To run a good business, you need to be a good leader. But good leadership skills are in short supply â€“ we might get promoted at work, but we often arenâ€™t taught how to climb that ladder properly. And the top can be a wobbly place if you look down.
I got put through some management training last year, six workshops in all. It was interesting enough, but I soon forgot most of it once I was back in the office, squeezed by deadlines and demands. This month however I went on a different type of training day â€“ a horse-assisted learning one. It was a real journey of self-discovery. And I didnâ€™t forget any of it.
Whereas conventional techniques are often based on textbook theory, horse-assisted learning (HAL) takes you out of that classroom comfort zone and puts you up close and personal with a horse. Whether or not you feel you have a natural affinity with horses doesnâ€™t matter â€“ the horse is there to teach you about yourself through how you communicate with it.
The day was spent at a small farm in Hertfordshire. There is no riding involved, it is about instructing the horse to perform various tasks centred around leadership, trust and team building. Most of the exercises we did with the two horses involved getting them to walk round a series of obstacles, either one-on-one, in pairs or as a team.
This isnâ€™t as simple as it sounds. We were allowed to lead the horses at liberty or by a soft rope bridle, but with no force or aggression. If they didnâ€™t wish to follow, or wanted to walk off in a different direction, we had to figure out how to handle that on the spot and change our management style accordingly.
Because interaction with the animals is based predominantly on non-verbal behaviour, it is not so much what you say, but how you tune into a horseâ€™s space. They are highly intuitive and can sense if you feel comfortable and confident around them. Whatever youâ€™re feeling they will mirror that â€“ you canâ€™t hide your inner emotions from a horse. They will judge you as you are, in that moment.
Of course this can be quite disconcerting, especially if you hold out your hand to greet a horse and it turns its head away from you. You might feel upset or rejected â€“ you might feel the horse has a problem with you. But itâ€™s often the other way round; you have to learn to challenge your own preconceptions and deal with any negative emotions. Put simply â€“ you have to find a way to change your behaviour and learn how to get along with the horse.
As well as being hands-on with the horses, we were also encouraged to watch each other interacting with them to see what leadership styles worked and what didnâ€™t. This proved invaluable as effectively the group ends up teaching each other in a very tangible way.
Ultimately horse-assisted training is a journey of introspection. To improve your relationships with others you must first look inside and improve yourself. It doesnâ€™t over-complicate, over-analyse or bombard you with management-style jargon. In a highly practical environment, the horse strips all that away, leaving you to tap into your own instincts to find the best way forward â€“ one that suits you both.
At the end of the day I left with a real sense of pride yet deeply reflective, humbled even. I felt I had really accomplished something, not just how to handle a horse when presented with a particular task or challenge, but how to handle myself.
The HAL taster day I attended was organised by Workscales www.workscales.co.uk
To find out more about horse-assisted learning, check out www.eahae.org