Can Horses Teach Humans About Leadership?

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Many of us assume leadership is an innate skill; something you're born with or inherently lacking. But what if you could develop leadership skills by acting like a horse? On the surface, it sounds strange. However, when you consider that horses have roamed the earth for more than 55 million years and herd leaders helped them survive (without human assistance)-emulating equine behavior sounds downright smart. After all, aren't guidance, protection, and longevity the benefits we hope to gain from our leaders?

Understanding a horse's perspective requires keen insight and compassion. Enter Joe Camp. While moviegoers know him as the film writer, producer, director and author who made "Benji" a tour-de-force on four paws, Camp has immersed himself into the majestic world of horses.

His discoveries are revolutionizing the conventional wisdom about horse ownership. Camp's journey into understanding horses has unlocked some startling revelations which demonstrate how herd hierarchy mirrors relationships among people too.

Camp's new book, The Soul of a Horse (Harmony Books) explores the bonds between horse and human. During their foray into becoming 'horse people' Camp and his wife assumed standard advice would teach them what's best for horses. They were wrong.

Lesson number one: seek the facts. "Never assume just because something has been done a certain way for hundreds of years that it's the right way," says Camp. "We mistakenly believed horses need shoes because it's accepted practice. In actuality, shoes damage a horse's hooves and impair its circulatory system. But you won't learn critical facts if you follow the status quo. Being a good leader means asking a lot of questions, not blindly following tradition."

Lesson number two: leadership is steeped in trust. Camp's voracious appetite for research helped him unearth secrets to establishing strong bonds with horses. He came across a technique using body language and gestures to imitate the way horses interact and communicate with each other-most importantly, inviting them to join your herd. Camp says the profound act of allowing a horse to choose whether or not it wants to be with you forges trust.

"Leadership is not free and it's not easy; you must earn trust," says Camp. "Establishing trust is vital to developing a relationship where your horse wants to try its best and work hard for you. The same goes for people; if they don't trust you, they will never give you 100 percent."

Lesson number three: ditch the intimidation tactics. Contrary to common belief, the stallion doesn't bully the herd into submission. His primary roles: procreating and protecting the herd from predators. The true leader is the matriarch; typically an older and wiser mare. She decides when the herd will eat, move to a new area, or stop to rest. The other horses view her as the steward of safety and survival. She's earned their trust because she knows when to discipline and when to politely seek good behavior.

"Using discipline is not the same as being an intimidator," says Camp. "Horses rely on the herd leader to steer them from harm-not inflict it upon them. Intimidation and fear damage the spirit and destroy trust. It simply doesn't work in the long run. Not with horses, not with people."

Another valuable lesson stems from Camp's wry observation that horses aren't human, so we shouldn't treat them as if they are. Basically, your personal preferences shouldn't dictate what's good for everyone else.

Lesson number four: take others' best interests to heart. "You don't really need to be a horse to be part of the herd," says Camp. "You just need to spend the time and effort to think like one. And you need to care. Those tenets also apply to leadership. Once people know you care and you can put yourself in their shoes and work from their end of the lead rope, you've fortified their belief in you as the leader."

Even if you're not the leader of your own herd just yet, Camp strongly believes if you apply a little horse sense to your daily interactions, it won't be long before everyone around you sees you in a new light. And that's a lesson worth keeping.

Joe Camp is the writer, producer and director of all the Benji movies and programs. He is the author of the inspirational memoir Benji & Me, and has also written several children's books. He's currently promoting his most recent book, "The Soul of a Horse," available at www.thesoulofahorse.com.




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