Horses for Courses

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The Scribblaire recently attended a seminar / experiential day out in the Wiltshire countryside.   The event was billed as ‘an exploration of fear, change and how to find courageous leadership’.  

The seminar was run by Equest, who are known for their experiential learning activities using interaction with horses. There were eight invited participants and four facilitators, which meant quite a lot of attention for each individual, supported by the learning that others in each group took from the activity.

The day started at 10 a.m. at the lovely Suddene Park Farm, not far from Marlborough. Lots of coffee and pastries were available for breakfast.  I had stopped en route at the salubrious Reading Services for a cooked breakfast, so it was just coffee for me.

When all the participants had arrived we were introduced to the day and split into small groups. There were three of us in my group and we were joined by Pam who asked us to identify a fear we had relating to horses.   Apart from the odd chat across a fence, the last time the Scribblaire had anything to do with horses was when I was about 14. It was a memorable experience mainly because the horse I was trying to get onto reared up and stamped on me. For the record, it was entirely my fault! Although I wasn’t badly injured, I ended up with a horseshoe shaped bruise on my left arm which was sore for a while. So, my fear was that, whilst I’m not afraid of horses per se, I’m not very comfortable being too close to them without a gate separating us. Significantly, I was worried that the horse(s) might pick up on my fear and react to it.

What has this got to do with leadership you may ask? Well, if I worry that a horse might pick up on my fear, this could translate into ‘being found out’ in a work context. The Equest team work with individuals to ‘befriend their fear’ and concentrate on authenticity and courage (amongst other things – these were the two that resonated with me).

After observing a group of horses in the paddock, each group went out with a facilitator to meet the horses. One after the other, we went with our facilitator to one of the two horses in each field and greeted them in the way we had been told. My journey was slow, although I thought I should confidently stride up to the horse, I understood that this wasn’t really how I felt. I slowly walked half way before stopping to ground myself and understand how the (slight but real) fear was manifesting itself. Once I had slowed my breathing and unclenched my teeth I went closer.   Gem, the horse I was walking towards, wasn’t overly interested in what was going on and carried on chewing the grass. She seemed quite content when I reached her and stroked her neck.

The feedback I received from the facilitator was that Gem was listening all the time we were approaching her. Her breathing and chewing pattern didn’t change and when we approached she wasn’t perturbed at all. This was an indication that I was behaving authentically and therefore the horse could sense all was OK.

Although this was a ‘taster’ seminar and the real events are two days in duration, I can see that there is value in a new perspective about how we approach leadership – whatever that means to each of us.

It was a very interesting day and the cold and rain didn’t detract at all. The delicious Victoria sponge cake served at coffee break helped a lot.

The Scribblaire

April 2014

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