“There are so many opportunities in everyone’s life that are laying there in little hidden places and if you can just be open, aware and pluck them out when they present themselves, it can change your life.” Cindy Meehl

Remember to Breathe

I have mentioned this years eBook – “Breathe” in a couple of past newsletters. This month completing it became my focus. “Breathe” is the third compilation of images, essays and quotes from the past years newsletters. Past years eBooks are also available from our website in The Collection.

It was a struggle to get this years eBook together. Excuses were easy to find. I couldn’t find the words to introduce the work, there should be more images, I have no new sketches. Then the unthinkable happened, my nephew took his own life. Colin was 25.


Martin Black in, Evidence Based Horsemanship, on a horse “They remember the past, live in the present and make no plans for the future beyond bringing comfort to a current situation. We remember the past, live in the present, and based on knowledge we have gained, we plan for the future.”

The Values We Live By

How well can you or your employees articulate the operating principals, vision or values of your organization? Like most companies I have put a lot of effort into creating these statements for The Natural Leader and realised I had missed communicating a basic operating principal to my own team when the question was asked “Wouldn’t it be easier to use disposable dishes for the meals at the sessions?”

Having recently completed a comprehensive manual for my Wranglers with a Difference, those who assist in The Natural Leader programs I had neglected to express the core value of Environmental Responsibility.

I can’t help but see the irony of the oversight. Values are a basic leadership concept we explore through our programs. A horse lives by the most basic of values, their lives, every action or reaction a horse makes is based on that value. What we value is the foundation of our leadership philosophy and style and will be reflected in what we do and how others see us.

As organisations we put together our websites, press releases and visions statements assuming everyone who works with us will know and live by what we have produced. The problem is not everyone is involved with creating that material so how do you get their buy-in?

Repetition is the foundation of teaching a new activity or behaviour to a horse. Repetition reinforces an idea and solidifies the learning and if leadership is about walking the talk, some messages are simply worth repeating.

An oversight easily fixed has introduced a whole new way of thinking about how I engage my Wranglers with a Difference. As the face of The Natural Leader their understanding of why we do things certain ways is important to the messages they convey to those who participate in our sessions.

The Natural Leader vision, values and operating principals continue to be a work in progress. I will repeat and reinforce the ideas and core values I would like The Natural Leader to be recognised by through engaging the individuals who help make us successful.

How life will throw you a curve when you least expect it! Here I am writing about the value of life and sadly my nephew decided his wasn’t worth saving. Colin struggled with depression for a couple of years and was unable to accept the love and help of those he mattered most to. While we differ from animals with our ability to reason and rationalize, there are some questions we simply cannot answer. Colin has found the peace he was seeking, now the search begins for those he left behind.

“Why do you always wear a cowboy hat?” “Because it fits my head.” was the reply.

An exchange between Grace and Joe in the movie The Horse Whisperer.

Leadership, Horsemanship & Yoga

On about the twentieth downward dog of the class my mind started to drift. It could have been the heat of the room causing me to consider places I would rather be or simply it was the only position that allowed blood to my head. My transitions were getting slower, the hop your feet forward was more like a drag and time was slowing.

Despite that image I enjoy yoga – it helps maintain a strong core and good balance, I have to focus on breathing and yoga is another opportunity to push my limits. As I seek the feel of lengthen and shift I can’t miss the fact they are principals that apply to my leadership journey and elements that impact my horsemanship. Yoga, horsemanship or leadership it is all about me.

My first reaction was to stop, when my dog Lilly caused Rhys to bolt*. In an instant it became clear stopping was not an option but Ray Hunt’s words “I can ride a horse as fast as he can run.” seemed plausible. With all the time in the saddle and experience I have gained I let go of my first thought, I knew I could ride it out. Nature sets these events up well, as oxygen got the better of Rhys before we hit the end of the field so we slowed to a lope, trot then walk with little effort on my part. The remainder of the ride was quite pleasant once my heart slowed down and my left foot stopped shaking.

Leadership, horsemanship or yoga is about preparing yourself for how you will handle yourself when the going gets tough. Rhys has always suggested that he might bolt. When concerned Rhys locks down his tail and it feels like something is trying to grab him from behind, so what happened was a case of when. The more we test our relationship and trust for each other through longer and more varied rides the less often the ya buts occur.

In the back of my mind there has always been that question “What if?”. Self talk brings on self doubt, ironically words spoken by one of Calgary’s few female corporate leaders at a recent luncheon. She stated that self-doubt is one of the greatest limiting factors women bring on themselves in attaining leadership status in the corporate world. Believing that I would survive through the ride was all I needed, the rest was the knowledge and skill I have spent years developing.

