Whether we admit it or not, being a great leader at work or at home has a lot to do with how we cultivate our relationships, communicate effectively and more important, act authentically. It has nothing to do with being smart, rich, organized or super productive. Walk up to any horse and they will immediately let you know if you have what it takes in a matter of seconds. And if you don’t, chances are, you don’t have it in your human relationships either.
When I started riding at Willow Brook Farms with my trainer, Bill Yerger, I was riding Western and learning new things like rollbacks, sliding stops, and spins. It was exciting and the possibility of someday competing was exciting too. But time and family obligations just doesn’t allow for that right now. My “lessons” were so much more about riding anyway. It was teaching me how to be a better mom, wife, friend and manager at work.
Normally when I would go to the barn, my lesson horse, Paulie, would be in his stall. The one day I had to catch him out in the field, amongst a herd of other “brown” horses, I got confused. Which one was the horse I had been riding these past few weeks? I wasn’t sure. Surely he would know and make it clear. After all, I had been his partner for weeks and HE would recognize ME.
What happened was that he did recognized me. He recognized that I was so shallow that this so called relationship I had with him was completely inauthentic. I gave him a nod and walked right by because I wasn’t sure he was the horse I was supposed to “catch”. And as soon as I realized he was the one, he didn’t just walk away from me, he ran!
I did eventually manage to get a halter on him and get him back to the barn but he didn’t respect me in our lesson and we struggled. He didn’t listen, and I had to yell. Not verbally, but with my seat, legs and hands.
I wasn’t surprised. As an equine facilitated learning practitioner and personal coach, I am much more aware of how horses can teach us life lessons by how they mirror our own thoughts, energy and emotions as we put them into action. My lack of respect for our relationship that day was a metaphorical kick in the pants. Where in my life have I done this? What relationships am I being shallow or inauthentic? How do I relate to people and am I struggling with them the way I struggled with my horse during our lesson?
And there it was. A few days prior, my 6 year old and I were having a hard time. I was wanting what I wanted as a mom who likes to control situations and their outcomes. My way or the highway. Walking right past my son’s feelings, ideas and needs. This was not leadership. I was frustrated and feeling like a failure. It is no wonder that my horse reacted the way that he did and no wonder my son was fighting with me.
As our lesson progressed that day, Bill pointed out the ins and outs of being a leader, and how I was not gaining respect from my horse. Neither of us was getting a fair deal and while I was spinning my wheels I very successfully became tired, sweaty and miserable. Paulie was cool, calm and collected undoubtedly snickering at my inability to take full responsibility for my actions.
The days I struggle in my lessons, whether in the saddle or doing groundwork, are the days my horse shows me where I am struggling in my life. Like driving a car, you can’t see what is in your blind spot until you look in your mirror.
A horse holds up the mirror for you. And unlike that guy you may have accidentally cut off and sent spiraling into a ditch (only kidding), a horse doesn’t judge you. He only gives you the opportunity to recognize your part in your relationships and you can choose to become a better leader for it now that you know who you are.