What does leadership mean?
When people think of leadership regarding to horses they would usually think of dominance, fixed rules and assertiveness. They would share the opinion that horses must always follow, that they must stay with us and shadow our steps in order to awake a feeling of having a connection with them inside of us. Horses must always obey and if they don’t then it is our duty as the leaders to impose our will on the horse. Horses must play by our rules. Rules, we learn in riding schools, in books or in our business world. Rules, which make sense to us. But among all those rules, have we ever thought about the horse? Do our rules and our definition of leadership really make sense to our horses? Why do we always search in our world when we are looking for answers on horse-questions? Why not just ask our horses, follow them and let them be our guides in teaching us how to lead?
The question about leadership ran like a common thread through my second week here in St. Vincent. Instead of overthinking this question, as I would have probably done it back in Germany, I started to do the opposite of what I wanted to achieve. I decided to let myself be leaded Instead of leading without knowing how to do it. I decided to ask the horses, to leave my footprints right behind theirs, to find my way to harmonious leaderships.
Looking back makes me realize that each member of the herd has given me one, valuable lesson about leadership, which I want to share with you in this blog entry.
Elena- Flexibility and Fluidity
Last week Elena has taught me important lessons around leadership like how she as a lead mare behaves around food while resting and moving, how to avoid conflicts and how to bring peace into a herd.
The other day all the horses were grazing peacefully when Kadoo came by. You could already see his intention to tease the other horses in the way he approached them. Shaking his head and walking in a funny way he aimed to tease Elena. As he reached her, he started behaving like a child which is trying to get attention. He snapped her, shook his head and was doing everything else he could think of to make her paying attention to him. You could see that he was not behaving politely. He didn’t ask her to enter her space and he would not walk off again, when asked to. Elena seemed to be knowing that paying attention to his behavior, even if she would lecture him, would be kind of a reward for him as all he wanted to gain was her attention. In conventional riding schools we would learn to react on this behavior by being dominant. Elena instead was doing the complete opposite. Elena walked off and left the conflict area.
Reacting in a dominant way in this case would have not been the behavior of a lead horse but of a dominant horse. If Elena as a lead mare would have reacted in this way, it would have lowered her position on Kadoo’s level. Ignoring his behavior prove her superiority.
Of course, this does not mean that walking off when another horse shows rude behavior is always the right way to react. It just depends on the situation. We must always ask ourselves what the intention of our horse was like. In this case all what Kadoo wanted was attention. If Elena would have reacted by paying attention to him, she would have taught him to always be rude if he wants to get attention. Besides, she would have even rewarded for him for his bad behavior, as she would have given him what he wanted.
In other cases when Kadoo’s intention was different, like when he was trying to eat with Elena without paying attention or without asking if she allows him to enter her space as he was only focused on the grass, Elena would send him away or ask him to take a few steps back.
Elena reacts in order to his intention not to his action. I learned that the rule of taking territory when a horse shows rude behavior does not count in every situation. I learned that leading is about flexibility and fluidity and not about formulas and fixed rules. This is what Elena has taught me.
“Following formulas, rules and lessons is not good for us when it is our only resource for relating with our horses. It can create a static mind and horses that become resistant because formulas have inflexible rules that are applied to every situation in the same manner, which created no ability to be flexible, loving, patient and creative”- Carolyn Resnick
Magic- Patience and Perseverance
It was feeding time. Elena already went to the spot where she was supposed to be standing for getting her grains. I tied her and turned around towards Magic. When I called her, Magic turned around, placing herself next to the gate, knowing that the grain buckets were standing right behind the gate. I called her again, but she kept refusing to come to her “feeding spot”. It was like she was saying “I am ready for you to give me my grains. And I want you to feed me first”. It was like she was setting an ultimatum. Like she was saying “I want it like this and in no other way”.
I almost had to laugh, seeing her staying at the gate, so resolute and demanding like a little defiant child.
I was standing at the aisle where I wanted to tie her. I could see that she knew what I wanted her to do. I called her again, but she kept refusing to come to me. So, I waited. I had no problem with waiting as I wanted her to cooperate. If I would have gone to her, then she would have learned that she has the power to control me.
If she really wanted the grains, then she must come. I was in control of the food which she wanted, and I wanted her to come to her place. It was hard for her to come. You could see how she was struggling with herself whether she should leave her pride at the gate in order to get the food or should keep resisting. As she finally came, we both gained what we wanted. It was a win-win situation. If I would have given up and if I would not have been patient and perseverant, Magic would have got an upper hand on me. This is what Magic has taught me.
It was early in the morning. After feeding the horses I started to manure off the field when I saw a great opportunity to strengthen Shoni’s and my bond.
All the other horses had gone to the backfield for grazing except of Shoni who kept staying close to me right next to a tree. I knew that all the horses love the leaves and branches of that tree, but they just cannot reach them. I also knew that cutting some branches for him would be my chance to collect some plus points for our relationship. I took my cutter and made sure that all the other horses were far away so that they could not notice what I was doing. By cutting the branches, I do a service to the horses. In this way they will consider me as the person which helps them to get the treats, rather than the person which carries the treats on his body but does not give them to the horses even though they really want them. When carrying the treats on your body, the horses would learn to perform to get those treats but not perform as a result of relationship with us. We will be a feeding machine in their eyes.
