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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Millar

Who is in Charge?

One of the key things when we ride a horse is we have to be clear about who is in charge. We say to the rider, be the boss. But things are larger than that for the horse. You see for them, they are a herd animal and they like to be led by others. They are also a prey animal and therefore for them, everywhere there are tigers. So if you are not confidently in charge, then they have to be. And that is not a great place to be. Most especially if you are trying to stay onboard this wild animal.

I teach and coach leadership. What is very clear is that there is no leadership where there are no followers. With the horse, we have you the leader and the horse the follower. Now this is important to understand, if the horse is not following your lead, you have to recognise this as soon as it happens!

The ability to read the team, followers is imperative for success, for both you and them. In the old days of riding, many said, do not get off your horse when they are scared, ride them through it. Sure, if it is safe. But leadership training is quite different now too, in those days it was hierarchical, patriarchal (the strongest leads/survives) and positionally driven, those at the top have the most power.

How did they get to leadership, by brute force!

How did they keep their power, by coercion and submission. Think military style.

When I first rewrote the leadership training (Sales Management) at David Forman & Associates, the leadership piece was very military in style. We incorporated in the early 2000's Leadership by Values, this honours the culture of a team or organisation.

Leadership only exists through the respect and a common philosophy of how we do things around here. You see this with horses, the more consistent you are with how you do things, the easier it is for them to follow you and feel relaxed and confident. I see it with the little kids I train in horse riding too and the horse. They have a pattern of what to do before they ride, when they ride and the respect for the horses confidence in them as the leader relies on them adhering to this. When they don't, the horse gets confused and agitated. Much of my teaching is helping the child to learn about what they can do to keep the horse calm and confident in their instructions. How can the child be more black and white in what they ask of the horse.

A friend of mine, taught me about teaching the horse to be voice controlled, most especially for the children. To command and then praise the horse when they did what was asked. It was very simple and very effective. The child could be unbalanced or inconsistent in their signals (often a kick or a pull of the reins) but if there was the voice command and praise, you could see the instant happiness in the horse. It knew what to do and therefore was happier to perform it.

I see this in teams or staff members. Much of the time

we expect that staff member to read the undercurrent of what is being asked of them. Kiwi's most especially are incredibly passive aggressive in handling of each other. They don't seem to like black and white... they like silver (grey). The silver fern, an emblem of NZ typifies our culture. You can only find the silver fern when you look underneath the leaf. It is hidden from view. I would suggest that our culture can be somewhat hidden from view.

The tolerance for diversity within teams.

The problem most of the time is that people do not w

ant conflict. They do not welcome conflict, they do not see difference of opinion or ideas as making the organisation or whole better. They see it as dividing and causing waves. And many people do not like to be rocked in their thinking. They don't like to be challenged.

I remember when I was exposed to learning about barefoot trimming on the horse. I had had a lady come and trim my horses. She had one way of doing it. She spend 2 hours indoctrinating me (almost talking me into submission of her way, I was so tired, I just let her get on with it). And I just paid her for her services and asked another farrier to come and sort it


I had known enough that something did not seem right. I called my old farrier who had taught me about barefoot trimming and he said something that is gold to me.

If someone only has one way or one training then there is a concern!

He was right, it is exposure to many ways and many horses

and choosing from all of those maps and models what might work for that horse is key. One way, means one has to defend their way of doing something.

Diversity is key, when we are not open to different ways of doing something or being, then we get stuck. Trying to make what we know, work.

And when it doesn't, that is when you see blame.

And anyone who is involved with horses sees riders blame their horses instead of themselves there is a very serious problem. A horse is a horse. An organisation is an organisation. Anything that is going awry inside of them is due to all the human's involved. And all of those humans who subscribe to one way or the highway. There will be no peace.

Back to, who is in charge. Are you solution focused or relationship focused?

Is everything a problem or is everything relational?

How do you learn to glide between task orientation and person/horse orientation.

The horse asks us to come into relationship every single day, to set anew who we are and what we are becoming or being. It says, please connect with me in this mo


Please, I am trying to connect with you.

So who is in charge? It is only you who is in charge of you... being present in every single moment of every single day.

How are you showing up?

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