What a Gray Colt Knows About Curiosity and Success

by Feb 6, 2021Lessons from the Ranch

Where can you find a ton of try?


A friend of mine and I are watching a cowboy start a young mare under saddle. It’s a quiet setting — a roundpen made out in an open pasture surrounded by the Flint Hills. I am here to photograph. The friend is here to observe. The sun is shining, and it is a good day to be outdoors breathing fresh air.

The mare is a simple gray, and she is in the phase of her training where she is ready to learn how to carry a rider. The cowboy has introduced the saddle and has gotten on and off of her back several times. Now it is time for her to take her first step forward. Her body is a bit tense — not with fear, but concentration. She is unsure of this new weight and balance above her. Her ears, which show where her focus is at every moment, are shifted back on the cowboy as he asks her to move her head to the left and take a step forward. She doesn’t move. She is stuck. Something that happens frequently to colts on their first ride.

She has never done this before. She has only limited experience on which to draw to find the right answer from someone who doesn’t speak her language. There is a decided communication barrier. Being the smarter of the two species (hopefully), the cowboy has to be the one who overcomes this roadblock. It is his job to be consistent, patient, and persistent with her in taking that first step. But the mare has a responsibility here as well. She has to respond or that step will never happen — or worse, turn into a wreck. It is a dance that goes nowhere for several moments.

Finally, the gray mare tips her nose ever so slightly to the cowboy’s request.  He has made it clear he wants something, but she’s not sure exactly what, so she tries opening up a possible answer. Her weight shifts on her feet in the process. The cowboy releases the pressure on the reins in the moment she tips her nose in the correct direction and that shift takes place. His action answers her question with a, “yes.” Then he asks again. He knows that the shift of weight means the next thing is a step. She moves her head the other way, against the pressure. He doesn’t release. She thinks a moment and moves back into the direction of the rein shifting her weight again. He releases. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place.

It is his job to be consistent, patient, and persistent with her in taking that first step. But the mare has a responsibility here as well. She has to respond or that step will never happen — or worse, turn into a wreck.

As the lesson continues, we see this process happen over and over again, through her first steps, into her first turns, as she gains the confidence to trot and then lope with this new way of being. At every new experience, the cowboy asks, she searches for the answer. They dance until he explains it in a way her curiosity can sort out and answer the question correctly.

“She has a ton of try,” my friend says.

“Yes,” I say and add, “So does he,” as I nod to the cowboy doing the training.

For the rest of the day, I am thinking about that “ton of try” and how it applies to my life and my business. Sometimes, I am the gray mare and my mentors and coaches are like the cowboy. They want to show me the way, but it’s all new and weird and perhaps I don’t have the vocabulary yet to speak their same language. What they’re saying doesn’t make sense to me. In those moments, I need to get quiet and connect to my try. I need to thoughtfully search for my answer to their request. I need to be aware when I am resisting against an ungiving force and when I feel the release of a correct response that makes life easy.

For me, finding this kind of try is rooted in responding not reacting. So many times, as humans, we have been conditioned to react instead of respond. Criticism — even positive criticism —  when learning something new and different, can cause us to experience a guttural reaction that sets us off balance with fear and uncertainty. Back in the roundpen, the gray mare responded to the cowboy because he had “built” trust around her natural “try.” He did this by laying a foundation in her earlier training of encouraging her “almost correct” responses and not punishing her incorrect responses. He built in the resilience she needed to succeed. What if we did that for ourselves?

When we train horses, if we react to their mistakes with drama, we will create anxiety whenever that horse has to learn a new skill. The outcome of that anxiety is usually painful for both the horse and the human. If, on the other hand, we build in a “no big deal, let’s try that a different way” attitude, we will build in that “ton of try.”

The same principle works in our lives — both in leading ourselves and others. We can build in fear and resistance, or we can build in try. One leads to unhappiness, fear and resentment. The other leads to joy and ease.

In animal training, this concept of behavioral conditioning is incredibly key in the difference between a confident, willing partnership between animal and human versus a relationship built on the loose rocks of force and intimidation. As humans, we can become easily conditioned to the latter if we’ve had people in our lives who dramatized our mistakes or failed to reward our small tries so they could grow into big tries later in our lives. Luckily, we can become mindful enough of our own selves to consciously choose shifting reactions into responses — with some practice that is.

