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Interpersonal Skills Taught by Horses at Horse + Bow in Austin, TX

Interacting with horses for personal or professional development has incredible benefits for both children and adults. One benefit is strengthening and developing interpersonal skills, like communication, through equine assisted activities. What does it look like when horses teach interpersonal skills? Read on to learn more.

Improving Communication Skills through Interactions with Horses

We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Even though most are familiar with this concept, it seems we don’t take it to heart in our daily lives. We are often quite comfortable with doing the same things over and over again. We interact in the same way and continue the same behaviors with our family members, colleagues and friends. Most of the time, we just haven’t noticed that it isn’t really working for us. Or maybe we have, but we think the other person is the problem. When I work with people and horses in our leadership development and team building programs, the goal is to uncover opportunities to develop our interpersonal skills. We work to recognize how our own choices affect others and decide if those behaviors are truly working to achieve the outcomes we desire. 

Horse Feedback for Interpersonal Skills Development

Horses are uniquely qualified to teach emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills like communication, connection and collaboration. When humans interact with horses in an Equine Assisted Learning workshop, the horses are the teachers. They provide non-judgmental feedback in response to human emotions, behaviors and attitudes. Some say horses are like mirrors. I often describe it as if our thoughts are put on a big movie screen. A 1200 pound animal’s reaction and response is so large, immediate, and obvious, it can’t be ignored. Horses also recognize incongruence between behavior and emotion. Their response tells the true story of what is going on inside the human in front of them.

What Interpersonal Skills can Humans Learn from Horses?

While we can say or believe certain things about ourselves, it is very hard to fake anything around horses. When we face a task or challenge with the horses, our behavior is very similar to how we behave in real life with our family members, peers, co-workers, and customers. We can’t help but resort to the same choices we make in those day to day interactions or how we handle tasks and challenges in regular life.

So, being around such large and potentially intimidating animals reveals our natural, default responses. Those neural pathways are deep. However, if we are able to take notice of the horse’s response, we can often find some things we are doing that aren’t really working for us or those around us. If the horse doesn’t go where we ask or do what we want, we need to get creative and find a different way to accomplish the task. 

Look to the Horse for Insight

So, we first notice and identify the horse’s reaction. A Certified Equine Assisted Learning Facilitator will explain the behavior of the horse and translate that for those who have not been around horses often. However, it doesn’t take a horse expert to notice that a horse is not moving or is going the other way, when a participant is trying to get them to come.

Next, we seek to understand why things are going wrong. We dig in asking questions like why is the horse responding in this way? What really motivates the horse? Should I ask this differently? Can I imagine another way to solve this problem? It may be that we need to take more time to get to know the horse and truly connect. Or maybe we should try a new way of communicating so that others can better understand our own desires. Sometimes we need to see the horse as an equal partner and collaborate as a team instead of having a leader/follower mentality.

Translate the Experience to Daily Life

When we can uncover some of the why’s behind the horse behaviors, we then look to translate this experience to understand ourselves and our interactions with others in day to day life. We think through and discuss other times when we have had similar issues in our interactions. Does this happen at home, school or work? Does this happen with our family members, colleagues or friends? It almost always does, because again, as humans we often resort to the same way of interacting with the horses as we do with humans. We are doing things either because that is what we were taught in the past, or it is what we have grown accustomed to. So again, we dig in and seek to understand why we behave the way we do. 

Uncover Underlying Thoughts, Beliefs + Assumptions

Is our energy so high because we always feel we need to be loud in order to be heard? Or is our energy so low because we are intimidated or lack confidence in ourselves or what we are asking for? Is our communication unclear because we are uncertain of what we want or if our requests will be rejected? Are we unfocused and distracted, sabotaging our ability to complete the task? Are we getting in our own way? There are so many reasons we resort to the same behaviors or ways of trying to get things done. Each individual can reflect and seek to understand themselves at these times.

The first step to growing our interpersonal skills is reflecting on the interaction. Then, we dig in to identify the underlying attitudes or beliefs that are prompting our behaviors. Finally, we ask what the individual would like to do differently in order to achieve a different outcome. When people make these connections, transformation and change can occur. We find for ourselves a new way of behaving in the future. We can start by changing our own actions. Then, we can see if we get different reactions and responses from those we are interacting with.

Gratitude + Commitment

At the end of our time of team building activities with horses, participants share a moment of gratitude and commitment. Gratitude is always the easy part. Participants often thank the horses for what they have shared, fellow team members for the courage to be vulnerable and try something new, and even themselves for being open and curious about the experience.  Then comes commitment– the hard part. Each participant is encouraged to commit to meaningful change. We will follow up with them to see how it’s going a few months later. It is so exciting to hear that they still look back on their experience with fondness and remember the learning that was gained that day with the horses.

Next Steps for Interpersonal Skills Development

Reach out if you would like to learn more about interpersonal skills development through interactions with horses. This can happen through our beginner horse riding lessons or as part of a team building activity.