What Does Endurance Riding Have To Do With Corporate Leadership?

One of the first answers to this question that comes to mind is “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but I am joking—sorta. Many of you know that my hobby is distance riding on horses. For the last 6 years, every spring we have traveled to a far-off land to ride indigenous horses through the native countryside, interacting with local people and living among them. We usually spend 6+ hours in the saddle and cover about 20 miles a day. And each year I have written a blog about what I have learned from the experience. I have listed a few from past years at the bottom of this blog if you are interested. For obvious reasons we did not do one this year.

What I am doing is competing in more distance competitions this year since the Covid protocols are more defined and less restrictive. I compete at distances that vary between 25 miles and 50 miles in any given day. If I ride 25 or 30 miles, I usually do that for two days in a row. We are allowed approximately 6 hours for completion of the shorter distances and up to 12 hours for 50 miles. My goal is to eventually be able to ride two 50s back-to-back—we are not there yet!

One of the first common things between endurance riding and corporate leadership is in the definition of endurance. According to Webster, endurance is the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity. I assume most CEO’s, particularly in the last 18 months, might define their world similarly. And yet, whether it is riding endurance or wrestling with covid-induced business challenges, there is also accomplishment and a feeling of strength. Knowing you were able to “go the distance” is character building.

In endurance the motto is “to finish is to win”. The goal for every rider is not just to complete a race but to meet the criteria that their horse is judged “fit to continue”. If it is not, you are disqualified. In other words, they cannot be so burned up and burned out they could not take another step. For so many leaders, having not only “gone the distance” but having ensured that the business “is fit to continue” is harder than it looks and a testament to the entire team.

Before any race, no matter the distance, you set goals. Are you looking to win? Finish in the top 10 and stand for an award called “Best Condition”, or simply finish before time is up? Your goal will be influenced by the terrain, the weather and the horse’s condition. Setting your ride strategy based on your goals is key. My ride strategy is to start near the front of the pack and if possible, keep the leaders in site, and stay within my horse’s ability. My goal is not to finish first—ever. It is to ride the ride that ensures I have a healthy horse at the end. Given my horse’s current (good) condition, so far this year, we have done three rides of 35 miles or less and placed third once, 1st twice, and earned Best Condition once. When you follow a strategy, good things happen!

This past weekend I just finished my first 50-mile endurance ride of the year. It is only my 3rd 50-mile ride ever. The other two were flatland and this was hills and rocks in the Ozarks. A tougher challenge. Good news! We finished in the top ten. My strategy changed slightly from riding the shorter distances that we are more accustomed to. I did not leave with the front runners; their pace was too fast for us. I just wanted a completion while my horse and I build experience and stamina at this distance. Eventually, we will be at the front, but not yet. When our businesses are faced with changing parameters outside our control, we all need to be adaptable on our way to the pre-determined finish line.

Often times the race is won (or more likely lost) before you ever arrive at the starting line. Anticipating what is needed to be successful—the right tack, the right nutrition, the right care, and even the right attitude—is something that requires careful evaluation, continual learning, and adjustment on a daily basis. Every day is a commitment to getting better and stronger, growing in capabilities that lead to success. It is not sexy, but it is this heavy lifting that creates results. My horse has ridden in excess of 1500 competitive miles in the last 3 ½ years I have had him, and we have probably put in 3x that many conditioning miles. It is the little things behind the scenes that determine the outcome. Like GrowthDNA. (If you are not sure what that is read this.) It is not what you do but how you do it that matters!

Being a lifelong learner with a curious mind has helped tremendously. One of the keys to my growth in this sport has been all the great advice I have been given along the way. What to feed, when to feed, foot health, etc. In the end, the decisions are mine but having insight from people who have knowledge beyond mine is invaluable. One of the things I hear from leaders is that they can feel isolated with no one to talk to. Be sure you find a peer group, an advisory board or even some external colleagues to exchange ideas with and challenge your thinking. Your results will be better for it!

If endurance means you are undertaking stress, then you better love what you are doing! Riding is my hobby for a reason. I enjoy the challenge, but I love the partnership with my horse against unknown conditions. Spending hours on horseback is actually a stress reliever for me. I find most leaders frame leading as a privilege, feel a strong responsibility to employees and customers for their satisfaction, and enjoy the challenge of solving problems. If it is a drain and not a pleasure, don’t do it! Life is too short.


2020 Egypt experience: https://www.breakthroughmaster.com/2020/06/what-i-learned-in-one-day-in-egypt-about-leading-around-blind-corners/

2018/2019 India experience: https://www.breakthroughmaster.com/2019/03/leadership-from-rajasthan/

2017 Morocco experience: https://www.breakthroughmaster.com/2017/05/overcoming-the-risk-of-bold-moves/

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