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Horse sense provides valuable guidance for two-leggeds

Saly A. Glassman is a managing director with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and author of the book It's About More Than the Money and a new e-book series, Fairy Tales and Finance - Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Saly A. Glassman

is a managing director with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management and author of the book It's About More Than the Money and a new e-book series, Fairy Tales and Finance - Mirror Mirror on the Wall

May in Philadelphia means Devon Horse Show time. This annual event, starting Thursday and running until June 5, is a reminder of all I've learned from horses during my 46 years of riding and competing. How could this be true of 1,200-pound animals with walnut-size brains? In fact, horses have much to offer, and here are a few of my favorite lessons.

Always park your trailer facing home. Horse people know what it's like to park a trailer in an ideal spot only to return to rain, mud, and the challenge of being parked in. But this is about much more than parking. Facing home means doing the hard work early on, when you are fresh. Then, later, you can simply drive out. Have you ever put something off only to find that "later" became "not at all"? Your day might have gone more smoothly had you turned your trailer around early on. Luckily, you don't have to drive a horse to get this message.

Ride what you're on today. Horses are herd animals, waiting to be told what to do by us, the herd leaders. With virtually no reasoning ability, horses learn by repetition. But they're not machines, and they sometimes don't perform in the way we expect. We must accept the reality of how each horse "feels" on a given day. Horses live in the moment, so what is, is. Without a spoken word, they teach us to accept and adapt. They don't care about our hand-wringing, denying, or blaming. We have to ride what we're on today, and that's a lesson in respecting another's perspective and focusing on what's happening right now.

There's risk to being at the end of your stride. A horse can be physically at the end of its stride, when approaching a difficult jump, or emotionally, when a task exceeds its knowledge and experience. Usually this predicament points to a weakness in the horse's training. Have you ever taken on too much, realizing you should have delegated more, planned better, or just said "no"? If so, you were at the end of your stride. In horsespeak, we say you needed a "half-halt." This is a momentary arrest in forward movement immediately followed by renewed forward motion. In riding, it's complicated. For us on the ground, it's much easier, like a tap on our personal brake. When you agree to a commitment, ask yourself how much stride you have left. Can you honor your word and still maintain your high standards? You can give yourself a half-halt just by counting to 10 in your mind. This pause helps you calculate the distance and energy required. Learning to half-halt can actually send you forward!

If you're not training, you're un-training. Horses are creatures of habit, and they learn through pressure and reward. For example, the greatest reward one can give a horse is to leave it alone. On the other hand, it's up to us to know when pressure should be applied and withdrawn. Without routine and repetition, the horse will not be compelled to produce the desired behavior. So the instant we lose our focus, we are un-training. This applies to humans also! If we eat poorly, don't exercise, disregard others, and ignore our education, we are un-training ourselves as well as those who look up to us. It's understandable that we sometimes want to escape pressure and be left alone. But we can reason and apply judgment. As leaders of the herd, we must provide direction to others and ourselves. Our ability to train ourselves is a gift, and we already know not to look a gift horse in the mouth. (I couldn't resist.)

I hope you have a chance to enjoy Devon's friendly venue, exciting competition, and, of course, horses. You'll observe the years of loyalty, obedience, and kindness in their eyes. Winston Churchill may have said it best: "There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man" - and woman.