Learning from Horses – Masters of the Moment!

IMG_1047[1] They came together in arms but also in minds.  Some were already horse people who own and interact with horses regularly and some were not.

Nine people and six horses participated in our January 2014 Personal Development workshop with the theme of Non-Predatory Communication and Consensual Leadership.

Back in the Spring of 2013 I was inspired by the newest book written by Linda Kohanov called The Power of the Herd.  She began talking about well known historical figures like George Washington, Ronald Reagan and Alexander the Great and some of the lessons learned from horses about life they were able to transfer into their leadership styles making them effective; memorable and able to stand out from others.

I live in New Jersey and George Washington “slept here!”  So I know the historical places where many soldiers morale was bolstered by their leader on his white horse.  I also have experienced how a white horse is born black or very dark and over time, like us, their hair turns white.  An outward sign of living long and growing in life’s wisdom.

George Washington was considered not only a great rider but one of the greatest horse trainers in the new land. Above is one of his two horses Nelson.

Ronald Reagan was another horseman who developed a great ability to collaborate with his fiery Arabian/Thoroughbred El Alamien gifted to him by the President of Mexico.  It has been reported that he rode to the rescue of   secret service agents employed to protect the President. We will never know how this wise white horse shaped America.

Alexander the Great was so fierce in battle because his forces did not need to fight with their horses first! They could ride into battle with sword in one hand and shield in the other using their relationship based horsemanship to guide their horses!

Now, I’m not agreeing with the politics of any of these horseman what I am saying is anyone who has done the work to ride horses out in wide open spaces successfully; meaning everyone is happy and safe,  knows it takes way more than just hanging on for dear life! You need to pay attention to the horse you rode in on; share leadership; problem solve in the moment together without drama or you will not get very far except maybe back to the barn a bit quicker than you hoped you would or worse left behind to walk home!

In her book “The Power of the Herd” Linda helps us to take these life lessons out of the barn and use them in the board room, office or in our own homes.

Just because you are non-predatory doesn’t mean that you are weak or a victim.  “HorsePower” is real and used as a model for us to understand the real power of a fully empowered herd.  What we learn from all this is that horses are well equipped from the beginning of time to help humans.  In this case the help looks like a model of non-predatory power and behavior that :

  • values cooperation over competition
  • values process over goal
  • fights to protect self and others; prefers to herd family and companions away from trouble
  • assertive in holding personal boundaries without ordering others around
  • stops fighting when aggressor backs off
  • shields the weak (vulnerable individuals can rely on others)
  • leads through experience, curiosity and the ability to calm and focus others during crisis
  • values relationship over territory
  • leader and dominant are often different animals

As opposed to Predatory Power

  • competition is emphasized
  • values goal over process
  • attacks to protect self and others and gain advantage
  • Aggressive in taking others’ territory and resources
  • fight to the death impulse is strong
  • culls the weak (must hide vulnerability at all costs)
  • rules through intimidation
  • values territory over relationship
  • leadership equals dominance

Daniel Golman wrote a best selling book called “Working with Emotional Intelligence” and Linda combined this science with her experiences with herds of horses  to understand Social Intelligence.  Here is the You tube video from Daniel Goleman  speaking about Emotional Intelligence.
Below is an example from my herd; Obviously they are not looking at me and I have the hay!  Their emotions are telling them they need to pay attention to something and it is their collective “social intelligence” that has everyone on alert.

Those are hunters that just came out of the woods way across the field. This herd of horses used their emotions as information.  They did not shy away from the feelings about these hunters and pretend they aren’t real because they are uncomfortable!  They stayed alert assessing the danger to their lives.   Realizing there was no danger to their lives they went on to eat the hay without plotting to ‘get’ those hunters in the future or not letting them see that they were afraid/vulnerable. The hunters left and it was over. However that is not how humans do things, we ruminate on the scary thing plotting our next move all the while pretending there is nothing wrong. We do this enough and then we find danger in everything and are unable to move about freely enjoying life, or our job, hobby, intimacy or family because we are busy avoiding and protecting ourselves from all possible discomfort. By the way no one is exempt from this behavior even though we are at the effect of it in varying degrees said another way we are all in varying stages of emotional agility!

