There is no other farming practice more disciplined than dairy, twice a day, 365 days a year the cows are milked, fed and cared for. It was this daily routine of the family farm that helped fuel Lowy Gunnewiek’s interest and completion of a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Ryerson and then University of Waterloo .

Many years and successes later, Lowy’s current role is President and CEO of Sproule. It is the weekend trips to his ranch in southern Alberta that offer a respite from a busy international travel schedule. Where once again the rhythm of animals influence the pace, this time less regimented. Riding the hills have become a place to clear his mind and bring focus, the horses Lowy finds, help him “see things from a whole different perspective”.

It’s been five years since Lowy reconnected with animals in that short time Lowy has learned a lot about horses, himself and how he shows up to others. It was an honor and a delight to sit down with Lowy & Kate through a fabulous dinner at Bocci Restaurant on 4th street in Calgary on one of our first cold nights of November.

So tell me about your relationship with horses. 
LG – When I get out to the ranch the first time I go out to catch my horses I try see if they would follow me back. If that didn’t work I’d go back and get a halter and catch one, but they usually come. Over the years I’ve come to understand the horses better and they’ve come to trust me more.
How is that different from the people that you work with. 
LG – Well it’s not, that’s the parallel. Sometimes relationships work and sometimes they don’t – It’s a process.
You can’t force a horse. You can put a horse in a position that is uncomfortable, they respond and hopefully they move to a position that is more comfortable. The direction you want.

I think people are the same way. I am in a very challenging role right now so it’s about taking the time to understand people, get them to understand what is needed and not trying to force them.  So I am using that idea as I work with different people to see if they will come along.

In the 5 years you have been working with horses – have you become more patient with people?

LG – I come from a world of engineering projects. Working with people is not something engineers are trained to do. It is something you learn as you go and some never do learn it. I’ve always been intrigued by how to get people to do their best so perhaps that is an innate characteristic.

My job is around rebuilding a company, but it’s all about the people.  So really it’s people reengineering is what I am doing. Trying to understand how to get people to change from very engrained ways of doing things to something different. Helping them understand why they need to, why they have to change.

The perspective that horses have brought has allowed me to pursue different ways of working with people as well. Trying to figure out how to get them to respond.

Do you believe you have become more aware of the non-verbal communication that people use?
LG – Oh big time. Not only the body language and facial expressions of others, but the body language I use. How I present myself.
The more aware you are of the non-verbal. Do you believe that working with horses has helped you asked better questions? 
LG – Yes. My leadership style is really about trying to make people feel empowered to do things. So I often will approach a challenge asking them “How I can help you?”
It’s often more like “Share with me why this isn’t working for you?”  or “What do we have to change to make it work for you?”  Then letting them figure out what they need to do to get there.
What big challenge have you over come with your horses and how does that relate to business. 
LG – Getting them to load in the trailer.  My younger horse still goes through periods when he won’t do something. I had him loading fine and then one day he simply refused. We’d been at a clinic and he’d been ridden all day and we were tired.

Kate and I recently both got new horses other than maybe a ride or two along the road or in a flat field, they’d never been ridden outside the arena. First time out in the hills the horses had to keep stopping just to look around. The arena had been their routine, their comfort zone, we changed the environment and they adapted brilliantly. We have a small outdoor arena but the horses seem to respond better to everything out in the hills.

So the day we had the problem of getting him into the trailer. We’d been in the arena loping circles, getting him to position his head and working pretty hard. After a day back in the arena he was tired, he was dull. We had to get help so he would see the trailer home was an ok place to be. That’s an interesting parallel the idea of pushing the envelope – changing up the environment and seeing how brilliantly the horses responded. Put him back into the routine and he just didn’t want to do it anymore.

At Sproule the business has been the same for many years. We now have a generation of people that’s all they’ve done, they don’t know anything else. Hence the arena.
So my challenge has been how to get them to think differently. Little by little I have been pushing them out of their comfort zone. Some will never change because they don’t want to do something else, but that is their choice.
img_4527How do the horses help you recharge?
LG – Our neighbor said: “Getting on the outside of the horse, is good for the inside of me.” so whether I am riding in the hills and sitting on the horse, meandering along at whatever pace we happen to be going at. It’s that change in environment that is so great.

So from that point of view – horses have impacted me on the ability to put my mind in a different place and think through my problems from a different point of view. Your mind can wander.

I often hear when a horse didn’t work out, a person will get rid of the horse and then get another one. Sometimes the next horse doesn’t work out either. I always wonder if it’s the horse or the human.  How much time are you willing to invest in your horses? 
LG – I haven’t had enough experience with the horses to say, but from what I’ve experienced when the horse works with you, it’s easy to want to invest the time.

From the people point of view. They need to try, show some aptitude and interest for the work or the changes we need make. Then they will work out.

In my job, I make conscious decisions everyday about, how much time can I spend helping people come along. This is different than when I am working with my horses as I have learned that I must have the patience to wait for my horse to decide that he will do what I ask him to.

Do you find yourself becoming more lateral in your thinking the more time you spend with horses.
LG – a horse can be very linear in their thinking but yes they have lateral vision which I agree can make them more lateral in how they approach things, as they are more aware of what is around them.

I believe I have become more aware of all the options. Empathy is one, though some people might not think I show it much. I would suggest they might not get what is expected of them, but maybe I need to consider how I am presenting myself and look for another lateral perspective in order to be successful with the “ask”.

Thank you Lowy.

Nancy Lowery has been writing about her Leadership Learning through Horsemanship Experiences for over ten years. This series began as “One Foot in the Arena” with a view to explore what other leaders in Calgary have learned about leadership, through their relationships with horses.

The Natural Leader offers Leadership through Horsemanship to the corporate sector in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. To explore how a day with horses can complement your Leadership Training programs Nancy would love to hear from you. 

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