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January 15, 2019 2 Comments
I've heard many people say that when they learn horsemanship they become better people. Their personal lives become more grounded, their minds become clearer, and their communication with others becomes more acute.
What does horsemanship have to do with leadership and communication?
Well... maybe everything.
Let me explain. Then, let me tell you my personal story.
First, horses have a relatively underdeveloped brain compared to modern humans. They don't solve puzzles well and struggle to think laterally. However, when you look closely at the emotional response system of a horse, you see an almost identical match to the emotional response systems of humans under pressure. In other words, at an animal level, we act like animals (horses in this case).
When life circumstances stack up against us, we react. Our reactions are much like that of a prey animal. We fight, we freeze, or we flee in high-pressure situations until we learn how to navigate those situations differently. We all do this to some degree. That's exactly what horses do and it's not until we learn how to control or redirect those instinctual responses in ourselves that we can become better, smarter, more controlled humans.
What training horses, or other animals, can do for us is put us in a teaching mindset, which ironically makes us better learners. Have you ever heard the expression, "Teach that which you most need to learn."?
If you teach a horse to respond better in a tough situation, you inadvertently teach yourself how to respond better in a tough situation. This is the carry-over that you get from teaching horses. If you teach your horse to solve puzzles, using reward oriented, or natural techniques, you learn what it takes to BE natural, be kind, soft-spoken, reward-oriented, assertive if necessary, and positive while solving puzzles. By teaching horses, you learn to communicate with raw animal emotion, which is exactly what people often express during intense communication efforts.
By teaching, you learn!
Eighty-three people sat in six rows of new folding chairs, just seven feet in front of me. I could literally smell them, not the chairs... the people. I wondered if they could smell me too. I was sweating. The stage I stood on was elevated a mere eight inches off the ground putting me rather close to the audience and the whiteboard behind me, previously littered with notes from a recent course taught by one of my favorite instructors, was now blank. The empty board was a vast, black hole of important knowledge that had been absorbed through its shiny surface over the course of the last two weeks. It was now my duty to retrieve that knowledge from the depths of my memory and present it to the new class. The previous instructor, a mentor of mine from years ago was named Linda Parelli.
She asked me a few weeks prior to shadow her classes so that I could teach the same information to the new incoming class. The same class I now stood in front of with sweat beading under my hairline. Thank God for cowboy hats because nobody noticed yet. Linda knew me well and trusted my ability, but this was the first time I'd spoken in front of an audience this size.
The door in the back swung close, indicating it was time to start, and I took my first deep breath of the morning. I wasn't sure I was ready, but the time had come, and I began.
I desperately held the classes attention for the course of about sixty minutes, guiding them through history lessons, personality charts, line graphs, and the occasional self-deprecating joke. After fielding a few questions I organized a classroom break and a new meeting place near the training pen, located just outside our building. At that point, I took my second deep breath for the morning and I knew my journey as a real teacher had begun.
The content for the two-week course, which I was teaching, was all about horse psychology. It was my dream course because I loved all the details of leadership and psychology. So much so, that later, when I separated from Parelli and created my own programs, I wrote my own book about leadership and horses. I chose that course because I love being able to see and change any negative behavior in a horse no matter what level that horse was training for. I love being able to see the balance of the horse, the energy output of the horse, and the focus patterns of the horse. But in truth, even though the content was a natural fit for me, I couldn't see all those details... at least not well. Not until I taught them.
As a teacher, I was forced to learn each detail as if it were sandwiched between two pieces of glass, back-lit with a powerful light, and set under a high powered microscope. As a teacher, I had to learn to see what happens before what happens happens. As a student, I could never see the same details with such clarity.
That's not to say, being a student isn't important. It is... It's a part of the process, but putting on the teacher's hat, and guiding another being through a puzzle, has power beyond basic learning. You could call leadership training, deep learning because you're not only teaching your subject, you're also teaching yourself to guide and to lead. That was my real journey, and that is not unlike the journey I ask you, the reader, to take.
When you open the stall door or the gate to your horse's life, you become partners with your horse, but in this partnership, one of you must lead. One of you must be in control. One of you must guide each step forward with precision, elegance, clarity, and purpose. That person is you. You must step into a world of deep learning, and the more you learn about yourself in the process of leading and guiding a horse, the more you learn about yourself in life and communication with people. The more you practice, the better you get. In other words, by practicing teaching a horse to carry a saddle or stand in a trailer or respond to a hand or leg signal, you're practicing being a leader. A leader among men and women. A leader in your family and relationship. And leaders who are kind, soft-spoken, assertive when necessary, patient, clear, and focused, are exactly the kind of leaders this world needs and everyone admires.
So now I want to ask you, what are you focused on with your horse? Are you preparing for a competition? Are you attempting flying lead changes? Are you learning to saddle, pick out the feet, lead outside the pasture? Are you trying to teach your horse to be trustworthy? No matter what you're focused on, I'm asking you to keep focusing on it. Keep practicing leading this emotional animal, and your own brain, through tough situations because it will not only improve the quality of his or her life, it will improve the quality of your life!
Your life will improve because you'll learn that you do have what it takes to communicate with raw emotions (which so many people express, including you and I). You'll learn you can plan, you can stay focused, you don't give up, you are rewarding. You'll learn, you are pleasant, you can be assertive without raising your own temper, and you can be an admirable, memorable, loving person. You can look back at your own life and say, "I've done that. I walked out that door. I made progress. I know how to lead with passive persistence. I know how to clear my mind. I can inspire. I am capable of teaching others to respond in positive ways and enjoy the process too. I am proud and I am happy."
Comment below and share this article with all your horse loving friends. Enthusiastically teach them and guide them by the same principles you and I love and share.