In my own life, I grew up with parents who had high expectations of success and were very vocal about calling out mistakes. It was a habit passed down from generation to generation and it’s anyone’s guess as to where it began. One of the true gifts of age is the wisdom to see how the pieces of your world came to be shaped the way they did. Regardless of where it came from, the result landed on me as a young person and affected the way I approached course corrections from not only my parents, but my mentors and coaches even into adulthood. I sometimes tend to be resistant to even positive change. I often rebel against not only authority, but suggestion. My mother called it being “bullheaded.” It took me years to see that the bullheadedness was often my reaction rearing up, versus a levelheaded response emerging from mindful consideration. I realize now that, if I stop and take some time to be thoughtful about the situation, I can find the space to search for my own answer and choose my response. That choice is the key.

When I flip this relationship around and put myself in the cowboy’s boots, the view is now different, but equally as important. As an entrepreneur, leader, coach, and mentor, I have to be mindful in building on the try in my approach to my business itself as well as my associates and clients. When I dramatize or react instead of responding, I know I will build resistance — which does not a single bit of good. When I stop and look for the “close” or “almost correct,” response, I am able to build in not only the steps I need to take to reach a goal, but the flexibility to be open to answers I haven’t even considered. This is practice I have to work at each and every day. It does not always come easy.

This “try” skill is rooted in curiosity and creativity. Back in the roundpen, that first step for the gray mare was hella hard. Even though horses are primarily flight animals, there are times when their feet get stuck with uncertainty. This serves them well in many situations, but not when it comes to training. In order for her to learn her riding lesson, the gray mare had to move at all her speeds and discover for herself what she needed to create balance no matter what gait she needed to use. The cowboy needed to pose the question, “will this get you to move your feet?” over and over again until the gray mare took a step forward. To do this well, he had break that question down into tiny steps and then build it back up again to become a fully formed cue. The end result will become the ability for the cowboy to shift his weight in the saddle and they gray mare to move forward.

The start of this process always requires curiosity — if I do this, will this happen? Okay, that didn’t work, how about this? Or this? Close, let’s try that again. Sometimes it also requires creativity, because, let’s face it, when you don’t speak the same language as the being you’re trying to communicate with, you have to look around for anything and everything that might help!

When we “cowboy” this way in our businesses, we want to get curious about how we can make the change we want to see. Whether it’s a goal we want to reach in sales, the outcome for a specific project, or to help an associate or client learn a skill, if we start with curiosity, we open the door for the most possibility.

We also shift the outcome of “succeed or fail” into finding a solution. I can tell you unequivocally, this shift is a huge one for entrepreneurial mental health.

If we start with curiosity, we open the door for the most possibility.

Curiosity’s kissing cousin is creativity. We don’t always think of business — or frankly horse training either — as inherently creative tasks, but I assure you that both of them are just that. Creativity is one of those amazing principles that, like curiosity, automatically shifts your mindset from resistant to open. Many times, when I apply a creative approach to a business problem, I am rewarded with an awesome solution that I wasn’t even aware was a possibility when the problem presented itself to me. The creative process itself unlocks opportunities you would not have found any other way.

As you move through your business in the next few days, I’d like for you to take some time and think about how you can apply “a ton of try” into your day-to-day. Is there a place in your business that you find resistance — either in your own being, another person, or even in the doing of a task? When you find it: stop — Become the gray mare for a moment and thoughtfully seek for the right response — the one that loosens things up a bit. Build step-by-step on the responses that work and don’t overdramatize the ones that don’t. Become the cowboy by getting curious and creative, “if I try this, will I get what I’m looking for?” Keep asking until you find the answer with that “ton of try.”

You are invited to get outside ...

The lessons from the ranch don't end at this blog post. There is an opportunity, if you want to explore it, to come to The Beer Ranch to work on your business. We offer single and multiple day deep-dive, mindfully driven, creative business building experiences. 750 acres, 13 miles of trails, onsite lodging, and a world outside the box of traditional business await. If this sounds intresting, let's talk. Grab an exploratory call with me now.

~ Kim