6 Leadership Lessons Learned From Horses

How to increase your leadership effectiveness both personally and professionally.

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I recently visited a horse ranch, and spent the day with horses, and the lessons I learned about myself and my leadership were extremely powerful and life-changing.

Horses can teach us a lot about leadership, life, and business. Many people work with horses to improve their communication, relationship, and leadership skills. Horses are also used to help others in mental health recovery, addiction, and other various forms of equine-assisted therapy and coaching.

These animals have an unbelievable ability to reflect back to us our current internal experience, state, and energy in a way that allows us to grow and learn about ourselves. The sensitivity of the horse is one that mirror’s the person working with them—the horse acts as a mirror to the person’s emotions and how they are feeling internally. 

When I decided to spend the day, learning about the horses, it turned out to be a day that I learned so much about myself. The instructor asked me which horse would I like to work with, and as a person who likes a challenge I picked the most stubborn, horse out of the pack; if I could move & direct this horse with my mind, internal state, and energy–then I could be truly unstoppable right?

Onto working with the alpha horse I went; here are 6 lessons I learned about leadership, life, and business from that day.

1. Decide. As I walked out onto the field, the first thing the instructor asked me to do was decide where and in what direction did I want the horse to go? Decide, see and set the intention first.

If we do not decide where we want to go or see it in our mind, how are we ever going to get there? Clarify what is wanted and by when. Many of us do not take the time to do this step.

 The simple act of deciding is a powerful one.

2. Slow Down & Be Present. When I got on the field, I was nervous, so my natural default mode kicked in and I controlled the situation, trying to get the horses’ attention any way I could, waving my arms, and even directing the horse with my words—it didn’t work. Horses aren’t like dogs, they do not initially react to your words or direction, rather they act and read your energy, confidence, and presence.

The instructors invited me to slow down, start over and be fully present in my body.

How many times when we feel uneasy, unsure, and nervous do we tend to control, grasp and manipulate?

That is what I was doing. 

The minute I slowed down, took a stand, was present in my body, and took back control of my energy, the horse turned towards me and started to walk in the direction that I wanted him to go.

 It was truly incredible – once the inner shift was made, the horse followed. 

How often do we try to control the external world & circumstances to feel a certain way internally?

3. Care and Connect. I was so focused on getting the horse to move, and to move in the direction that I wanted it to go, that I forgot to connect and care about the horse.

The minute I made eye contact with him, connected with him, and truly cared, this 7-foot tall horse was then starting to walk over to me. The minute I started to care and connect with him is the exact moment he started to move in the direction that I wanted him to go. 

We are all waiting, wanting, and craving to be seen, heard, and understood.

4. Be Authentic. Once the horse saw me in my truth and my authenticity — he listened. 

No hiding, no pretending just real, raw me. Messing up and not getting it right.

There were no judgments, no hesitating, no “am I good enough” conversations going on, just simply enjoying the process and taking one step forward at a time.

5. Boundaries. Setting boundaries and personal space is a lesson that a horse tested on one of my friends.

A horse started to play nip at my friend’s angle—at first, it seemed like she was ok with the horse coming up to her that closely, yet when the horse was playing around with her and started to nip at her angle she was startled. This happened because she didn’t set a boundary with the horse–she allowed him to get too close. He knew what he was doing to test how close and far he could push the boundary. 

How often do we honor and set clear, strong boundaries? With ourselves? With others? 

6. Give Clear Direction. Avoid Confusion. As I was directing the horse to go into the spot that I had envisioned him to go, I kept waving him in that direction. I thought I was giving him clear direction.

However, there was a point in time where he stopped and just looked at me. I didn’t know what was happening, so my instructor asked me if I was feeling clear or confused about where I wanted him to go?

Internally, I was a little bit confused about where I wanted the horse to go. He sensed that. 

I took a step back, started over, then proceed to give very clear direction, on where I wanted him to go and he followed!

Are you both internally and externally aligned and clear when giving direction? If there is any confusion going on take a step back, start over, give clear direction, and then lead from that place.

I highly recommend if you haven’t worked with horses before, to make sure you make it a point to experience them at least once. You may just learn something new about yourself. 

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