Tag Archives | Equine Guided Education

Surprising Lessons from the Herd – Part II


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In my previous post I alluded to learning lessons from my friends at Equistar Farm, lessons I’m applying in surprising ways. Here is Lesson Number Two:

Watch Your Feet (or Head)

Another thing I’ve been doing, off and on for the last year and a half, is working as a Job Coach for the Department of Rehabilitation. When clients with disabilities get new jobs and need additional training and on-the-job-support, the DoR provides a Job Coach to go to work with them.

So far I’ve worked in grocery stores and hardware stores, training and supporting Courtesy Clerks (aka Baggers), Carry Out/Attendants and Stockers. I’ve learned a lot in the process! (Please be nice to your Baggers – I had no idea how hard they work, and what they have to put up with.)

Right now I’m coaching a client who is helping to build out a new grocery store. There is a crew of about 25 stockers, cashiers and inventory management people on site, installing fixtures, putting up shelving and stocking shelves – plus the construction people who are finishing with painting, electrical work and bolting down shelving. There are scissor lifts and pallet jacks moving around, and people carrying boxes, ladders and big pieces of metal.

I get to wear a hard hat (along with everyone else), and boy, am I glad – there are a lot of moving parts and bodies. We all have to keep our awareness up, not only for who/what is coming toward us but what’s on the ground and who we’re headed for. One wrong move and someone could get skewered, squished or run over.

As I was moving through this bee hive of activity, I was reminded of moving through the herd in the pasture and how I have learned to keep my awareness up about which horses are where, how they’re interacting with each other, where they’re heading, and whether they know where I am. One of the first lessons I learned – the hard way – was Watch Your Feet… after I didn’t pay attention and got stepped on by a 1200 pound bay gelding named Jake. (I’m fine…now.) I quickly learned the importance of watching my feet – and their hooves (and their rear-ends and their ears and their tails and their locations and what directions they’re moving).

There’s a difference between being Aware and being Wary

Even more importantly, I learned there’s a difference between being Aware and being Wary. It would have been easy to say, “I’ll never put myself in that situation again!” Instead, I chose, and choose, to put myself in that situation again and again. But I’m smarter about it. I can protect myself by being aware and present without having to be wary and keep others at arm’s length.

And the student becomes the teacher

All of this flashed through my head in an instant as people and equipment moved around me and someone walked casually by with a steel beam over his shoulder. I shared it with my client.

“You know, I’ve been working with a herd of horses.” He looked at me sideways. “When I’m in the middle of a bunch of animals who don’t want to hurt me but are a lot bigger than me, I’ve learned to protect myself by paying attention to where they are and what they’re doing. This is a lot like that.” He thought about it for a second, then nodded, grinning. He got it, and thought that was pretty cool.

So did I.

So, learning to be safe with the herd has helped me to be safe with others. And helped teach them to be safe. And it’s made me a better Job Coach.

It occurs to me as I write this that both of these lessons – working with shoppers and with construction crews – are about Safety, about helping others to feel safe, and about being safe. Hmmm.

Never a dull moment, eh?

Watch your feet.


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Surprising Lessons from the Herd – Part I


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Working with horses has taught me a lot of lessons, but I never expected to apply them to working in Retail and on Construction Sites.

I started working with horses a year ago, after being introduced to Equine Guided Education (EGE) by the people and horses at Equistar Farm. The lessons I have learned about myself have had a profound impact on me. (One profound impact has led me to change the focus of my coaching and consulting, but I’ll tell you more about that later.) I want to tell you about two of the unexpected applications for lessons I’ve learned from being with the herd. Here’s the first:

Shoppers Are Prey Animals

While retooling my coaching/consulting practice, I took a part-time job in Retail. It was one of those things you (I) tell yourself (myself) you’ll (I’ll) never do, but keep in your (my) back pocket In Case of Emergency. Well, last Fall was the Case of Emergency, and I started working in a little clothing store – my first retail job since college. (And that’s a while ago.)

And, to my surprise, I’m having a blast.

The store managers put together a good team of people who work really well together (most of the time), and I love working with the customers (most of the time).

