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What lessons do horses teach us about leadership?

​If we find ourselves in the presence of horses – once we look past their pure physical size and stature – we may be struck by their sensitivity, their curiosity and intuition, their sense of the herd.  If we take a break from the conventional world of work, we may find that the secrets of leadership have been roaming the hills of our world. Horses have shaped our landscapes for more than 50 million years. If we take time to listen to them, they will whisper back to us their stories of collaborative leadership.

What do horses teach us about power, balance and collection?
Horses have immense physical power. They can charge, fight, stamp, and kick. But they can also move an entire herd with a simple flick of an ear. If we spend time watching them in their natural habitat, the first thing we notice is how quickly they are able to move from a state of agitation to a state of calm; how they balance the need to be alert with a sense of quiet reflection; how they can balance a sense of history with the ability to live in the present; and, finally, how they collectively strive for common harmony and safety.

What do horses teach us about community and partnerships?
Horses are social animals. Their individual safety and security is tied into the life of the herd.  As a herd, they decide where to move, and where to eat and drink. The herd accepts the group norms and values, and if a young colt wanders from this path, the matriarchal mare will gently bring him back to the accepted way of the community. This strong respect for the herd and group leadership is what keeps the herd safe and successful. They don’t care what their position is within the herd, as long as they know what their role as leader is. Positions are interchangeable in the face of threat or disaster and they respect the need for servant leadership.

What do horses teach us about authenticity and imagination?
Horses do not know ego. They operate with total authenticity. When they interact with human beings they do not care about our social position, our title, our qualifications or the car we drive!  They only care whether we care. If we interact with them from a place of ego they will immediately reflect our behaviour back to us and ask us to adjust to a position of authentic leadership.  Their survival and success is dependent on our ability to operate without ego; to be true to ourselves, to be authentic. And only then will they follow – willingly, without constraints or controls, because they choose to connect to us.

What do horses teach us about change?
Living in the wild, horses were exposed to a wide variety of different environments and elements and have, over time, naturally developed ways of thriving.  Horses are able to adapt to new environments.  There are stories of competitive horses that have lost their sight, that have quickly oriented to a new and successful way of life.  Surely the story of horses forging working and social relationships with us (a predatory species) is one of the most significant stories of change in their history. Through the process of domestication, they have adapted to our world, yet they have maintained their authentic leadership capabilities. It is their strong leadership qualities that have allowed horses to thrive in an ever-changing world.

Nikki Lowe is a faculty member at USB-ED. Her areas of expertise include Individual and Team Coaching through equine-facilitated learning, as well as Personal and Team Leadership.

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