By Gerhard J. Krebs
Translated by Melba-Linda Schertler (Horse Alliance)
Published in “Wirtschaft & Beruf”, Germany
Today, more than 200 trainers – 100 of them licensed HorseDream Partners – from Europe, the Near East, North & South America and Australia are working with the business concept of horse-assisted training and advanced development programs developed from 1996 onwards, by HorseDream. An idea has become a world-wide trend within fifteen years! The European Association for Horse Assisted Education (EAHAE) is the driving force behind this development.
Am I a good manager or leader when I am able to lead a horse around four posts in the riding hall? What do managers have to do with horses anyway? The history of humans and horses, which is thousands of years old, has left some informative traces behind in connection with language: One keeps his/her members of staff on a tight rein, slackens the reins now and then, gets the team up to speed, holds the stirrups for another, helps someone into the saddle, kicks over the traces, knows it’s going to be red tape all the way, puts the cart before the horse, etc.
“To be led” means to follow voluntarily. In its most pronounced form it should ensure the independence and willingness to take risks in moving forward in the direction the leader desires. And the horse? Who does the horse follow? The horse follows a person precisely then, when they demonstrate self confidence, trustworthiness, clarity, credibility and are goal oriented.
Can I deceive a horse? Horses are honest people say. They don’t have any ulterior motives, no hidden agenda. They act according to their nature. If I try to trick the horse, I don’t deceive it, I deceive myself.
Horses and Leadership
How do I lead a horse in a management seminar? “ Take the lead rope rolled up in one hand and let it loosely run through your other hand, is perhaps the best way. Don’t wrap it around your fingers!” They are the only instructions you get. ”Why is the rope so long, wouldn’t it also work with a shorter one?” The question comes almost every time.
We work with symbols and metaphors. Everything has a meaning. But the participant has to work out the meaning him/herself. So what does the long lead rope represent? Perhaps the management structure in the company? Perhaps the long leash I normally lead my staff on? Or information presented like a tangled ball of thread? And what does the horse represent in this exercise? My co-workers/staff? My project? My customers? Me?
The horses are used to each of the leading exercises. They have known them for years. Bosse and Benny, our oldest horses, who are over 20, have been with us from the beginning. But even Goody, aged 10, has already spent half his life in seminars.
The horses adjust to each new participant within seconds. The same exercise but another person and with a different personality, a different character and different background experience is for the horse, a different situation.
“The horse is your own mirror.” We often hear this at the end of our trainings. For us the horse is more than that. It is the real trainer. In hundreds of seminar situations we have experienced the horse not only reacting to the person, or to the whole situation, but also acting independently. And in fact it wasn’t done accidentally or intuitively, but quite consciously. So the horse becomes not only the initiator or medium of the learning process, but it even controls it.
In the company in-house seminars there is an exercise at the beginning and at the end, where the horses run free in the riding hall.
In the beginning it’s about experiencing and recognising – a known phenomenon of every participant: “You can only see what you can see” (Fred Kofman, in Conscious Business). We see, hear and think in our own patterns. One horse is big and proud, so it has to be the boss in this group of four. Another one is agile and wiry, makes contact with everyone and interferes everywhere, that one must be the boss. The third one is calm and reserved, keeps track of everything and doesn’t allow anything to disturb it, so it must be the boss. And the fourth one? “You can only see what you can see.”
Horses & Organisational Development
At the end of the seminar the horses run free in the hall again. This time however, they move in the middle of a set-up representing a situation in an organisation. The set-up is the result of a previous team discussion held in the seminar room. This concerns for example, goals and obstacles which are then represented by such symbols as plastic pieces, skittles/cones, a tarpaulin or balls, in the arena. This is a four-phase learning process: First the rational phase in the seminar room during the discussion, then setting up the symbols representing the real situation, in a playful way, after that the emotional phase where participants watch what the horses do in the arena and finally the integrated phase where participants debrief and evaluate the session.
It may happen that the horses only stay in one half of the riding hall. It could be that they only concentrate on one theme. Sometimes two horses pair up and take care of something in particular. It is also possible that everything that was set-up falls over – or, it is all still standing when the horses are finished.
Back to leading. As one of our participants put it, “To date I have read a lot about leadership, but today I felt what leadership is.” You can’t learn leading – leading is learning. Horse-assisted management seminars are concerned with respect, trust and authenticity. The horse directly mirrors a person’s outward manner of leading and their internal attitude. It helps us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses and sometimes it only takes a small self-correction for us to become more like our “real selves”.
