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  • Writer's picturePeter

The Story of Four Horses: Excellent Ones. Good Ones. Poor Ones and Bad Ones

Updated: Jun 4

horse riding
Giddy up!

Growing up I was an average student at best. I was more interested in the outdoors, building cubby houses, dams, digging holes and trenches rather than being indoors studying.

I even clearly remember a time being asked multiplication and mathematical questions involving pieces of fruit and thinking “Wow, I don’t know. It’s all fruit salad to me!”

Regardless of what others may say was a limitation, this hasn’t stopped me from achieving many of my important goals in life. In fact it has often become the fuel of my motivation and a measure of how important the goal is to me.

This brings me to a story about horses.

It is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones and bad ones.

The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver's will, before it sees the shadow of the whip.

The second will run as well as the first one, just before the whip reaches its skin.

The third one will run when it feels pain on its body.

The fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. It’s easy to imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn to run.

When I first heard this story I wanted to be the best horse. If it was impossible to be the best one, then I wanted to be the second best.

If it was impossible to be the second one, I wanted to be the third best, never last or bad horse.

However what I have discovered about myself over the years is when I learn too easily, I’m tempted not to work hard and when I don’t work hard, results take longer or are not achieved at all. Success avails me and I also miss out on the enjoyment that comes from the journey of practice.

I’m not alone as I recently discovered. Of those who study calligraphy, those who are not so clever usually become the best calligraphers and those who are very clever with their hands often encounter great difficulty after they have reached a certain stage.

So this is also true in art, and in life.

In fact very often the best horse often is the worst horse and the worst horse can be the best, for if it perseveres, it will have learned whatever it is practicing all the way to the marrow of its bones.

This story of the four horses has haunted me ever since I first read it. For one thing, it poses a clear challenge for those with exceptional talent: to achieve his or her full potential, this person will have to work just as diligently as those with less innate ability.

So I take the encouragement that if I persevere and dedicate my efforts (at skills I'm not naturally good at), I'll someday know this (skill) all the way to the marrow of my bones.

Here are some tips I apply to my own life:

  • Achieving goals is like learning to walk. You try. You fall. You get back up and try again until you can walk unassisted.

  • Life is a fruit salad!

  • Consistency beats perfection.

  • It’s not what you have. It’s what you do with it that matters most.

  • Investing in yourself is the best investment you will ever make.

  • Compound interest.

  • Surround yourself with good people and add value to their lives.

  • Simplicity is under rated. Complexity is over rated. KISS.

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