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Guest opinion: Emotions and leadership — How a horse held up a mirror


In a recent horse-guided coaching session, 1,100-pound Yeller was my learning partner and my husband served as an unexpected facilitator. Working with a valued partner like Yeller I uncovered the power and energy of unregulated emotions and how shifting one’s mindset impacts not just one’s thought process, but also relationships.

Yeller is a savvy relationship instructor and his willingness to partner with me typically supersedes his interest in remaining with the herd. Recently he was waiting in the pen when I experienced an upsetting situation that conjured up tears of emotion. I worked to quickly collect myself on the outside and head toward Yeller.

Inside I was processing the upsetting situation and my ruminating only re-energized my emotions. I was distracted, so thinking that Yeller and I could begin working together was comical at best. From the pen’s center, I pointed in the direction I wanted him to go. Twice Yeller acknowledged my ask by taking a few labored steps in the right direction before he stopped.

With Yeller appearing disinterested, disconnected and bored, my seemingly “stuffed emotions” surfaced and I poked his side. The more frustrated I got, the more agitated Yeller became. His defiance became all I could see. I almost didn’t notice my husband standing quietly outside the pen, peering curiously through the gate.

Suddenly, in one smooth and deliberate movement, Yeller swung his backside toward me and kicked both back feet behind him, barely missing my head. Exasperated, angry and unsettled, I tearfully turned away. Taking slow, deep breaths and in silent prayer, I began to transition from where I was to where I wanted to be. Calmness and composure gradually replaced the tears. I passed Yeller and walked toward my husband.

“What feedback can you provide?” I sheepishly asked my husband. Clearing his throat, he inquired, “How can you lead Yeller rather than force him?”

I hesitantly approached Yeller. His willingness to remain in my space — instead of moving to the other side of the pen — was a relief. Grateful, I struggled to answer my husband’s question — either verbally or through purposeful actions — to get things on track. Asking for help was the vulnerable and right next move.

Yeller and I calmly and deliberately moved forward with the groundwork. My emotionally charged actions had led me to try to force Yeller rather than lead him. The results: resentment and an unwilling partner. With more thoughtful actions Yeller’s trust in me resurfaced. The more grounded and present I became, the closer Yeller moved toward me, even enveloping me with his neck. Our connection restored.

My husband noted that effectively leading Yeller made him not want to let me out of his sight. Yeller was ready to do anything I asked.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. How many of us can say that about humans within our organization we’re trying to lead?
  2. How does our ability (or inability) to regulate our emotions impact those around us?
  3. What energy do our thoughts create?
  4. How aware are humans that thoughts create energy and energy impacts outcomes?

If you’re a courageous leader who wants to get clear and more assertive in your ability to lead effectively, please connect with me to learn more about how effective horses are in teaching humans relationship and leadership skills.

FullCIRCLE creative + coaching LLC founder Kim Gratny combines her lifelong passion for horses and dedication to transition and transformation into a coaching and consulting business. Kim is certified in Equine-Guided Education, a member of the International Coaches Federation and the Iowa Center for Economic Success Strategic Advisory Committee. She’s part of a ministry team with Right Turn Cowboy Church where God connects humans and horses to learn the gospel. Her peaceful place is outdoors on the farm with her husband, their five children, friends, horses, cattle, sheep and dogs. Connect with her via email.

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