“With animals …, we cannot simulate confidence; their power of perception is as nature made it, simple unambiguous, and very acute.” Henry Wynmalen

“Don’t kill the freshness and desire to please in your horse. Don’t lose your own sense of humor or make what you are doing look like work. Don’t take yourself too seriously.” Dominique Barbier

Nice vs. Effective

My work is focused on being effective. Whether I am starting a colt, coaching a student of horsemanship or facilitating a corporate retreat I try to be effective with my communication so I see a demonstrated change in a behaviour. Effective ranges from saying something in a different way to nothing at all. I hope throughout the experience the horse, the human or the team also see me as someone they wouldn’t mind spending time with.

The single greatest challenge I have encountered with people working to either improve their horsemanship or leadership capacity is helping them develop a clear understanding of the difference between natural and effective, nice versus respected and assertive instead of aggressive. All basically the same thing from three different perspectives.

Many adherents to natural horsemanship have difficulty discerning between nice and effective methods of applying that philosophy. Natural for some reason has been translated into nice, soft and quiet and their horse literally loves them to death. When the human begins to recognize what they are doing doesn’t appear to be working they continue to think in the same way so seek out a “natural gentle” gimmick of which there are thousands. The end result: yet another way to not be clear on what you are asking nor getting the respect required.

In horsemanship an intention has to translate through our body language for a single clear result. Sometimes we just need to speak, non-verbally, a little louder in order for our cues to be perfectly clear and then we can go back to a whisper. While we may talk about partnerships with our horse in reality we are looking at a benevolent dictatorship at best – we want the horse to want to excel and want to be with us, but sometimes our leadership style requires that we stand firm until we see the intended result.

Which is why for me there is such a direct correlation between the qualities required for both a good horseman and a good leader. There are few, if any, shortcuts to the ideal image of you and your horse or you and your team. I’ve listened to so many people talk about how well they get along with everyone at work, in one breath and then express complete exhaustion in the next. Sometimes being plain nice isn’t enough, it requires that you be effective.

For leadership to be effective it may mean changing how you approach a situation, employing a different leadership style. Being nice about a difficult conversation is rarely effective as chances are you won’t say what needs to be said. What I continue to marvel at is as a person realizes the horses behaviour will adapt to what they present, as they become more effective, they begin to see they are the source of the solution. To use a well worn phrase, they feel empowered to make a change in their own leadership style in order to be more effective in what they do.

There are many great reference tools out there books, programs, coaches find what helps get you unstuck so you can see a change in your habits and the behaviours of others – so you don’t feel that people too are loving you to death

“you are trying to help the horse…use his own mind. You…present something and then let him figure out how to get there.” Tom Dorrance

Why Positive Change is Hard

At one time it was common to refer to breaking a colt. Many believed that you had to break the colt’s spirit by trapping, restraining and making them to comply to your requests. Fortunately we have learned there are easier and safer ways to work with horses. Today you are more likely to hear someone refer to starting a colt, words that better illustrate the positive changes in behaviour we wish to create as we develop a relationship.

The saying “make the right choice comfortable” is a reflection of our learning. When we apply that concept in working with a colt, we adapt our behaviours to what we know about horses so being with us becomes a good experience and accelerates a horse’s learning.

While we share the same fight or flight responses of the horse connected to the amygdala part of the brain, the same does not apply in our awareness of subtle changes in our environment. Unfortunately, it is our greater capacity to reason in the higher functions of the brain that get in our way. We tend to clump detail into broad strokes often creating something far greater than it is. Rather than seeing a series of connected events or signals we jump to the end result conjuring up endless scenarios in the process, letting the ‘what ifs’ create a noise that drains our energy and drowns the opportunity for insight and awareness.

Insight is the space required to understand, decide, recall, memorize and inhibit, in order to make a change in our behaviour. It is the quiet place where we hear the signal above the noise and see the opportunity in change.

David Rock expands on the concept of why positive change is hardest in his webcast “The New Science of Change – Connecting Leadership Development and Neuroscience.” Rock defines thinking as energy intensive and suggests our brain’s intrinsic goal is to avoid effort, the reason why we so quickly connect to what is wrong with change, we don’t have to think.

Thinking requires effort, effort equates to discomfort, discomfort produces a level of uncertainty, uncertainty reduces our capacity to reason and tends to steer us back toward what is certain. It is this chain of action, reaction that makes it difficult for us to accept change, even when change is for the best.

Rock suggests we can rewire the circuits of our brain if we take just 10 seconds a day to focus on a positive outcome. Basically the same concept we apply in working with a horse – breaking new information down into small repeatable bites. Asking for one thing at a time building on competence until actions become behaviours.

It is these small bites of information we introduce when making the parallel between horsemanship, leadership, communication or team learning. Because the horse so quickly mirrors our actions and reactions they become the perfect measure of how easily or how difficult we make adapting to change. In working with a horse an individual often discovers that quiet space for insight when they start to become aware on how their actions impact another being. Insight that makes room for positive change.

“you are trying to help the horse,,,use his own mind. You…present something and then let him figure out how to get there.” Tom Dorrance

Commenting on Change

Hello Nancy: Thank you for your email and the pictures, I really love the one of me with Rhys.

I have sent my feedback into the team at the University of Calgary to let them know that this course was probably the most influential and effective course that I have ever been on. It did something to me I can’t quite put a word or phrase too, but it has definitely effected my perception of how I act around people, both verbally – but even more so – through body language. I have also suggested that Continuing Education consider making this a 2 day course as there is just so much to learn. It is truly ground breaking on how the experience with horses teaches things that I never would have picked up in a classroom setting.

The most pronounced example for me was when your assistant walked out into the arena with the hurried and abrupt body movements, how immediately that impacted the horses! As a result of observing the changes and reactions the horses had – I am very conscious of how I walk into work in the morning and even more attentive to how I come into my home at the end of my day at work. It is amazing, but by me focusing on really being gentle and happy – everyone seems to be more relaxed and happy as well. What a way to end a day with my family! No matter what has happened or what frustrations I had during the day, seeing that they are all calm and happy, just makes the world of difference.

I have also noticed that I am much quieter in my voice pitch and I focus on being clearer when asking my children, husband and colleagues to do things. I try to imagine ‘dancing’ with them, and if we could move across the office, or across the kitchen- with my family, based on the information that I am giving and how I am asking it. I have already started changing my tone and also have stopped assuming everyone knows exactly what I am talking about, as well as my perception that they will do things the way that I think they will. Rhys definitely showed me to expect the unexpected. I know that it has been a week today, but these examples alone has helped me both personally and professionally.

Nancy – I want to say ‘Thank You’ again to both you and Fred, for opening up such a new and honest perspective of how I can be a good person – not just a good leader. You have tapped into something that I wish every person could experience. I think it would change so much of the agitation and aggression that we all are guilty of carrying (which of course we think we are hiding within ourselves , without even noticing how it effects our family, friends, colleagues and perfect strangers!). Warm regards, Maryann

“You can be good around horses, but to be a good horseman, you have to be around good horsemen.” Ray Hunt

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