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Can horses change the way we behave?

We talk a lot about changing horse’s behavior to suit our needs and aspirations, but can horses change the way we think and behave?  This is a question I pose when working with delegates from businesses as part of the leadership and management training I do with Charlie Unwin, a leading performance psychologist.

Yesterday, I spent a great day with thirty account leaders from JLT Insurance from their offices around the world.  The focus was to improve the way they inspired and managed their teams through self-appraisal from working on the ground with a range of horses.  Amongst a number of interesting observations that came from the day, the five following points can not only make us an inspirational leader in business or a great part of a team at work, but can also improve all our human-human and human-animal relationships.

  1. HORSES DON’T CARE WHO YOU ARE! Horses don’t have preconceptions. They don’t care if you are the CEO or the receptionist; what matters to them is how that person behaves around them.  Great leaders tend to treat all people with respect, honesty and directness; something that horses respond well to.
  2. ARE YOU LIVING UP TO YOUR SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY? A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, due to positive feedback between belief and behaviour. Therefore, if you approach an exercise with your horse with the mindset that you are going to achieve it, you are much more likely to be successful. This is the same in all areas of life and it rubs off on people around you; it is time to throw away those “I don’t think I can”, “it’s too hard”, “I can’t” thoughts!
  3. CHANGE YOUR FOCUS TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS. People who handle horses with fear or frustration tend to focus on the source of these feelings, rather than on how to achieve their goal.  By focusing on the processes, rather than your emotions, you will be more likely to achieve your goals.  You may need to review your processes, too, in order to be successful.
  4. THE IMPORTANCE OF REWARD AND REFLECTION. Horses learn when they are given a reward for doing what they are being asked.  For example, when you give a cue, they respond with a movement. If they respond in the right way, they are given a break (a reward) and time to reflect. This is the same for humans; we all need a pat on the back and time to reflect after we have achieved our targets, or time to work out why something went wrong. Rewards and reflection are crucial parts to learning and motivation, and are sometimes overlooked under the pressures of a business.  The timing of these can make a great leader.
  5. ARE YOU SELF-AWARE? Before you can change your horse, you need to understand how your body language, behavior and manner is affecting him; it may be you that needs to change first! In the workplace, a leader’s behavior has a great impact on those working for them, and a great leader understands when, and how, they themselves need to change in order for their team to be more productive and successful. Continual self-appraisal helps to assess our unconscious actions, particularly when under pressure.

So, going back to the question, “Can horses change the way we think and behave?” Yes, they most definitely can!  I would love to hear how skills you have learnt from your “horsey-life” have helped you in your work or home.  I think the biggest transfer of skills for me has been with my children.  The patience and consistency I have had to develop through training horses has definitely helped with raising my kids, although it can be hard to keep calm in some circumstances!