Derivco's Tracey Rowe shares her life-long passion for equestrian sport

Tracey says that in riding, as well as with HR, relationships are golden.

Derivco’s HR director Tracey Rowe’s first brush with horses was as a baby when her parents put her in a saddle as soon as she could sit. This encounter would lead to a life-long passion for equestrian sport, stir up her competitive juices and be a source of exhilaration and joy for decades. 

Growing up in Johannesburg, Tracey’s Mum was passionate about animals and volunteered with the SPCA. So, when an injured, neglected pony was found in a gutter, they were keen to nurse it back to health, and they eventually adopted it. The once-mangled pony turned out to be Tracey’s first pony and a great riding buddy. She learned to ride properly on him, despite him not having prior experience of being ridden. She reckons that being cared for loved and recognised brought out his best side and built up the trust between them.

It was a life lesson that applies to horses, but also in HR. She says that “Based on someone’s CV or how they perform in an interview, we sometimes misunderstand people. We judge their abilities, previous experience, or passion, without knowing more and miss out on big opportunities. It is valuable to dig a little deeper so you can grasp someone’s potential beyond first glance.”

Throughout her youth, Tracey stayed on the saddle and eventually became a member of South Africa’s Pony Club Junior Equestrian team and competitive rider, mainly in three-day eventing. Also, described as an “equestrian triathlon” the competitions test the overall abilities of horse and rider at dressage, cross-country and show jumping. 

However, as school and later, work demands took over, she sold her horses and left competitive riding. After she completed a BA in Law and History at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, with her mother’s encouragement she enrolled in secretarial college to learn to touch type. Meanwhile, her dad wanted her to broaden her horizons so, after a year of secretarial college, she went to the United Kingdom.

While temping as a secretary at SG Warburg & Co (now known as the Union Bank of Switzerland, UBS), she found herself in HR when someone vacated a role, and she acted in a support role while the company looked for someone new in the interim.

She admits to knowing absolutely nothing about HR, had never heard of it, but discovered her passion for people and found she had a knack for it.

After three years in the UK, she returned to South Africa where she completed her postgraduate studies in HR and a master’s degree in Leadership, Performance and Change Management

Circling back to riding

“Through the years, riding remained a passion and I would ride whenever I got the opportunity, whether it was in the Berg, in a game reserve or on a beach,” says Tracey.

“I always knew I wasn’t completely done with riding and it niggled at the back of my mind all these years. There is such a special connection and bond that you develop with your horse over time. It was something I missed a lot, and always knew I would start again, but didn’t know when.”

Last year she started to give it proper consideration and after some reflection decided it was time.

So, it is no wonder that a year ago she bought a horse called Night Fury and started riding again. Amazingly, two months ago she entered her show after a 30-year absence.  

Tracey found that riding, just like HR has evolved over time. “You would think HR is HR, but it has changed a lot over time.  The way HR is run now is so different to how it was in the past and has grown from being often occupied by people who were not sure what they wanted to do, and used HR as a parking lot. Now HR attracts people who appreciate that it is a science, requires studying and understanding people’s behaviours, what drives them and having insight into what makes them tick,” she says 

Horse-riding has also shifted, “when I was younger we were taught to kick like crazy to get your horse to go and pull on the reins to gain control, but this has evolved into controlling your horse by applying the right pressure through your legs and with a very soft hand. The way that you position yourself in the saddle has changed and the judging criteria of the shows have also adapted and is a lot more technical. The terminology has changed a lot too.”  

The power of relationship

For Tracey, it was challenging to start riding seriously again because she needed to build a relationship with her horse, “I also needed to build up my own confidence. You do not just get on a horse, you need to understand it, build a relationship, develop trust and build confidence to have a successful partnership.”

Tracey says that in riding as well as with HR, relationships are golden. “Whether it is with your horse or people in your team or people in another division, it takes time to get to know them. People are complicated and complex, and so are horses which are also incredibly intelligent, and they can read and pick up on the energy and people's vibes.”

Tracey points out that horses feed on the rider’s energy and showing up in a bad mood can result in a bad riding day. “Similarly, how you show up in the workplace affects your team. If you're impatient, anxious or upset, people can read that, and they will respond accordingly. From an equestrian perspective, the same principle applies, if you show up frustrated or irritated, the horse will act out.”

Getting Back into the Game

Even though she is naturally competitive, when it was time to compete, she was nervous. The competition was in Shongweni, the same place she had had her last show 30 years ago. “Despite the tension, I was incredibly determined to go for it. My attitude was that even if we came last it didn’t matter. Just being there and taking part in the event and feeling the buzz of competing again was amazing”. 

Even with the nerves, it turned out that Tracey’s flair on her horse was still there, and she triumphantly scooped 2nd place. “The result was affirming. It was great to know that I could conquer something that meant so much to me after such a long absence.”

Returning to riding has been a very humbling experience, “When I finished riding as a teen, I was at the top of my game, and here I was starting again in my late forties right at the bottom” Tracey says that is a life lesson, “Sometimes you have to start over after you have accomplished success. Life may take you down a new road and you have to be willing to take some risks and learn again.” 

The gift of space in a narrower world

Now revelling in her reclaimed passion, Tracey advises everyone to find something that they are passionate about outside of work 

“It’s become so difficult with Covid-19 for people to be out and about. Before the pandemic people had various outlets to find space, whether it was to work, social activities such as places of worship or sport, which stimulated different facets of our lives. The pandemic has narrowed that down considerably, giving us very little time to spread our wings and do something joyful. 

“For me, riding has given me an outlet, a release, and the ability to go out and just get perspective. And with the stressful year we have had, we really need to find pockets of time to reflect and think.”  

Firmly back in the saddle, Tracey is geared up for 2021 and it will be great to see how the next chapter of her journey goes.