Horsing with Shanna Leeland
by Laura Schonberg
As an engineering project manager for a technology company, Shanna Leeland has become more creative than logical. Solving problems requires her to use the most creative parts of her brain in order to sustain a motivated team. Using the same strategies while horsing, she’s learning to identify what changes need to happen in order to create a positive end result.
Why I horse: I first started riding because I had a very intense and demanding position at an engineering company while working towards my graduate degree. I was so stressed out that I blacked out one night on my motorcycle driving home and I wrecked a half mile from my house.
Soon after, I randomly emailed an acquaintance that had invited me to go horseback riding. We went out to the barn, and it became immediately clear that horsing was something I could do. It forced me to be more present and centered.
For ten years prior, since I was 26, I hadn’t been doing any form of exercise because of fibromyalgia. I couldn’t even walk normally to the bathroom much less walk down a city block. The kind woman at the barn put me on a very safe school horse that would just walk around the arena. Everything else left my mind as I focused on just sitting astride the horse. This started a journey for me as I realized that I was able to tolerate this form of exercise. Over time, I built up balance, muscle, and could ride without difficulty.
Through the years, I have stopped taking a medication that I had been on for a decade. Things got even better when I got Jessie. I had a profound revelation that she takes care of me. I think of Jessie like the feet I can use, the legs I can run on, the muscles that won’t fail me. She enables me to do the things that go way beyond doing a sport. We have a connection I can only explain to other horse people. I am often off balance, and if it wasn’t for Jessie adjusting to stay under me, I would be on the ground more than I’m in the saddle.
Balancing life: After sustaining a closed-head injury from the motorcycle wreck, I struggled with balancing work with all the other parts of my life. There is no way I’d get through the work week if I didn’t have my horse. My professional life is a means to support my horse habit.
I approach people and animals similarly: I obtain as much information as I can, then when I need somebody to do something, I try and create the environment they want to work in so we get to the same end. I want to set up everyone that I work with (including my horse) for success. That means removing barriers, and connecting the dots as to how far I can take something.
Goal setting: I wish I could go out and say I’m going to learn to jump — just grab a saddle and focus on it for three months. But there is no way my body can keep up with my mind. I’ve had to learn to consciously scale back physically to allow my body to stay healthy. I would love to do a three–day event, but I don’t tell anybody that because I have to go incrementally slow in my exercising.
I might seem selfish when I’m not as social as I’d like to be, or fearful when I hesitate to do something my trainer suggests. Protecting myself is a day to day necessity so I’m the best I can be day in and day out — not just for me but also for my horse.
Advice to myself: Have more fun and worry less about the details. I take everything too seriously. It takes the fun out of things. I need to find a way to turn that off.
When I get on a horse, I say to myself, “Ignore the risks. Don’t think about the bad things that can happen.” It’s more important to focus on how much I get out of riding and what I would miss if I didn’t take the risks. I get so much out of riding—if I didn’t have it, I’d be a miserably, lonely person.
Advice to others: Look for something new to learn. The more I learn, the more I realize there is to horsing. We’re never too old to try new things. If I had let my age or physical limitations get in the way, I would not be able to do all the things I do. Focus on what you can do. Then think about doing it in small increments, setting yourself and your horse up for success.