If you have never had the opportunity to work with horses you may be a bit confused as to why horses are such a key part of our training programs.
Horses by nature are prey animals. This gives them a certain set of characteristics which makes them highly sensitive to their environment and those around them. Survival for a prey animal depends on strong leadership and safety in numbers. The herd is their family unit that protects them from harm, leads them to food and shelter, and provides them with companionship, structure, and learning opportunities.
The way horses interact in a herd is very similar to how humans function in a team. They are frequently searching for where they "fit" in the group, each member of the herd has a role or "job" to maintain the health and balance of the herd, and everyone is responsible for themselves while also looking out for others.
Leadership in a herd often belongs to a few key individuals, however, there are also times when they will work collaboratively to accomplish a goal. It is more about qualifications than job title for the members of the herd - something to ponder about when looking at how human "herds" interact.
Due to their prey animal nature, leadership is paramount. Without strong leadership the herd dies either from starvation, thirst, or prey attack. Because of the importance of this vital role, horses look for leadership in everything they do. They seek guidance and respond immediately to the presence or absence of it. If you are unsure about your ability to lead, horses will tell you how they think you're doing right away!
What do we have to learn from horses?
Horses are masters at living in the moment. They aren't worried about what happened yesterday or what they will be doing tomorrow. They take it one step at a time. Although they are highly sensitive beings, they do not live in a constant state of anxiety. They know that they only have so much energy stored up so conservation is key. They stay cool, calm and relaxed until a situation arises which calls for a heightened awareness. However, once that moment is gone, they quickly return to grazing. As humans, we have much to learn from a creature that lives in the moment and returns to grazing after stressful situations.
They also have a very strong set of behavioral "rules" or what is and is not allowed by members of the herd, which reinforces collaboration, congruency, and appropriate personal boundaries. Additionally, the roles each member of the herd plays in the leadership of the entire herd provides ample opportunity to observe and learn about leading from the front, the rear, the side, and from within. The 4 key areas I teach about in my programs.
How can horses help us learn?
To start, they respond to shifts in energy due to their sensitivity to the world around them, which provides us with immediate feedback about how we are carrying our energy and how we are moving through each experience.
They release and express energy through movement, which gives us a visual que on how they are feeling. There is no difference for a horse between what they are feeling and how they are responding. Their emotions are linked to their actions. This helps us understand how our emotions drive our decisions and actions as well. We can pick up quite a bit simply by observing their behavior, which frequently leads us to those "ah hah!" moments.
Additionally, when working with horses on the ground, you soon realize that they will immediately respond to how you are leading them, giving you useful feedback in the moment. If you are not Confident, Congruent, Clear, Consistent and Curious, you will not earn their trust and respect and therefore, they will not see you as a leader.