Horses and humans share many similarities in when you think about communication, leadership, and herd and/or group. These are all critical components in work and social settings, and are factors that affect all humans, animals, breeds and species. Here’s a little background info on horses and how they interact with each other.
Communication & Body Language
Many lessons can be learned from just watching horse behavior and how horses interact. Horses communicate in many different ways, but mainly through body language. Simple changes in ear positions, a swish of the tail, or tension in a horse’s muscles can send quick signals to other horses. For example, ears pinned back and a hind leg raised are both indicators that a horse is irritated or angry, and is probably ready to kick. A horse that is alert and easily approachable will have its ears forward, bright eyes, and will be somewhat relaxed in nature.
Horses are herd animals, meaning that they live and travel in groups, each relying on the others to protect and support the herd. Each herd usually has a dominant leader, which is either the boss mare, or in wild herds, a lead stallion. The dominant leader is the one that protects the herd, and is at the top of the social rank order. All of the other herd members fall below the leader in the herd hierarchy. Usually the hierarchy is determined through dominance. Horses that are more assertive will rank higher in the social order, over more submissive horses.
Read more about how horses behave and interact with each other at eXtension.org/horses.
How does this apply to us?
Many programs and research studies are now using horses to teach employees leadership skills and communication methods for the workplace. Here are a couple examples of how our equine friends are hard at work educating others.
- Pioneering Research: Collaborating with Horses to Develop Emotional Intelligence
- Researchers at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture are exploring the concepts of how working with horses can develop emotional intelligence in humans. (Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.) Dr. Patricia Dyk and Lissa Pohl, researchers at UK’s Center for Leadership Development, collaborated with UK Healthcare nurse researchers on a two-year study. This equine assisted learning study involved nurses learning about emotional intelligence, and some nurses participated in a workshop about experiential learning with horses. The initial results of the study were positive, with nurses showing an increase in emotional intelligence after completing the workshops.
- Parenting Class Uses Horses to Teach Parents Communication Skills
- In Texas, horses were used in a workshop to show parents how they can be assertive with their children in a positive manner. Trails Less Traveled, an equine assisted psychotherapy learning and team building service, worked with the instructors at the Social Skills Playhouse of Magnolia to “correlate communication with horses to parenting techniques.”
- Trust-based Leadership: Creative Lessons from Intelligent Horsemanship
- This research study explores the relationship between the "join up" approach, and creative leadership, both of which are based on trust relationships. The study includes information on how leaders deal with others in relationships and varying levels of power with those individuals. The researchers concluded that creative leadership and trust-based methods of horsemanship achieve involvement and cooperation between individuals.
I personally have learned many lessons from horses, usually the hard way. What life lessons have you learned from horses?