We are expected to greet every customer who comes in, to connect with them. There is a higher likelihood that a Visitor to the store will become a Customer if we connect with her. It makes sense, really; if a customer has a question, or is unfamiliar with our merchandise, or wants to try something on, or needs a second opinion, it’s easier to get help if she has a connection to someone. (I know I hate going into a store and being ignored.)

So I greet customers when they come in and try to at least acknowledge their presence and help them feel welcome.

Customers want to feel welcome, but they also need to feel safe. (I hate going into a store and being ignored, but I also hate going into a store and being pestered.)

When I greet a customer, sometimes we’ll strike up a conversation and quickly develop a rapport. But other times the conversation goes like this:

“Hi, welcome to ____ ! How are you today?”
“I’m just browsing.”

Funny, I didn’t know “browsing” was a condition, like “Fine” or “I’m doing great” or “I’m so hot, I’m glad it’s cool in here!”

At first I was tempted to say, “That’s not what I asked.” But I’ve been in their shoes – and I realized “I’m just browsing” IS a condition: They have PTSD – Post-Traumatic Shopping Disorder! So what I say instead is, “That’s cool; make yourself at home. My name is Sue if you need anything.”

That’s how I realized Shoppers are like prey animals. Like horses are prey animals. Wary of being pounced on and trapped.

So I started treating my customers like I treat my friends in the herd.

“She’s gone completely bonkers,” I hear you saying. But stay with me.

When I introduce myself to members of a herd, they don’t like it if I walk directly up to them and try to start interacting. They are immediately suspicious – it’s a little too much like being charged by a lion, or a wolf. It works much better to ease into it – approach, pause, check each other out, come closer. Non-threatening.

So after turning off a few shoppers, I started behaving like I was with the horses. Rather than walking right up to them and addressing them directly, I try to be busy with something else – straightening shirts on hangers, putting things away – but not too busy to notice them and say hi, making them feel important. I greet them warmly but casually: I see you and acknowledge you, but you’re not in my cross-hairs.

Funny thing, they respond to that.

Learning to help the horses feel safe with me has taught me about helping others feel safe.

The horses have taught me to be a better salesperson. And since I take the Service part of Customer Service very seriously, that means a lot to me.

Stay Tuned for Part II!


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Power Is Not a Dirty Word


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It was one of those crystalizing moments, when lots of swirling puzzle pieces suddenly come together and the picture makes sense.

I was listening to an interview about Power and Leadership with Linda Kohanov, founder of EponaQuest and author of a new book, “The Power of the Herd.” I had read her first book, “The Tao of Equus,” last year, and was looking forward to the interview.

I wasn’t disappointed. “The Power of the Herd” presents a new view of Power and Leadership. Kohanov described how this evolved as a result of her work with a rescued stallion who had been abused:

“The most surprising thing to me was that I discovered that kindness, sympathy and understanding weren’t enough to heal the wounds of that level of misused power, that I had to become powerful myself. And yet I had to become powerful in a different way than the kind of Domininance/Submission power that abused him to begin with. And I really wasn’t sure what that was.” Healing With Horse Telesummit 2013

Kohanov went on to describe the journey she embarked on to discover – and embody – the power needed to heal that stallion, and what she learned. I was struck by three key ideas:

  • Predatory vs. Non-Predatory Power
  • The Importance of Boundaries
  • The Role of Nurturing and Companionship

These came together with other teachings to give me a new understanding of leadership, and of power.

The Puzzle Pieces

That’s the background. Here’s where the pieces of the puzzle began to fall together.

PREDATORY vs. NON-PREDATORY POWER

Over time, through research, observation and first-hand work with horses, Kohanov developed a model of what she calls “Predatory Power” vs. “Non-Predatory Power.” While horses are “prey” animals, they are herd animals and leaders of the herd certainly exert power over the other members. Language is important, though, and the term “prey” conjures images of quivering victims. This is not what she observed, so she chose the term “non-predatory” power.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Predatory Power: Leaders nourish themselves at the expense of the others.
Non-Predatory Power: Individual and group needs are met.

Predatory Power: Leaders value territory over relationships.
Non-Predatory Power: Leaders value relationships over territory.

Predatory Power: Leaders value Goals over Process – “The end justifies the means.”
Non-Predatory Power: Leaders value Process over Goals – The end does not justify the means.

