Improving our communication skills is not as easy as reading a book on communication. Proclaiming our self as the leader does not make us a leader. So how can we enhance our communication and leadership skills? An innovative and powerful experiential learning method is Horse Facilitated Learning.
What is it?
It’s not about learning to ride a horse. In fact, the training is done by interacting with horses on the ground. In a typical session a small group of people will interact with few horses, entering their natural environment. After familiarizing with the horses and the technique, participants are asked to conduct exercises with the horses, such as leading a horse to follow you or to walk on a circular path (without any lace!). That sounds easy but horses are less diplomatic than your colleagues: they are authentic, they don’t lie, and if they don’t see you as a leader they will not do what you want them to do. Your duty will be to communicate with them with non-verbal cues, and exercise empathy to understand their feelings, problems and doubts.
Horses provide honest feedback on your behavior: if you are scared, anxious, nervous, or impulsive, they will reflect your emotional status as a mirror. This unique ability of horses to act as mirrors will help you surface your emotions and thus learn to manage them.
What can we learn?
To read non verbal communication cues, to be more attentive to body language and expressions, to reduce anxiety, to practice empathy, and to dominate your emotions. In summary, to be a responsible and effective leader.
Depending on the goal of the specific session, Horse Facilitated Learning can be useful for a number of different organizational purposes, such as improving leadership skills, group dynamics and intercultural communication.
Does it work?
Horse Facilitated Learning (also known as Equine Assisted Learning) is a rather novel technique for organizational training, practiced in few places worldwide. It has been successfully utilized in university programs, such as at the Northeast Ohio university, as reported by Stock and Kolb, who wrote:
“At the individual level, when managers embark on equine-assisted experiential learning, the outcome is not only memorable, but it has a profound effect on participant’s self-perception and their ability to work with others.” (published in: Organizational Development Practitioner in 2016).
Further scientific evidence of Horse Facilitated Learning effectiveness is provided by Gehrke who published an article on “Developing Coherent Leadership in Partnership with Horses—A New Approach to Leadership Training” in the Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching (2009).