Buck Branmnaman Bozeman 2017

Observe, Remember, Compare – Buck Brannaman

Horses have always been a part of his life. From the age of 12 Buck Brannaman has been starting horses, before that he was an accomplished trick roper. The past 35 years Buck has lived most of the year on the road crossing the United States, visiting Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and even Japan sharing his experience and helping people better understand how to get along with their horses. In 2011 the film Buck documenting Bucks life and work, launched to critical acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival.

Buck is a leader in the horsemanship field and I have watched his progression as a teacher through the past dozen or so years. I have always said to be good with horses you have to be great with people, Buck is both. My annual trek, with and without horses, down to listen, learn and ride with him in Montana has become part of my own professional development.

After a long day in the sun, with temperatures well into the mid 30sC, as is typical of his good nature Buck agreed to answer a few questions.

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Solitude & Quiet in the Pasture

Finding Solitude in the Arena

We’ve all heard the statement “if you want something done ask a busy person.”

If you want it done really well ask Ingrid. She is what you might say, one busy woman. In the past two decades Ingrid raised three kids, bought an ailing horse publication and turned it around and has been involved with a variety of community activities. Nowadays she serves on the board of the Alberta and Canadian Cutting Horse Associations as well as Stampede Western Performance Committee.

Then just when some people are thinking of slowing down, Ingrid and her partner Dean Ness embarked on a new adventure, opening Cody & Souix in Inglewood, Calgary.  The store offers a blend of modern west clothing and a curated selection of artists and artisan work. For Ingrid it is much more than a store, Cody & Souix represents a lifestyle that speaks to frontier ideals such as individualism, a life outdoors and protecting the remaining wide open spaces of the West.

Ingrid also rides cutting horses.

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Does Your Leadership Language need an Interpreter?

Leadership300_horzDo people really understand what you are saying? The question came to mind while watching a recent Buck Brannaman clinic.

Since the release of the movie BUCK, people have flocked to his clinics. Perhaps drawn by fame, the romantic image of the cowboy or simply because he is a fabulous horseman. An entertainer as well Buck speaks in metaphor and through stories of his own experience. The classes are large so he suggests “if you behave like an alcoholic you will always think I am talking about you”. Hoping the magic will rub off, people and horses “waller” around the arena for three to four days, often never to return.

For a number of years I have made the drive to Montana to ride with Buck. This year friend, and co-facilitator in The Natural Leader programs, Kristen Cumming came along. Enjoying a cold beer after a long hot day in the arena, a brilliant idea surfaced. Buck needs an interpreter! We laughed at the thought of Kristen, in plain language, doing voice over to what Buck was saying. While it was in good fun, I have to admit the idea has merit.

It was most apparent when he demonstrated a pretty basic maneuver, “With your rein ask your horse to step over with his front feet”, the instruction continues, “open the door for your horse to move through”. Watching people can be painful as their frustration becomes evident as they try harder to do what they don’t understand.

The conversation around “open the door” and the actual meaning of “shift your weight out of the way of the horse’s leg” had me wondering how many people truly understand what their leaders are saying.

All organizations create their own language to set annual goals and objectives, define the quarterly expectations or even the task for the day. Done to aid in the effectiveness and efficiency of communication, just as metaphors do, acronyms replace department names, strategic plans, and programs, meetings are often conducted as if everyone understands the expressions and language. As a leadership consultant, I often find myself asking for the definition so as not to be left behind.

Communication is a common topic in The Natural Leader programs. As people work through an activity with a horse what quickly becomes clear is how much we assume we are communicating when in reality we are possibly only delivering half the message.

Effective communication shows up through the clarity of our intention, actions, emotions and the words we choose, the impact on others shows up in their actions or lack of them. Consider when you have committed to an objective, or idea, and you don’t experience the enthusiasm you were expecting from your team. How do you interpret that? If they had an interpreter, what might they say to you?

People who don’t understand, don’t stay. It is not a reflection of the competency of the leader or their ability, it is simply a communication break down.

