HorseBack UK has developed a parallel programme focused on bringing together the business and military communities. By using the principles of both military life and horsemanship on which HorseBack UK is founded, a bespoke course has been created to teach leadership and team-building. The courses combine work with our horses, personal stories from the ex-military instructors, and a series of unique practical challenges. The principles of leading and working with a team are discussed, and then put into action. The experience is wide-ranging and active, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Who are we?

Team Spirit was set up to generate an income stream for the charity and comprises of a specialist team of serving or veteran members of HM Armed Forces. All have led or been part of highly motivated teams in extremely hazardous and stressful environments all over the world. Most have undergone life changing injuries and are advanced in their own recovery pathways.

What we do?

Team Spirit provides clientele with a unique insight into leadership and team building. To ensure a clear understanding of the outputs required we will work with your team to tailor our resources and experience

Why horses?

Horses are adept at picking up and responding to human intentions and non-verbal communication. They provide instant, honest and accurate feedback to behaviour in the moment creating a powerful coaching experience which gets to core issues quickly and effectively. Horses do not role play. If you want a horse to co-operate and follow, you must demonstrate real leadership.

Through insightful coaching, delegates on our programmes learn how to access the resources they need in order to be compelling communicators. The process is quick, powerful and effective. The feedback we receive tells us time and again that the learning is highly transferable and the changes are sustainable

We are continually working with our corporate partners to provide the most effective and enjoyable experience.

If you would like to organise a day with HorseBack UK please

Case Study

A day at a HorseBack Leadership course, from an interested observer:

By Tania Kindersley.

Release the Beast

If you told me that I should spend a Thursday afternoon watching five determined executives attempt to herd a fast, equally determined, black Shetland pony round an obstacle course in a wide green field, I might have expressed some surprise. In the event, after a day immersed in the ethos of HorseBack UK, it felt oddly natural. Oh, and in this particular exercise, the pony was radioactive.

Business people often speak of ‘thinking outside the box’. At HorseBack, they rip up the box, and fling its scattered pieces to the wind. As I watched them metaphorically flutter away, I thought: yes, radioactive ponies, of course.

HorseBack UK’s new venture is to take the principles they use with returning veterans, and apply them to the corporate sphere. I imagine that if you are a business person, and someone mentions the words ‘leadership course’, or ‘team-building weekend’, your heart might sink into your shiny boots. I know little of this, but in my mind, for some obscure reason, it almost always involves paint-balling. At HorseBack they have no paintballs; they have ex-military instructors, and horses. It was this that I went to see.

The soldiers are the most explicable part. If someone who has led a platoon through the perilous terrain of Afghanistan is talking to you of leadership, you are going to pay very close attention. (‘We called that the valley of death,’ one of them said, matter-of-factly, about one of his areas of deployment.) What I had not quite anticipated is how philosophical some of the ideas were. It’s not just left right, left right, turn, quick march; it’s not about drilling and orders and hierarchy. They think of leadership as an art; at moments, there was almost poetry in the way they spoke of it.

They use words like humanity, humility, unselfishness. In their lists of attributes that make a great leader there is, at number seven, in big black letters: sense of humour. Their own humour shines through. At one point, one of them said, dryly: ‘Officers should never run.’ Slight pause. ‘It scares the men.’

There is no trace of bombast or gung-ho. They talk about character, and fairness, and judgement. They define two kinds of courage, physical and moral. ‘Moral courage is much harder than the physical kind,’ one of them says. I find this revelatory. There is a great authenticity in everything they say. ‘It is not weakness to ask advice from somebody; it is weakness to think you know everything and carry on regardless.’

There is good empirical stuff here too; a touch of the academic and the scientific. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need is spoken of; Tuckman’s stages of group development. But then, just as everything seems rational and obvious, they take Dr Tuckman’s notions of developing a team, and apply them to horses.

The equine aspect is the unexpected part. What can a dear old Quarter Horse teach a suited and booted corporate whizz about leading a company? I was a little bemused. The military aspect makes perfect sense, but standing in a sand arena learning how to turn an equine in slow circles?

It took me a while to get it. It’s about all the good, honest nouns: trust and patience and perseverance and consistency. It’s about concrete things, like body language, and knowledge. It’s about small, ordinary things, like paying attention. It’s about wide human things, like self-belief. But what I saw is that it’s much more nuanced than that.

A horse does not care about the size of your office, or what car you drive, or the vast salary you pull in. You cannot impress it with your MBA, or any amount of letters after your name. You cannot pull rank with a horse, or blind it with a blizzard of jargon. Most of all, you can’t fool a horse.

Equines are amazingly telepathic and instinctive. If you feel tentative or uncertain or nervous, a horse will sense that at fifty paces. If you are going to get a horse to trust you, to feel safe enough to do what you ask it to do, you can’t bluster and blag. You have to be strong and sure and calm and kind, to your very bones. Also, you cannot impose your will on a creature that weighs half a ton. You have to invite a partnership; you have to be polite.

So there, in the easy atmosphere of the blue Scottish hills, among Western horses and men in cowboy hats, more learning was crammed into one day than I could have imagined, and all with no whiff of school about it.

Just as my head was about to explode with all these new, interesting things, there was one last exercise.

‘We are going to release the beast,’ said the boss.

The beast, it turned out, was about 28 inches high. Another sharp life lesson: never, ever underestimate something just because it is small and furry. The Shetland has more strength and orneriness and determination in its front hooves than most people have in their entire bodies.

The exercise, harking back to the military theme, involved a fantasy scenario where the pony had gone radioactive and had to be isolated in a particular corner without being touched or led. The team had an array of tools available, including, to everyone’s hilarity, a chainsaw.

‘That’s a red herring,’ the boss said to me, out of the corner of his mouth. Although I swear I saw one woman looking at it with a speculative gleam in her eye.

And off they all went, intent on their task, as the tiny Shetland remembered his wild ancestry and charged about the three acres at top speed, as if he were a Derby winner, instead of a very, very short pony.

The team succeeded in their challenge, to their flushed triumph. The pony cantered into his required finishing spot, and stood, looking fabulously pleased with himself. I laughed my head off.

Afterwards, I asked one of the executives about the course. He thought for a moment. ‘Most of these things, ‘he said, ‘are death by PowerPoint. But this…’

He paused. He smiled. He said: ‘This is real.’