Leadership skills in time of Crisis – interview with horse assisted coaches Sanny Cassani and Luis Praxmarer (Austria)

Sanny and I were part of the same certification group for the Horse Dream horse assisted education concept. I was thrilled to discover such a powerful presence and I later on invited her to join our team in Romania.

I’ve met Luis the next year and since then I never get tired of listening to how he puts things in perspective from micro to macro, from local to global, from the business world to the horse arena.

Both their professional lives and their personal experiences recommend this team for the topic of Crisis Management so I am grateful that they agreed to this interview. Thank you both!

Madalina: What makes this leadership competency of crisis management so complex?

Sanny: First of all, it’s the fact that systematically and especially in times like the ones we are currently experiencing, the ability to manage crises is particularly challenged. When in the middle of things, we usually have energy to display the competency but not to develop it. The development must happen prior to the need .

Secondly, crisis management happens on a continuum: we need to be good at managing the crisis through good hazard and risk management upfront, then during the actual crisis and also create value when coming out of it. 

In retrospect, a lot can be analyzed and criticized. The key question here is how can we prepare the leaders proactively? 

Madalina: Very good question: how can leaders develop this competency proactively?

Luis: I’ll start with what does not help. Trying to learn crisis management in a conference room or online in the home office. This competency requires an environment with emotions, actions and direct feedback. People need to be out of their comfort zone. Not at the edge of it. Really out there! Then, the learning environment must be a fault-tolerant area. Crisis management is complex in itself, pressuring on the fears, hesitations or concerns of the participants does not help. Faults are welcomed in the learning area so that when the real situation will emerge, they will be absent. The best way to be safe while achieving this balance between uncertainty, complexity, emotions and lack of personal judgement is to partner with horses. 

Madalina: What is it that horses do that is so suited to leadership skills development?

Sanny:. Horses convey clearly and effectively how we affect others. They are not impressed by clothing, age, ego, or “false ambition”. We get to see, immediately, how our behaviours influence others because the horses offer their feedback through behaviour. 

Because we receive feedback through behaviour instead of words, the arguments of “why I did this”, “this was my intention”, “this is actually what I meant” are eliminated. There is simply no room for debate. There is room for trying out alternative behaviours. 

Madalia: The clients who choose this method for skills development, are they “horse people”?

Luis: On the contrary! 95% of our seminar participants have no idea about horses, and some are even afraid of the big animals that can weigh up to a ton. CEO’s, managers and employees from different industries come to our seminars to better understand their own impact on others and to improve interpersonal relationships in the company with increased emotional competence.

Madalina: Can you give any examples?

Sanny: Sure! Up to date we have been honored to work with employees of global corporations such as Daimler, Cisco and PayPal who have already recognized that horses are helpful in this respect.

Recently, the world-famous company Hilti AG from Liechtenstein with its global IT Management Team under the leadership of CIO Dr. Martin Petry was a guest in Tyrol, in the world center of Haflinger horses at Fohlenhof Ebbs: “We have never been able to learn so much about ourselves and our team members at a seminar and put it into practice right away as we did here! Thank you very much for this great seminar,” was the final résumé from Dr. Martin Petry, IT Board Member of Hilti AG.

Madalina: How do the lessons get translated from the arena to the office? 

Luis: In times of crisis, people and employees need leaders who are authentic, trustworthy and self-confident, who are willing and voluntary to follow, just as in a seminar the horse suddenly follows you without a lead rope and by itself. This delivers very emotional experiences and insights for the business world for all leaders and employees; it enriches the corporate culture and prepares you for the unplanned event such as a crisis.

Madalina: Of all animals, why horses?

Sanny: Many animals have a positive influence on the human psyche and our behavior – horses are excellently suited to cope with different constellations and challenges in the company through specific exercises. Horses are flight animals and, living in the wild, they are instructed to recognize dangers at an early stage. They follow other people or horses only if they can guarantee them emotional security which people also need in the time of crisis. Horses reflect behavior, body language and even intentions. They have a clearly structured social behavior and react very sensitively to verbal and non-verbal communication; even the smallest changes in breathing or heartbeat are perceived. 

From a distance of 10 meters, horses react to eye contact or a smile from humans. The noble steeds willingly follow a good leader, while negative behavior such as aggressiveness, excessive demands, and lack of empathy or unclear communication usually makes the horse stay in one place. This enables the participants to consciously perceive their own authenticity and gain deep insights into their own behavior patterns. Instead of an evaluation or assessment of the participants, the training concept relies on self-reflection of the employees as well as video analysis of the interactions and thus greatly increases the acceptance and integration of the seminar contents.

Madalina: Is the horse assisted education method appropriate in this specific moment, as we are coming out of this unprecedented context?

Luis: Capital letters YES! The participants experience effective communication and emotional competence in an impressive way and see how much power and potential is in them and their employees! This is an important starting point especially for the new start after Covid -19. Many companies and organizations have recognized that the new start also requires a massive change in the company structure and business transformation.  Instead of theory, the seminars focus on the targeted implementation of cooperation, communication and leadership strategies. Even managers with decades of experience appreciate the feedback from the horses, as they are offered individual solutions and a new perspective.

Madalina: Thank you both, again, for your time and contribution!


About the guests of this interview:

Sanny Cassani, who comes from Tyrol, has been working professionally with horses since she was 16 years old, but has also gained experience in business as a leading force in project management, sales and key account management. This combination makes it possible to pick up the seminar participants where they are and thus creates the bridge or the transfer of the aha-experiences into everyday life. This way she inspires with her horse seminars also on international parquet in America, South Africa and Abu-Dhabi. Sanny Cassani leads HorseDream® Austria, the methodology developed in Germany to train and coach employees in companies effectively and safely with horses. 

Together, Sanny Cassani and Luis Praxmarer, an experienced global entrepreneur and visionary, form the coaching team that not only teaches but also lives “diversity” and uniquely conveys topics such as successful crisis management, communication, generational change, global teams and visionary leadership. 

You can directly contact them via www.destiny-hd.com