All the elements of the activity Buck demonstrated are there. His subtle actions are enough for the horse, but rarely enough for his larger audience, you have to be dedicated and observant. Without seeing the weight shift the metaphor of opening the door has no meaning. A few more specific and concise words would go a long way to more riders understanding how he achieves his results.

If you had an interpreter what words would they choose to complete your thought?


Nancy Lowery, lives and works in Calgary Alberta Canada. Her business The Natural Leader offers powerful leadership training through interactions with horses.

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.

My AndrePreneur Moment

She was certain she had the spelling right! At seventeen, it was Marie’s first job and she wanted to impress her boss with the care she put into the notes she was transcribing. It was possible Andre Preneur simply had an unlisted number.

Leave an impression she did, her boss roared with laughter. Andre was not the focus of discussion but rather the qualities of an entrepreneur had been.

Marie Delorme shared the story of Andre Preneur at her Famous 5 Foundation presentation over two years ago. Marie did not pursue a career as a legal secretary but has built two businesses under The ImagiNATION Group and this summer proudly accepted a PhD. Marie’s list of accomplishments is long, her presence in the community profound and influence on many young entrepreneurs great.

There was much about her presentation that caught my attention. While our connections fit around her many commitments and busy travel schedule, the idea of AndrePreneur lives on, after all I have become one.

One of 81 individuals representing companies from all over Alberta I had the honour of being nominated for the 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards (EOY). It was a humbling experience to be amoung such talent.

The wonderful evening event, a certificate and the encouragement to apply again next year are but a start, the recognition goes beyond the nomination. It confirmed what The Natural Leader offers does make a difference.

What became clear through the process is the definition of an Entrepreneur for the Ernst & Young program is based on shareholder return and projected corporate growth. The motivation for what I am doing is intentional but combines my talent and knowledge towards creating a viable living where passion before profit prevails. The Natural Leader best fits within the growing numbers of Lifestyle Entrepreneurs.

There was much to model my business after when The Natural Leader began, though little that related directly to what I do. So I created what wasn’t there. The influence we have continues to make inroads as the number of programs delivered grows annually and the distribution of the workbooks I have created is global.

My definition of entrepreneurship may not fit with the EOY program it marries brilliantly with one conceived 37 years ago by an Harvard Business School profession Howard Stevenson. Referenced in January 2012 by Eric Schurenberg of Inc.com “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”. The nomination may have produced a piece of paper but the idea has fueled my desire.

The success of The Natural Leader has been dependent on many. I have managed to partner with some incredibly talented people who share my vision, the passion and the opportunity the work provides. For those who continue to read these, sometimes not so monthly, newsletters Thank You. Thank you for continuing to believe what I am doing can make a difference and for allowing me to share my AndrePreneur moment. It is one of the few resources that I can offer freely.

The Best Definition of Entrepreneurship, Eric Schurenberg

A Thread of Influence

No, I never owned a horse named Lucky. Though I often say “I am lucky with the parents I ended up with,”  because one has little choice in that piece of destiny.

Another saving piece of luck, may well be horses. Despite growing up in the city my mother suggests my passion for horses extends longer than I remember. After years of pleading, my first horse entered my life when I was ten. Joey was love at first sight. Horses have been a thread of interest woven through my life.

Many years have gone by since that first embrace and horses continue to be an influence in my life. Through horses I have learned more about myself then any personality profiling tool could offer. It was a comment by a peer that had me thinking who else has influenced me. She immediately recognized the horsemanship influence but inquired as to who I modelled my leadership and facilitation skills after.

The question stumped me. While I have participated in many programs watching and listening closely to the facilitators “Did I reflect any of them?” to be honest I don’t think so. But the question reminded me of the leaders I have had the opportunity to work with and the qualities I admired in them.