While cutting the branches, I called Shonis name a few times and waited for him to come. As this exercise was easy for Elena, I thought that Shoni would also come immediately when I call him. But this was not he case. As he still would not want to come after I waited a few minutes, I started to put 100 per cent focus on him. I thought of what I wanted him to do and everything around him seemed to disappear. Everything I could see was him. I thought that putting 100 per cent focus on him would cause him to come to me as I would kind of attract him to me by my energy. But it had almost the opposite effect on him. It seemed like I was frightening him to take one step closer. He glanced at the branches laying on the ground and I could see that he really wanted them.
I realized that I must have been doing something wrong. I turned around, sat on the ground to think about it and what I could do to cause him to overcome and lose his fear. As I was sitting there, I changed my focus. While giving myself a moment to think I focused on the environment, the sounds of the birds, the wind and the palms and felt his presence behind me. Before I could even think of a solution, I could suddenly hear a satisfying chewing behind me. It was Shoni, who had finally chosen to come to me.
A few days later I was reading in Carolyn’s Blog Collection when I found the reason for his behavior that day.
In one of her blog entries Carolyn says, that “one of the biggest problems horses have with humans is how they see where a person puts their focus. Most people, especially people who love their horse, are so focused on the horse that they lose all ability to know the conditions around them. (…) I point this out because this can really disturb a horse if the only thing on your mind is your horse and what you are doing. A horse can feel a bit put off, thinking you are giving too much focus to him, which can give of a predator vibration. Think about it, a predator is not focused on his environment, only on his target (..)”
I am pretty sure that this has exactly been the reason for Shoni’s insecurity as he often seems to be hiding behind a self- built wall to protect himself as a result of his suffer in the past. It makes so much sense to me now. It was my focus which has probably scared him. Again, I had been thinking out of a human’s mind. For me it always has been made sense to put 100 per cent focus on my younger brother for example when I want him to feel safe. Shoni again showed me the importance of questioning what is natural for us as humans since that does not mean that it is also natural for our four-legged friends.
Kadoo – Pause and Trust
This week we expanded my “classroom” (The horses’ area). After they finish their grains, I would take them to another field next to their old one. By taking them there I learn how to move them in a calm and peacefully way and the horses learn that following my lead is always a good idea as I lead them to new grazing areas, just as a lead horse would do. I Always take Shoni first, then Magic and then Elena and Kadoo. Before taking Elena to the field, I tie her somewhere between the fields and Kadoo is free to move around between the fields as he has not learned to accept the halter yet. After a while I would make sure that all the horses are busy with grazing and would then try to lure Kadoo with a bucket full of grains into the field. After getting him there, I would take Elena and all the horses are happy. Getting the horses from the backfield to the new field was not a problem at all. But getting them back faced me with a big problem. After a few hours I started worrying about how to get the horses back without any trouble. Should I take Kadoo first? And if yes, how should I get him out of the field without risking a big fight at the gate as all the horses want to have the grain? Should I maybe take him at last? But then I would have the same problem with the grain at the backfield gate…
I discussed all the different options in my head. I thought of all the advantages and disadvantages and soon an hour went by I still had not found a solution. My brain threatened to explode after all that thinking and I was tired.
So, I banished my thoughts and tried to find calmness in my mind. I went to the gate of the new field, leaned on it and lied my head on my arms. Standing there, just breathing, without any thoughts and observing the herd, I noticed how Kadoo started to separate from the herd. By every bite of grass he took, he was coming closer and closer to the gate. That was my Chance! As he came closer, I quickly got the grain bucket. Shaking it quietly I could get his attention. I made sure that all the other horses had not noticed me, before I opened the gate to lure Kadoo outside.
It was so easy. And all my worries would not have been necessary. Kadoo taught me to pause and relax when you can not see a way how to easily solute a complicate situation. Pause, breathe, trust and the solution will come itself.
I am so glad that every horse in the little herd is so different in character since each of them teaches me so different and unique lessons according to his character and role in the herd. What I learned this week about leadership just by being, observing the horses and following my intuition is so different to what I would have learned in the conventional way of training horses. Instead of dominance, assertiveness and fixed rules, I discovered flexibility, fluidity, patience, perseverance, thinking ahead, assertiveness, focus, pause and trust as features of true leadership. Leadership which makes sense to the horses and which will bring out their desire to follow your lead rather than just obeying and following because the horse is putted under pressure and sees no other way than toeing the line.
This new way of leadership I got to know this week is the way I want to go. A way of harmony, trust, companionship and peace.
Thank you Shoni, Kadoo, Elena, Magic and Stina for this amazing week!
Thank you Zoe for writing in, it is so good to read all your learning experiences.
What adventures are still to come!
Kind regards Stina
** still places on our Annual Liberty Training Clinic which starts 30th of November!