Years of Pioneering Work
For us, this all began in August 1989 during a riding holiday in Tyrol. This was followed by six years of intensive work with horses. In 1996, alongside of the EDP courses we were holding at our small business, a totally new seminar idea developed. The idea became a plan, a new company and in the following year, a seminar program. At the beginning of 1998, after a one-year internal pilot project, we ran our first open management training seminar with horses. It was titled “Motivation – Reaching a Goal Together”.
In August 2004 we founded the European Association for Horse Assisted Education (EAHAE) as a platform for horse-assisted seminar providers. In 2005 the first of now seven annual conferences, took place. After the conference in Warsaw in 2008, a qualification process was started. Since then we differentiate between “qualified members” and “friends”. A qualified membership requires each member to take part in a Train-the-Trainer seminar. This seminar is offered today in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, England, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and in USA. Of the current 210 EAHAE members, 170 have completed this seminar.
Qualified EAHAE members are permitted to hold the EAHAE one-day seminar “The Art of Leadership”. The underlying principle of this seminar is the HorseDream concept. It is based on a finely tuned balance between practical, experiential learning and theory transfer. Within a very short time, horses are able to get people to focus on what is essential for them. The topic here is reduction. It is said that many areas of our society and many companies are “over managed, but under led”. To lead companies and people, we probably don’t need less management, but certainly need more leadership and more vision.
In a horse, reality and vision are uniquely connected. Learning with a horse requires one hundred percent concentration, presence and awareness. A horse is absolutely a real being. On the other hand, there has been a mythological connection with the horse for thousands of years – the horse itself is a legend, a dream, a vision. The HorseDream concept unites reality and vision.
In past centuries all leaders were trained with the help of horses. Working with horses fosters courage, strength, creativity and willingness to take risks, but at the same time also fosters a sense of responsibility, reliability, patience and determination.
The individual horse embodies pride, strength, beauty, freedom, courage and energy just the same as it does sensitivity, caution, and the ever present readiness to flee. It is willing to serve humans and it does this both from the position of being dominated and through entirely voluntary participation. Apart from that, the horse herd conveys the feeling of protection and security, inclusiveness and cooperation as well as self confidence and contentedness.
Where people work together there are always issues that cost time and energy. These can be caused by external or internal factors. When teams are newly formed it takes some time to get rid of reservations and build trust.
In the horse-assisted training’s learning environment, teams grow together in an extremely short period of time. In the two 4-hour sessions, they pass through so to speak, the four phases of the team development process (according to Tuckman): Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing – or, according to Christoph V. Haug: Test phase, Infighting phase, Organisational phase and Working phase.
In the Test Phase team members are polite, impersonal, curious and cautious. During the Infighting Phase there are underlying conflicts, personal confrontations, clique building and progress is a struggle. The Organisational Phase sees the team developing new ways of personal conduct and behaviour, enabling constructive feedback and confronting the differing points of view instead of making it personal. The Working Phase shows the team is finally full of ideas, flexible, demonstrates solidarity, is efficient and participants are ready to help. All four phases are portrayed through practical exercises with the horses. That can be likened to a vaccination where the symptoms of the team development process are experienced in a weaker form. According to our experience, the horses act as emotional bridges between the people and in our intercultural trainings, even as bridges between cultures and religions.
In the first instance, projects are based on objective planning and calculations. However, the project work is then influenced by emotions triggered by envy, resentment, a know-it-all attitude and cantankerousness, or just simply carelessness.
Through a horse-assisted project workshop an atmosphere of cooperation, creativity, flexibility, self-assuredness and goal-orientation, can be created in two days. During the work with the horses new ideas, mutual understanding and goodwill arises.
Sometimes communication fails just because of misunderstandings, or because the connection doesn’t take place in a reasonable way, or perhaps because information has been exchanged before people have found the right approach to each other.
In this respect it makes sense to integrate horse-assisted trainings as the emotional door opener in every medium- or long-term program for further education, personal development and communication. All our experience with these combinations has shown that despite how sceptical some were at the beginning, the seminar leaders, coaches and participants, were all enthusiastic – and the enthusiasm was then carried over into the following “normal” course of the event.
