Horses teach teamwork and leadership

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When it comes to brutal honesty about your performance, Linda McGregor says the ‘neighs’ have it. She talks with us about the transformational teaching power of horses when it comes to teamwork and leadership skills.

When did you first hear about Equine Assisted Learning?

About 15 years ago, I came across a number of articles about this technique gaining credibility and being used successfully in the States, Canada and parts of Europe including the UK, both with individuals and with corporates. At its core was the ability of horses to act as a mirror to allow people to see their own behaviours and how it impacts those around them– both humans and horses. At the time I was also training in natural horsemanship (learning how to horse whisper better!) and being exposed to the incredible EQ and sensitivity that horses have to interpersonal dynamics and people’s energy.  

But it was an afternoon watching a failing riding lesson being conducted that I really saw the need to show people how their verbal and non-verbal behaviours send different and conflicting messages, resulting in confusing relationships and outcomes. My behaviour science background, coupled with years of providing insights to the marketing industry about what makes people tick, were inspired and the idea for FOUR LEGGED SAGES was born.

How did you develop your Four Legged Sages programs?

Slowly, lol!  I was running my own marketing insights consultancy, so developing the training program was a weekend project. Five years ago, I completed the business plan and test-drove it with a bunch of senior HR experts. They loved the concept but had some questions around safety, insurance and the engagement factor for non-horse people. So I did some more thinking and reworking, as well as training and certification from overseas experts who had been running successful programs internationally. That really helped me tap into a brains trust of knowledge and access to proven, researched methodology. That was the springboard I needed to launch, building and fine-tuning from that solid base with my own horsemanship and behaviour insights expertise.

I took the program back to the same group of senior HR experts and asked them to road-test a session – and they were blown away by its impact and effectiveness.  They gave it a huge thumbs up and that’s when I really knew I’d cracked it and had something really game-changing.

What type of clients have been doing the program?

Our primary focus so far at FOUR LEGGED SAGES has been corporate clients, from marketing and agency industry, through educators to a range of blue chip companies from a range of industries including big tech operators. They, in particular, are finding the team-building session invaluable as they allow them to bring remote teams together to interact and create respect, trust and comms skills with each other like never before. All through the immediate, honest feedback they get from their horse teachers.

Why do you think horses can improve human performance in the workplace?

In the way that humans have teams in the workplace, horses have herds. The same group dynamics are present – hierarchies, team roles, need for clear communications and EQ around respect, trust and empathy. However, with horses there’s no personal agenda so feedback they give is honest and truthful. Research shows this, coupled with the need to focus on non-verbal “talk”, puts humans in a less habitual, more open mindset meaning they listen to the feedback, consider implications and then self-learn. Powerful stuff! I call them participants’ “aha” moments.

It’s not simply the equine teachers however. As our human/horse groups are working through their on-the-ground tasks and obstacle courses in the arena, our trained facilitators are making sure participants are hearing the lessons – and also understanding how this translates back into their workplace scenarios. Debrief sessions post arena work, as well as time for personal reflection and action planning, complete the package and its successful impact.

But don’t just take it from me – this is the type of thing team leaders are saying about their choices to bring their staff to our sessions:

“The approach overwhelmingly made my people think and feel about themselves, their team behaviour, and then how those insights could translate back into our workplace. Every single course participant reported that they learned or honed a teamwork skill – and that was across key areas such as active listening, clear communication, trust, respect and even empathy”.

 

You can learn more, or book a session for your team by heading here.

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