Having spent 20 years in marketing communications, I thought I knew a little something about how to communicate. It wasn’t until I checked my ego at the (barn) door and chose to exist outside my comfort zone that the real learning occurred.
Working on my family’s ranch, I couldn’t walk away from the obsessive desire to become more than a person riding a horse to accomplish cattle-related tasks. I wanted to be a horseman which required learning by trial and error. Despite the difficulty I experienced with the horses, something tugged at me to keep trying. I couldn’t quit.
I noticed a constant theme: When a horse I was riding didn’t do what was asked of it, it was because of me, not the horse. In communications terms, if the horse didn’t respond to my request, it was because I wasn’t clearly communicating what I wanted. In horsemen terms, I wasn’t queing the horse calmly and clearly so it could understand what I was asking for. What I wanted was unclear.
It was a harsh reality check that annoyed, perplexed and humbled me. The complimentary ‘reality checks’ the horses provided led me to question how I approach communications with my clients.
The importance of nonverbal communication
Typically, the focus in my work with clients is guiding them to develop written and verbal communication strategies with little to no regard for the nonverbal aspect. But 93 percent of communication consists on the nonverbal side. It’s our nonverbal communication that often speaks the loudest.
The way you listen, look, move, and react tells the other person whether or not you care, if you’re being truthful, and how well you’re listening. When your nonverbal signals match up with the words you’re saying, they increase trust, clarity, and rapport. When they don’t, they generate tension, mistrust, and confusion.
How often do you slow down and think about the nonverbal messages you send?
The horses mirrored my nonverbal signals and challenged my learned behaviors. In an age where technology replaces co-worker conversations and face-to-face interactions, I believe awareness about the impact of nonverbal communication is crucial in fostering a dynamic workforce. People with the ability to demonstrate awareness are in high demand because they’re able to build better relationships.
The question of ‘how’ to teach such awareness is where life grew more interesting. My Ah-Ha! moment arrived when I realized the value of combining my experiences in communications with discoveries made while with horses.
I trained with Ann Kerr Romberg of Carrot Coach, LLC™ in the Twin Cities and built on partnering with horses in a way that doesn’t involve riding. It involves nurturing mindfulness, self-discovery, greater recognition of responsibility, appropriate assertiveness, empathy, compassion and fostering teamwork and listening skills.
Through Equine Guided Education (EGE) certification, I facilitate this learning for others who recognize the value of all communications facets.
What can be gained from equine-guided workshops?
“Equine-guided” or “horse-guided” means that horses partner with professional life coaches and facilitators to guide personal and professional growth and learning. It is experiential in nature meaning you do activities with the horse such as observing, approaching, touching and leading.
Participants are in a safe environment that honors their comfort level with horses. An experiential education and learning model emphasizes all parts of the self, including body, emotions and thoughts. During the workshop you will be touching a horse, leading a horse, stepping in the dirt, hearing sounds in the barn, etc. Working with horses allows you to fully integrate the key components of communication including presence, emotional and social intelligence and how to manage self.
The workshop will empower you to gain the ability to:
- Discover the impact your energy (how you "show up") has on others
- Develop awareness of nonverbal signals that affect interpersonal interactions
- Understand the benefit of managing your emotions
- Learn how to communicate clearly
- Communicate clearly with emotions in check
Why horses are effective teachers
Due to the experiential nature of equine-guided workshops, learning is accelerated exponentially in ways participants can apply immediately to create lasting change.
Horses are the ideal learning partners because they are sensitive, sentient beings who are in the unique position in the animal kingdom to teach us in ways never before possible. They:
- Sense our emotions, including those we keep below the surface
- Pick up message that we miss, or are unaware of giving
- Directly reflect the people who handle them — they give instant feedback
Horses are large and powerful animals. Accomplishing a task involving a horse, in spite of fears or limitations, creates self-confidence and provides metaphors for dealing with challenging situations in communication. Horses sense exactly what our body, emotions, thoughts and energy is telling them. Their honesty makes them especially effective messengers. In addition, the horse’s natural responsiveness to clear intention empowers leaders to discover and accomplish their goals.
What types of activities and experiences have been the most beneficial for you or your team? What impact were noticed after the fact? Share your experiences below.