I fell off a horse.
Here's how I remember it. I’m riding Penny for the first time. It’s early in the morning. I’m tired, haven’t eaten. Spent the day before at not one but two amusement parks. Probably tired and my senses compromised, but I’m pushing through it because I think that riding Penny will make me a better rider for Fleur. Now skip ahead, Penny and I have done solid ground work in the round pen, she’s responsive, we've joined up. We’re not super connected, but we’re working together and we're trying. It’s going well. I get on her to ride – we walk, we trot, I feel like I might fall off, but I’ve never fallen off of a horse while riding so why would it happen now?
Now freeze the moment: what did Rafe see and tell me later? He said he thought Penny was distracted. Maybe she wanted breakfast? She can be a flighty mare. Her attention is not always focused, especially without a solid connection. He saw this, but he didn’t want to interrupt the lesson.
In hindsight, I see that there was something I needed to learn. I didn’t know how to stop Penny. I didn't know how to advocate for myself. I didn't know how to be vulnerable or admit to being clueless. I am aware of my thoughts in the moment leading up to the fall, “I don’t want to squeeze my legs and go faster.” I felt like I was going to fall off, and lo and behold, I DID!
If falling off Penny taught me anything, it's this: I have to ask for help. I didn’t know how to stop her. I missed a cue or two. My hands were high instead of low and I told the horse the wrong thing – I gave her permission to go when I needed a hard stop. She was probably just as confused as I was – and that’s why I ended up in the dirt and she stood near me, looking confused.
“At least she stopped,” Rafe says.
I respond, “Five seconds earlier would have been great.”
Of course, I see the practical applications for my fall, maybe because it distracts me from how badly my back hurts and how stupid I feel for my part in the incident. The development of a leader requires a shift in focus. Very often in organizations, high performing individuals are promoted from management into leadership without the necessary skills to lead, like I was promoted from a person who walks next to a horse to a person who rides a horse because I had some deep well of confidence from learning to ride when I was fourteen which does not replace actual lessons as a person in her forties.
Leadership really is more art than science, like cooking. You need the nuances. You need to know the big picture while you’re going through each step, when and how to do what needs to be done. Confidence matters but so does vulnerability. You need to believe in your innate ability to direct others towards a vision – and the belief matters just as much as the actions in many cases, but it doesn't mean you're always right or can't ask questions.
Leadership requires commitment, that willingness to say, “not on my watch,” or “one way or another, this will happen.” Learning to ride a horse also requires commitment to being a beginner no matter what stage of life or riding experience. Every day is a new day and I can't take for granted that today might not be the best day for me - or Penny - to be riding. We’re working towards an outcome, we know that things will happen along the way that will impact the process and possibly change the outcome, we keep moving forward and adjust course when we need. “Great stories happen when characters take action,” Don Miller said in his keynote at the World Domination Summit in 2013.
So yeah, I fell off of a horse. My instinct to figure it out myself and rely on my natural ability did not prevent the fall. I needed help. I needed new information. I needed to know where my limits were to see where I needed support. Now I know. And I didn’t die.
Penny, the day we adopted her from Lifesavers