I've had teachers who looked like horses, and some who smelled like horses, but none who qualified as bona fide equines. As for "horse sense," despite the frequent resemblance, not all these teachers possessed it. So, being one who would much prefer an evening in a genuine barn with genuine pigs and cows to a cocktail party, the Wisdom Horse Coaching program seemed right up my alley. Despite the name, you luckily don’t have to be an equine yourself to participate.
Rather this program, based in Minneapolis, MN, and founded and directed by executive coaches Ann Romberg and Lynn Baskfield, uses guided interaction with horses to teach corporate employees, most often senior executives, about their work style. That means there isn't much you can hide. Not able to easily coax the horse in the direction you want her to go—even when all your co-workers chip in to help? That’s no coincidence, Romberg and Baskfield say. Chances are, there's something lacking in your communication skills that’s also adversely impacting your relationship with workplace peers, those you manage, and maybe even your customers.
With so much to learn (and dread learning about myself), I headed to Hudson, WI, approximately an hour from Minneapolis, in August, to meet the horses. I’d spend the morning observing Talon Performance Group, a recruitment firm serving the legal industry, and the afternoon of the same day getting equine-guided-dissected myself. As an obsessively introspective person, it was more excitement than I could bear.
Arriving the night before, I was given a glimpse at dinner of what I would experience the next day. My dining companions were Romberg; Baskfield; Sue Wahl, owner of the farm the program is held at and the Hawk's Ridge Retreat Center house I was staying in; and three Wisdom Horse train-the-trainer students learning how to become equine-guided learning facilitators themselves.
It didn't take long before our conversation over salads turned to the horses I would be spending the next day with. The horses, explained my guides, reflect the energy of the people interacting with them. Sure, they'll be tense if you're tense and relaxed if you're relaxed, but it's much more than that. When learners in the Wisdom Horses program are on the verge of an epiphany—some big truth about themselves or their company—that's itching to be expressed, the horse he or she is working with often will stick out his tongue and move his jaw around. Sometimes the horse even will start coughing. Once the realization is spoken, the horse's ability to reflect energy sometimes takes an unceremonious turn—they liquefy their assets, you might say—or to put it plainly, they let out a powerful stream of urine. You're releasing something, so they thought they would, too.
While you probably wouldn't want to lose control of your bodily functions around co-workers, the uncanny ability of horses to read energy is something corporate employees could learn a thing or two from, said Baskfield. The ability of horses to match the energy of their handlers is what bosses in corporations need to do in their own setting, she explained. They need to be able to match and respond to the energy of their workforce. "So much communication is beyond language. Few of us learn how our energy expands and contracts, and how we do it," she said. "Horses are fabulous trainers for teaching us this invisible thing is real."