One Foot at the Calgary Stampede
20 years ago October, Allison Wright handed over her Stampede Crown and began a career with the Calgary Stampede. Starting in the accounting department, she got a grasp on the numbers of running a year round facility and The Greatest Show on Earth. Over the years Allison has held a number of positions in Agriculture Programming and now heads up the Mid-way portfolio. She describes her responsibility as “The guest experience from Gates to Corndogs and everything in between.” For ten days each year Allison’s team grows from 4 to over 800. How do you manage the commitment of that size? Well Allison believes you need to be an adrenalin junkie and love chaos.
What you might have learned with horses? What they have taught you about yourself
AW- I started riding when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I thought my first horse was amazing. However, what I’ve learned since then he was kind and patient with me, but he wasn’t always that way with other riders. I could get away with things that others couldn’t. As a young rider my expectations were different and what I loved about riding, was my horse.
Pony club was my most formal instruction and as I learned well through my teenage years, my impatience was never rewarded with good performance.
One of the best lessons I believe I’ve learned is the importance of a partnership and the value of understanding of each other. Good days or bad days the together part is what translates to success as a team. The patience piece continues to be a factor in finding success and it’s something that keeps coming back for me.
What do you notice when you find yourself lacking patience? What happens?
AW – Behaviours that I sense in myself, that show that lack of patience, are quick responses or not listening as well as I should. This is what I feel myself doing when I am trying to get an outcome sooner – this is my lack of patience. I’m constantly working on my ability to recongize those moments sooner, as they rarely end up in a decision that is mutually agreeable. When I slow down and listen to understand, it always creates a better decision.
If I was riding a horse and could feel myself getting impatient I would stop, take a step back and start over. I was amazed at how unaware I was of it in the workplace. I could recognize my own signs of lacking patience, but didn’t really convert it to my out of horse life.
When you had that aha moment when you thought this is connected. How has that changed who you are as a leader?
AW – I think I am being more attentive to the moment, knowing that sometimes as a leader you often have more experience in familiar situations so you could get to the answer quickly. Recognising that sometimes the benefit is in the journey, rather than getting the answer or letting them know you are right. There is value in the journey where at the end of the day the team is more successful when they hold a better understanding of the decision. The translations is Just noticing how taking that breath can get you to a higher outcome after all,, but also realizing when I don’t do it. So being more aware of when I could have done something differently.
What does that going for a ride do for you?
AW – I still have a couple of horses but I don’t get to ride as often as I would like. I find they are very calming. I love to work with them even just on the ground to encourage the behavior you want by taking the time. One of my guys has a thing about his back feet and it’s about taking the time to pick up the foot, before you can move on to clean it, before you can trim it. He’s got me trained to be more patient with him.
On the days that I do get to throw the saddle on it’s for pleasure. There is just something about just being in the saddle. It’s rewarding because you had to get other things done so you could go for the ride, it’s relaxing, it’s quiet and it’s usually a beautiful place to share with your equine partner
Like colleagues in the office, every horse is different. There is the time you have to invest to create a relationship. My two horses are very different in terms of their training, how they think, their size. How I work with one is different from what works well with the other.
Royal Soniska Max (Sonny) was born in 1995 to one of Karina’s mares, and his name reflects our names from the Stampede Royalty team that year Allison, Lisa and Karina. Kilo Bar Max was his grandfather and Royal comes from the trio. A friend bought him and I raised him, he also has a great Stampede story, he was the horse on the 2012 Stampede Centennial Stamp.
Thomas is an off the track Standardbred, so we had to teach him how to trot. He’s big and kind but has a much shorter attention span, so I have to recognize the signs of when he’s good for the day.
If you were to think of three things a horse has taught you: Patience is the first one you’ve mentioned. What are other leadership qualities you believe are reflected in your partnership with your horses?
AW – Gosh, there are probably a few.
I’ve also learned there is more than one route to an end point and sometimes you have to go a different direction in order to get to where you want to go. That happens a lot in day to day business.
Another very recent example Sonny foundered this fall and I had to pull him off grass. So the two of them get separated through the day which initially worried Tom a lot.
At night I put them together so that is when I learned how terrified Tom is of the electric fence, he doesn’t even like going through the gate. He may have tested it so he doesn’t trust that it won’t zap him again.
So I’ve been working on getting him to trust me to go through the gate with him. It’s still not slow and calm but he will at least walk through it now, it sure didn’t start that way!
It reminded me of the importance of trust, you may have established it into a trust account, but it that takes time and effort to maintain.
If there was one learning that you believe anyone could benefit from working with a horse what do you believe that learning would be?
AW – The self-awareness piece is key to working with a horse that everyone could benefit from and that happens to be one of the first steps of being more emotionally intelligent. The other key learning is the value of Team and the higher level of success that is possible thanks to a strong team. Rarely do you operate on your own, but even in moments when you are being self aware can help convert that solitary focus into a broader view for a team and ultimately achieve an overall higher outcome. Those are the significant things someone could learn.
Thank you Allison.