It’s not about Leadership, it’s about Relationship.

April 9, 2011

It’s about Relationship

This past weekend I participated in a horse training clinic with two other horse trainers.  Both the other trainers are well known in this area and both are very competent at training an unbroken horse.  However, both preached long and loud about the importance of being your horse’s leader.  When it came my turn to work with a horse, I caused quite the controversy by stating that it is not about leadership, it’s about relationship.  One of the other trainers took great offense to that statement and tried to convince me that leadership is a very crucial part of training a horse.  I agreed that leadership is extremely important.  The horse has to learn how to appropriately lead himself and I have to appropriately lead myself.  I appropriately control myself so that the horse can appropriately control himself.  That is what relationship is all about. This is a very hard concept for a lot of horse trainers to grasp.

I explained that it is like intimacy.  Intimacy has to be a reality in any close relationship, but if the relationship is built solely on that principle, it is doomed to failure.  In any relationship that is built properly, intimacy will eventually develop appropriately.  The same is true for leadership.  However, if the relationship is built solely upon the principle of leadership, I believe it is likewise doomed to failure.  Relationships built upon the principle of leadership often end with abuse by the leader and feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy on the part of the follower.  The ability on the part of the follower to learn to be responsible for their own actions is not allowed to develop.

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It is like trying to build muscle by watching someone else lift weights.  It just doesn’t work.  I know this from personal experience.  In the eighties I purchased a Cindy Crawford workout video to get in better shape and lose a little weight.  I sat there on the couch and watched it for hours.  I never lost an ounce.  Not only did I gain weight, but the muscles I was trying to build began to atrophy.  I tried to get my money back but they only laughed at me.  How ridiculous is it for us to expect the same process to work in building a relationship with a horse?

The minute leadership becomes a focus, so does power and control.  If we are using that to teach young men in an Equine Assisted Psychotherapy session, we are potentially creating abusers.  Like I said, leadership has its place in any relationship but I don’t believe it is a good foundation from which to build. I haven’t convinced my horse trainer friends yet because they have really bought into the natural horsemanship idea that every horse needs a leader.  Unfortunately, we used to think the same thing about women.