While Kohanov developed this model as a result of working with horses, she works with people as well, and there are of course parallels to human leadership. She went on to talk about classic “dominance” leadership, and I was reminded of something Mark Rashid, a well-known horse trainer and author, teaches.

In his book, “Horses Never Lie,” Rashid describes two types of leaders he has observed in herds – often within the same herd: “Dominant” leaders verses “passive” leaders. Dominant leaders are the “alpha horses” that rule the herd: They eat first, drink first, and spend a lot of time reminding the others who is boss. But the other type of leader, rather than constantly asserting its dominance, seems to be chosen by the others. Why are they chosen? As prey animals, horses need to conserve energy so that they have it when they need to escape.

“Primarily they conserve energy in a herd situation by willingly following a leader that they know won’t cause them unnecessary stress or aggravation. In the herds that I had a chance to work with, it was evident that seldom, if ever, was the chosen leader the alpha horse. Rather, it was a horse that had proven its leadership qualities in a quiet and consistent manner from one day to the next. In other words, it was a horse that led by example, not by force.” (Horses Never Lie, Skyhorse Publishing, ©2000, p. 38.)

He proposed that it made sense to him, in working with horses, to be the kind of leader they would want to follow, rather than having to constantly force them to follow him.

That sounds great, except… language is important.

I was impressed with Rashid’s ideas, and I translated them not only to my own work with horses but to people, too: I kept thinking about my own experiences with “dominant” or “alpha” human leaders vs. leaders who lead by example. But again, language is important, and calling them “passive leaders” was a stumbling block for me. Apparently I wasn’t alone; in his new book, “Life Lessons from a Ranch Horse,” Rashid admits that created “quite a stir…After all, how can one be passive and still be a leader?

Well, Kohanov’s language and examples helped this to make more sense. If I go back and substitute “non-predatory” for “passive” all my resistance goes away.

But wait, it gets better!

VULNERABILITY AND BOUNDARIES

Kohanov went on to talk about how predatory leaders prey on their followers’ vulnerabilities, whereas non-predatory leaders protect their followers, honor boundaries and make it safe for members to be vulnerable in the group. Non-predatory leaders, she said, shield the weak, and members can show vulnerability in groups.

Here I was reminded of Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability. I was also reminded of something my friend Vicki Dello Joio teaches:

“Boundaries remove barriers.”

What? I admit, the first time I heard Vicki say that it left me scratching my head. What’s the difference between a boundary and a barrier? How can a boundary remove a barrier? But what Kohanov said about vulnerability, and about boundaries, helped me to finally get it:

“When you’re setting a boundary, you’re simply claiming the space you need to feel safe and present and, as a consequence, more connected to the person you’re setting the boundary with.”

This makes it easier  – and safer – to be vulnerable as well. This is only possible in non-predatory power systems.

One more a-ha!

NURTURING AND COMPANIONSHIP

Kohanov also explained another aspect of herd behavior that caught my attention:

“There’s also another element to herd behavior that’s really important, which is acts of companionship and nurturing. They spend a large amount of time just being really quiet together, resting together, mutual grooming, grazing together, and all of those elements create this glue that begins to hold the herd together.”

This glue, this power, isn’t about fear, and it isn’t about territory. It’s about acts of companionship and nurturing.

But that’s not the a-ha.

Kohanov doesn’t claim that “dominant” leadership is always bad and that the “lead by example” leadership of “chosen” leaders is always good. Nor does she claim that successful herds are always supportive and nurturing.

As part of her research for the book, Kohanov studied various herding cultures, where humans live in close proximity with the herds they tend.

“What you find with Master Herders in traditional herding cultures is that they actually get to the point where they can use these various roles at will for specific purposes. So that a Master Herder knows when to act as Dominant, when to act as Leader, and when to act as Nurturing Companion.”

That requires consciousness or, as my friend Michael F. Broom teaches, conscious use of self. Conscious use of self isn’t only about recognizing one’s faults and getting out of one’s own way, but is about being conscious about what tools, or style, to use when.

Which brings me to something I teach (and my clients hear this a lot): We get to choose.

We get to choose not just our default mode, but we get to consciously choose which mode is right for the situation we’re in now.

A-ha.

