Once again, we were able to take our annual horseback riding trip overseas. We skipped last year, for obvious reasons, so this March we squeezed in two countries and two rides. In years past, there was usually a pretty wild adventure to report:
- our wild escape from the 40 year flood in Egypt in 2020 (not to mention racing back to the US because of border closings due to covid) https://breakthroughmaster.com/2020/06/what-i-learned-in-one-day-in-egypt-about-leading-around-blind-corners/,
- the vast cultural escapades in India https://www.breakthroughmaster.com/2019/03/leadership-from-rajasthan/
- learning to accept and manage risk in Morocco as we galloped through the desert for the first time. https://www.breakthroughmaster.com/2017/05/overcoming-the-risk-of-bold-moves/
This year, our rides were wonderful and logistically smooth, even with 4 covid tests. We had learned so much from our other trips, we are veterans who face adventure with excitement and preparation. That doesn’t mean the trip went without a hitch. In fact, there were many. Our ability to accomplish our goals is always in the details—some in our control and some are not. That means we need to be able to adapt.
None of us are strangers to adaptability. In the last two years that is all we have done—adapt to school, business, social and traveling protocols; learn new ways to communicate with our customers and provide new products to better serve them; accept supply chain disruption while companies scramble to do better; deal with increases in commercial and consumer prices; incorporate new technology; and the list goes on. Flexibility should be our middle name. But… are you adapting in a manner that still allows you to meet your goals? This trip taught me how to ensure we met our goals for the trip and didn’t get distracted by unexpected and often uncontrollable issues that popped up along the way. The key is for the team to be clear about and aligned with the goals, and invest energy accordingly.
1.) Know your goals. We had four people on the ride, and each was there for slightly different reasons although we all share a strong passion for riding. For the group to feel fulfilled as a whole, priorities were established (challenging riding on point-to-point rides with lots of cultural experiences thrown in). It is true what we do is not for the faint of heart. We go to far off lands to ride 1,000 pound animals we have never met in unfamiliar tack at all speeds while encountering the rural or primitive cultures of new places. Facing the unknown is not a curse. We never quite know what we will experience but it is always a thrill, we build confidence and knowledge, and embrace the next trip with more ability than the last!
Once we decided where to ride, the rest of the preparation time was spent researching our options for the rides. Which guides came highly recommended? How well did they care for their horses? What kind of terrain would we ride? What was the tack like? What kind of riding condition did we need to be in? Where would our route take us? What would temperatures likely be? In other words, mapping a plan for how we will achieve our goals.
As our trip approached, we realized that we didn’t even think about or look into what we would do with our two days in Lisbon before the Portugal ride, and having been to Marrakesh before we anticipated navigating that in real time. As a result, we probably left some really good tourist experiences on the table, since we didn’t have a plan for that. (And you know I always want you to have a plan). But I also believe you major in the majors. Invest resources and energy in what matters most and don’t get distracted by lesser issues. This is where experience is your guide.
Once in Lisbon, we had two days before our ride began. Since we had not prepped for the city, the group walked around the first day wandering from place to place and saw the Castel de Jorges, located on the highest summit of the city, standing guard as it has for centuries over the region. It was established in the fifth century and expanded through the Moors reign until 1185. Destroyed by an earthquake it was rebuilt in the 1920s. https://castelodesaojorge.pt/en/ On our walkabout, we also learned that the topography of Lisbon is very hilly, emphasis on very. Lisboans had a unique solution I have never encountered in all my travels, an adaptation for citizens and tourists alike. They put public elevators in buildings to take you up to a higher street which is how we accessed the Castle on top of the hill. Brilliant but not necessary in most places so context matters. It illustrates the point that an adaptation must consider the circumstances. We shouldn’t all use the same solutions as we have different environments and different priorities, yet far too often I see companies following the industry script and adopting a new service, changing prices, etc. because others do and not because it reflects their specific challenges or customers’ needs. They end up doing things that make sense for others but may not make sense for them, their customers, and their brand. Be sure adaptations are tailored to deliver against a specific and important need-align them to your goals. And for us, all in all a lovely day even though we did set off with no particular plan.
The next day we tried something quite different. For those of you who know me well, you know I am not a foodie. I like a good meal, but I am a basic eater. The rest of the group was excited to go on a culinary tour in Lisbon and experience the local food, which as it turns out is mostly goat and sheep cheese, cod cooked in a million ways and sardines. I did not “rain on the parade” and went, enjoying the experience if not the food! Adapting to a less than ideal circumstance with a positive attitude is everything in a situation like that, right? The tour had five stops and I did at least taste everything; trying is learning. What I learned is I absolutely do not like sardines although cod can be ok. In Portugal there are even retail stores that specialize in sardines!
The tour went “swimmingly” – literally. We walked Lisbon for three hours in a downpour. We wore our rain gear while some attempted finding an umbrella. One adaptation that did not work was trying to buy a cheap umbrella from a souvenir store. It did not last. Lesson learned—bring your own umbrella or wear a hat. All options are not good ones even if they appear to be on the surface! Better a hood than a broken umbrella that you are fighting the entire trip. Less can be more. Simple can be better.
2.) Adapting when there are hiccups in achieving the main goals. As you now know, our main goals were around the quality of riding in both countries while experiencing authentic culture far removed from the cities. The riding adventure was the “product” we bought, and we could ascertain the “ingredients” and read reviews to confirm the information provided ahead of time. One thing we couldn’t control, although we carefully checked it out and packed accordingly, was the weather.
