Leaders, horses and risks

In everyday life, the better you know something, the easier it is for you to identify it and manage it. The same goes for risks. The recent Deloitte 2019 risk management survey confirms it: the C-suite and Executives teams working in the risk areas are best at identifying risks. On the other side, if they are risk-owners but do not work in the risk areas, they rank risk-identification as the most time-consuming part of risk management.

It comes down to managing the unknown. It goes all the way to understanding the limits of what we can manage and what we need to factor in.

Maintaining healthy boundaries for our energy investment, and any other investment for that matter, is a key leadership competency. 

In business, the most interesting examples of wasted energy are not in finance risk management, but in commercial opportunity seizing. Risk and opportunity tend to travel together, but it takes a special set of leadership skills to differentiate and act upon each one.

Next, let us get out of the office and step into the arena, with a couple of horses and discover what their take on risks is, and how they can contribute to our risk leadership development

Some contextual facts:

  • Most of the managers who participate in horse assisted education programs are first timers when it comes to the horse world. The people who decide and sign the contracts for this type of activity are generally even further away from the horse-topic.
  • Most of the risks they raise during the initial conversations pertain to some actions the horse may perform which may affect the physical integrity of the people. These risks are all attributed to the horse. The horse is defined as being the source of these risks. 

A new perspective to risks around horses:

  • When working with socialized horses, both for newcomers and professionals, the actual risk sources are to be found in a completely different place. 
  • The main sources of risk for people working with socialized horses are: 1) the ego of the person, 2) the ability to be present (intellectual and emotional) and 3) the control the person is trying to apply and what he is trying to control. They all reside in the behavior and the behavior drivers of the human individuals attending a horse assisted education program.

Am I just replacing one bias with another?  Am I moving from one extreme to the other, from the view that all risks come from the horse to one where all risks come from the people?

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”  Steve Maraboli – Life, the Truth, and Being Free

It takes courage, integrity and empathy to differentiate between what we can control and what we cannot, to stop looking outside and start looking inside, to differentiate between understanding and accepting. It takes courage, integrity and empathy to draw and maintain boundaries while accommodating differences. 

You cannot manage risk if you define it as “the behavior or the behavior result of the others”, because what others do is simply not within your control. 

This is avoidance– not management. This is excuse-finding instead of solution-testing. 

You can manage behavior associated risks by creating and maintaining a working system based on some limits and guidelines… if you inspire enough trust for others to adhere to that system. This is why risk management is an organizational culture topic more than a procedure, a leadership matter more than a function.  

Back in the arena:

In the arena, the horses will give you the opportunity to practice “the corridor approach” – you influence the environment so that the desired behavior is the simplest option available. You thus use the natural tendency of the brain of saving energy (both in prey and in predators) and offer a very efficient alternative which happens to be the one barring minimum risk regarding the strategic goal. Having conserved energy, there is more left for innovation and opportunity testing. 

Here is why the horses are the perfect partners to deliver an experience-based development program regarding the key risk leadership competencies*:

  • They test your integrity– your coherence between your inner world and your actions all the time. 
  • They give you the opportunity to use courage in a very empathic way.  
  • They respond better to influence than to control. 
  • All activities with horses will push your boundaries in terms of collaboration skills. Without a clear strategy you will quickly lose the followership of horses. 
  • As soon as your drive runs out, the leadership role will be filled by one of the horses for the simple reason that a herd with a leader has better survival chances than one without.

In today’s disruptive environment, risk management should proactively assist the organization in achieving superior strategy, innovation, and resilience, and not focus solely on avoiding losses and protecting assets” Chris Ruggeri, Keri Calagna, Chris Vanugab – Deloitte

If you ever find yourself in need of some support for this paradigm shift, step outside the office and into the arena. You will be amazed by what the predator in you can learn from the prey inside the horse in terms of risk leadership. 

*As defined by the Institute of Operational Risk: https://www.ior-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/What-makes-a-successful-risk-leader.pdf


As you would do with any other supplier, choose a horse assisted education provider who demonstrates deep understanding of their field of work and has internal high quality and safety standards. 

Horse assisted education is an activity which should be conducted exclusively with socialized, trained horses. When they are free to choose, these horses should, by their own will, search the interaction with people who are in their space (arena or meadow).