Why a balance of intelligence and wisdom is critical for business success. 


Creative Commons image: tomato explosion by http://www.torange.us

Creative Commons image: tomato explosion by http://www.torange.us

Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to use one in a fruit salad.


Anyone who’s been around horses for any length of time know where the expression ‘horse sense’ originated. Most horses have a pretty good sense of how to be a great horse. Move around. Eat small amounts constantly. Drink when you’re thirsty. Sleep when you’re tired. Run away from the scary thing first – ask questions later.

This native wisdom of horses doesn’t always help them fit our idea of a great horse, so we teach them a thing or two. Stand quietly when tied. No grazing while being ridden. Take a breath and think before you high tail it on out of Dodge.

The best education works in harmony with the horse’s natural wisdom and the owner ends up with a horse that has both “horse sense” (which I equate to wisdom) and a thinking, processing, trained mind (which, for the sake of this post,  I’m equating with intelligence).

To run your horse business (not to mention the rest of your life) successfully – you need to emulate that well trained horse and work in a balance of wisdom and intelligence.

Here’s the deal. A lot of horse business owners are amazing at the horse end of things — the business end? Maybe not so much. I attended a business seminar for horse people several years ago run by Elizabeth Clarke – an attorney who owns The Equine Business Institute. One of the best, and scariest, exercises Beth had the participants do was to figure out how much we made per hour. Most of us a) really didn’t want to know, and b) sure as heck didn’t want to share our answer with others.

Here we were, a bright and talented bunch of entrepreneurs, many of whom were holding paper on farms worth a half million dollars or more – and we were so far below making minimum wage that we should have all chucked it right then and there and gone and gotten a good job waiting tables.

But we didn’t. We learned. Maybe our board rates went up a bit to cover some of the losses many of us were incurring in that sector. Maybe we started figuring out how much per stall our barn needed to bring in in order for us to show a profit. Perhaps our marketing changed a bit, or we kept better records. Whatever our changes, we made one important decision by showing up to that seminar in the first place. We were ready to add some book learning to our horse sense and improve our businesses.

Contrast that with some newer people in the horse industry. Maybe a college degree with a major in Equine Business and a minor in Marketing. No doubt people coming from a background like that are going to have a lot of the answers to the questions Beth Clarke asked us that day many years ago. But an MBA doesn’t guarantee success in a horse business any more than a marriage license guarantees you happily ever after with your spouse. You’re going to need more.

Specifically, you’re going to need time. And experience. You’re going to need to learn which local farmer has the best hay, or a who to call (or email) when you need a new lesson horse. You’ll need to know when one of the horses in your care “just isn’t right”, and know when to call the vet – and know enough to be working with a vet who trusts you when you say something with the horse “just isn’t right”. In short – horse sense.

So, you can see how both the book learning and the horse sense are critical components to your business, and your life. If you ever doubt the importance of both – just think about the best fruit salad you’ve ever had. I’ll bet it didn’t contain any tomatoes.