What, you may wonder, can six high-powered business executives learn from leading muddy winter horses round an indoor school? For that is what was happening at HorseBack today. It turns out that there are profound lessons in this simple exercise. At HorseBack, we think of leadership as a complex, authentic thing. It is not a matter of bombast or dominance or show-boating. It is about confidence, vision, inspiration. It is a quiet thing, deeply felt.

Horses do not care what car you drive, what salary you earn, or whether you have the posh corner office. They go straight for the essentials, what they see in front of them. (This works just as well with our veterans, since the equines know nothing of medals, or rank, or IEDs.)

As we work with our horses, we lead literally and metaphorically from the front. Although we use a rope, if the leading is good there is no pulling or cajoling, the horse will follow the human with ease and trust. If the leader walks out with sureness and belief, the horse knows from the body language that the human will go in the right direction, will keep that sensitive flight animal safe, and will stand tall if the mountain lions should come out of the woods. This sounds a bit bonkers, but it’s straight evolutionary biology. If, on the other hand, the human seems tense, unsure of the direction, stuttery in movement, the horse will at once pick up on that and doubt will creep in.

Bearing is incredibly important with horses, and it has a marked effect in the world of work too. The human brain picks up twenty subliminal messages before a person opens their mouth. This is why all the research shows that first impressions are made in a matter of seconds, and that judgements are based far more on body language than the spoken word. Working with our horses in this foundational way allows people who are accustomed to being more cerebral than instinctive really concentrate on those vital basic traits that go into being a good leader.

It was an excellent day and really interesting for the team. These leadership days with local companies broaden the scope of HorseBack, drawing on the expertise learned in active service and in horsemanship. We hope to do more of them in the future.