The horse leads the way

Millions of views worldwide watch “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump. It replaced survivor as the most popular TV program in 2006. Talk about a dog eats dog world – blaming, shaming, moaning and belittling from the candidates up and from the leaders down. What happened to spirit in the workplace? What happened to taking ownership for what we create?

How does one “walk ones talk” on a spiritual level and still interact in the corporate world?


Much of this antiquated training and especially styles of leadership is based on the use of force, power, and coercion. Training is largely based on punishment for ‘wrong’ behaviour hence influencing the trainee to avoid the pain by offering the required behaviour. This achieved its results and still is a large foundation for much of education and leadership in many if not most corporate companies today. “Do as I tell you so that you don’t get punished” is the maxim. Whilst lip service is often given to mutual respect and encouragement, compulsion and power games still underlie much of leadership and management styles. Some of this simply has to do with the enjoyment of power, but much of it is due to a lack of the requisite understanding and skills, and also confidence, for leading and managing with sensitivity and respect and allowing the follower to fully step into their own power.


And yet there is a well known model for positive leadership. Robert Greenleaf’s servant leadership approach is now deeply respected by companies committed to workplace transformation. His inspiration came to focus when reading Nobel Prize literature winner, Herman Hesse’s award winning novel; “Journey to the East” In this novel Leo is a servant to an expedition consisting of a group of persons on a spiritual quest. They have heard about and are searching for a new high order.

Leo seems to be all and everywhere at the right time; covertly guiding, encouraging, resolving disputes, facilitating whilst all the time serving at the overt basic level of his role. When his influence becomes resented he disappears and the consequence is that ultimately the expedition falls apart in confusion. One member of the expedition recognizes the unseen and unappreciated role Leo played and sets out to find him. In his search he needs to describe the qualities of the man he is seeking and in so doing comes to recognize them, one by one. He is finally directed to a very high spiritual order and arriving there discovers that Leo is the head of that order – a person of the greatest esteem and honour.

The obvious religious metaphor of the story notwithstanding, this story moved Robert Greenleaf to develop the new leadership style based on the role of Leo. His book “The Power of Servant Leadership” describes this with great eloquence. There a few enlightened and proactive corporate companies who have used this model successfully to shifted into the 21st century but this kind of transformation in other areas is also taking place –even in the horse world!


Recently a few magicians in the horse-training world have come along who have demonstrated a revolutionary approach to horse training. These “horse whisperers” use the Natural horsemanship approach, focuses on reward for desired behaviour and the appropriate response is rewarded while inappropriate response is ignored or redirected. In so doing a true and deep respect for the horse is demonstrated. This requires dealing with the horse in its own terms – learning to talk its language – inviting a sharing of the two worlds – that of the horse and that of humankind.

No, this is not some democratic exercise where the horse is allowed to do as it pleases – no training would take place. But in the trainer respecting the horse’s way and approaching with sensitivity and in a style that can be appreciated by the horse far greater achievements are reached than have ever been done with the conventional method of training. There is a demonstrable display of mutual appreciation.


As seen on the recent TV series on SABC 3 “Healing with Animals” the use of horses is gaining popularity in many different areas, psychotherapy, physiotherapy and leadership. Why the horses and not other animals? Horses are large, powerful and graceful creatures that are naturally intimidating and yet awe inspiring to many people. This creates a natural opportunity for allowing one the opportunity of learning confidence despites ones fears which can then be transposed into other intimidating and challenging situations in life.


The horse is a unique animal when it comes to leadership. In nature, horses respond to leadership – they are herd animals and prey animals. They rely on the herd leader to keep them safe as well as provide leadership that can be trusted. The qualities of the leader of the herd – the herd stallion and alpha mare – are reflected in the rest of the horse herd. Horses respond to effective leadership. Horses test the herd leaders for clear communication, trust, respect, assertiveness and aligned intention. And so to for the domesticated horse. When the human trainer becomes the stallion or alpha mare for the domesticated horse, the horse feels safe and follows with keenness to try new and what would otherwise be fearful things.

The horse offers his intelligence and wants to learn, he wants to follow the trainer. This leads to great achievements – riding of horses without any bridles or bits, horses that jump freely over large jumps with out any coercion, lying down when asked or willingly walking or running behind the horse trainer with no lead rein attached. The horse then reflects the trainer’s leadership qualities and his inner world of attitude and skills. The horse becomes the mirror of and for the trainer. If they are not lead by the trainer appropriately the horse will lack respect, direction, push boundries or simply leave to do what he wants to do.


The horse’s need for leadership can easily be transposed into the corporate environment. Horses allow us to see leadership principles in a new light. The horse becomes a metaphor for how we are leading in our life and in our work. They provide us with honest and clear feedback about our current strengths and weaknesses in areas of leadership.. They easily close the gap between where we say we are doing and what we are actually doing. They show us where we have incongruencies between our intention and our action. They gently encourage us into new insights and new ways of interacting and leading with others and ourselves. Horses naturally train humans in the leadership principles of confidence, authenticity, intention, congruency, courage, and focus.


So what happens when you put a Kinesiologist, an NLP Practitioner and a horse- trainer together? You get EquiTrans – a management-training programme that, like the new horse whisperers is able to introduce into the business world, a radically transformed management paradigm. Through engagement with the horse Equitrans alters the exercise of leadership from one based on the exercise of power over the subordinate to one of service of the follower in which the deepest potentialities of the individual is carefully elicited, nurtured and deployed using the horse as the teacher.

Secondly, Equitrans it seeks to engaged the participant in the deeper opportunities offered through awareness of spirituality in the workplace. Horses provide a living laboratory where leaders can receive instant feedback in an irrefutable non-judgemental way about their leadership capabilities. Horses provide real engagement making learning memorable. Horses provide a profound experience when the leader is able to lead this powerful and graceful creature without restraints of any kind. This learning is then translated into their specific workplace environment by the Equitrans team so that participants can immediately transpose the learning into their corporate world. The workplace then can be seen as a demonstration of the inner world of the leaders and managers. This means that the condition of the team is the condition of the leader. If it is full of dissension or fired up with congruity and confidence in its task – this points to the leadership qualities of the team leader.

EquiTrans is an initiative aimed at introducing this kind of leadership into the workplace at a real and deeply integrated level. Through one day, two day or four day fun programmes Equitrans provides a revolutionary approach to developing leadership. To contact Equitrans phone them on 011 468 1855/082 496 6214 or email [email protected]