Thursday, 31 August 2017

Riding, Smart Trust and Letting Go

We have ridden on the beach several times, enjoying splashing trots and canters through the salt water, or just walking about exploring the sand or sandbars in the ocean. Yesterday when I asked my stallion for a canter he leapt forward joyfully and I felt a question. “Should we go faster?”

I have thought many times about asking him for a full-out, fast-as-you-can-go gallop on the beach. And every time I have left it at a thought. I realized a few days ago it’s all about trust. Not blind trust, but smart trust.

Smart trust is a concept explained in a book by that name by Stephen MR Covey and Greg Link.[1] It is about the importance of opening ourselves up to the opportunity of extending trust, and then assessing the implications of extending that trust, including risk. Extending trust without the analysis would be blind trust, and blind trust often leads to heartache.

I opened myself to the possibility that I could trust Kalimo enough to go for it at high speed down that long beach. And then I did the analysis.  Would he stop when I asked? If he jumped a pile of seaweed (which he has done in the past) at that speed could I stay with him? I sorted through the answers of these and other questions in my mind and that exercise plus my experience of trusting him in many other situations led me to the conclusion that I could indeed extend the trust to Kalimo that was needed to push outside of my comfort zone.

So when the question was asked “should we go faster?” the answer was “yes, I trust you.” I applied a little bit of leg aid, let go of my fears and put my trust in him. I felt him shift gears from a three-beat canter to a four-beat gallop. I changed my seat to a two-point position to free his back and we flew. According to Wikipedia, the average speed of a canter is 16-27 km/hour and the average speed of a gallop is around 40 km/hour.[2] So compared to our fast canters down the beach, this really did feel like flying. As we sailed down the beach at the water’s edge I felt the salt spray on my face, I heard the thundering of his hooves, I felt the power of his strength beneath me, I enjoyed the way we moved together, and I experienced a lightness and joy that is hard to describe. And it occurred to me that from trust comes joy.

Take Home Message for Riding Instructors
As riding instructors we have a role to play in helping our students understand the difference between blind trust and smart trust. Blind trust is when someone trusts their horse to take them through situations that perhaps they or their horse are not yet ready to tackle. Blind trust results in disappointment and injury. Smart trust helps riders determine if they and their horse are ready to try something new, and if through the analysis process they determine something is missing, new goals emerge. Riders also need to be able to trust themselves, which is easier done after a smart trust analysis.


Monday, 21 August 2017

Transformational Leadership with Your Horse

When we built our summer home on Prince Edward Island (PEI), we also built a shed with a stall and a paddock so when we come for vacation every summer I can bring a horse with me and ride on the beach. There is something about riding on a beach that soothes my soul and the two weeks I do this every year is the highlight of my year.

Today was Kalimo’s return to PEI after his first visit last year. He knew exactly where we were going this morning for our early morning ride. Normally quiet and patient to be tacked up, this morning he was impatient. He was definitely “up” when I mounted and as we headed out for the ten-minute walk to the beach we had several conversations in which he suggested that a fast trot was in order and I suggested walk would be better. We compromised on a very fast walk. Kalimo is a powerful Andalusian stallion so when he is “up” he is a lot of horse to ride. I kept calm and grounded and just guided him to the beach, consistently letting him know that fake piaffe down the clay road was not the plan. He relaxed as soon as we reached the beach with a few mighty snorts.

At the beach, I let him explore. He sniffed the air and seaweed. He chased a retreating wave and ran backwards when it came crashing back towards him. He splashed in a tide pool and tried to dig a hole in it, soaking us both. Then it was time to ask him to cross the flowing stream which he had pointedly avoided since coming to the beach. But by crossing it we would have access to a much larger expanse of sand, perfect for a good gallop.

There is a tidal pond by the beach and since the tide was high and just going out, the stream was flowing faster than he had seen before. It is not a deep stream (only about halfway to his knees at the deepest part), about 12-15 feet across, with somewhat “squishy” sand along the edges in some places. Kalimo was not sure this was a good idea. As we approached he tried to impress me with his half pass skills to convince me that lateral work was a better idea than trying to cross that running water.
“Well buddy,” I said, “here’s the deal. We are definitely crossing this stream. I don’t care how you do it or when you do it. The end goal is the other side and you figure out how you get us there.” And that is just what he did. I kept my intent clear the whole time, focused on the other side. He approached in one area, found the sand too squishy, tried another place, didn’t like it and so on.  Within three minutes we were across the stream.  When we came back to the stream about 30 minutes later we did the same thing. It looked different because the tide had gone out further. He investigated a few places and this time decided to stride out into the ocean a bit and go around the end of it. He preened just a little bit at his cleverness.

After we returned home I was reflected on how much fun we had together. And about leadership. I recently coached a new manager about the difference between transactional and transformational leadership and my experience with Kalimo today stood out as an example of how I try to be the latter. Transactional leaders tend to be task and outcome oriented within a defined approach, and use rewards and punishments to promote performance that meets expectations. Transformational leaders create the vision, focus on the strengths of those they lead, and create situations that enable people to find their own path to the outcome, leaving people feeling more empowered and with stronger capacities as a result.

Today I created the vision for Kalimo (crossing the stream), encouraged him to figure out the way across without any expectation of where or how we would get there – only that we would get there. And we did, even though he did not choose to cross where I thought might have been the best place. Whether we are helping our horses learn to cross a stream, learn a shoulder in, or execute a correct flying change, we are leading them through this process and have a choice about whether we are a transactional leader or a transformational one.  I believe the latter is not always the easiest but is ultimately the path to the greatest success.

Take Home Message for Riding Instructors

Are you a transactional leader with your riding students or a transformational leader? A riding instructor who is a transactional leader will teach a “command” lesson with most of the lesson being a series of instructions (turn left, now shoulderb-in, change the rein, lower your hands, etc). The transactional riding instructor tends to talk a lot during a lesson. The transformational leader will also use commands, but there will be periods of silence as she allows the rider to feel what is happening or she may work the horse in- hand with the rider mounted so the rider can experience a particular movement and then go try it on her own. If we use a transformational leadership style while coaching as much as possible, we will have a better chance of creating curious riders who are able to work through riding questions and problems.

April 1 2017