The vice president of a local company hesitantly entered the round pen with a young Arabian horse. It was her first ever horse interaction. But she didn’t come to learn about horses, she came to learn about herself. Like many business leaders today, she engaged the services of an equus coach. Her goal was to gain insight into her leadership style and improve communication.
After a brief demonstration and some safety information she was asked, “What would you like to do with the horse today?”
“I’d like to make her move a bit. Perhaps run a little like she did with you,” the woman responded.
“Okay. Go ahead.”
The woman had been given only one tool, a coiled long line that was to be used as an extension of her energy, not to touch the horse. She began her ask with vim and vigor, energetically waving the coil. The young horse began to move. Soon the woman dropped her energy and the horse stopped and looked at her.
“Were you ready for her to stop?” she was asked.
“Why do you think she stopped?”
“I guess I stopped pushing her.”
“How did you feel when she was moving?”
“It was fun. But I was working hard.”
“Where else does this happen? Where are you working hard at creating movement?”
The woman pondered the question and responded “Sometimes I feel like I have to be really loud and work hard to keep projects moving. I use all my energy because I’m afraid the project will stop if I don’t.”
“Would you like to use this opportunity to play with dropping your energy to see how subtle you can be and still maintain forward movement with the horse?”
The woman nodded and then asked the horse to move. She began trotting at a nice pace. And the woman played with lowering her energy and still maintaining that pace. Soon both were calm and in a state of ease. “This feels so much better. And it’s still fun!”
Horses are emerging as valuable partners in leadership programs, teambuilding and personal growth work. The practice, frequently known as equine assisted learning, or equus coaching, involves an experienced coach who has also received training in partnering with horses as co-facilitators. Clients interact with the horses in a range of activities from round pen experiences, to herding and obstacle courses. The coach continually observes the feedback the horse provides through it’s body language. Because horses do not approach relationships with agendas, judgments or perceived ideas of how things “should be,” they provide authentic feedback in the moment.
Recently a team of employees from the California Mid State Fair participated in a team building day with horses. The staff members, who have been working with a leadership coach on enhancing their teamwork, collaboration and communication, were able to put new skills to work as they interacted with a group of three loose horses in a large arena. The goal was to connect with the horses in a way that at least two would leave their own herd and become connected to the human team. The activity had to be completed non-verbally. At first they were at a loss on how to engage the horses, but it wasn’t long before the two separate groups (human and horse) joined in an undeniable connection.
A participant summed up her experience by saying, “The team work with the three horses was HUGE for me. I felt supported by my team, and they understood this was scary for me. I learned that it is okay to show vulnerability. I don’t always have to be strong.”