There are two individuals who come to mind when I think of leadership influence. The first is Rick, from the planning group at Parks Canada. While he could sit in a meeting, seemingly uninterested or unengaged I have never yet met another person who could summarize and clarify a discussion better than he. All the while he appeared to me to be working on something unrelated, he was capturing highlights and points that carried through the discussion. When he spoke it was if he had summarized a two hour discussion in five or six key points, reflecting back to the group what was collectively said, felt or omitted. He brilliantly validated what was said and a group would leave completely fulfilled and ready to move forward.

A second leader of influence in my career would be Dave, during my time with the Hot Pools Business Unit at Parks Canada. I’d say he is reflected by the question “What qualities do you most admire in a leader?”

Dave had a knack for helping you see the best in what you already have. When you were uncertain as to whether you had the knowledge to move forward, he always offered the right words  It was as if he simply saw you by your ability, what you could achieve and had yet to learn.

I have had the opportunity to work with numerous other individuals who have given me reference points for what not to do in a leadership role and they stand in stark contrast to those I’ve mentioned. Experiences you don’t care to repeat but my interactions with them have certainly allowed for the empathy required when working with participants in our programs who might be in similar circumstances.

It was the sage wisdom of a business mentor who painted the first picture for me on The Natural Leader programs. She suggested that a good program is like a three legged stool miss one element and the stool won’t stand. She applauded the idea, provided suggestions for honing the content and encouraged me to continue to grow as a facilitator. Since that conversation I have had the great opportunity to work with some excellent facilitators and each and every session I learn and grow from these encounters. Do I reflect them? In some small way I hope so.

So for that question, thank you. I have had the great fortune to have met many wonderful people through my career and like the parents I ended up with lucky to have learned what I did from each of these individuals.

Navigating Change

A polynesian mariner navigates the ocean by the clouds, the stars and the sound of the water on the hull of the boat. A horseman pays attention to the ears of the horse to know what to offer next and a CEO assesses the environment to gain information on how to lead an organisation. The mariner and horseman have developed a keen awareness for their surroundings, basing their next move on feel and experience. If only the signals were as clear for the leader!

In “Thoughts on Leadership Today…”. Laurie Maslak, Phd suggests “the Executive and Managers know all the right things to do, they have all been through extensive leadership development programs, but there’s little buy-in (to do the right things in practice)”. It does not appear to be a lack of good leaders, just a lot of good leaders doing bad things. Many offer a multitude of reasons for this: a persistent level of increased stress and growing workloads; working managers who don’t have anyone to delegate work to or continue to believe they can just do it faster; the economic and competitive market pressures; (and finally) the common complaint “there is no time to lead properly”

When people are overwhelmed a natural default is to focus on task versus strategy, a concept that NYTimes columnist, David Brook explored in his recent TedTalk. Brook offers that we have become very good at living by things we can measure such as tactics, skill and safety and not so great at talking about character, emotions and values. We are social animals so we reflect what is going on inside and outside of us but we can only manage what we recognise. He goes further to suggest that good decisions are emotionally based and that wisdom is a reflection of the unconscious mind and our ability to be sensitive, sympathetic and empathetic.

Just as Maslak observed, Brook believes we must get better at talking about what matters to us. We should feel as comfortable talking about love, passion and what inspires us as we do about spreadsheets, resources and markets. We look to those we admire for guidance because leadership “is a practice that requires vigilance, persistence and a constant awareness of self, others, and the environment. Leadership development is both an internal and an external process.”1

Like the mariner who listens to the water to recognise wave patterns or the horseman who spends years observing and working with horses to recognise how body language impacts the horse, leadership requires that we take a step back, spend time contemplating and look within. “Leadership, in its truest sense of the word, is both an internal and an external experience.”2 The rational part of our being sends us to courses, books and experts the imprecise art of leadership comes from within.

Just as the mariner was seeking safe passage for others, the horseman transforming a colt into a dependable riding horse. A leader must be aware of their emotional input and output in order for others to aspire to be their best.

1&2 – Excerpts from Thoughts on Leadership…Laurie Maslak PhD.
more on David Brooks TedTalk
Elizabeth Lindsey & The Ancestral voices of her past TedTalk

A Year of Great Expectation

A year begins with great expectations. It may be a resolution, a hope for better things to come or plans to change. Inevitably we look forward and focus on what we want to do differently however a new year also provides the opportunity to reflect and acknowledge what we have accomplished.

