I first became interested in Horseback Riding when I moved to Bay Area, California, in 2014. I was facing a challenging situation in my work life – this led to a loss of a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment which had, until then, been a major driver of my life. I stumbled into horseback riding through the suggestion of a friend. I was surprised to discover that Bay Area is quite the horse country! After my first lesson, I had fallen in love and knew I would be pursuing it with passion. I was deeply moved by the energy and presence of horses. I didn’t know why I felt this way, but I just wanted to ‘be’ with horses as much as possible.
My name is Jinny Uppal, and I am a technology strategist with a focus in the retail and consumer sector. I am also a speaker, author, and Board Member. I am based in the New York area.
I am a computer science grad and started out as an engineer. I was always fascinated by the business side and wanted to be able to ideate solutions beyond what everyone thought was possible or could see. That led me to the Product Management role. From then on, my career has been a series of progressive roles in management, strategy, and growth in large and small businesses. What still drives me is curiosity and a thirst to find the next big idea and opportunity. I am always looking for ways to solve a seemingly difficult problem or go after a nebulous growth opportunity. My ideas address business, technical, organizational, psychological, and social issues that often get in the way. I love what I do because it makes life experiences better for consumers and employees.
I grew up in Mumbai, India, and migrated to the US for grad school. I have lived or worked in the east and west coast of the US, the Midwest, south of USA, and Morocco. I live in the New York area now. I love the vibrancy and diversity of NY – I love the change of seasons and the general high-energy vibe in the region! In recent years, the start-up scene has also become more vibrant. As a start-up advisor and mentor, it’s a great way for me to stay engaged with new ideas.
Outside of my job, I love horseback riding. When I first started riding, I was lucky to find a trainer who was dedicated to her work, loved horses, and became committed to my training. I have never been an animal person, nor was I athletic. I started riding 3 times a week and it was brutal. It stretched my body and mind beyond its capabilities. Aches, pains, and soreness became part of my daily existence. But I loved it and showed up every single day. I got back on the saddle after every fall. Well, except when I had a concussion and had to go to the ER!
I got to jumping less than 6 months after my first lesson. They say it takes people a year to get to it. I thought it was ironic that in spite of the fact I was not competitive about it, I achieved great results quickly. My trainer told me that another student was mad at her for letting me jump. My trainer had to coach the other student that my commitment was of a very different kind; I was showing up and taking it very seriously. My biggest lesson was that when I did something with no objective in mind, but instead just for the love of it, I made great progress. Considering what was going on at work, it was a useful lesson and caused me to introspect on my purpose and what I really wanted to do with my life. It also gave me a great sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, which I was lacking elsewhere.
My favourite horse that I’ve ridden with was one I leased back in Bay Area called Oreo Cookie. They say horses come in your life to challenge you and help you grow, not only as a rider but as a ‘being’. Well, Cookie did just that and more! I now ride multiple horses where I live and have a few more favourites.
In the first few weeks, I felt so intensely about riding that I was worried that I had lost my mind; I wondered if this was some form of a middle-age crisis! I came across a book called Zen and the Art of Horseback Riding. I wept as I read the first few chapters. It explained in great detail about what was happening in my mind. I was, until then, very left-brained. Horses blew open my right brain, opening me up to love, vulnerability, deep beauty, and humility. The fact that I felt strongly about this but could not express it in words was a feature of the right brain. And my left-brained self was deeply uncomfortable with this behaviour!
Horses are a mirror image of our state of mind. The way we show up with the horse is reflected in his behaviour. Horses are deeply and energetically connected to the world around them. They respond to our non-verbal cues and state of mind more than any verbal cues we give. It is necessary to be very present with horses; they pick up on any disturbed or conflicted thoughts. In a way, it’s great meditation training. Other than my sitting meditation, I can’t think of another activity that helps me be so deeply present.
One of my most memorable experiences with horseback riding was the first time I fell. It came so suddenly and unexpectedly that I didn’t fully register the fall until I was on the ground. I was so surprised; my brain could not take in how fast that happened. Over time, I learned to be more present and could see a fall coming or at least be aware that I was falling even if I couldn’t prevent it. That was a great experience of how our sense of ‘time’ stretches or contracts depending on how present we are.
My first jump, on 10 January 2015, is also ingrained in my memory. I was not expecting to jump at all for months. My trainer asked me to ride over a jump. At first, I thought she had laid out a jump instead of the usual flat poles by mistake. She asked me to go for it and that she would tell me what to do as I neared the jump. It was magical! It’s the closest I have ever felt to what flying might feel like. Taking a jump is such a freeing, liberating experience. I wish I was a poet so I could do it justice!
I have no future goals with my riding, except to keep up with my training. I do have a vision that I will have a second country home in Westchester County, NY, where I can see horses in a pasture outside my window. Where I can be friends with the owners and ride every now and then – I hope your readers will wish me luck in finding my dream country home! I am also getting a photograph of The Wild Horses of Sable Island in Canada for my living room so that I can always have their energy in my life!
I do see similarities between my time with Horseback Riding and my current job. Horseback riding is a great leadership development experience. The way to successfully lead teams and ride is not to be the boss. That sort of attitude may work for a while, but doesn’t get far. Horses are a herd animal and acknowledge the role of a leader; every herd has a leader. However, you need to earn and maintain their respect as their leader. Once you get to that point, riding is magical. Same with teams – once you have earned respect as a leader, teamwork becomes magical.
Horse riding has been a benefit to my technological career. As I develop in my career, qualities such as empathy, demonstrating vulnerability, collaboration, and inspiration are required more than authority or willpower. Horses have helped me develop a whole new muscle which is a non-negotiable for me in my work now.
My advice to anyone interested in Horse Riding is to just start. A good trainer can make it a joy or a painful experience, so don’t settle until you find one you are comfortable with and who pushes you. Other than that, there’s nothing to it. If I could do it this late in life, with no background in sports or athletics, anyone can! I leave you with this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed”.
There is always more than tech. As humans, we are not as compartmentalized as we like to think. All our passions and life interests collectively make us who we are and how we show up in all areas of life.