Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Reining" in Leadership

To rein a horse is " to willingly guide with no resistance"
Anyone that knows me, knows that outside of my job, another big passion for me is the equestrian sport of Reining. According to the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), the sport of reining is designed to show the athletic ability of a ranch type horse within the confines of a show arena."," 

In reining, riders perform a series of manoeuvres including small slow circles, large fast circles, 360degree spins done in place, roll backs over the hocks and the exciting sliding stops. All of these manoeuvres are performed on a loose rein, and the horse must not show any resistance.  To the untrained eye, it is very difficult to see the subtle cues that the rider communicates to the horse that dictates the movements of the horse. If you have never seen a reining competition, here is one example. One of my favorite reining horses ever! 

Reining came into the mainstream spotlight in 2006 when reining trainer, Stacy Westfall performed a bridleless/saddleless freestyle (set to music) reining pattern in competition and it caught the eye of Ellen DeGeneres
There are many things I love about the sport of reining. It was the subject of my first blog, which I started for our local reining group, 100 Mile Sliders. It ties to my long standing passion for the human animal bond, which was the subject of my (long ago) Masters Thesis, where I looked at the social connections that could be built within our special needs classroom and the rest of the school, by bringing a dog into the classroom.

The relationship between horses and humans is unique. Horse are animals of prey and in the wild, survive on flight instinct. In other words, in situations where they feel threatened, or concerned, they will run away. They also rely on being part of a group (safety in numbers), being very aware of their surroundings, and being suspicious of any intrusions into the herd. They are very in tune to reading body language, as this is how they communicate their own intents. 

My little reining mare Jewel is a horse that despite her extensive training is very suspicious and cautious by nature. Every time you interact with her you have to reestablish trust. This can happen pretty quickly if you know what you are doing, but if not, you would think she had never been handled by a human before. Once she has your trust, however, she will depend on you in stressful situations. For example, she was used in a Para Reining event a few years back, which paired riders of varied levels of abilities with reining horses, and were coached over 2 days, culminating in a competition. 
My daughter, Casandra Jakubiec, acting as coach for para reiner rider, Tara Kowalski
I love this image, as it so clearly displays how Jewel is looking to her leader (who, at this point, is NOT the person on her back) for confidence and direction, in what would have been a very stressful and unfamiliar situation for her, with an unbalanced rider who would not have been communicating clearly with her riding cues at this point. 

Humans, on the other hand, are predators, by nature, and therefore hold a natural threat to horses, simply by our status as a predator. However, horses are quick to follow a leader in the herd, and look for a leader that is confident, decisive and trustworthy. The leader in the herd leads by showing the way! Good horse trainers know this, and study horse behavior to capitalize on the horse's instinct to follow a good leader.  For me, the sport of reining is a pinnacle showcase of the positive relationship between the leader(rider) and (follower) horse. 

In the past, the term to "break a horse", literally meant to "break" his spirt and create compliance. Compliance however is not the equivilant of willingness. Good trainers know now that developing a relationship with the horse built on trust and respect will create a a true partnership with much better results
Anyone who has tried to force a horse to do something it doesn't want to do, understands quickly the phrase, about leading a horse to water. A horse is a 1500 lb animal capable of running 40 mph. We cannot physically force a horse to do something it does not want to do. How then can Stacy Westphal have her horse perform highly technical skills without a bridle or saddle, in an unfamiliar environment, with lots of distractions, and no other means of control besides her voice and her body? 
Perhaps it is best explained by Nancy Lowery owner and operator of  The Natural Leader, where she works with corporate groups to build leadership skills through working with horses.  Nancy's program teaches participants that leadership: 
• is personal power not physical
• title means nothing; it is about the relationships you develop
• is earned through demonstrating authenticity & gaining trust. 
In her TED Talk, Nancy discusses the importance of "being present in relationship with others", by "finding the rhythm of another individual". She uses a dressage( often compared as the English equivalent of reining) term, SCHYUNG to describe this dynamic. 
Nancy's program focuses on the work of Kouzes and Posner, who developed the "Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership" :
 Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership & Ten Commitments (Pace OD Consulting 2015)
  These 5 practices closely align with the "Characteristics of the Innovative Leader" as described by George Couros, in his book, "The Innovators Mindset. 
1) Visionary
2) Empathetic
3) Models Learning
4) Open Risk Taker
5) Networked
6) Observant
7) Team Builder

What does it mean to "be present in relationships with others"?
These were the attributes we discussed as a staff, when I ran a Nancy Lowery styled day at my place, where I introduced my Student Support Services staff to my small herd of 3 horses. Using some of the activities that Nancy shares in her workbooks available for purchase on her site, we worked through the day, exploring our own leadership skills and reflecting on the questions of strengths and areas of improvement. 
What is Jewel's body language telling you here?
Do you have a vision of the direction you are
 going when leading others?
At what point do extrinsic incentives become un-motivating in challenging circumstances. What are the alternatives?
How do you remove barriers and show the way forward?
Are you a risk taker? How do inspire and support others in taking risks?
It was a fun day, and for some of the staff, it meant stepping way outside their comfort zone.  As articulated my my friend, Carla Webb, who runs "Empowered By Horses", a program focused on developing confidence, setting boundaries, and building self esteem for girls and women, "Herd dynamics are powerful metaphors for leadership, teamwork, non-verbal communication, setting boundaries, and for illustrating group and family dynamics. Horses show us a different way of relating with ourselves, others, and our environment, while teaching us awareness, trust, integrity and respect." 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. It furthers the need for fostering relationships, both horse and human, which allows for risk taking.