Leadership, Teamwork and… Hay?

Leadership, Teamwork and… Hay?

Call it another kind of horse whispering: rather than humans training headstrong stallions, the animals are now training ambitious mid-level managers.

Equine-assisted therapy has long been used to teach empathy, patience, trust and communication skills to at-risk youth and children with disabilities but some experts say the same skills can be taught to leaders rising in the corporate ranks. (Learn more about equine-assisted therapy here.)

One such trainer, Ariana Strozzi, president of SkyHorse Ranch in Valley Ford, Calif., says she’s seen a sharp uptick in interest from corporate clients, including Pfizer, Visa and Cisco, who are interested in her leadership development classes. In addition to teaching classes directly to small groups of employees ranging from top execs to ambitious rank and file, she also now teaches executive coaches and corporate teams how to incorporate horse training tactics in everyday staff development.

Course participants rarely mount the horses. Instead, they may do activities like approaching the horse without spooking it – a lesson in nonverbal communication – or walking the horse around a ring while talking to the group about their career goals. The thinking is that the horse can pick up on how genuine you are about whatever it is you’re discussing. If you’re claiming you want to be a VP but aren’t very passionate, the horse will stop paying attention. If you’re super-eager, though, the horse will follow your lead.

“Horses are brilliant at teaching us how to become more observant and listening to what’s between the lines,” Ms. Strozzi says.

By Melissa Korn

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