Updated: Jun 17
I case you are wondering. That's me. On my horse Kenrick galloping on a beach. Man and horse have been partners for a long time. How can riding a horse elevate you as a business leader?
A pragmatic approach to understanding and developing leadership skills is to look at horse riders. Horsemanship is all about leadership.
What’s special about a horse? Man began to domesticate horses around 4000 BCE. Horses make use of speed to escape predators and they have a well-developed sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight instinct. Related to this need to flee from predators in the wild is an unusual trait: horses are able to sleep both standing up and lying down. Horses and humans interact in a wide variety of sport and recreational activities, as well as in working such as policing, agriculture, entertainment, and therapy.
Horses were historically used in warfare, from which a wide variety of riding and driving techniques developed, and methods of control. Horses are also social creatures who are able to form companionships with other horses or man. Horses communicate in various ways, including “voice” such as nickering or whinnying, mutual grooming, and body language. Many horses will become difficult to manage if they are isolated, but with training, horses can learn to accept a human as a companion, and thus be comfortable away from other horses.
In the past, horses were considered unintelligent, with no abstract thinking ability, unable to generalize, and driven primarily by a herd mentality. However, modern studies show that they perform a number of brain tasks on a daily basis, with mental challenges that include food gathering and social group behavior (and opening their stable doors to get to the bag of carrots). They also have good sight, can learn and solve problems.
Results show that horses excel at simple learning, but also are able to solve advanced cognitive challenges. Recent studies even suggest horses are able to count if the quantity involved is less than four. Horses are creatures of habit that respond and adapt well to discipline, and respond best when the same routines and techniques are used consistently.
Business leaders can learn several valuable lessons from horse riders that can help them become more effective and successful in their roles. Here are a few examples:
Communication and non-verbal cues: Horses are highly perceptive animals and rely on non-verbal cues for communication. Business leaders can learn the importance of effective non-verbal communication and the impact it can have on their teams. Understanding body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions can help leaders convey their intentions clearly and build stronger relationships with their employees.
Trust and mutual respect: Building a successful partnership with a horse requires trust and mutual respect. Similarly, business leaders need to foster trust within their teams. By cultivating an environment of respect and trust, leaders can empower their employees, encourage collaboration, and create a positive work culture.
Patience and persistence: Training a horse takes time, patience, and consistency. Business leaders can learn the importance of perseverance and staying committed to long-term goals. Building a successful business requires dedication, hard work, and the ability to overcome obstacles along the way. Studying horse riding techniques can reinforce the value of persistence in achieving desired outcomes.
Emotional intelligence: Horses are sensitive creatures and can pick up on human emotions. They respond positively to calm and confident handlers. Business leaders can develop their emotional intelligence by recognizing and managing their own emotions, as well as understanding the emotions of their team members. By fostering emotional intelligence, leaders can create a harmonious work environment and better support their employees.
Adaptability and flexibility: Horses are reactive to changes in their environment, and riders must be adaptable to handle unexpected situations. Similarly, business leaders need to be flexible and adaptable in the face of dynamic markets, changing customer demands, and technological advancements. Studying horse riding techniques can emphasize the importance of agility and the ability to adjust strategies when needed.
Leadership through influence: When working with horses, forceful or aggressive tactics are often ineffective. Successful horse handling relies on leadership through influence rather than dominance. Similarly, business leaders can adopt a leadership style that focuses on influencing and inspiring their teams rather than relying on authority alone. By leading through influence, leaders can motivate their employees and create a collaborative and engaged workforce.
Teamwork and knowing when to manage tightly or let go: Riding a horse involves a delicate balance between managing tightly and knowing when to let go. When faced with complex maneuvers or challenging terrain, riders may need to exert more control by using the reins. This highlights the importance of clear direction and assertive leadership when managing a team. There are times when leaders need to provide specific instructions, set clear expectations, and closely monitor progress to ensure tasks are executed efficiently
However, there are also moments when leaders need to trust their team members and allow them to take the reins. Just as riders loosen their grip on the reins when the horse is performing well or navigating familiar territory, business leaders should empower their teams to make decisions and take ownership of their work. This encourages autonomy, creativity, and innovation, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment among team members.
Knowing when to manage tightly and when to let go requires leaders to assess the situation, understand the capabilities and strengths of their team, and provide appropriate guidance and support. It also involves building a culture of collaboration and fostering open communication, so team members feel comfortable seeking guidance when needed and taking initiative when appropriate.