In a previous article, Why Positive Change is Hard I quoted David Rock on The New Science of Change. Rock suggests that our brain is wired to avoid change as learning requires new circuits to be created in our brains and that is energy intensive, referring to existing patterns isn’t. The brain’s natural default is to use less energy.

Rock uses a simple metaphor for brain development “New circuits are like delicate seedlings, requiring careful watering and care.” and suggests the solution of a mere ten seconds of reflection a day to help develop new circuits. That 10 second rule is the reason that posting a quote, a phrase or a reminder on their desktop, fridge or mirror is so effective in helping us achieve a goal. The simple act of repetition helps the brain develop the new circuits required to develop a new behaviour or habit.

We are naturally resistant to change and ironically don’t like to admit it. It took me a long time to recognise I am a creature of habit. I don’t believe my answers to many of the psychometric tests taken over the years honestly reflect that, but you can’t argue with absolute proof, ten years of feeding horses two to three times a day no matter the weather is routine.

Stepping outside the comfort zone of routine is harder than I expected. My natural inclination is to come up with the reasons why I might as well not bother going to that event in town be it weather, traffic, time, I’d have to change, it falls about the same time I should be feeding or I haven’t paid yet so no big loss. Trust me I have become the master of excuses. So this year my resolution is to reach out to the many I have made virtual connections with. New or renewed, one person at a time, I am making that commitment. While social networking may be huge I’m still a fan of the power of personal connection, that is after all, what we speak to in our programs.

Sometimes creating a new habit is easier than we think it might be. When all appeared to be overwhelming for me as a teen, my mom suggested that I write down a list of the good things I could be thankful for in one column and what was bothering me in the other. Needless to say the list of good things was lengthy and the four items on the bad, didn’t seem quite so daunting. It is a simple task I continue to carry with me – My expectations for 2010 were many. I have succeeded with some, fallen short on others but acknowledging what I have achieved goes a long way to inspiring what I can do this year.

Last year I :
• created a Year of Inspirations ebook (if you didn’t receive a copy I would be happy to send it to you)
• completed & launched the facilitators guide – Creating Exceptional Leaders through learning with horses (it is for sale on my website)
• helped raise over $26k for Inn from the Cold (a non-profit foundation for homeless families)
• participated in the first Canadian Cowboy Up Challenge
• started four 3 yr old colts and continue to bring them along
• worked with two horses for friends (I am most proud of how well that has worked out)
• produced a monthly newsletter & (almost) weekly inspiration
• continued to develop 11 other horses
• nursed two horses back to health from rather ugly looking injuries (one my fault; one I inherited)
• added two new horses to the herd
• added four new clients to my horsemanship coaching
• travelled to Montana for a Buck Brannaman clinic
• read many new books on horsemanship
• expanded my leadership library and reading
• completed the script for an online video (the taping will now have to be a 2011 activity)
• completed numerous sketches of the herd
• added three new clients to my corporate programming
• ran three successful sessions for the University of Calgary
• ran a pilot for the Rotary Club of Calgary Stay in School program
• launched the Lead Mare mentorship program for youth
• ran the first Yoga for you & Your Horse session
• offered two conference presentations
• spent three days with six horses down at the Stampede grounds
• continued to feed, trim and care for the herd now totalling 17, 365 days of the year

If I can do that, the simple act of reaching out seems to be an attainable goal.

Implementing change begins with recognising what you are good at and building realistic expectations from there, then create the reminders you need to accomplish them. So I have posted a question for myself – Who am I connecting with this week on my desktop and to begin the year I have created another ebook. A Year of Great Expectation is a compilation of essays, quotes and images from newsletters and inspirations from the past year.

“..in this modern world where machines and scientific inventions multiply unceasingly, the horse can have an important role. He is the ideal companion for man, who loves him and finds in his company something rarefied and transcendent.” Nuno Oliveira