When introducing leadership through horsemanship I speak to a horse responding to us or their surroundings based on instinct, the desire to stay alive. It is a value I have seen a horse demonstrate, with varying degrees of commitment, time after time. Their behaviour reflects a core value.
Behaviours in animals and people have been studied at great length so there is plenty of data to support observable behaviour change. While my observations are far from scientific it stands to reason that if we observe how others respond and react to us, we can practice adapting our behaviour to see if a change in turn impacts those around us. This is where learning with the assistance of horses helps accelerate leadership understanding. We are often aware of a concept without knowing what that looks like in our mind or in our body. The horses help put the feel into our body in a tangible way that creates an opportunity for a repeatable behaviour.
Behaviourists have come to agree that animals do demonstrate a range of emotions and those emotions will impact behaviour. In ” Animals Make us Human” Temple Grandin speaks to the seeking system as “the basic impulse to search, investigate and make sense of the environment.” She defines seeking as “the combination of emotions that addresses the ‘need to go after your goals’ and the behaviours that help attain them.”
Our behaviour is impacted by our knowledge, skill, beliefs, attitude and our experiences. Our emotions then can positively or negatively impact those behaviours. Given we can learn to manage our emotions we can also become more effective in assessing the associated behaviours. So the good news is you can teach an old dog new tricks. By making the conscious decision to change learned behaviours can be unlearned.
A horse is a master at detecting if our actions match our emotions. They help us see whether are we are congruent in our behaviours. Through hands-on activities and self-discovery a horse allows us to be honest with ourselves and seek the behaviour that reflects what we value and would like others to see. By observing a horse’s behaviour and experimenting with different approaches we have an immediate opportunity to view ourselves from a different perspective. Horses allow us to be objective about what is working – and perhaps not, in our search to become a better leader.