What our equine friends can teach us about ourselves
PUBLISHED: 11:09 03 November 2014 | UPDATED: 16:38 06 November 2014
There is an awful lot our equine friends can teach us about ourselves and how to make the most of our strengths in business, Jan Raycroft discovers
Gazing across a farm estate just outside Pangbourne there is much to admire. We might start with the views, or the beautifully preserved rustic buildings. And then there are the horses, some dancing and prancing in the early autumn sun beaming down on their fields.
As refreshing and uplifting as all this is, the really thought-provoking element is about to be unveiled. Our visit has been arranged by Rosie Tompkins and Caroline Ferguson of Natural Capital, an extraordinary business that uses horses to help teams and individuals uncover their natural attributes.
First off, we learn that there is to be no ‘horse whispering stuff’, a disappointment I will swiftly get over when the exercise begins. Nor will we be climbing up on to any of the horses (retired eventers), although colleague Camilla Silk, an accomplished rider, is dressed in all the necessary gear. The third member of our team for this trial is photographer Maureen McLean, who loves horses but generally prefers a fence between herself and any she doesn’t know personally. But by the end of the session she would be snuggled up to a new equine friend.
For this little taster session Rosie and Caroline simply invited us to watch some horses wandering around… well, doing what horses do when left to their own devices. How they react to each other, what happens when they perceive a possible threat, and to choose a ‘favourite’ by which ever criteria we opt to judge such things.
Now, I’m not going to give the whole game away as some of you may opt to take a Natural Capital course in the future. Actually, there’s another reason, a few personal lightbulbs went off for each of us even in this short session – about how we relate to others both in business and general life. While I’m the sort to happily share some outrageous self-delivered feedback on my own techniques (clearly I’m far too clever, at least in my own head!), I’ll just say that the results were remarkable and led to some very open discussion of life issues within and outside work.
We also led our chosen horses around a little indoor obstacle course, each of us, by chance, using a different method of achieving the objective. Maureen’s pretty little pony was loved and chirruped to all round the course, Camilla showed us how it was done by a calm expert, and me and my gorgeous nutty brown version of Black Beauty had a couple of eyeball to eyeball stand-offs but probably still broke records for a high speed performance.
Are you seeing where we’re going with this? It truly was an unusual ‘open your eyes’ experience. A lesson I’m happy to share is that in some circumstances the ‘obvious’ team leader is best employed at the back or even middle of the herd, leaving others to get on with it.
If Rosie and Caroline have a mission statement it is ‘Horses Can Energise A Business at a Gallop not a SWOT’. Both come from high level business backgrounds, having been directors of multi-million businesses before linking up in this unorthodox but highly successful coaching business.
After just one day in a beautiful rural location in Berkshire or Bath, business owners, team leaders and team members have found, or rediscovered, their own hidden strengths. These strengths come to life in a unique environment working with a herd of friendly horses, in a series of simple exercises that Rosie has devised to show up hidden energy and potential incongruence in teams or businesses.
The day is tailored to the needs of the business. For example, if the client is looking for enhanced commercial agility in his or her business or team the participants might find that they are asked to quickly assess the potential and aptitude of the horses to complete a series of challenges – each horse will have a particular affinity with each challenge – are the team adept enough to discover this affinity and maximise this learning quickly?
Rosie explains why this works: “Horses are fantastic to work with because they are natural team animals and experts in energetic transfer and non-verbal communication. And yet, because they are live animals, you never know what will happen next – just like the business world. Out in a field, this can present more of a challenge, and more opportunity to get an ‘aha’ moment, (and we get lots!) than doing something more predictable such as, for example, classroom based work or raft building.
The exercises do not involve riding and the horses are handled by professional handlers, while each small group is led by a facilitator. Teams learn a huge amount by simply observing their colleagues, and occasionally team members who have allergies or are frightened of horses will opt to do this. “People will learn huge amounts about themselves regardless of their knowledge of horses. Everyone’s individual experience will reveal an abundance of diversity, individuality and creativity,” says Rosie.
While Rosie concentrates on revealing and expanding leadership strengths, Caroline specialises in helping the teams assimilate these strengths so the business can start to benefit immediately. The personal abilities that surface are brought into the team and can be more fully utilised by the business. What’s more, everyone learns to respect everyone else’s unique and equally important aptitudes, something which helps the team bond and perform better.
Follow ups are scheduled to ensure the learning is embedded into the business. Many companies and individual business owners have expressed their delight in the results they get, not least because the whole process is so fast. They offer a bespoke service to companies and business owners. Whether it is leadership development, profit maximisation, creativity, product development or any other business goal, they have designed different sets of exercises which will draw out the desired result. With a little bit of equine help, of course!