Horses encourage corporate executives to become the best version of themselves by expanding their personal awareness. In the arena, horses are helping leaders improve their relationships with others at home and in the office.
By Katie Navarra
Horses are a mirror for reflecting human emotions and behaviors. As herd animals, they are innately programmed to watch for clues on how to react or respond. When a person is anxious, horses channel that energy and become nervous themselves. When someone lacks confidence or clarity, the horse stops and begs for them to take a leadership role. Because horses rely solely on non-verbal cues, how they respond to a person’s requests illuminates what goes right—or wrong—in human communication.
“They show us where we have room for improvement and remind us of our hidden strengths. That makes them the perfect partner for coaching engagements,” said Ginny Telgo, founder of The Collaboration Partners in Ashland, Ohio. Ginny’s Paint, Just Plain Chocolate, occasionally participates in coaching sessions along with her other horses.
Decades of research have proven the power of interaction between horses and humans, and the associated physical, emotional, and mental healing benefits are well documented. Another form of equine-assisted services gaining in popularity is equine-assisted learning.
With these services, there is no riding or instruction on how to ride. And it’s not considered therapy. Instead, equine-assisted coaching leverages horse-human interactions to help individuals better understand their behaviors and communication styles. Activities with the horses combined with debriefing sessions tie “aha” moments directly to challenges in a person’s interactions with peers, colleagues, and even family.
“It parallels how groups of people interacting with one another by understanding how horses use healthy herd dynamics,” Ginny said. She is a master trainer with E3A, an organization that provides training and certification in equine-assisted learning education programs.
From Skeptics to Believers
Sessions typically start with introductions and what participants hope to gain from the experience. Most are excited for the opportunity to leave a lecture-style program behind and try something hands-on. Some are intimated by the horses, some skeptics and others outright naysayers.
“I’ll never forget this one gentleman who sat pushed against the back of his chair with his arms folded across his chest in a defiant position,” Ginny said. “When I asked what he thought he might learn from the day, he said, ‘I don’t know why I’m here and I have no idea what horses are going to teach about leadership.’ ”
At the end of the workshop, she asked each person to share a takeaway moment from the day and was nervous about what this individual had to say. His response shocked her. His response was, “I learned today that I have a lot to learn about leadership.”
“He had a belief that leadership looked a certain way and that others should just do what you tell them,” Ginny said. “When we went to work with the horses he realized that leadership was about way more than just telling people what to do and expecting them to do it.”
Upstate New York horse owner Jen Miller regularly delivers leadership training in her role as a vice president at a higher education institution. Though she knows horse behavior can teach humans a lot about themselves, she was uncertain how they could be teachers for leadership development and teambuilding aimed at C-Suite executives. A half-day hands-on demonstration at The Horse Institute in Ancramdale, New York, changed her perspective.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2021 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.