Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue

Excerpt from my new book Leadership is NOT a Wardrobe Issue. Exploring life lessons on horsemanship and how those learnings apply through the leadership programs of The Natural Leader. A fifteen-year veteran of the experiential equine learning industry Nancy has delivered hundreds of programs to thousands of individuals.

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In Business to Define

Creating a business with horses?

“In Business to Define is quite simply the ONE business book I would recommend for all EFP/EAL businesses to get clear on the essentials they need to move forward. It cleanly and clearly states the ‘what’, ‘why” & ‘how” of defining key elements most often overlooked. Nancy has done a great service to the community with this little gem.”

Thanks for writing it. I will be putting it down as a Key Biz Resource for 2012….it’s really well-done. Congrats!” Shannon Knapp Founder/President, Horse Sense of the Carolinas, Inc.

Starting up your equine related business or simply trying to grow an existing one? In Business to Define is designed to complement your business and marketing plan with specific details on how to get crystal clear on your ideal client.

Looking for more reference tools? Check out The Games People Play with Horses and Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses.

eBook >> $29.95

Facilitators Guide Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses

Facilitators Guide Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses – one or two day program outline.

Download an excerpt of Creating Exceptional Leaders

Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses. The Facilitator’s Guide reflects our learnings from four years of programs partnering the concepts from The Leadership Challenge® with activities with horses. Presented at The Leadership Challenge Forum in Chicago August 2009.

eBook – $79.95 Cdn. 

Looking for more reference tools? Check out The Games People Play with Horses and In Business to Define


The Games People Play with Horses

Our first publication The Games People Play with Horses – a series of activities in lesson planning format.

A two Volume series of activities for effective learning with equines. Each Volume contains the combined wisdom of five different practitioners of experiential learning with horses providing 16 different activities in lesson planning format.

eBooks Volume 1&2 Two eBooks

$64.95 +Taxes where applicable.

Looking for more reference tools? Check out In Business to Define a guide to marketing your equine business and Creating Exceptional Leaders through Learning with Horses a facilitators guide to developing a 1 or 2 day program.


I am not one for making New Years Resolutions, mostly because what I hear seem like empty promises. The yoga studio is full in January something I know will change in the coming weeks.

Each ride, every program I am looking to fine tune one of my actions as I recognize and better understand my own behaviours. So rather than a resolution, this is more of a confessional.

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Hitting the Dirt

Ever had that conversation that could have gone better? What you could have done differently or should have said that just might have changed the outcome?

or as a fine horseman once suggested being able to recognize: “What happened, before what happened, happened?” ¹

Well, it happened! Fortunately the spring dirt is relatively soft so with a quick scan that all body parts were intact, I picked myself up, gathered up the reins of the horse still staring in mortal fear at the object and got ready to get back on. The older I get the more I wish I’d listened to what the horse had been telling me before they had to scream.

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A Culture of Safety

SafetyCulture“most of us are taught to think of experience as coming from the outside in, psychology and neuroscience shows fairly dramatically that experience mainly comes from the inside out. We each created our own experience and therefore, people involved in the same event can have very different observations, thoughts, feelings and wants about that event.”1 Gervase Bushe

Over the past year I’ve had the good opportunity to work with a number of teams from the oil and gas industry. All the organizations they work for state they operate in a culture of safety, but watching people in action gives you a better sense of compliance versus a safety mindset. Safety isn’t about what not to do, but rather about how to do something safely.

Working from the “inside out”2 is a concept that shows up very clearly when working with a horse. “Never walk behind a horse.” advice almost everyone seems to be able to provide, but a perspective that relates more to how we walk behind a horse than whether we should. Evolution has provided horses with panoramic vision so their range of sight is almost 360 degrees, they absolutely can see you. Acutely aware a horse reads their measure of safety not only from the physical surroundings but through the actions of others, so how we walk behind them does make a difference.

While it isn’t always easy to tell where a horse is looking, their eyes are on the side of their head, a good indicator of where their focus of attention is are their ears. A horse’s body language will indicate their level of concern, in effect they let us know exactly what they are thinking.

In comparison our physiology restricts our peripheral vision limiting what we see to that which is in front of us and we also often falsely believe that we are good at keeping our thoughts to ourselves. A truth that clearly defines itself when we consciously prepare for the “what if’s” about working around a horse, the more likely we unknowingly wear what we are thinking. Horses have taught me a lot about safety.

While Bushe is exploring experience through the lens of the organization his findings of workplace experience is no different that what horsemanship suggests, our thoughts influence our actions. How we respond to what is presented, or how we interpret our safety, the impact is the same, others see what we miss and actions can easily be misinterpreted.

Just as Bushe suggests the more conscious we are of our own personal safety, the more likely our thoughts translate into unintended actions, perhaps we get hesitant, move slower or have a rigidness to our posture. While we may be thinking “I’m just being careful.” our body language changes the experience for someone else.

My awareness in working with horses has developed over time with a lens of safety built into everything I do. Many actions I am no longer conscious of, it has simply become how I do things. My experience has helped me develop a level of comfort working in an environment that others would perceive as risky.

