Tag: horses

Horse Sense #4 – Forgiveness

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about forgiveness. I’ve learned a lot over the past year about forgiveness from an unlikely friend: the beautiful horse I’ve been spending time with.

A few months ago, I leased Ileeah, a lovely Arabian horse trained in the horsemanship method I was learning. My lessons were frustrating at first, but I began to see how responsive this horse is and just how much I could learn from her because of her extensive training and experience. What I found most humbling was her ability to forgive me when I did something wrong. One day I was taking her halter off and accidentally poked her in the eye. She immediately jumped away from me. But in the next moment, as I was apologizing profusely, she walked right back over to me as if nothing had happened.

Along the way, I have had to forgive myself over and over again―when I gave her conflicting messages about where and when I wanted her to go; when I got angry with her and nagged at her rather than giving her a quick, direct instruction to stop what she was doing; and when I didn’t have the ability to let go of my negativity toward her when she defied me.

Horses have an amazing ability to forgive. They don’t seem to hold onto resentment or negative emotions the way humans do, and it allows them to deal with whatever is happening in the moment rather than reacting to something that happened the moment before. They always seem willing to try again with patience and persistence. I think these qualities have helped horses survive for thousands of years. Even though they are prey to other animals and have had to work for humans, they have persevered and their presence with each moment has allowed them to react appropriately when they sense danger.

In playing with horses (and I use the word “play” because it really isn’t work), I have learned more about how to forgive myself. I have made many mistakes with Treasure, Ileeah and Winslow―the three horses I’ve played with over the past year―and I suspect that I will continue to make mistakes with horses as I continue. But every time they forgive me, I have an opportunity to forgive myself. Buck Brannaman, the famous horse trainer and a leading practitioner in the area of natural horsemanship wrote, “Horses are incredibly forgiving. They fill in places we’re not capable of filling in ourselves.”

This week, find the things you’re not forgiving yourself for and try to release them. See what it feels like to make a mistake and then forgive yourself for it. Try cutting yourself some slack when you’ve done something goofy and don’t carry your inner angst about it into the next moment or the next day. Laugh at yourself for your foibles, and see how unimportant they are in the face of all the good things you bring to others.

The famous phrase “To err is human, to forgive divine” so aptly describes the divinity we see in those beings who are able to forgive―both human and animal. This week try forgiving yourself and moving into the next moment without the burdens of guilt or shame weighing you down.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2014 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

10/16/11 “Horse Sense”

Good day, team,

This week’s challenge comes from a course I’m currently taking in horsemanship. Having been afraid of horses for many years, I felt it was important to work my way through it by getting to know these powerful four legged creatures. In my training, the horses will actually be teaching me how to relate to them, how to speak their language, and engage in what horses love to do. At the heart of my training are three concepts to remember when dealing with horses – love, language, and leadership.

It reminds me of a challenge I wrote in 2007 after having read the book “The Man Who Listens to Horses” by Monty Roberts. Roberts is a real-life horse whisperer, an American original whose gentle training methods reveal the depth of communication possible between people and animals.

My fellow coach Kate Dwyer (who’s also an avid horsewoman) mentioned to me that the similarities between coaching people and horses are uncanny. She suggested this book to me and in reading it, I have found many useful hints in my attempts to understand good ways of working with people.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction to the book, written by Lawrence Scanlon:

“Three hundred years before the birth of Christ, there lived a Greek cavalry officer named Xenophon. He wrote a tiny classic called ‘The Art of Horsemanship.’ Here is a paragraph from it:

‘A fit of passion is a thing that has no foresight in it, and so we often have to rue the day when we gave way to it. Consequently, when your horse shies at an object and is unwilling to go up to it, he should be shown that there is nothing fearful in it, least of all to a courageous horse like him; but if this fails, touch the object yourself that seems so dreadful to him, and lead him up to it with gentleness.

‘Riders who force their horses by the use of the whip only increase their fear, for they then associate the pain with the thing that frightens them.’”

This advice makes me think about situations in which some sort of discipline is required. How strong do we need to be in getting the message across (the whip)? And what are the consequences if the people we manage or parent don’t do what we’ve instructed them to do?

Interestingly, none of us seems to have trouble letting toddlers know that if they touch a stove, they will get burned. It’s not hard for us to be quite direct in our instructions about it. However, try using the same direct message when cautioning adults about something that can burn them figuratively: We often stumble on our words and are not very clear about the consequences.

Coaching works best when we begin by being the active force but then quickly step back from that position so the people being coached can become the active force for themselves. People, like horses, respond best to those who are willing to be patient, considerate and clear about their intention, with no hint of anger or judgment.

Of course, managing people will require being tough at times. Such tough love will be effective if all team members believe the discipline is being applied fairly and that it’s for the good of the whole team, not just one person in particular. Toughness that comes from anger or bullying never works. The leaders challenge is to get a clear message across without evoking fear in the team member. Just as with horses, fear can create a reaction to do what the provoker wishes, but it also plants seeds of mistrust that last a lifetime.

One of the techniques Roberts uses most effectively, which he describes many times in his book, is to listen to what horses are saying in their own language. This attentiveness gives him the opportunity to respond to them in the same way, with the flick of an ear, the movement of an eye, or a facial expression. Our body language communicates volumes, and unspoken messages that frighten people or make them ill at ease do not facilitate good communication and often make people wary. Feeling safe is a prerequisite for being vulnerable enough to open up the lines of communication and say what we’re really thinking.

Your challenge this week is to take a lesson from our four-legged friend the horse. Take a look at the people you spend most of your time with. How do you treat them? Are you hard on them because you think that will bring out their best? Do you find yourself asking them to do something you wouldn’t dream of doing? Are you willing to invite them into the running, so to speak, rather than forcing them? How would you like to be treated in a similar situation? Are people willing to come back to you for more guidance, or do they try to avoid you? Do you cause people to fear you or respect you?

Once you are able to answer these questions, try taking a gentle, attentive approach with people. Maybe it’s just as simple as holding out your hand and asking for help rather than pointing your finger to get your opinion across. And if that hand offers an apple as well, you might just find that people respond like the horse does, with a willingness to carry you that extra mile!

Have a great week!


© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.