By Anna Gore
Interactions with horses lead to new insights on leadership
In Pescadero, California, a farming and ranching community on the scenic San Mateo Coast, Gallop Ventures hosted a leadership workshop for the Women’s Environmental Network. Surrounded by natural beauty, we worked with horses while setting personal and professional goals. Gallop Ventures provides transformative, hands-on learning programs where individuals and teams connect with nature and learn from horses.
The day began with brief introductions, followed by a grounding exercise. After getting to know one another, we took a moment to simply take in the sounds and the smells of the landscape. After a busy week in our respective lives, I think the pause was just what we needed.
No experience with horses was needed for this workshop, just an openness and willingness to learn in unexpected ways. In fact, less than half our group had any experience with horses at all. Gallop Ventures’ facilitators, Wendy, Stacy and Nina, went over the basics of safety around horses, then took us to meet our equine team for the workshop.
As we approached the paddock, four horses were watching us — they obviously shared our feeling of curiosity. We entered the paddock and had a few minutes to casually interact with them, learning a little about each horse’s unique personality. Poeme was an elderly horse with a calm way about him; Ruby had just returned from a long weekday ride and was mellow and tired from the walk; Maximus was large and intimidating at first, but we soon learned he was a gentle giant; and Luke was a bit less focused on us and more interested in having his breakfast.
Our workshop facilitators guided us through a number of exercises, which explored communication, goal setting, teamwork and leadership. Each of our horses served as a companion at times and a mirror at others.
The first exercise focused on decision making and communications, while the second exercise emphasized teamwork and leadership. The horses were patient and remarkably attuned to how we were feeling during these exercises. If someone felt apprehensive or anxious, the horse’s body language would show it — they may shift from foot to foot more frequently or flick their ears back. When we were feeling playful or calm, we would get a nuzzle or a focused look. By being perceptive to what the horses felt, we were adjust our approach in more aware and collaborative ways.
The final exercise gave us each a chance to work on one of our personal or professional goals. Personally, my communication skills, awareness and authenticity were put to the test. I was paired with Poeme, and instructed to talk with him about a goal that I’d set for myself. I started big, sharing a goal that excites me but often leaves me feeling intimidated. Poeme was unengaged and quite standoffish at first. I decided to try to connect, so I broke my goal down more and more until I was speaking about things that I felt both passionate and excited by. As I felt more engaged with what I was saying, Poeme became more interested, attentive and willing to work with me. We walked several laps around the paddock, talking before returning to the group. I didn’t come to a revolutionary decision about how to move toward my goal, but I did gain a new awareness of feelings I didn’t even know I had.
Gallop Ventures summarizes its work as “empowering and educating humans through natural interactions with horses.” Our team of horses provided insight into both our individual and group interactions that we may not have been aware of otherwise. At the end of the day, we each came away with something different, unique and relevant to our everyday lives.