What Do You Do When You're Not Practicing Law?: Ride Horses

What You Do When You’re Not Practicing Law-03
Finding the Right Cadence—In Law Practice and Life

By Larina Alton

I have been riding horses for almost as long as I could walk and talk. There are photos of me on a horse from about the age of two, and by the time I was eight or nine, my parents used to let me saddle up our horse, Joker, and go out by myself into the mountains near our home in Kalispell, Montana.

The problem was, we weren't a wealthy family—and everything about horses is expensive. After we moved to Minnesota, I didn't have a horse for several years. I was 12 when I finally got Sedona Daisy. By the time I was 15, I was working as a stable hand, doing chores around the barn, cleaning my trainer's tack, or gear, and even cleaning her car in exchange for lessons and to work off Sedona's boarding fees. I also arranged for other people to help pay for her upkeep in exchange for being able to ride her. One thing I was not able to afford, however, was competing in horse shows, which require considerable entrance fees and transportation costs that can add up fast.

After working for a few years to learn dressage, I finally decided to fulfill a longtime goal220531 - Alton and competed in my first show last summer. My dark bay Arabian horse Kyron and I practiced almost every day until the August 2021 event, held at the Washington County Fairgrounds. My basic goals were to get Kyron into the trailer without incident, keep him calm and attentive, and avoid my own generalized embarrassment. Beyond that, I hoped to earn the scores I would need for a bronze medal. The result far exceeded my expectations: we were named reserve champion (second place) in the adult amateur category.

Spectators at dressage competitions may not realize that success requires an extraordinarily close relationship, deep trust, and cadence between the rider and her horse. Through your own commands and body movements, you're giving highly detailed instructions to him about how to move his body—things like "take a longer step" or "step faster" or "change leads in your canter." The challenge of communicating effectively with an animal is really fun.

Horseback riding doesn't stop me from thinking about work, but it relieves some of the stress. I get my exercise in, reconnect with nature, and by the time I'm driving home, I have a new perspective.

Like many lawyers, I find my job as an IP litigation attorney to be challenging and oftentimes stressful; I'm fairly aggressive, and the work could easily take over my entire life. That kind of high-octane environment makes it vital for me to have some sort of respite. Horseback riding doesn't stop me from thinking about work, but it relieves some of the stress. I get my exercise in, reconnect with nature, and by the time I'm driving home, I have a new perspective. Ultimately, I believe it makes me more effective and creative in my work.

My husband and I now have three horses (plus three dogs and some chickens) at our 10-acre hobby farm near Stillwater. I try to ride at least three times a week. And while that helps me relax, I bring the same level of fierceness to being an advocate for my horses' needs as I do for those I represent in my legal practice. As with my clients, my horses depend on me. Ensuring that they are taken care of at every turn is both a great joy and my highest priority.

When kids come to visit our farm, I love to introduce them to the horses. We have a pony named Willow, whom I bought because she's cute—that's her only job—but she's also really good with kids. So, we let them ride her. I tell parents it's a great sport for kids to get involved with as I believe it was key to helping me develop personal responsibility, leadership skills, intuition, patience, and compassion at a young age, in addition to the physical workout horses provide.

Maybe most important for me is the bond that I've developed with these animals. Horses are very emotive. Mine are always happy to see me; Sedona used to recognize my car and run up to the gate. After a busy day in a deposition or at trial, that's a priceless gift.

Larina AltonLarina Alton
Larina Alton is a partner at Maslon LLP and a registered patent attorney with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. She leverages deep experience in patent, trademark, copyright, and trade secret laws to help her clients assert and protect their business rights.

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