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  • Writer's pictureLinac Learning

Horses, a powerful metaphor for leaders and teams.

Horses have no preconceived ideas; they are not influenced by who you are, your job title, the house you live in, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the holiday you went on, or the size of your bank account. You are a human to them, just like the next human in the line and the one after that.

Horses live in the present and humans do not. As human beings we must work hard to live in the present moment. Advances in modern technology mean that people have access to us at the touch of a button and without the discipline to have single pointed focus, we can become easily distracted as we are notified of changes going on in the world 24/7.

Being in the moment with people and actively listening is a key leadership skill.

People often spend their time worrying about what happened in the past and planning what will happen in the future and not really being present in the here and now. People who are present have presence.

Horses operate differently. Horses give you immediate and honest feedback about how you are relating to them in that moment. Their brains are configured in such a way that they don’t post rationalise situations, and as they don’t distinguish their emotions from their behaviour it is possible to know exactly how they are feeling at any given moment. They do not allow their opinions to build over time or even give you the benefit of the doubt, because you have had a tough morning, they feedback to you the unedited version of how you are making them feel.

Horses can give us an experience of what it is like to really connect with another being in real time. Our ability to listen to what is being said and what is not being said is an important skill that can be developed. It involves heightening our awareness and focusing 100% of attention on the other person or horse even. It is about being totally present with the other person and using all of ourselves not just our ears to listen; we call it full body listening.

The way we approach horses is often how we approach other relationships and interactions. You cannot lead a horse from a position of hierarchy, aggression, anger or fear, insincerity, or coercion. They will never follow or relate to you because they see negative emotions held in

your aura as unexpressed energy. For a horse to trust and follow, the leader must come from a place of inner-calm, listen carefully, be self-assured, demonstrate empathy, composure, and issue clear consistent communication. They are All key traits for any business!

Whilst many horse trainers focus on training the horse to behave in a certain way in response to “human” signals (think dressage and show jumping), this technique is more aligned to how horses relate to each other. The difference this makes, is to talk in the horse’s language and not in our own language. This enables effective communication with the horse so that a relationship is built on mutual trust and respect.

Horses live in a fluid social group (a herd) and play 'push and be pushed' to establish a hierarchy. Learning and observing their herd dynamics provides valuable insights into “authentic” leadership and effective teamwork.

Horses are prey animals and humans are predators. Our hardwiring is completely different. Mastering how we can find a common ground for understanding and communicating opens a dynamic opportunity to learn how to collaborate and communicate with anyone, in any given situation.

One of the keys to this is to be able to put yourself into the horses’ shoes, view the world from their perspective, and understand what is going on for them. As the horse doesn’t speak “human” and can’t verbalise their feelings, emotions, wants and desires, the onus is on the human to read the body language and to interpret how they are feeling.

This requires an approach of awareness and curiosity; looking for a win / win outcome; it is an intention to get sufficient rapport with the horse so that have enough trust and feel safe, and consequently moves through the day with a sense of ease. This relationship building is not about showmanship, or dominance it is about establishing ground rules and boundaries, through consistently noticing the little things and communicating constantly.


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