The so called ‘Leaders’ of recent history have quite often failed to meet our expectations and our needs. Political leaders, religious leaders, leaders in commerce. So many seem to fall victim to their own foibles right before our eyes…leaving us with an unsettling sense of abandonment. Greed, malice, selfishness, moral blindness, denial, arrogance spill across our headlines leaving us asking the questions: Where are the leaders with the perfectly calibrated moral compasses? Where do we find the ones who can over come their own fears so as to help us let go of ours? Where do we find ones who can not only formulate a vision of a future but who can hold that vision against all odds as a beacon for us to follow? Where do we find the ones whose character is carved deep and whose humility holds them accountable to that which is greater than themselves?
“Of all the creatures on earth, it is the horse, the nature of the horse, that is capable of telling us our own truths. And herein lies the divine union of man and horse”. NK
“Men are better when riding, more just and more understanding, and more alert and more at ease and more under-taking, and better knowing of all countries and all passages; in short and long all good customs and manners cometh thereof, and the health of man and of his soul.“ ~Attributed to Edward Plantagenet
There was a time when all men destined for roles as leaders shared one skill: They were educated in the art of horsemanship. If not at the hands of wise elders and private Masters, then from the great academies of Europe such as Saumur, the Spanish Riding School, etc. these students of horsemanship were carved into Leaders. They trained at the hand of Masters, both horse and human, and were instilled with the virtues that can only be ingrained in the marrow of their bones through the grace of the horse. When the virtues of courage and ethics exist in the marrow of the bone, they cannot be removed, challenged yes, but not removed. Successful leaders of the past schooled in classical horsemanship possessed the more admirable virtues of humanity: Empathy, Tolerance, Patience, Courage, Ethics, Humility, Fortitude, Perseverance, and a seemingly natural ability to hold a ‘through-line’ while in the midst of chaos.
Today, I find it amusing that people opt to go to ‘Leadership Schools’. Granted, some skills can be acquired in this way, intellectually perhaps. True leaders however must possess leadership skills that reside in the muscle memory, the cellular memory, the very marrow of their bones. Skills and attributes that will not falter no matter the circumstance, no matter the obstacle, no matter the threat.
So let us begin….
The psychology of the horse is really quite simple: Horses are prey animals (herbivores) who organize socially within the construct of a ‘herd’. To watch a herd of horses is to watch something similar to a school of fish..they seemingly move, when under alert or threat, as ‘One’ though they are each physically separate from one another. This is attributed to the keen state of awareness that horses are in as prey animals. They rely on the fight/flight instinct for survival. Thus it is imperative that they perceive outside threats to the herd immediately and communicate it throughout the herd virtually spontaneously. They communicate within the herd via mimicry. This is the core method of education for the young horse. And so, if one in the herd perceives danger, an alert is sent out via the language of the body and virtually simultaneously picked up by the rest of the herd in a ripple effect- all ready to flee at once.
The herds very survival is dependent on this skill, this ‘mirroring’ behavior within its ranks. Further, horses not only become acutely tuned to one another physically, they become acutely tuned emotionally, energetically more likely, to one another. So much so that they seem to possess an additional perceptive reality, sensory receptors we can only theorize upon. Cognitively, I would say this phenomena is similar to what we would describe pertaining to ourselves as a ‘clairvoyance’. Horses experience a full and complex range of emotion such as fear, elation, anger, apprehension, relief, curiosity, wonder, determination, and I believe even embarrassment. Keep in mind that I label these as ‘emotions’ in the horse having witnessed them within, and limited by, the framework of my own understanding of emotions within the context of human emotions.
Just as horses read each others physical body language, they also become acutely tuned to the emotional/energetic state of those around them, both horse and human. This phenomena is, to a large extent, unexplainable via conventional science and so remains somewhat embryonic and questionable as fact in the minds of many. But, it is my assertion that it is this ability in the horse that defines it as mans wisest teacher. With this skill, the horse reveals to the human, with unequivocal accuracy, the true emotional state of that person. They sense the emotional state of the person and then immediately reflect that emotion back behaviorally to that person. Just as they mimic/perceive/mirror the true emotional state of their fellow herd members as a tool of survival. In this way, our horses constantly provide us with absolutely authentic feedback as to the true emotional state we are in…anger, fear etc., equating to a type of ‘emotional biofeedback’. The horse is so highly skilled at this that often they reflect back to the person emotional states that they are often profoundly in denial of. And because the horse is physiologically unable to process thought through deductive reasoning, beyond basic stimulus response patterns, rest assured that the feedback is absolutely accurate..it simply cannot not be true. The horse does not have the mental capacity to concoct a lie.
You can begin to comprehend the magnitude of receiving this type of information, this mirror of ones emotion, ones soul, for years, relentlessly from ones equine partner. The result: We learn over time to be absolutely emotionally congruent through this constant reality check provided us by our horses….and in turn deeply authentic in our own communication. “Straight from the horses mouth”? How about straight from the horses soul to yours. It is this that carves character into the horseman over time. A true Master of the Art of Horsemanship is therefore one of the most emotionally congruent, meaning authentic, humans you will find, for they will speak nothing but the truth. Over the years we acquire no other way of communicating, we know no other way beyond deeply, deeply authentic and in a state of total congruity with our own emotional desires.
While this may sound quite simple, when we think about it, how many of us are capable of being completely connected to our own truths? We all create some veil of denial as to our self perception and how we think others perceive us. In short, we are all, to varying degrees, lying to ourselves. And when we perceive ourselves somewhat inaccurately, we in turn communicate from a base of untruth, our interpersonal communications left to become an ever rolling avalanche of distortions. Oh the trouble we bring upon ourselves.
And so the foundation of ‘emotional integrity’ within oneself is laid into the future leader….through the grace of the horse.
Part II of this series will look more closely at the actual leadership skill sets acquired through the study of horsemanship.
Note: As a woman, I am acutely aware of the use of the term ‘Horseman as one which may at first glance exclude my gender from this discussion. I would like readers to know that for me the term ‘Horseman’ refers to those humans that know, interact and have the honor of riding horses, and I use it in this vein as a term which is gender neutral, gender inclusive just as the term Human is.
Copyright 2011 Nancy Kotting All rights reserved. Reproduction by permission only.