Telling someone what not to do without information about why is no different then telling someone to not be afraid around the horse. A useless piece of advice without the why. Information helps us develop the awareness we need to be safe through our actions. The more open the dialogue is around safety versus a checklist of what not to do the more likely people gain comfort and competence to create the culture of safety.

1 – Bushe, Gervase -
2 – Leading from the Inside Out – was the name The Natural Leader launched under, so a thought I have carried with me


Circles in the Snow

Winter is a fabulous time to ride. No bugs!
However, without the luxury of an indoor arena, winter riding is not for the faint of heart. From the brown Michelan Man resemblance I take on to warming the bit before offering it to the horse, heading out requires preparation. It is an endeavour for the committed.

The colder weather also means, the section of cultivated land across the road becomes my outdoor riding arena. There is little to stop the view, stubble rows and piles of chaf become landmarks to weave through and go around the beauty is I can ride without the extreme hazard of snow covered holes.

Despite the number of times we may have crossed the road – there is always opportunity for something interesting to happen. On this particular day the land and sky were a seamless light blue grey. It gives you a feeling of floating as if in some middle world, at least it felt that way until a large truck broke the horizon 3 or 4 kilometers away.

The minute change in scenery interrupted the flow and Sydney became fixated on the distant object inching its way through the grey. The seemingly insignificant altered our ride from a pleasant amble to one where I had to quickly establish a common focus. What I could assume was simply explaining it was only a truck wouldn’t be enough for her. I had to be able to communicate in a way that had meaning to her, otherwise there was little between us and home to slow the energy of my fondly named, TankGirl. I needed to get her focused, engaged, relaxed and thinking!

You might remember me suggesting that horses are not good with change. The instinctual response to change is perceived threat. Sydney’s ONLY thought at that point was get back to the safety of the herd. I had to establish a comfort zone for her where I was her support in our herd of two. Circles are a good way to get your horse focused and relaxed while keeping their feet moving and mind engaged. So circles in the snow it became.

Winter snow offers a brilliant tool for measuring progress. Our fist attempts were anything but circular, as we both started to focus on what the outcome could be the track in the snow began to round and narrow. The truck continued to inch it’s way along the five kilometers of the horizon but I now had Sydney’s attention focused on the task at hand. As I gave her something to do it, a purpose, that in turn offered relief from the pending “threat” the change on the horizon presented. It helped us both regain confidence.

While the actual change minuscule, the perceived change and emotional impact was huge.

As everything about horsemanship and leadership is connected, the experience had me thinking about the chaos that change can inflict on the workplace. Like a horse we are naturally wired to react and resist change. The truck on the horizon demonstrated how easily a very minor change without the right communication can get blown out of proportion triggering the fright and flight mode in an organization.

No matter how many times I’ve encountered a tense moment on horseback I have to consciously remind myself that I have the experience, I have the skill and I have the knowledge to handle the situation. Each time the connection is easier, but like leadership the challenge with horsemanship is we can absolutely know what we need to do, but we must remember to carry it in how we respond. It is our actions that influence the change we would like to see.

It is that conscious awareness that will determine the outcome. I have to admit it is easier said than done, but with practice it starts to flow faster and most importantly when I encounter a change I really don’t know how to manage. I am more than willing to engage the experience of others. It just makes sense.

In The Moment

“A horse lives in the present.”

We get caught up in the past and can easily be swayed by what the future holds. A horse is only concerned with what is happening in the moment. As a leadership learning partner, they provide the opportunity for us to see the importance of being present with those we are with.

I spent fifteen years of my career as a project manager. I traveled a lot, worked with a variety of different clients and had to coordinate many different types of people and services. I admit I was guilty of believing I was a great multi-tasker. I thought I was brilliant at handling many things at once, what I now know is our brain is actually only capable of handling one thing at a time. Something David Eagleman explains in his book “Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain”. Fortunately the number of things our brains can process is huge allowing us to handle multiple activities concurrently, but we can only focus on one thing at a time.

A horse helps us see how important that is, a learning I have now received many times over. Rhys simply happens to be the best horse at noticing when my attention has drifted for that split second. A skill he demonstrated at a recent program, when a participant shared her learning in a debrief.

“Rhys gets easily bothered if you micro-manage him.” she shared, “when I assume I am in control, he takes over. If I default to managing him by holding the lead shorter, he gets pushy. When I am consistent in defining my boundaries and he is clear on what he can do, he settles down and is really easy to work with.”

Highly sensitive Rhys has become a brilliant teacher in The Natural Leader programs quickly assessing the leadership style of those with him. He can become over reactive with the command control individual, a bully with the pushover and an absolute lap dog with those who recognize he can be a brilliant performer with the right support.

To a horse “Everything means something” Rhys simply demands that you focus on what is happening in the moment and that you adjust to fit the situation. He is very aware of input even when you may not be. Rhys makes it perfectly clear that you should only focus on one thing at a time and helps you recognize what effective communication looks like.

Rhys is just one of the learning partners I have the pleasure of being with everyday. Each horse offers something new even if it is just that reminder to be present. That is what voice mail is for.