Just as the yoga instructor is calling to us to push ourselves see if you can hold the pose just one more breath. Leadership and horsemanship is about that one breath bringing us places we never saw ourselves before. If you have read past newsletters you might recall that Rhys is often featured. While I love a quiet uneventful ride, I am always preparing myself and my horse for the what ifs.

We learn the most about ourselves from our challenging experiences, or at least we have that opportunity. I have learned more about myself, my horsemanship and my leadership through a decision way back when that “One of us had to change.”

*bolt in this context is a mad dash with little control as to direction or speed

Lovin What You Do

We all know someone who professes to love what they do. They are passionate about getting up every day and going to work, they view a day at the office as simply another opportunity.

While my office may look a bit different, I am fortunate to include myself in that group. Loving what you do isn’t always easy and I am the first to admit that I now understand why people get jobs!

Acknowledging my excitement at signing on a client for a series of sessions this year, a friend responded with “it’s only taken you eight years to become an overnight sensation.” I had to laugh at the absolute truth! No wonder so many people give up on their dream of their own business within the first five years, it is hard work and often without a lot of immediate returns.

While the returns might not be immediate, the benefits are many. Others who start a business typically pick up a past employer as a first contract, what I realised is the seven years prior to me leaving a job were focused on clients in the U.S. and Europe so my local contacts were very limited. That required me to step outside my comfort zone and get out to meet people. Past strangers I now call friends. I have learned more in the past eight years than my formal schooling years in total. And it’s all been relevant!

While I have always been pretty good at setting goals, managing time and completing activities, the reasons I fit so well into the role of managing programs. That skill has proven itself over in spades as I am not waiting for someone else to do something for me, but I am getting better at hiring others who will do certain things quicker than I.

I have learned so much about myself that it truly helps in how I connect and communicate with others and of that I am still learning. That knowledge continues to enhance my leadership and my horsemanship. Leadership and horsemanship it’s all the same to me and my job now is to help others see where the parallels lie for them.

My closing thought at a school presentation for grade eleven and twelve students considering their career path. “This career didn’t exist when I was in school. It was one that showed up for me as I developed the skills I would need to be successful. Just be open and journey you start out on may lead to totally unexpected destinations.”

“Our premise is that no one acts in a way that they know is wrong just to be wrong. … If they knew a harmonious way to achieve their goals with their horses, they would follow that way.” Emily Kitching, Eclectic Horseman

A Ringside Seat

For two days I had been working hard at achieving the flow of the activity, but the goal of a soft feel and fluid motion remained elusive. As Jack and I continued to muddle around the arena, a voice came from outside fence “Would you mind if I made an observation?”

I had to stop and turn to where the voice came from as it was certainly not one I knew. “Please”, I responded as I was pretty sure any suggestion could improve on where we were at. With a single question, what had been painfully obvious to others was finally clear to me. The difference in outcome, nothing short of remarkable.

I was riding in a clinic with horsemanship master Buck Brannaman, but it was my ringside consultant who opened up the greatest possibilities for me that weekend. As horsemanship is all about our own behaviours, it was Chris’ simple suggestion that had helped me to adjust mine. The Zen saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” fits as that one observation has lead to an ongoing dialogue with a friend willing to share his experience and wisdom.

While it may simply be a case of semantics, a term or a title can be everything. I was beginning to believe I was uncoachable however, being mentored is totally appealing. Founded in Greek Mythology, even the word mentor conjures up an image of admiration. Off to fight a two decade long war, Odysseus left his son Telemachus in the charge of faithful friend Mentor, to raise his son to be an honourable, truthful and courageous man.

Corey Olynik captures that appeal in his book “The Mentor’s Mentor”. The first chapter One Conversation Many Installments introduces the concept beautifully. Olynik’s view is the Mentor plays many roles through that Conversation. A role that begins as a Confidante and listens without judgement; is a Role Model with the experience to share, a Guide to help a protege see things for herself, a Tutor to facilitate learning, a Coach to bring accountability to the relationship and ultimately the overarching role of a Sage who keeps his eye on the vision.

Since that day last summer our conversations have covered many topics family, death, politics, the environment, the weather with a thread that always returns to horsemanship. Chris has some wonderful experience to share and his suggestions have greatly enhanced my learning and progress, he has asked the tough questions that make me think about my next step and overall he understands the ultimate goal we both seek in our relationship with our horse.

I have found yet one more Mentor to my horsemanship and leadership journey. Chris, it has been an unexpected and fun conversation, with what I hope to be many installments yet to come. Thank you.

My patience is infinite.

Buck Brannaman