Is Your Horse Working on You? The Importance of Empathy in Leadership.


There has been no greater thing in life that has done more to fundamentally transform me as a person as working with horses.  This happens because we need to change so much about who we are to be able to get along with a horse and effectively communicate with them and in return it changes us.  Because of this one of my favorite quotes has become:

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”    Winston Churchill    

In my search to try and find how to communicate with a horse in a manner that’s good for a horses mind, you realize how much you need to work on yourself. I can say I am a far better person then I was just a few years ago. Every day I work with a horse I see more things I need to work on as a person. This is why I will be a horseman for the rest of my life. It has become a necessity to my well being and personal growth. When we work with a horse and are having problems the place to look is at ourself. To work with a horse well you need the tools of effective leadership that we should all possess for the benefit of more then our horses but also for our families, communities, coworkers, and whoever we may cross paths with in life. 

The place we must start is to develop a sense of empathy because it’s how you can help teach yourself the other attribute needed in leadership. The big thing about empathy is it is based off of thoughtful understanding of where the animal or person is at physically, mentally and emotionally. It also causes you to want to better understand the animal and it is this reason I have spent several years and still am studying horse behavior.  Empathy guide us to understanding. Why is the horse doing what it’s doing? Why is the horse reacting this way when I do this?  We start asking why instead of how. Why is empathetic. Most people want to know how. How is selfish! It translates to how can we get what we want, and all of a sudden we have thrown out disregard for the horse or person and are thinking of what we can get.  

This thinking has changed how I work with people. Once synical and judgmental about how people didn’t know what they were doing has changed to an understanding of people are trying their best with what they know. Just like a horse if you pressure them to much your ability to teach them vanishes. People also have physical limitations that might prevent them from doing some of the things I do so I think of how to teach them in a different way. Some people have emotional issues that get in the way of how they think and react to stressful situations. Some people learn differently then others or even have learning disabilities. I can not expect the same out of every horse or every person because they are all vastly different physically, mentally and emotionally. I have to understand them where they are at. That’s Empathy, and it has just taught us to think about the horse or others more then ourself, and It is selflessness that is the engine that drives a leader.