Horses demand authentic leadership and let us know when we achieve it and when we don’t. They relate to us in honest and direct ways irrespective of gender, race, or class; they are primarily motivated by our capacity to lead them. When a leader is self-aware, authentic, empathetic, safe, and clear, horses will follow willingly. When communication is confused, muddled, unclear or chaotic, horses will attempt to take the leadership into their own hands and humans respond in a similar way. This means that they are ideally placed to offer us feedback on our leadership style.
As prey animals the horse’s survival has been determined by their ability to read and respond decisively to tiny cues such as a muscle twitch, ear flick, eye blink, breath, body tension in their herd. This innate capacity enables them to intuitively sense the mood, intention, and energy that people bring into the space with them, and horses respond directly and with blatant candour. Working with horses has often been compared to looking in a mirror and their response to us offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on unconscious aspects of our behaviour, reflected back to us through the horses reply.
If we are brave enough to open our minds and hearts and listen to what comes back through the horse’s wisdom, we can receive powerful insight and revelation about our capacity for leadership. This provides the perfect foundation upon which to grow leadership prowess. Self-awareness is essential for conscious growth, personal development, and effective leadership. The horse’s capacity to help us to look at ourselves honestly yet without judgement, is one reason why horses make perfect leadership coaches.
Leadership development with horses however is not what you might have come to expect from a leadership training course. What is unique about this programme, is that the content is not laid out for participants to absorb; instead, the process is key. Important leadership skills are facilitated through the process, providing opportunities for participants try out and evaluate what works for them. The potential for transformation therefore arises from the opportunity to discover, through practical activities and self-reflection, where one’s own strengths and areas for growth lie. Experiencing this process first hand, equips leaders to facilitate a similar process of self-development in their teams and with their colleagues.
Increasingly leadership in the Western world claims the ability to empathise with others, as pivotal for effective leadership. Empathy however, i.e. the ability to understand and relate to the emotional and cognitive perspectives of others is rooted in the capacity to know oneself. So, the amazing capacity that horses have, to shine a light on us, in turn enables us to understand and relate to others. This creates potential not just to recognise and foster the unique attributes of others but also to convey optimism, communicate a vision and inspire others to give their best.