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5 Lessons From Horses on Leadership Development
Jane had just returned from a much needed vacation; a spiritual retreat she called it. She had been working for 9 years in her current position of Director of OD. She was stuck-something needed to give.
Jane was very much looking forward to the 2 day leadership retreat with the horses. She was very supportive of trying new methodologies for self and team discovery. Although she new little of the connection between leadership and horses, she knew from the accuracy of the Personal Leadership Assessment everyone had taken in advance of the workshop that this experience was going to be revealing no matter what happened.
One would never know what was really going on with Jane; no one human that is. She seemed happy and vibrant and full of support for her team. However, Dolly, a 17 year old alfa mare, had Jane's number from the beginning.
This particular exercise required simply leading the horse. Now this is something you would think a leader could do quite easily. They have been directing and guiding people for years. And most leaders assume that those people are doing what they say and following them. Some go so far as to 'inspect what they expect'. After 16 years consulting and coaching leaders, I can easily say most don't.
Throughout the remainder of the workshop, Jane was able to 'be' more completely. Her vulnerability led to a level of trust with her team that enabled them to have similar experiences. Now they have the opportunity and muscle memory to lead their teams through this same vulnerability. Through her session with Dolly, Jane experienced 'real' leadership and shared this with her team.
At the end of the two days, the team summed up what they had learned. One thing was very clear to them...their definition and concept of leadership had changed dramatically. This is the power, and the gift, of equine facilitated coaching.
5 Lessons From Horses on Leadership Development
Therapeutic Horseback Riding (THR) is a therapeutic program that provides equine assisted activities for individuals with disabilities in order to improve their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This is done through an adaptive riding program that focuses not only on riding skills but also on the development of a relationship between the horse and rider. The program can include work both on the ground such as grooming, leading, or directing a horse, and activities on horseback.
Therapeutic riding activities are conducted by certified therapeutic riding instructors in conjunction with trained volunteers. During riding activities a new rider or an individual with physical limitations is generality assisted by two side-walkers who walk alongside the horse, as well as a horse leader. These individuals are volunteers that have been trained to assist the instructor in the conduct of the therapeutic program.
Therapeutic riding differs from hippo-therapy, one form of equine assisted therapy, in that in hippo-therapy a physical or occupational therapist uses only the movement of the horse to improve an individual's sensory and motor skills. The therapist does not teach riding skills or seek to develop a relationship between the horse and rider. The primary goal of hippo-therapy is to improve the individual's balance, posture, function, and mobility. Therapeutic riding is a broader program of therapy that can include multiple therapeutic elements simultaneously.
Therapeutic riding combines the physical aspect of riding in improving balance, posture and mobility and adds the mental, emotional and cognitive skills required to ride a horse and develop a positive working relationship with the horse. This expansion of therapy beyond just the physical aspects involved in riding a horse can improve an individual's emotional control, behavioral self-regulation and cognitive functioning and help them function more productively and effectively in society.
Therapeutic riding centers and their instructors are certified by the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International and therapy is conducted as part of an overall treatment plan developed in conjunction with a medical health professional. Safety is a paramount concern and therapeutic riding is not appropriate for individuals with certain disabilities. Instructors work with the health care provider to plan for the individual's needs, appropriate supervision, and ensure rider safety.
There are a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional disabilities that can benefit from the use of therapeutic riding. Some of the many individuals who research has proven can benefit from therapeutic horseback riding include those with attention deficit disorder, autism, amputations, brain injuries, stroke, cerebral palsy, downs syndrome, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, and a wide variety of emotional, cognitive, or mental disabilities.
For those with physical limitations experiencing the rhythmic motion of a horse can be very beneficial to improve muscle function and control. Riding a horse moves the rider's body in a manner similar to the human gait, so riders with physical needs often show improvement in flexibility, balance and muscle strength. For individuals with mental and emotional challenges, the unique relationship formed with the horse can lead to increased confidence, patience and self-esteem
There have been numerous studies that have shown evidence of the benefits of therapeutic riding. Individuals with cognitive disabilities such as autism or Downs Syndrome have shown demonstrated benefits from THR. Bass, Duchowny, and Llabre (2008) found that children with autism who participated in a therapeutic horseback riding program improved in sensory integration and directed attention as compared to the control group. While Biery and Kaufman (1989) showed that significant improvement was seen on standing and quadruped balance after the therapeutic riding program for individuals with Downs Syndrome
It is clear from the research and from the responses of individual participants that therapeutic riding is a physical activity that can provide significant benefits to individuals with physical, emotional, or mental challenges. It requires an individual to control and exercise a wide range of muscles, while simultaneously having the individual exercise emotional and cognitive skills required to maintain control of the horse. Like any physical activity it provides benefits beyond those to the muscular skeletal and cardiovascular systems. There are boosts to cognitive skills as well as to emotional well-being. The interaction with the horse adds an additional element to the equation in that the individual can establish a relationship or connection with their equine partner. Therapeutic riding is a beneficial physical activity has demonstrated the ability to change and benefit the lives of numerous individuals and assist them to live a healthier, more active, and more productive life.
Biery, Martha, Kaufmann, Nancy, 1989, "The Effects of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Balance." Adaptive Physical Activity Quarterly, Volume 6, Issue 3, pgs 221-229.
Crothers, G. (1994). "Learning disability: Riding to success." Nursing Standard, 8, 16-18.
Emory, D. (1992). "Effects of therapeutic horsemanship on the self-concepts and behavior of asocial adolescents." Dissertation Abstracts International, DAI-B 53/05, 561.
Kaiser, L., Smith, K., Heleski, C., & Spence, L. (2006). "Effects of a therapeutic riding program on at-risk and special needs children." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 228, 46-52.
Learn About Therapeutic Riding. PATH International, November 3, 2015.
Miller, John, Alston, Dr. Antoine J, "Therapeutic Riding: An Educational Tool for Children with Disabilities as Viewed by Parents", Journal of Southern Agricultural Education Research, 2004, Volume 54, Number 1, pgs 113-123.
Scheidhacker, M., Bender, W., and Vaitel, P. (1991). "The effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding in the treatment of chronic schizophrenic patients. Experimental results and clinical experiences." Nervenarzt, 62, 283-287.
Shambo, Leigh, Seely, Susan K., Voderfecht, Heather R. "A Pilot Study on Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy for Trauma Related Disorders", 2010,
Stickney, Margaret Ann, "A Qualitative Study of the Perceived Health Benefits of a Therapeutic Riding Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders", 2010, University of Kentucky Doctoral Dissertations. Paper 40.
Zadnikar Monika, Kastrin Andrej, "Effects of hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding on postural control or balance in children with cerebral palsy: a meta-analysis", August 2011, Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, Volume 53, Issue 8, pages 684-691.