She stood very still, feet firmly planted in the dirt beneath her.
In her entire career, even in countless meetings, presentations and speeches, the Senior Vice President had never really been challenged in the way she was being challenged in this moment.
She took a deep breath, and mustered every ounce of focus she could find.
She made eye contact.
And the huge horse standing alone in the ring with her was at full attention.
Without a word or sound, using only her body language, her energy and intention, she asked the horse to walk around the outside of the ring. For a moment, she entertained the idea that the horse actually weighed more than a SmartCar and smiled at the thought. The horse walked, then she got it to trot, then it broke into a full gallop.
Standing in the center of the ring, her eyes glued to the beautful animal she was connected with, the Senior Vice President was filled with a sense of accomplishment, of personal power, of…awe.
She had done it. She could do it.
It dawned on her as we discussed it afterwards, that maybe she wasn’t giving herself enough credit at work. Maybe she was a little too hard on herself. Maybe, just maybe, she was stronger and more capable than she realized. Maybe she could be a little bit bigger in the office, and be seen for the visionary leader that she is.
Oh, I am absolutely certain that awareness went with her to the office on Monday morning.
This is how I spent last weekend, working with women executives and coaches intensely in an Equus coaching program in Haymarket, Virginia. The methodology was created by my friend and fellow Master Coach Koelle Simpson after her apprenticeship with both horse whisperer Monty Roberts and author/coach Martha Beck. Koelle knew that horses can sense human authenticity and pure intention, and will let you know if a human’s walk and talk are not in alignment. And they’ll let you know instantly.
After testing her theories and getting quick and powerful results with clients, Koelle began teaching her techniques to a select group of coaches four years ago who are now spreading her work around the world. Two of the best are Renee Sievert and Dixie St. John. I asked them to partner with me to bring their work to a small group of my clients, and also with a group of coaches I have mentored because I knew it would be the thing that would move many of them from an anxious striving here to… relaxed and productive there.
The Senior Vice President who motivated a huge draft horse was not alone in her ability to fine-tune her own energy to create a productive bond with a horse. There was also the breast cancer survivor who was reminded that there is so much she can still do. And the business owner who realized that it was important to ask for help. And the COO who found her center after a trying and difficult several months in her work. And the executive whose entire department was eliminated in a re-org? She got her mojo back.
There is just something about being one-on-one in a round pen with a horse that shows you the fundamental truth about yourself.
In the afternoon, the group moved into a large, covered arena where two to three people worked together to herd a horse in an agreed upon pattern through cones, barrels and other structures. Oh, and they did it without saying a word to one another.
One team of three run a division for a large organization. Our mantra for the entire 3-day retreat was “How you do one thing is how you do everything”, and never was this more clear than when the work team attempted the joint project of herding the horse. First, there were misunderstandings about where the horse was to go. Then, one person thought another person was supposed to do one thing, while that person expected someone else to do another thing. It was chaotic and until they got their own energy under control the horse was not going to budge. An inch.
Once the exercise was over and folks could talk, you should have heard the parallels they saw between their work in the office and their work in the ring. My guess is that they have now created a shorthand and a trust that will allow them to amp up their productivity in a way other people will notice.
It gave me the chills.
For me, Equus work is another access tool to get people crystal clear about who they are and what they bring to the world. As a coach, there’s nothing better than seeing a client completely get past a block and move toward what they truly want – and the horses provided a shortcut to that for everyone involved in the weekend.
As we unpacked the learning afterwards, I said to Renee, “You know, Equus work is really the ultimate 360 review,” and that’s what it really is.
That is, if you’re cool with getting notes on your performance from a 2,000 pound, four-legged colleague who can’t talk – but can still tell you a whole lot.