[Warning: This blog is full of smarm and stereotypes. I won’t apologize for that because, as those who know me in real life would likely confess, I am a wee bit cheeky that way.]

A week or so ago I found myself with a day with no client meetings and a forecast that screamed for an autumn ride.

So off we went to Allegany State Park with Iggy and Sarge, with Richard hoping to get in his last hilly, fast conditioning ride before Fort Valley, and me, it was less about seeking a conditioning goal with Iggy than attempting to find a common ground.

We climbed up Trail 1 together and I sent Richard off to do his own loop, planning to meet up again in an hour or so after a workout that was more in tune with the fitness level and psyche of our mounts.

I’ve only had Iggy about six months. In July, he turtled the Moonlight in Vermont 50. And since then, we’ve hit a stalemate in our relationship, some push/pull which I’m trying to figure out, inclined as I am to believe that horses are in many ways like jigsaw puzzles, some complex and with a million pieces, others designed for toddlers, with primary colors and only a dozen or so pieces.

Yesterday, as we walked along, just the two of us, I decided that our misunderstandings were much like a ‘generation gap.’

You see, I’m a Gen Xer through and through, and as someone who teaches and consults, I’ve spent a good deal of time reading and learning about Millennials (or Generation Y), some of it in a fascinated anthropological way, some of it in an Archie Bunker this-next-generation-is-going-to-ruin-us way. I remember well being that generation that was going to ruin everything; I suspect it is a rite of passage for each generation to prove to the previous that, no, in fact, they are not going to implode society.

Each of these generations has its symbol, and for Gen Xers, it is a Latch Key. We are independent because, from an early age, we were expected to be. If you wanted a snack after school, you’d best figure out how to make it; you were on your own.

Conversely, the symbol for Millennials is the Participation Award Trophy, no winning or losing, you were a winner just for showing up. You may also have heard about “Helicopter Parents” — my own GenX compadres who hovered over their growing children (probably a backlash to their own somewhat neglected childhoods).

While humans are all individuals, of course, and the differences between us cannot be summed up by way of a silly chart, or a bunch of stereotypes, I think there are some characteristics that ring true.

Here’s a chart on the topic, with statistics about millennials in the workforce:

There are also a million videos (many scorchingly funny) about the Millennial generation, and I’ve read books and blogs and with great fascination, watched a symposium speaker — himself a Millennial safety professional — discuss the challenges associated with keeping Millennials safe in the workplace. Millennials are statistically dying at work at rates unprecedented even by previous young workers of generations past, despite significant advances in regulatory requirements.

So millennials present to me not only a generational curiosity, but a professional challenge.

One of my favorite funny videos on Millennials in the Workplace:


And one far more serious–



So here’s why I think Iggy is a Millennial:

  1. He is fearless; it appears his parents told him he could do anything. He adapts to just about every situation with a swagger and a confidence that screams that he’s not only cool with others, but he’s cool with himself. He doesn’t want to be micromanaged every step down the trail; in fact, as one of my nieces told me once about herself, he seems to want to make his own mistakes. Okay, I won’t steer him every step on to better footing. I let him trip or slide from time to time … He does better the next time.
  2. Somewhere, someone along the way told him that if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to do it. If he’s intrigued by a challenge, his enthusiasm and joy are evident. Eyes bright, ears up, even those last tough miles of the Vermont ride, he was in “game on” mode. He was not fast, he wasn’t conditioned to be fast on that landscape, but he was engaged and Feeling It. If he’s not Feeling It, he can be forced to do it, but the joy is lost. His ears are pinned, his stride is lackluster, his focus and drive are nowhere to be found. He is the fast-food worker who quits the job because it lacks meaning for him. And let’s face it, training for endurance is not all great views and good footing; we have to get out there and trudge through some workouts to stay strong and get stronger.
  3. He loves praise; he hates to be told he’s wrong. Iggy loves nothing more than to be told he’s a “good boy.” My whole riding strategy has been in trying to motivate his efforts. I’ve used a lot of tools in my tool box in the past six months, but almost all of them involve coercing action and then loading on heaps of praise and removal of all aids urging him to move forward — legs off, sit up and stay out of his way, send him forward again with robust motivation and immediately celebrating his response. I’m praising him for the tiniest of efforts so I can exploit his joy at being praised.
  4. The need for instant gratification appears to be in his DNA. He is getting fit, but not as fit or fast as his more senior barnmates. Unlike my previous horses, if he can’t quite keep up, he doesn’t slow down and pace himself, or alternatively, dig deep to stay with his herd mate. He either quits (i.e. stops) or his new trick — a temper tantrum, some of which have been theatrical in nature recently. It involves a head/neck/body shake, a sort of leap, landing spread- and stiff-legged. [And yes, because this would be the first question I’d ask someone else whose horse was having a behavioral issue — we’ve tried a different rider, bit, saddle, pad, girth, and he’s had a full body check. He’s not sore or in pain, at least not physically, based on all the data. He appears to be FRUSTRATED. He wants to be the front man in the rock band; not in the back playing the cow bell.]

A friend asked recently — “What do you think? Is he not a fit?”

Oh no, I’m in.

Like a millennial who may not have been given all the tools to succeed in today’s workplace (beside Gen Xers and Baby Boomers), Iggy needs a mentor who will guide him along, and consistently show him that a good chunk of his new life involves not just showing up for work, but the joys of digging deep so that he can keep up with his barnmates. I bought him for his brain, and I still contend it’s a good one. Well worth investing more time and peeling the layers like an onion to figure out how best to motivate him.

An old horseman once told me that a horse has no clock. They do not operate on our schedules, so we must meet them where they are, and it takes as long as it takes.

Am I trying to jam a square peg into a round hole? I don’t think so. Iggy has come a long way in a short time. The corners and the edges of the jigsaw puzzle are assembled, and now we’re working on the hard stuff, the interior pieces, where there’s a more subtle fit and better skills required.

He can do this; I know he can. And when we get those last pieces in place, he’s going to be a hell of a horse. I suspect these little frustrations will be well worth the final product.

I’ve asked Richard to ride Iggy a few times for me, the first time so I could observe the can’t-keep-up hijinks from Sarge, twisted around to watch the show as we traveled at a canter up a hilly trail. Iggy keeps up for a bit, then falls behind, and then looks like a horse trying to throw himself down like a two year old child so he can scream and pound his fists on the floor. My husband, who unlike his wife has no fear, has also offered to ride him while I’m out of town a few times. He will send him forward and likely ride through some of the ‘stickiness’ for me; sort of having the HR Director chat with our millennial employee for a pep talk when their supervisor is at their wit’s end. It takes a village and I’m old enough to know when I need a little help.

Will report back, and yes, I’m investing in a few trophies for our boy.

And you can be damned sure I won’t be buying him an iPhone!

Happy trails.