like creating measurable objectives. Benchmarking and documenting your progress. Communicating clearly and often. Evaluating priorities. Adjusting your plan based on what you learn. The road to success isn’t always in the sexy work.

Soft Hands, Strong Saddle.

A rookie mistake in the saddle is to grab hold of the reins and start pulling and tugging and trying to force the horse’s direction with your hands. Trick is, though, that the reins aren’t where the control is. It’s your body and legs, where your weight and balance are, that really help guide the horse. (You can actually ride a horse very well with no reins at all).

Be willing to loosen your grip a little on the plan. Ease up on the notion that you have to yank and pull and be heavy handed in order to steer. Let the goals and foundation of your project be the pivot point, and let the execution follow, even if that means you’ve got to recenter once in a while and circle back.

Spot The Far Side of the Fence.

When you’re jumping horses, you find your launch spot, and then look up and past the fence. You never, ever look down at the jump. It shortens your field of vision, and can actually shift your weight too heavily onto the front of the horse, making it harder for him to leave the ground (and more likely to dump you as a result).

You’re framing your ride in terms of the clear side of each jump, not the looming wall in front of you. Always keep your eyes on the prize. Consider approaching  your goals as they’d look like when they’re already achieved. Treat the potential obstacles as things to get over and past, but not things that obscure the rest of the course.

Never Let The Fall Win.

Whoa boy, but I’ve been tossed from the saddle more times than I can count, mostly on jump courses. I’ve broken 11 bones doing it over the years. But one of my favorite trainers used to remind me that the fall can never, ever win out.

You have to get back up there, even if you’re shaken. Ride back around and face down the jump or the obstacle that caused the toss in the first place.  The fall can never be the last thing on record for a jump, or you’ll never forget it, and neither will the horse. You’ve got to get back in the saddle. That, after all, is where the expression came from.

If your first approach to a project finds you face down in the dirt, that’s okay. Pick yourself up, dust off, adjust your approach, and get back up to ride it out.

How are you approaching your plans this year? Want to share some of your tips and tricks for others to learn from? Leave a comment and let’s chat.

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