Back to our class – Many of the participants shared that they work autonomously in their worlds and for awhile in this class because working in groups is so difficult! It brings up all the problems in communication that we experience daily!  Jan. 2014 029

It took about an hour to create consensual leadership or leadership based in the senses where group members were able to listen with empathy to one another finding and agreeing to participate in a plan that worked! This was the first real opportunity participants had to try out a new way of collaborating with one another and in the scheme of things it only took an hour!  When these skills are taken back to an office where the practice is employed moment to moment day to day, this is where a culture is changed from one of Predatory Power to Non-Predatory Power. According to Daniel Goleman’s research, when Social and Emotional Intelligence is understood and embraced by organizations,  companies retain employees longer, they are more productive and when employees move on either because they are terminated or resign, when asked about the company 97% speak positively about their former employer.

If you are interested in finding out about:

  • Using emotions as information
  • Managing contagious emotions
  • Mastering boundaries and assertiveness
  • Conserving energy for true emergencies
  • Preparing for difficult conversations or
  • Engaging in consensual leadership where the best suited person can step into leadership now
  • Saving a large amount of time and money wasted on interpersonal conflicts

Come learn In the Company of Horses – Masters of the Moment!
For yourself or your organization –
Part 1 in New Jersey June 7 & 8, 2014
Part 2 in  New Jersey July 12 & 13, 2014
For registration and more info. see our website       Private workshops may be held anywhere in the world! Just ask.
This is an approved EAGALA Workshop!



Independence Day

Independence Day

Honoring our Veterans

What does it mean to a Veteran from World War II or Korea or a Vietnam Veteran to know people care about them while they are living in a Veterans Home?

“This is a great day”  said one 94 year old Veteran.  One  gentleman with a sparkling Cowboy hat put his arm around my shoulders and said, “She’s a quarter horse isn’t she, I said Yes Sir, He proceeded to tell me how he and his horse rode at the Cowtown Rodeo and he was a team roper; the smile on his face was priceless!

Cowboy Veteran

Cowboy Veteran

The staff at the Vineland Veterans Home was just as amazing as everyone else,  we thought we were going to an outside function under a tent with a cowboy theme, when we arrived, they said we are going inside to visit with the veterans and take some photos!  I said well, you know when horses get worried, they poop, the young man in charge said, we all do that. It was beautiful.

Visiting with the Veterans

Visiting with the Veterans

This gentleman got right out of his wheel chair to stand so proudly next to Valentine.  As person after person lined up and backed their wheel chairs in between the horses (with great skill I might add) to get their pictures taken I was more and more moved  by each of the stories; none of which I knew.  I only knew they all served in our countries military.  They were not all volunteers, many were drafted into service.  I got thinking about what that meant and more tears fell.

I looked around the room at who was there and I saw many people wearing denim vests covered with patches; I got a glimpse of one of the patches that said “I wasn’t there but I still care.”  More tears fell for me.



And then there was Freedom the Therapy Dog who is a regular visitor at the Vineland Veterans Home.  Young and attentive, I looked over and saw a patch on a denim vest of his person that said “Freedom’s Handler.”  I thought about the veterans and wondered if they should be wearing the same patch. This thought brought more tears for me. I thought of our current wars and drones and I thought of George Washington our earliest president and how he encouraged our earliest American warriors from the backs of his majestic war horses.  I looked over at my girl Valentine standing tall, still and proud while yet another veteran and their family members crowded in to have some photos taken.  The pride I felt for the horses who just as bravely were drafted into military service;  how they stood steadfast, like my Valentine was doing this day.  Tears fell once more.

I wished I had a tissue, I didn’t even have a sleeve, so I just let the tears land where they wanted.



The last person of the day who came outside to visit with the horses before we left was a little tiny woman in a wheel chair; she was hugging a stuffed white animal and singing a patriotic tune, she was kindof bouncing all over like a little girl might.  The woman helping her stretched out her hand to pet Mya, the pony, she said “good kitty kitty kitty”  then she said “you are too big to be a kitty” I told her Mya was a pony; I moved Mya closer and put her head in the little woman’s lap, she didn’t really have a lap because she had no legs, just these two little bouncing stumps; as she tickled Mya under the chin she said “Tickle tickle little pony.”

As we drove away I was moved once again at the magnitude of  what one of the patches I saw on those denim vests said “All gave some; Some gave all.”

