Horses and I haven’t always got on well.
My best friend at school, Snoz, loved horses. No, she was completely besotted by them. I remember her telling me she’d much rather be friends with a horse than a person, which I thought rather odd at the time. She desperately wanted me to love them too.
Every week when I was round at her house (she lived in a semi-rural area) she’d lead me across the road to a paddock where a couple of horses were being agisted. As she leant over the fence she would croon to the horses, stroke their muzzles and feed them grass while I kept my distance venturing only closer when she insisted I draw closer to say hello as well.
Invariably the result was always the same.
One of the horses would lean across and deliberately stand on one of my feet.
Every. Single. Time.
Not being too partial to having my feet squashed in this fashion I would protest loudly while Snoz laughed hysterically and my squealing resulted in the horse leaning its weight even more onto my foot.
I did try to develop a better relationship with horses over the years.
I occasionally went riding, either finding myself on a beast that had no intention of going anywhere, totally resistant to my knee squeezes, or gentle words of encouragement like “Giddy up!” or one that couldn’t wait to rush back home to the stables with me holding on for my life onto anything I could hang onto.
I was tossed off on one occasion (luckily the only damage being a bruised ego and bottom) and had my feet trodden many times again.
I eventually decided that we had a communication problem, that horses and I weren’t ever going to be best buddies and that was OK.
That was until I found myself in Dural NSW at The Four-Legged Sages.
No, it wasn’t an upmarket restaurant or country pub.
This was a training school for people and the horses were the teachers.
Run by the remarkable Linda McGregor, who established Four Legged Sages as a way to help us mere humans get better with our interpersonal communication skills, improve teamwork and bring about effective behavioural change.
Linda has a background in the corporate world in marketing and business development, ran her own insight agency “All about Eve” before creating her unique training school in teamwork and leadership training.
Her class taught me a lot.
And about myself.
The way it works is the horse provides honest and immediate feedback on our actions and behaviours.
Like humans, horses are highly social creatures but their level of emotional intelligence and sensitivity to verbal and non-verbal communication appears is far more highly developed than ours!
During the morning we learnt how the horse mirrors our energy and behaviours.
Meaning there were many opportunities for feedback and learning.
If receiving feedback has ever been an issue for you – a horse will give it to you straight. There’s nowhere to hide. We had to use our eyes as no words were spoken, and the experience of immediate feedback and reaction heightened awareness of how to inspire confidence, trust and desire to collaborate.
This wasn’t about dominance but social interaction. We learnt how to lead using just visual cues and energy. It was remarkable to watch as my colleagues took turns to walk with a horse and see the horse come in gently to stand at their side.
I didn’t have my foot trodden on once and came away with a far greater understanding of how our behaviours impact others and what we communicate by them.
Horses and I can now enjoy a mutual respect.
Snoz would be delighted.
Since that magical time in Dural, I’ve often reflected back on that day and what I learned.
It’s becoming more obvious as we continue to navigate our way through the global pandemic it will be our social and emotional intelligence skills that will help us the most, to be better at recognising those strengths and skills that bring out the best in all of us.
And no feet ever need to be trodden on again.
Has a horse ever helped you to learn?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.
If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.