The secret with horses, as it is with people, is to learn to exercise the minimal amount of pressure needed to get them to move when you want them to and in the direction you want them to go.
There are many fine qualities that are part of the personality of a horse, but they don’t all lend themselves to being easy to lead. For example, under most conditions, a horse’s preferred action is just to be left alone. They won’t stand there and plot to take your job or court your affections to take advantage of you. They are largely indifferent to you, and there is a great honesty in that. But if you want to take control of them, they will challenge you and push your boundaries just to test you and see where it goes.
In your relationship with the horse, it will not really be equal. Either you will lead the horse or the horse will lead you. The beautiful part of this is that the horse doesn’t really care. It moves into the relationship with an open mind. It will take its cue from whether or not you are authentic. If you attempt to convey one message with your movement and voice, but the horse senses a different and conflicting message inside, it becomes confused and will not comply with your wishes.
When you are leading a horse or riding a horse, if you have power over that horse, you can proceed with the reins slack. The horse will understand the destination and proceed surely and with certainty in the direction you lead it. But if you hold the reins too tight and want to go first one way and then another, the horse becomes uncertain about what you want and may refuse to move at all. Either that or it will go where it wants. Sensing a discrepancy, or constrained by confusing commands or too tight a rein, the horse will rebel and challenge the leader either by moving in a different direction, running away, or standing immobilized. The horse knows if it is standing still and you are running madly around the paddock that you are clearly not the leader. With a horse, the smallest gesture like a raised hand, a push of a shoulder or hip can communicate a clear message.
All leadership is like that. You need to know just how much pressure you need to exert on the reins of power to reach the destination you seek. If you give conflicting directions to your work team, for example, or if you tell them to do one thing one day and another the next, they will be confused and frustrated and you will not achieve the best result. If you hold the reins too tightly the horse feels constrained and uncomfortable, just as your co-workers do when you do not allow them to find a comfortable pace for their contributions to a project.
For generations, social scientists have been studying the impact of constraints on motivation and human behavior, but nothing is as revealing as watching people interact with horses. When there is any inconsistency between the actions of a person who aims to master the horse and their sense of self in relation to the horse, the latter senses it, picks up on it, and challenges the leadership. The horse, like those we would lead in our work lives, knows that he has his own motivations, his skills and his resourcefulness. Led with a loose rein, the horse will deliver the rider to his destination or follow the leader on his course. The same could be said for our co-workers, even if the behavior is not as obvious.
HorseDream Canada, founded by Susan Wilson, provides high impact, quality leadership and team development experiences for individuals, teams, leaders and companies. It is part of an internationally renowned Horse Assisted Education Program proving transformative learning experiences around the world. HorseDream Canada is a division of I DO BUSINESS. Inc., a social purpose business. For more information, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for our new book, Leadership 93/7 coming soon!