August 1, 2018

Naropa University Authentic Leadership Program at Twin Oaks Farm: Horses as Teachers.

What Horses Teach Us.

I’m doing Naropa University’s Authentic Leadership program, right now.

It’s fun. It’s also challenging stuff.

Today, we visited Twin Oaks Farm, founded by an early woman pioneer and carried on today as a green (as in eco) farm and equine therapy (for children and adults) and leadership coaching center.

The first exercise was about fear, and humor. We closed our eyes, and a stallion roared into the barn, running around us. We opened our eyes, and the stallion was, while fierce, a little adorable pony.

The second exercise was about watching—how the horses reacted to stimuli. Learning about the characters of the various horses. Some were grounded. Some skittish. Some alpha, grounded. Some like cute clinging children. We were supposed to choose our favorite, and our least favorite, and spend time around them.

The third exercise, I went in confident and relaxed, and came out devastated. All we had to do was walk a horse across the field. I was assigned, coincidentally, to my favorite horse—a huge mare, the alpha of the herd, grounded, beautiful, imposing, gentle but powerful. I couldn’t move her through charm, talking to her, petting her, pulling her gently, anything. I left embarrassed, flummoxed, shakey.

The fourth exercise was a group exercise, containing an oft-bullied little horse as a group. I followed my instinct, watched and listened, and though still shaken, did well. I was assertive, but not aggressive.

The fifth exercise was, on the surface, the hardest. I checked in with my fear and lack of confidence, not wanting to bring that in unprocessed to the horse (coincidentally, my least favorite, a skittish white lady). We were to connect with her, then move her to walking in circles, then trotting, then walking, then back into the middle where we were to thank her. I allowed myself to rest in my uncertainty, and felt a natural confidence gradually emerge (with the help of Jean-Jacques and Andrea, the coaches). It went well for me and Lila, the horse (who I now adore).

Before and after each session, we were coached. My problems as a leader are thus: I’m almost-too-nice and gentle and communicative 95% of the time. Sometimes, I see folks “take things for granted,” and I get emotive and frustrated, sad and blustery with my words. It doesn’t help.

To end the day, back at Naropa, we applied everything we’d learned to leadership, which is a fancy word for service. I’m not a leader—leaders are big tall people, whatever their size. I’m a servant. I’ve worked hard and quietly 1,000s of hours to build Elephant for you, and to magnetize a now-great staff. It’s my honor, and my privilege to serve not only you, but our mission: to be of benefit to all sentient beings, beyond the choir.

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