When given the opportunity, a core lesson a horse will offer is about the role of silence in the communication process. Silence offers the space and time for the communication between us to take shape, form, morph. It allows me to listen to myself, you to listen to yourself, both to listen to each other.

In his locker room speech in “Any given Sunday” Al Pacino said it very nicely: “one half step too late or too early, you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.”

Apply this to the market and the innovation process. Propose something too early and it will be rejected, probably because it is not understood. Propose it too late and the need it serves will have been addressed through other means or by other players. Apply it to sales, purchasing, hiring – the right time is key, every time. 

In our daily interactions we experience time’s influence on the communication process in all those moments when the words coming out of mouths are either too early in the dialogue or too late. The visual indication of this off-timing are the eyes of your conversation partner, his eyebrows, and the brief interruption in his flow of thoughts you will notice through the way his face muscles contract. 

We think we are having a conversation but in fact we are having at least 3.  I’m having an inner conversation, you’re having an inner conversation and between us two we’re having another outer conversation. Make no mistakes, the 3 conversations are very different. 

In this already complicated context, what could a horse possibly bring as added value in our development?

Silence

When given the opportunity, a core lesson a horse will offer is about the role of silence in the communication process. Silence offers the space and time for the communication between us to take shape, form, morph. It allows me to listen to myself, you to listen to yourself, both to listen to each other. It’s like going through neutral when shifting gears. It allows choices which can take us closer to the objectives we have for that interaction. It is where added value is created. 

How does the horse do all of this? Through the embedded communication system: they use primarily visual cues and behaviors (actions) to communicate instead of sound. Inside the behavior communication channel, you have both what they do and don’t do. And when charted on the axis time you have: When does the horse do? And when does the horse NOT do?

In the now

Secondly, a horse assisted education experience will pair silence with the key skill of being present. Silence is always in the present. Presence is always in the now. Life happens now. The past is already gone, and the future is not yet available. Now is the only time when we can do something. To do something, we need to attend to our present, be here, now.  The benefit of horse assisted education is that your coach for the skill of being present weighs a few hundred kilograms so there is little chance you will miss the big visual cues. The real challenge is to be present so that you can observe the smaller cues: Eye and ear movement, weight shifts  in one of the four legs, how the horse manages the physical distance relative to the people with whom he is working. 

The horse’s memory is impressive. We are interacting with them in the present but both us and them are the result of past decisions and actions. Moreover, in a horse assisted education set-up, the horses you will meet have a long history of interactions with humans. Pay attention to the differences in how the same horse communicates and interacts with each person he encounters! 

Drifting into your past reflections or anticipating what will come next (a break or the end of the day included) will disconnect you from the present communication with the horse. During the exercise  debrief, alongside your coach or trainer you will have the chance to review the triggers, the outcome and create some alternatives. 

Observing

If you’ll be a great learner when it comes to silence and being present, the third skill you will get to practice is that of observing. You will practice observation before interpretation, without judgment.

Too overrated of a benefit?  Not when it comes to working with horses. But this skill practice will not be primarily supported by the horses but by the trainer or coach who will work with you and the horses. 

Observation is about being able to differentiate between what is out there and what is inside our heads. Observation needs to be highly specific and attentively timed. A good trainer/coach will guide you and your team in differentiating among these and using them for the appropriate purposes.

The correct use of the axis of past – present – future is key. It is very tempting to jump to interpretations and offer opinions no one asked for and call them “observations”. When we do this, we combine past knowledge with future expectations and skip the present. Back in the office we label this abbreviation as “being efficient” … Are we really? 

You will discover valuable lessons for yourself just by observing others in their interactions with the horses. More specifically you need to observe both your colleagues and the horses. You will feel in your body the world unfolding before you even before you utter your first word of observation.. And that is something you need to experience for yourself, because no text will ever be comprehensive enough to elicit that within you.  Horse assisted education is experiential learning. 

If you’ll open your heart to a horse, he will require that you invest in the interaction with him and in return will offer a paradigm shift that may benefit you for a lifetime. Through his behavior he will trade your emotional energy for deep cognitive awareness and understanding of yourself and others. 

Keep silent, be present, observe! It will enable you to find the right time so say or do something, anything, nothing…

Some questions for the road

What would our conversation sound like if we placed them in the present instead of the past or the future? 

What would we hear if we kept silent for 1 minute longer? 

What would we observe about ourselves and the others if we took the time to look, listen, feel…just be?

How would an observation horse assisted education exercise look like?