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From The Horse’s Mouth

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.


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Your Story

A woman recently asked me about speaking professionally.  She wondered how I started out as a speaker, where I learned my skills and how my speeches were developed.  When I told her my speeches were developed from insight, learning and my own experiences, she seemed surprised and a bit awed.  “You create them yourself?” she asked.  “Yes,” I answered. 

“You just went and made them up?” she confirmed.  “Mmmhmm,” I answered. ““I develop speeches for topics I want to present and clients choose which one they want.”  She still looked surprised, so I said, “You could do it, too.  Think of all the stories you have that someone would want to hear.”  My new acquaintance took a full step backward as her eyes grew wide and she shook her head.  “No, not me,” she said.  The thought of public speaking frightens many people, so I tried to reassure her, “You can learn the speaking skills over time, but the stories are already inside you.”  She just looked at me like I was talking nonsense.  “I don’t have stories like that,” she said.

Now I was surprised.  Public speaking can be frightening, but believing you have no interesting life experience is truly scary.  I asked her if she had visited other countries, and she had.  “What you saw and did in other countries,” I said, “is something others want to hear.  Most people are very interested in how other people live, and in stories of travel to another country.”  She looked skeptical, and we were interrupted before we could continue.  As she turned to go, I remembered she had asked me earlier about Toastmasters International, a public speaking and leadership club.  “Go to a Toastmasters club,” I advised as we were split up.  “You will find your stories while learning to speak, and the club has people who want to hear them.”

There are lots of ways to bring forth our stories.  Writing and public speaking are two of them, and there are many more.  What I hadn’t known before is that not everyone recognizes their life is full of fun, interesting and valuable stories.  Every life is meaningful.

Don’t we all have stories to create, tell, and especially to live?  Isn’t the most ordinary life interesting and meaningful?  Think of Laura Ingalls Wilder, writing about life in the big woods and on the prairie.  Imagine Anne Frank quietly writing as she stayed hidden day after day.  Though most days were long, slow, and devoid of adventure, each of their stories have fascinated us for decades.   Each of their life stories is an adventure and lesson for the audience who lives the experience through the telling.

How can your story be shared with the world?

You don’t have to be a writer to be fascinating.  The most mundane moments become treasured events when a family genealogist discovers them.  Your everyday adventures while growing up become legendary events to wide-eyed children who never knew you “back when”. 

Others love to hear the insight and learning associated with your personal events.  Life teaches us so much more than the classes we take and books we read.  You have a lifetime of adventure, mistakes, wisdom, understanding and insight.  I hope you recognize your unique and wonderful experience of life – and share it with all of us.

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