Actually, the only thing that came from the horse’s mouth was a small nip on Barbara’s thigh. Everything else we took away came from insight gained while participating in leadership and teambuilding activities with six team members, one horse, and two Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) leaders. It was a chance to pet horses and play all afternoon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Better yet, we each learned more about how to work together as a group while being under pressure to achieve multiple goals. It was a perfect fit, as the teams included school board trustees participating in the 2013 class of Leadership Texas Association of School Boards.
Our horse, Annabelle, was a gentle and patient horse. The horsemanship on our team ranged from “never touched a horse” to team roper. By the end of the first exercise, we had each found an excuse to lead and pat the horse, which gave us more confidence about how the afternoon might go.
The next exercise assigned each of us a role or goal, some of which conflicted with another team member’s role or goal. We were very pleased with how quickly we moved from keeping our assignment a secret to sharing our intentions with each other. The co-leaders purposely did not state any rules, and we soon realized we were making up rules that didn’t exist, like not telling others our goal or role. Immediately after this realization, we started sharing information. Excitedly we finished our assignments and began congratulating ourselves while making analogies to real-life situations. We were busy talking about how often information is better shared than held close, when we realized we had missed one of the other points of the lesson.
It came in the form of Annabelle’s nip. Clearly, the nip was intended as more of a scolding than a warning. It left no physical mark, but mentally underscored how important it is to pay attention to the needs of others who are affected by our decisions. You see, once we had accomplished what we needed to do with Annabelle, we ignored her. We were all crowded around her, but engaging only with each other in those moments. Oops.
There were many more lessons to be learned that afternoon. You will have to try it to see what insight you might gain, however here is one more that stood out to me: It’s easy to break the rules when you are intent on completing a goal, especially your want to do it more quickly than another team. A later exercise required all but one member to remain silent, with those same silent members grouped between two buckets placed several feet apart along the fence. The lone member could speak and move about without regard to the buckets.
When frustrated by our inability to help our team leader, we cleverly picked up the buckets so the rest of the team could move around as a group and help out. It was hard to stay between buckets while helping our leader and simultaneously dodging turns of the horse. We didn’t intend to break that rule, but often did. Oh, and the talking rule? We consciously broke it repeatedly in our zeal to finish the task.
Luckily, before we started the last lesson, the co-leaders suggested we define a method for correcting ourselves when we broke a rule. This revealed another important lesson. Once we decided amongst ourselves that the rules were important, devised a method for reporting infractions, and even created a “punishment” for the team each time we broke a rule, we found we did not break them again – not even once.
Taking ownership is more effective than simply being told what to do.
Yep, lots of life lessons can be found in the horse arena. Thanks to Annabelle, we had a chance to put on our boots and enjoy learning some of them.
P.S. There are EAL facilities all across Texas, however the one holding our team/leadership building activities is Five Horses, LLC.