I am so very fortunate to live in a city that is immersed in horses. Here in Lexington Kentucky, horses are a focal point of study. From every angle it seems, we revere, respect, pamper and preen them. We race, jump, ride, and parade them. From an intellectual perspective, we learn from them as well. The science of horse performance conducted here in the Bluegrass helps trainers guide the next yearling to the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby. Also, the newest understanding of equine genetics is fostered here, to keep breeding programs on the cutting edge of selection for superior equine characteristics. Lexington is not only steeped in the tradition of horsemanship, but also the science of it.

The science of horsemanship has direct applications extending to the human world as well. The University of Kentucky has developed a program using horses to teach nurses to be better leaders in their industry. Not only nurses, but other professions that require high levels of subtle understanding in communication are being taught from horses. What are horses teaching us? On the most simplistic level, they are teaching us the herd instinct.

The herd instinct in modern society has historically been given negative connotations. Someone who “followed the herd” was thought to be indecisive, passive, and fearful. However, horses have helped us redefine what herd mentality really means. A well-adapted herd is an inherently self-governing organization. It is composed of individuals that know their place within the group. The stallion, while showy and aggressive, makes a great sentry and navigator of the herd, but is not necessarily the CEO of the group. More often than not, a healthy herd will have a mare at the helm, with calm, nurturing decorum, whose mentality is rooted in what is best for all. If a young buck or spiteful member acts outside of this code of conduct, the rank member is separated from the herd until they can “regroup.” Leadership in the herd turns our current concept of power on it’s head. Leadership in our world is often played out as a battle to the top of the rankest members who combat to display the largest exhibition of quest for self-invested goals, with infliction of pain to others often unchecked.

In the field of medicine, horses can also redefine the subtle conversation that can be had between a health care provider and their patient. Horses are first and foremost animals of prey and with this, are instinctively charged to react to a potential threat dynamic. This highly tuned system requires non-verbal communication with other herd-mates to be successful in survival. It is this type of communication which provides a rich learning environment for humans. Emotional sensitivity, self and social awareness become sharpened tools for relationship problem-solving, in the company of horses.

There is a quote that says “All I need to know about life, I learned from my dog.” However, as humans begin to evolve towards more open discussions on best practices for business, perhaps the new mantra will be, “Everything I learned about harmonious leadership, I learned from my horse.”

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