What Training Horses Taught Me About Owning A Business (And What It Will Teach You)

This post is part one of a two part series on how to be a visionary leader in your business. Post two can be found here.

In a word: integrity.

We all have our own ways of defining our “guideposts” in how we conduct business. For some, they’ve been converted into clever taglines, beautiful slogans, or beautiful mission statements. I’ve always been a bit envious of those businesses, because I recognize the thoughtfulness and creativity. But that’s simply not how mine works, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I run my business in the same way I conduct my everyday life, and I would hope that if we were to meet in person, you would think the same. I have a few core, unshakeable tenets and beliefs that direct my every action. One of those core beliefs: integrity.

Integrity can sound so simplistic, yet idealistic, at the same time, but it comes down to how you choose to adopt it into your own business. Before getting into my own take on the concept, here are the three definitions I base my own upon:

  1. Merriam-Webster defines “integrity” as:

1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values :INCORRUPTIBILITY

2: an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS

3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS

I actually didn’t know that “soundness” was part of the definition until writing this post, and then had to laugh. I’ve defined my business’ goals as making others’ business “legally sound” for years now; primarily because as an equestrian and runner, ensuring that your gait is sound is critical to accomplishing your goals.

2. The Latin definition of integrity: deriving from the word “integer” (“complete” or “whole”), this means an inner sense of wholeness, deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others “have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

3. Those definitions are wonderful, but as much as I love my Roman history…my favorite definition of integrity was one I learned in a dusty arena a few years ago. I shouldn’t say learned; it was a concept articulated that I’d always known.

I haven’t spoken about this much about here (it’s more than evident if you follow me on Instagram), but I grew up riding horses. Not just riding, but training green horses, from a pretty young age. My hardest ride, ever, was this bay right here:

(And yes, this ties into business). When you jump on a horse, of any level, they can immediately sense your emotions, and intentions. Mixed signals result in “mixed results”, you could say; ranging from just a sloppy ride to finding yourself somersaulting through the air.

Nearly 20 years ago this bay colt arrived, and I kid you not, for probably the first 6-12 months of riding (about 5 days a week), I was tossed about every 10ish minutes. He can read people exceptionally well, and would seem to know immediately if I “expected” to come off that day. After realizing this, I decided I was going to flip the script a bit. I began putting us into scenarios that were new to both of us, which in a young horse, will bring out their natural instincts as prey animals, making them feel vulnerable (if you’re a rider who weighs approximately a tenth of the springboard you’re sitting on, it has the same effect).

But if you choose to lead your ride through it, you’ll both come out different on the other side. To actually adopt this mindset, 1. you must decide at the outset, and 2. your body language must stand behind that decision unwaveringly.

Back to that moment in the arena: a few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a leadership conference, where a horse whisperer taught a group of business owners about business, as demonstrated by training a completely untrained horse, in an hour. In front of a crowd. His definition of integrity?

I’m sure he phrased it more eloquently, but simply put: your actions must align with your words.

Horses communicate through body language, and are therefore masters at reading ours. They had to be to survive in the wild. When training, your hands, and their front end, are equivalent to verbal communication. However, it’s the hind end, and your actions, that truly tell the story. A horse running from a predator will do so by pivoting from their hind end, and if they’re kicking you, it’s coming from that end too. You will never connect with the horse if the two do not align. In the same way, your words are meaningless unless your actions align.

The same holds true in business.

Defining integrity in business is both an introspective and outward-facing endeavor. Introspectively, it means having a strong inner compass, knowing that if you had 100 people watching what you were doing even in private, in this moment, you would be proud and stand behind your actions. It also means doing what you know is right, even when it’s not the easy option.

Outward-facing: There is power in truth and justice. You do not need to prove that you’re the best or “most right”; your actions will speak for themselves.

Defining what I consider to be the cornerstone of business can feel like a daunting task, yet; it is simple at it’s core. Let your actions reflect your words. Sometimes, this requires making a conscious effort, but it’s just that: a choice.

I believe in making businesses legally sound, but on the most fundamental level, making businesses simply sound. Guided by integrity. In part two of this series, I’m going to be touching on the concept of how we can step into the role of a visionary leader in our businesses, guiding them along a sound course. I hope that today’s post sparked something in you, and if so, I’d love to hear in the comments below (or message me on Instagram at @paige.hulse)!

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