In the Company of Horses Inc. had the distinguished honor and privilege to take two of our girls Valentine and Mya to the Vineland Veterans Home here in NJ.  Rolling Thunder NJ is a group of women and men who care about our veterans.  With deep gratitude I can say this experienced changed me.  I will think about Freedom for anyone in a new way.

He lied his way into the arena….


It was a windy cloudy day in the 40’s when the men’s group arrived.  There were 8 of them hanging over the fence petting the horses before they signed their release forms.  When the paperwork was out of the way we had our intro conversation in the arena;  the wind was uncomfortable and one guy excused himself and said, ok, well thanks but I’m not really in this group and I should go wherever I’m suppose to go and besides, I’m really cold, I just wanted to pet a horse and now I’ve done that, so I should go.

We take the horses to an adult residential rehabilitation center for people in the early days of recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol, so I say to the guy, you know, the thing about the weather is, it’s either cold, or windy or there are bugs, or then there are allergies, or it’s hot, if we are just going to work our recovery program when the weather is right, we are on a narrow road here.   He said, good point, how about I just stay here and see what I can learn.

We had our activity “steps one two and three” and when we were done, the guy comes over and makes a point of stopping us to say, I am so glad I stayed, I thought we were just going to pet the horses, I never imagined I was going to learn something valuable for my life!

The thing is, they “Want” to be together.

ImageWe can and should use this to our advantage!  


  [hawrs-muhn-ship]  Show IPA

1.  the art, ability, skill, or manner of a horseman.

It’s not just about riding, it’s about having an artists eye to see what’s so, the ability to know what to do with it, the skill to do it so it becomes your way of being.  
As noted in the picture above, one of the things there is to see, know and use is the fact that horses want to be together.  They will be happier moving away from home together and    giving their all to you at home.  And it is through being together that you can move apart from the herd.  
Here’s the other thing to see in the photo; Curiosity, notice how all the horses are curious about the photographer? It’s not feeding time, it’s natural curiosity, this is what, if cultivated, has our horses be interested in leaving the herd with us.   
These are things a horseman understands.  


I’m Afraid – Emotional Intelligence…

All living beings feel other living beings through relationship or Social Intelligence.  This starts in the brain and follows neural pathways and related systems to manifest outwardly.  Think of bees stinging repeatedly, they release  information to other bees through their endocrine system and so do you.  Before you know it, you have a big problem.  It works the same way with horses and dogs and yes people too. We are all wired to read each other.   It’s just that sometimes humans don’t recognize what’s happening as quickly as other living beings. This is because we rely so much on talking.

If you have spent any time with me and horses I’ll tell you, just be honest because there is no where to hide.  The reason for this is because in the hiding your blood pressure rises, heart rate increases, your breathing changes, all outward signs that something is wrong.    You can use this information to monitor what is happening to you thereby becoming smarter about what you are feeling (emotional intelligence.) When you add your new awareness to a mix of horses, rabbits or other people this becomes Social Intelligence.

Learning to be emotionally intelligent is something that is easily learned In the Company of Horses and Social Intelligence is clearly defined and learned in the herd.

In the Company of Horses


The herd in this photo has done all the work necessary to share food.  Emotionally  knowing what they want; Socially doing what it takes to share.  It does not always go this way.  Sometimes a horse will posture and push other horses away.  Sometimes a horse will physically bully  other horses and take the hay.  Sometimes a horse will stand to the side and watch the others eat but never do the work it takes to be able to share with the others.  It’s the honesty of asking for (through body language) what they want that has these three horses eating together.

Some self examination could reveal how you get what you want!



Equine Therapy:
Takes all different shapes and sizes.  Sometimes just getting to stand next to or pet a horse is therapy. In the end, it’s not about the horse but overcoming things like fear and self doubt.

Managing your issues

Zig and BE at work

It was practice for the “real”world outside of rehab when they would really have to manage their triggers and their denial.  Those were the metaphors they named the horses and their jobs were to get the horses to go to the pockets they designated ahead of time as a group while staying in a line between the buckets.  They went through a lot!  The horses were running everywhere and the group was split and chaotic, but then they made a big shift and got themselves together.  Once their triggers were managed they could turn all their attention on their denial.  This lesson won’t soon be forgotten by anyone who was lucky enough to participate in this Equine Assisted Psychotherapy session..

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