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  • Writer's pictureKate Crawshaw

Can a horse teach you more about yourself as a leader than 100 hours of coaching?

It was not difficult to shout a big “yes please” when invited to join a day’s taster with the team at Equiano, who provide equine-assisted insights for individuals and teams. (We both share the same reverence for experiential learning and get very excited about it).

Approaching the equestrian centre on a very rainy and misty day, I was nervous. Would I have to get on the horse? What coaching model would the horse be using? Would I be offered a sugar lump for good behaviour?

Fortunately for me and Lola, my coach for the day, this was a ride-free zone.

My challenge was to lead Lola around the arena. No navigation of stirrups required, the task seemed achievable. Or so I initially thought.

Lola was quickly able to tell me that if I concentrated too much on being liked index and was not my clarity with directions index that she would use me as a scratching post. (Horse talk for you’re nice but I don’t feel compelled do what you ask).

Other participants who went to the other end of spectrum were again confronted with a non-compliant horse, this time less affectionate.

I had time to reflect with the group and then we moved to the seemingly more complicated team trial. This time we all had roles, alternated them and all took a turn in leading the horse BLINDFOLDED.

Here is Kate, demonstrating how masks make good blindfolds, being supervised by her safety officer.

Well, it seems leading horses blindfolded is a lot easier for some. I learnt that if I just relax, listen to instructions and don’t worry about how Lola is reacting, I can get on with things quite effectively. As a team we were clear about our roles, we all knew what to do and we got on with the doing.

I completed the task, appreciating that I had maneuvered a horse who knew what they wanted around an array of obstacles and even backed it into a small horse parking spot. With my eyes out of the picture, removing my constant need to checking in and be validated, I was able to do the task in record time, our team collectively blitzing all known Lola leading records.

This is the beauty of an activity designed with an experiential learning lens:

  • It is memorable. I am sure Lola will never forget this day and nor will I.

  • It is personalised. Every person walked away from the same training with a different lesson.

  • It is fast. I interacted with Lola directly for about 30 minutes. The learning was clear, powerful and delivered with speed.

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