Power is not a dirty word

Yes, there was a lot packed into that interview, so much that I had to listen to it several times. And when the pieces came together, this is what I saw:

  • It takes non-predatory power to set the boundaries that make members of a herd feel safe enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable.
  • Every member is responsible for setting and respecting boundaries; a member doesn’t have to be The Leader to set boundaries, but no member can be a (non-predatory) leader without setting boundaries.
  • Companionship and nurturing are also powerful and can bring and hold a herd (group) together.
  • There are, of course, various styles of leadership and different types of power, with different applications. No one type is ideal all of the time (our greatest strengths become our greatest weaknesses when taken to extreme). Dominance is necessary at times.
  • The real power is in knowing what type of power to employ when – and being able to do it.

Part of what was so interesting about all of this is that in almost every instance I could replace the word “herd” with “group,” “team” or “organization” – human herds. This all applies to human interactions as well as to equine interactions, and it has given me new insight into what many smart people are teaching about human interactions and leadership. (Funny how the horses keep giving me insight into other humans, and into myself. Even when we’re just talking about them.)

And whether it applies to horses and herds or to humans and organizations, Power is not a dirty word. Everything depends on the type of power that is being employed, and when.

A-ha.

Horses and Open Space


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I’ve recently been exposed first-hand (or should I say, “first-hoof?”) to Equine Guided Education (EGE) – working with horses in leadership development and coaching – through the work of The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership here in northern California.

It has been a moving, thought-provoking and powerful experience to work with the horses and their human partners.

On my most recent visit, I was struck by the parallels between working with the horses and the Four Principles of Open Space Technology.

Open Space?

Open Space Technology (OST) is a meeting or conference methodology that is, as Wikipedia so succinctly says, “most distinctive for its initial lack of an agenda, which sets the stage for the meeting’s participants to create the agenda for themselves.”

What I love about it is its fundamental assumption that the participants are the experts and that they bring the answers with them. This flies in the face of the traditional “banking method” of education (thank you, Paulo Freire) in which experts deposit information in the minds of the students.

The Four Principles

Here are the Four Principles of OST – as I apply them to Equine Guided Education:

  • “Whoever comes is the right people.” In this setting, one isn’t sure which horse or horses will decide to participate, but whoever comes is just right.
  • “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.” As often happens when working with groups and even with individuals, I am often surprised and delighted by what happens – despite my best planning. The same thing is true here, and I am reminded to be honest about what I can control and what I can’t.
  • “Whenever it starts is the right time.” Creativity and Spirit – and the horses – don’t pay much attention to the clock.
  • “When it’s over, it’s over.” As Kimberly Carlisle, the foundation’s Executive Director said to me, “When the horses are done, they’re done.” They can have incredibly long attention spans if there is still work to be done (or fun to be had), but when it’s done, or the bonds of authenticity are broken, they’re done. I can learn a lot from them about not forcing things.

The Law of What?

I shared this with Lisa Heft, who then introduced me to Eva Svensson (thank you, Lisa!), who is both an OST facilitator and EGE practitioner in Sweden (where EGE is known as HAE). Eva agreed and went on to add that OST’s one law, the “Law of Two Feet” (or more appropriately the “Law of Mobility”) also applies.

The Law of Mobility states that “If, during our time together, you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go to some more productive place.” That’s kind of revolutionary, isn’t it? The One Law not only places responsibility for learning on the participants, it also creates “bumblebees and butterflies” who float from one group to another, potentially pollinating as they go.

As Eva said, “If they (the horses) don’t think you are interesting enough, they take their hooves and walk away.”

And if they stay, you know it’s because they want to.

And Something Magical Happens…

Both OST and EGE have facilitators, and structure within which, well, magic can happen. How does that magic happen?

Like OST, EGE assumes the intelligence and the gifts that the participants bring with them – all of the participants. Including the horses. All of that intelligence and all of those gifts in one place  combine and recombine and have the potential to produce something totally unexpected: Insights. Collaboration. Connection.

How can you not love that?

Are you curious?


Would you like to learn more about The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership and Equine Guided Education? Visit http://www.theflagfoundation.org/.

Want to learn more about Open Space Technology? Visit http://www.openingspace.net/openSpaceTechnology.shtml

Want to explore having an experience with OST or EGE?
Email me at susan at susantblake.com.

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