Clear Intent: The Courage to Saddle Up

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In his book Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West, James Owen writes that " real courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." I know how true that statement is because I have been struggling with that particular fear for the best part of this past year.

In addition to our eighteen school horses we also own two young horses, Bob and Swish. While both have been professionally trained they are still very "green" and inexperienced as well as being large and athletic. Bob is a confident horse who is always trying to take charge, while Swish lacks self-confidence and tends to bolt and spook frequently.

I did not realize to what extent my other more experienced horses filled in for my leadership flaws until I started riding the babies. Certainly it is important that you have the physical skill to keep your butt balanced in the saddle and that you deliver the correct signals to your horse. But what really matters to the horse is your ability to be a confident leader. In the riding world we call this quality ‘clear intent' and it is a definite, confident statement of intention transmitted through your body language to your horse.

I have worked with and ridden my older horses for a long time. They trust me and they know they can depend on me most of the time. If I slip up or lose focus they are forgiving enough to fill in for me. What I didn't realize however was that this comfortable relationship was not a true test of my leadership abilities My leadership gaps became quickly and obviously apparent on the back of a quivering 1200 pound baby horse. After a particularly nerve-wracking ride on Bob last fall I quit riding for six months. I came up with every excuse why I couldn't or shouldn't get on the babies. I occasionally rode one of my other horses so that I could tell myself I was still a competent rider, but I knew that I was avoiding an important issue.

I came to the realization that what I feared was not the horse's potential actions and behaviours but my own inability to take a leadership role when I was taken out of my comfort zone. I had the physical skills to stay in the saddle but I lacked the commitment and clear intent to convince my horse that listening to me was his best option, especially during a crisis.

I doubt that there is a corporate leader or business owner who hasn't struggled at one time with self-doubt and fear. Hostile employees, dysfunctional teams, difficult clients, rigid and impossible deadlines and financial crises force leaders to step outside their comfort zones on a daily basis. It is exhausting and stressful and requires courage, commitment and belief in one's self.

My experience this past year with Swish and Bob has been a powerful real- life learning experience for me. I decided that unless I wanted to own two very expensive lawn ornaments for the next twenty years I would have to stiffen my spine, sit up straight (literally) and convince all three of us that I had what it took. I began riding them again two months ago. While it is a constant challenge for me to assert my leadership I know that I have to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself in order to grow and develop as a leader. I have learned to take it one step at a time and to celebrate each small victory. Every time I stand on the mounting block I still have to take a deep breath before I mount up but I know now that true leadership begins when, despite your fear, you make the commitment to throw your leg over the saddle.

Laura Hunter - As owner and director of THE LEAD HORSE Laura relies on her
herd of equine leadership experts to provide real-life leadership training
and team building to corporate and professional clients.
http://www.theleadhorse.ca

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