Janice Webster – on horses entering her life

Janice Webster is Senior Vice President Human Resources at Solium. For over twenty years she has been enabling high-performing organizations to excel.  She admits these past three years have changed her through what she has learned from the two horses she and her husband now own. In this interview Janice explores what horses have taught her about herself, life and work. You could say it has been a fast ride!

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AllisonWright Calgary Stampede

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.

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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


It’s a Matter of Trust

I had to trust her, I was reaching to pick up a back foot. It had taken the better part of a year to get to this point and if actions reflect thoughts, trust had to be visible in everything I did. I had to trust me.

Pheobe joined the herd when a divorce required the assets be divided. Her trip to the meat pen was intercepted by a friend who put out a call for anyone willing to take on mares in foal. My offer to take a couple was clearly emotional as the logic of taking on four more horses typically requires planning.

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What Do You See?


“I understand you are scared. I appreciate there is an experience behind your fear.  I am asking  “What behaviours have you seen demonstrated by the horses that would suggest that you need to be concerned? ”

Therapy is not something that I do with The Natural Leader programs, so when I encounter someone who has been traumatized with horses I do not have the degree to back me up. I can only go with what I see. Leadership is about demonstrated behaviour and a conversation I am quite comfortable with, so behaviour is where my focus lies.

Fear can be a great motivator, a tool for learning or it can paralyze us. What I hope for those who are fearful is that they can recognize how fear, or the story, that is holding them back from achieving more in their career or life.

Too afraid to even enter the arena, a participant of a recent program had been watching her peers go through a series of activities with the horses. Before heading up for lunch, I asked if she would be willing to connect with a horse together. I was searching for the invitation she would be comfortable with. Even with that offer, she was hesitant, in fact she flat out refused.

She had shared her story of trauma by horses with the Wranglers and was keen to let me in on the details. I expect she had also told everyone else on her team. Repeating the story not only re-traumatized her, but words of acknowledgement from others appeared to reconfirm her fear.

You can’t tell someone “Don’t be afraid”, so I was looking for the question that would help her step out of her comfort zone. What she had seen – the demonstrated behaviours or facts, rather than what she had believed to be true – the story. When she admitted she had seen nothing that confirmed her fear, she offered that coming into the arena with “one” horse might be okay.

In The Natural Leader programs “Everything is an invitation. An Invitation can be accepted, modified or declined.” I was thrilled she was willing to take that step. I had picked Big Jim. Though large in stature Big Jim is the image of calm and quiet. Still concerned, the introduction was short but she acknowledged she could be beside a horse. She left the arena one big step closer to change.

That afternoon, she volunteered to be the observer. Perhaps it was sharing those observations with her team that helped her believe she was ready to participate. Her smile and the change in her body language that followed suggested the relief that came with the belief she could do this, as her confidence grew so too did her participation.

She needed others to see and believe what she had believed impossible. Leaders are given that responsibility all the time, opening the door to allow someone to step through and experience the change they are seeking.

“How can I trust your yes, if you can’t say No?”

Getting out of my own way

Reflecting on her goals from the day a participant of a recent Leadership: Horse Sense to People Smarts, session suggested that her confidence in dealing with difficult conversations and conflict in her team, improves “when I get out of my own way”. It was one of those comments that could have been my theme statement for the month! Getting out of my own way relates to both my horsemanship and business.

Watch a horse at play in the field and you will witness rollbacks, spins, levades, piaffes and counter canters with the greatest of ease. If a horse can execute these tasks without us, why is it so hard to achieve the same when we ask it of them? It is one of the most common and most difficult questions to answer, it always depends, and it always comes down to getting out of the horses way.

What I have come to understand about how we learn is we are often only prepared to hear what we need at that moment in time. Effortlessly galloping across the open prairie, horses mane and tail flying is typically the first image that comes to mind for those wishing to learn how to ride. Yet when they first get on that dream disappears and fear takes over. Whether it is fear of falling off or fear of failing, it is the emotion that can hold us back.

When fear grips us our first reaction is to hold our breath – the exact opposite of what we need to do. At a recent HRAC event, Shawne Duperon talked of the fear reaction we often experience when meeting new people. She calls the conscious action of breathing the Cycle of Reciprocity – you breathe to help the other person relax and breathe, breaking the tension that might exist.

It is exactly the same tension that shows up between horse and rider. While I often say there are only 5256 things you need to remember when on your horse, I make clear there is only one thing you must begin with and that is to breathe. It is the same thing I repeat often in our leadership programs. When people become conscious about a completely non-conscious action, breathing, they begin to realize the control they can exercise over their own emotions.

I love it when you identify something in a different context to see our own patterns of behaviour that may limit us. Horses benefit from clearly defined patterns of repetition. While I find huge comfort in the routine horses offer, I also see how it is a behaviour I have used as an excuse for the activities that are outside of my comfort zone.

Starting a business was totally outside my comfort zone and as I learned way beyond what I thought I knew. I have remained focused and intent on succeeding with my business and I have learned a lot through the process. I am also now painfully aware of my own short comings, but in a good way as I can choose to do differently. What is curious is the clarity comes as I hear others struggle with the same questions.

So this past month getting out of my own way has lead to many revelations, changes and new projects. I will soon be releasing my next workbook for people interested in learning with horses – In Business to Define; I have already confirmed 10 programs for 2012 and have a new partner in lining up business to fill in other dates.

As I learn to really listen to what it is I need I am finding it easier to let others help out so The Natural Leader succeeds. So thank you to everyone for waiting patiently as I figured that out!

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr Seuss

Are You a Thought Note Person?

Are you a thought note person? I certainly am. When a thought strikes me as interesting I am prone to capture it. When I write these things down everything is perfectly clear as my internal editor is filling in the blanks where words of explanation should be.

The problem is, I often don’t review those notes until some days or weeks later and the intention or meaning of the words may have all but disappeared. Without the context or intention behind the words, or perhaps it is simply the cryptic way I captured the thought, I sometimes have no clue as to why I wrote it down.

Our internal editor often causes us to skip the most basic of information, assuming we will simply fill that in later. Unfortunately it is the basics that the idea is built on and without that our thought lies incomplete, words on the page or just as likely in the notepad on our digital device.

To my surprise I realize I often execute tasks in the same way. Whether it is communication, projects or how I interact with others I can leave out key pieces of information that completes my expectation to ensure the success of others.

Actions than rang true for me with one of last years colts. Starting Gabriel last fall went really well. Typically I get a colt to a point and then let them mature on that over the winter months picking things up again in the spring. Well this spring we discovered a small hole that had become a gaping disaster when Gabe turned his back end into the carraganna hedge. A branch must have tickled him up under the flank turning my angel into a rank, bucking bronco an effort that would have made any Stampede cowboy proud. Fortunately for me, it was before I got on. An oversight I would not have been able to ride out.

We never want to put ourselves into a situation where we have to ride out a bad event, the problem is we rarely know when it is about to happen. It has now taken me twice as long to get Gabe back and riding to where we should have been from the start in the spring. Time well spent as for me it has been an invaluable lesson – never skip on the basics, never assume someone else really understands your expectation and remember to complete the thought.

When we turn our internal editor off it is so much easier to hear what you are saying, listen to the questions and watch for what others need. These three simple steps help us anticipate when a blank needs to be filled.

If you view it as an opportunity to start over – you always have another chance to complete a thought and make a good first impression.

Thanks to Steve Giddy for this photo