One of the sayings of the equine world is, “There is no bad weather only inappropriate clothing.” That proved to be true. We packed for spring in Lisbon and the desert in Morocco. What we experienced was moderate temperatures in the 50’s in Lisbon that felt much colder due to high winds, threatening rain clouds which kept the sun at bay, and a constant haze created by Sahara sand blown across the ocean from Morocco. We pulled out all our riding clothing and just layered it–every day. Throughout the day we would take a layer off and add a layer on in response to the temperatures and wind. It meant we had to adapt by taking more clothes with us on horseback and figuring out where to put it when not in use and live in some of the same clothes for a lot longer than intended as we did not bring enough warm clothes. So, we all were a little more rank than we wished but at least we were in the same boat. It was not like only one person had onions for lunch! Fortunately, several of us had taken these trips before and knew to bring a little bit of everything so we had what we needed—just not enough of it. We had to adapt by stretching resources further than we intended and having to deal with less than ideal but relatively harmless circumstances. Accepting the problem, using current resources to adapt, and not investing for something with little return or not a factor to achieve your main goal is a form of adaptation. No change is a solution for some circumstances. Our patience was rewarded with a beautiful last day.
In Morocco, we were even closer to the high winds and while they were not as severe and most days were pretty tame, we did experience the Queen Sandstorm (smaller than the King) and rode through swirling dust (did you know a sandstorm isn’t sand but dust? Something we learned on this trip). That is always a possibility in the Sahara, so we had packed buffs, sunglasses, and long sleeve lightweight shirts along with windproof jackets. No worries there. That was a weather phenomenon we anticipated.
In spite of the weather, our goals were met because it was all about the horses and riding rather than the weather in which we rode—and we knew that going in. We wanted to ride Lusitanos in Lisbon and Berber Arabian Stallions in Morocco and we did. We rode some very fine horses in both places and spent six or more hours in the saddle daily with big smiles on our faces!
One of the biggest threats to our goals, also beyond our control, is which horse we are given. We know ahead of time that the horses are well cared for, what breed they will be, and what kind of tack we will ride in. What we do not know is the specific horse we will be assigned. The guide usually determines that ahead of time based on the rider’s reported skills, and which horses are available and which are being rested from the previous weeks’ adventures. The question is, “Do you ride the horse you are given, or do you find ways to make the horse partner with you?” The answer varies. Sometimes, if a horse has an undesirable habit, you can easily correct it as it knows better, but no one has insisted. Other times it takes a little longer depending on the issue. And sometimes if it is irritating but not dangerous, it is not an effective use of your time or energy to address it, so just smile at the silliness and enjoy the ride.
In Lisbon, our Lusitanos were dressage trained. All of them were responsive and comfortable to ride. Some were more forward than others and some more courageous in passing strange paper bags or blowing clothes on a line, but none of them were difficult. These horses may have been the best trained we have ridden anywhere. The first few days I rode a Lusitano/Arabian mix named Aga. He was a super forward walker and easy to manage. On day four, we learned he was also ridden by the owner’s four-year-old son (did I mention he was easy to manage?) who wanted his horse back for a fair the next day. I was asked to take a different horse—Marphime—or as I called him Mr. Wiggle Worm. He was beautiful and very manageable on the trail. Forward (walked out front of the group) like Aga, but a little more bothered by the flapping clothes lines and would not stand still when we were trying to take a break or a picture. To me, he presented no danger, and his constantly moving feet were amusing to me. He will be just as wiggly for the next rider. Another rider bought a crop while on our ride to change some of her horses’ habits as she found them more irritating and wanted to leave the horse better. How do you know which to do? It goes back to your goals. If you are not enjoying the thing you came to do or meeting your goals, you need to adapt—change the circumstance. Part of the skill of adaptation is deciding where you want to spend your energy.
In Morocco, I was assigned Nassim, a beautiful red roan stallion. His name means something like “wind of spring with fragrance of flower.” He was an amazing horse. Forward walker again (something I like and ask for), manageable at the gallop, no particular bad habits, not super-fast (I do enjoy speed) but fast enough for fun. As always, before the group takes off for a week of riding, the guide works to ensure that we are matched well as these horses become our ride for the entire week. Abdel, our guide, asked us to trot away from the group (something horses do not like to do so our ability to get them to do it is evaluated) and canter back to the group (horses want to rejoin the herd so keeping them at a reasonable pace is another test).
When I first mounted my horse and we were waiting in line for our turn, he reared. It did not bother me. He was a stallion showing off. What mattered was how he handled when working. Did he do as I asked? He trotted off nicely with little encouragement and had a very controlled canter coming back. I liked his spunk and knew he was the horse for me. Others were less sure about their mounts and that got worked out. Nassim was a great partner and he never again reared or acted inappropriately on trail. Sometimes we must look at all the signs (his responsiveness to my commands) and the context in which they are given (his rear was early, and we had no relationship) and not make a snap judgement on what is good and bad. In riding, as in life, you can typically do what you believe you can do. If you believe you can ride that horse (and have riding skills) you can ride that horse. He feels your confidence and responds to your cues. Our guide was awesome as he was more than willing to work with each rider to make them comfortable on their mount and by day three all were ready to gallop—one of the things I enjoy most about this trip which we were taking for the second time!
When the rides were over, I think all in all our group believed we had a trip of a lifetime and had surpassed our goals—experiencing amazing riding, touring horse farms, relaxing among the locals in the evenings as they drummed and sang their local songs, shopping in souks (which was so much more fun than online) and bonded tightly as a group over the shared adventure. There is no faster way to create a functioning team than to share a significant experience with shared goals that represent challenge, overcoming obstacles and yes, adapting to uncontrollable events to maximize the results together!
Summary: Adaptability was something we all honed on this trip. We indulged each other’s interests, we good-naturedly accepted things we could not change, we individually pursued our riding goals with our horse partners and became better riders, and learned where to invest our time to maximize the outcome. It was a great adventure, and I cannot wait for the next one! I will be even better prepared.