Change processes, however good and well planned they are, always runthe risk of emotionally losing the people involved. The horse-assisted Change Management concept addresses precisely the emotional component of the change process. The participants work through the four phases that are the underlying principles of the Appreciative Inquiry approach, by David L.Cooperrider, namely: Discovery, Dream, Design and Destiny. The team tackles the issues regarding the present and the future they have planned.
The EAHAE’s vision is to establish horse-assisted training and further education as a general form of personal and professional development, in corporations, organisations and institutions. There are three challenges that have to be met.
Optimal Group Size
The first challenge is an implementation problem. The optimal group size for management seminars is 6 to 8 people. If we take a company with 1000 employees and 100 Managers, we would need 13 one-day seminars for all of the managers to enjoy a horse-assisted training just once. Team trainings can easily be held with up to 20 participants. Assuming that just half of the workforce is to attend the training, we would need 25 seminar days.
To ensure that the horses retain their sensitivity, we normally plan one seminar per week. There should be at least four days between seminars. The management seminars would therefore be able to take place within a period of two months and the team trainings would take four months.
So taking the above into account, one seminar provider would be busy for six months. So if we calculate this for major population centres such as Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Munich, or the Ruhr area, one gets an idea of the number of qualified seminar providers that would be necessary.
The second challenge is the price of seminars. If we look at horse-assisted management seminars in the context of operational training and further education, and not as an event, the EAHAE’s seminar providers net price ranges between €400 and €1,100 per person and day – depending on the number of participants and the additional services, e.g. a specially cut seminar video. An event with horses for 30 or more participants does make sense, but doesn’t have much to do with the seminars described above.
In the example mentioned in the first challenge, the price per management seminar would be approx € 7,250 and for the team training approx. €8000. A company’s total investment would then be at least €290,000.
Taking the regular costs of the horses, riding hall, seminar room as well as the cost of equipment, material and assistants as a basis, it’s clear that the prices mentioned above are realistic. Seminar providers who offer considerably lower prices, are either making their main income in another area, or leave the horse-assisted training field after holding only a few seminars.
From the cost perspective, the company has to take into account that horse-assisted seminar measures can’t be compared with any conventional training. Current scientific research has shown that the sustainability of the seminar work and the time factor are of vital importance. This type of seminar assures long lasting learning success in an extremely short period of time.
The third challenge is Marketing. According to our experience, it isn’t possible to explain to someone in an understandable way, how horse-assisted training works, what it sets free in people, what mental blocks it releases and how it helps individuals and teams to progress. Even seminar videos that show content and atmosphere, don’t really help. And participant’s stories only give a partial picture of what happened on an inter- and intra-personal level, in the team, for example.
How can the vision of horse-assisted training and further education become a matter of course in human resources development under these conditions? How do you simultaneously prevent an attitude where this concept is misused or misunderstood as a joke or just hype?
We recommend those who are seminar providers of the EAHAE organized one-day seminar “The Art of Leading” to offer this seminar once a month as an open seminar. This is the best chance for participants to experience the seminar concept. We have found that the so-called Taster courses are not suitable due to the short time period, or the fact that transfer models and video reflection are omitted. This means that the participants never go through the whole learning process and therefore don’t experience most of the possible insights.
We recommend companies take out an EAHAE company membership. This allows them, among other things, to send individual members of staff to open seminars under special conditions.
This system presents itself as profitable for all concerned:
– The participant experiences the complete learning process of the one-day seminar.
– The company saves up to 75% of the seminar fee, per individual employee.
– The seminar provider fills places with participants who are potential customers for a company
in-house management seminar or team training, at a later date.
– The EAHAE receives additional financial resources to support its members, communication and the
increasing acceptance of the platform.
This concept is just in the introductory phase and should be implemented internationally after the 8th EAHAE annual conference that is taking place September 7 – 9. 2012.
The motto of the conference “Back to the Roots – Up to the Future” stands for our reflecting on the moral and ethical concept of our horse-assisted educational work. We worded it thus: “For the EAHAE community it is essential we hold and adhere to certain values. Above all is trust. Further we encourage caring, collaborative business and not competitive business. It is at the core of the EAHAE values that we collaborate on an equal level. Regarding our horses, we consider them as trainers not as tools.”
The motto also stands for spreading this approach according to a concrete plan that takes into account the interests of everyone concerned. It should achieve measurable success by 2020.
All support in line with the above-mentioned concept, is very welcome!