Working with horses makes me a better leader.  Actually, it just makes me a better person.  But I specifically wanted to talk about how horses improve my ability to understand myself and how this is essential to leadership.

The horse’s heart is 5 times the size of the human heart.  That means it’s energetic field is 5 times greater than ours.  (If you are still unconvinced about the role energy plays in our daily existence I simply ask you to consider what one of the first things a paramedic will do if your heart stops beating?  That is right, they will try to jump start your heart with electricity via the paddles! And what is electricity?  Energy!).

Whenever I come into the presence of a horse my emotional state of being is accurately assessed by the horse.  Why?  Because emotions are a form of energy and horses, with their large energetic field (approx. 25 meters around their physical bodies) can read that energy as well as you can read these words.

Humans have developed the ability to block our intuitive reading of energy and emotions and rely solely on cognitive brain functioning and language.  We think our cognitive, intellectual brain is the sole source of information and problem solving and that verbal communication is the only form of communication.  That is why the world is in such a sorry state of affairs.  We have lost our ability to read each other, to really understand each other and to trust our intuition, read between the lines, and a get a real sense of where things are at in our dealings with each other.  To put it simply we live in our heads – in the past or in the future – rather than in the moment.

Spending time with horses automatically deactivates my autonomic nervous system so that it is in a parasympathetic (relaxed, peaceful) state.  This fosters my ability to connect and to learn.  I am not in my head when I am with horses.  If I am, they quickly show me (usually by things not going well in my interactions with them which brings me back to consider what I am doing, in this moment, in this communication, with them). This does not happen with people because we usually say what we think the other person wants to hear (especially if it is our boss!).

Time with horses has improved my ability to read the emotional states of my team so that if I ask them how a project (or how they themselves) are going – and receive an affirmative verbal response but their body language and energetic presence do not match that verbal response (lack of congruence) my antenna goes up.  I am then able to consciously choose how to respond.  I can observe the person and assess how a scenario is likely to unfold.  I can then determine how and when to intervene. I can allow things to go pear shaped so that the person learns it is okay to both mistakes and seek help in times of challenge, or I can immediately step in and alleviate the situation (depending on the associated risks). Earlier on in my management career I tended to always immediately intervene.  However, working with horses has taught me that this is not always in the other person’s best interest to do so.

When I step in immediately, I deny the other person the right to learn from their mistakes.  I also deny them the experience of what it is to be supported during the resolution of those mistakes.  Subsequently, I deny them the opportunity to grow and to develop resilience.  Initiative and resilience are 2 characteristics I value greatly in a staff member. If I want those characteristics in my staff, I need to allow them the opportunity to develop. This means allowing things to ‘go wrong’.  That is another lesson learned from time with horses.  It takes time to learn and develop skills and experience (for the horse, and for myself) and just as importantly, things very rarely go ‘perfectly’ and that is not just OK, it is life!  A lot of wasted energy is expended in endeavouring to live up to a false perception of perfection.

I have five horses, they all learn differently, interact, communicate and challenge me in different ways.  Working with, training and playing with them provides me a ‘mirror to my authentic self’.  That is, how they respond to me directly relates to how I have ‘shown up’ in my dealings with them on any specific day. And that is how horses make me a better leader – by revealing who and what I am in my relationship with them (not who I think I am and what I think I am doing/being in my relationship with them).

You might wonder how horses have taught me these skills and abilities.  It comes back to communication and awareness every time.  If I am living fully in the moment (which is the only state of being a horse knows) I will be deeply aware of everything that is going on around me.  This enables me to better ‘read’ the other being (whether human or equine) and the environment we are in … at any given moment.  It is not easy, it is an ongoing journey, but horses continue to inform and inspire my everyday life.  There is simply nothing as joyous as achieving a moment of pure partnership and collaboration with another being – experiencing that with my horses inspires me to seek to do so with those who work with and for me.   That, to me, is great leadership.