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How Horses Create High Functioning Teams

Updated: May 15, 2021

What do horses have to do with building team trust, clarifying team purpose and optimising organisational performance?

Many organisational learning and development opportunities involve the experiential learning process, to teach us how to do better. In a nutshell, this process is based on the principle that people learn best by doing.

Essentially, this involves facilitating the five stages of experiencing, sharing, processing, generalising, then finally applying by bringing the combined learning from these stages to enable change.

The key difference with this particular experiential process is that horses are the catalysts for learning. Equine-assisted work is both hands-on and engaging through interaction with horses in a safe, enclosed area – there is no riding or horsemanship involved. Anyone can take part, even those who have never been near a horse before.

The horses provide us with immediate feedback as they read and respond to our non-verbal messages, making them great teachers.

Sometimes the horses can become metaphors, reflecting patterns of behaviour and situations that feel familiar to our everyday work and life experiences.

The individual’s experiences with the horses facilitate changes in skills, attitudes and behaviour.

This process can be particularly successful for people who find traditional learning environments difficult.

Some people compare this kind of work to outdoor survival programs, ropes courses, river rafting trips or other outdoor adventures (Graham, 2007). Unlike these other experiential programs, the equine partnered experiences go beyond overcoming fears in a period of stress to a deeper level of connection, engagement, and heartfelt learning and in a way that does not often present itself in traditional training environments (Rosak, Gomes, & Kanner 1995).

Connecting strongly to a horse through this learning process is profound for many participants. They often ask after certain horses a year or two after their interaction. They also retell a particular learning that emerged about themselves with a horse and how the experience has stuck with them.

Think horses for an out of the box, memorable learning and development experience for your team. What emerges may surprise you.

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