Another Lesson from the Horses

June 1, 2011

It was a gorgeous, warm day with LOTS of wind.  So I decided to work the horses in the round pen rather than go for a ride.  It also gave me an opportunity to work with both horses, rather than only take one out that day.  

The primary purpose of using the round pen is to teach your horse to listen and respect you.  You do this by talking to the horse in his language – body language – not by talking out loud.  Do you remember the cartoon Charlie Brown?  When the adults talked, all the kids heard was ‘blah blah blah . . . “  I think it’s the same with horses.  We want to believe that they understand ‘our’ language, and in some cases they do.  But if we really want our horses to listen and do what we want them to do, we need to speak their language.  

So, there we were in the round pen.  And, I was speaking their language and they were listening!  I worked with Buddy first and he was an angel.  I would point him in the direction I wanted him to go and he did exactly what I wanted.  I gave him the cue to trot and he did.  I cued him to canter and he did.  He was perfect.  When I stepped back and stopped moving, he turned towards me and stopped – perfect!  I would point him in the opposite direction and he did what I asked.  After a while, he started to get bored with the circling and I began to get frustrated that he was no longer being perfect.  My frustration led me to be inconsistent with my language with Buddy which led Buddy to get confused and frustrated with me.  We weren’t communicating and as hard as Buddy was trying to do what I was asking, he couldn’t perform.  I finally began to listen to Buddy, figured out what he needed to meet the expectations and we ended on a good note.  

Then it was Blue’s turn.  Lucky for Blue, I was a quick learner.  Buddy had taught me that I needed to listen and communicate consistently with him.  Because of that, Blue performed well, neither of us got frustrated or confused and we met the expectations for the day.   

Moral of this story

  1. Consistent communication – Communicate the expectations in a way that your employee can understand.  Speak their language, not yours, and make sure you are consistent in the way you communicate and reinforce the performance with rewards and consequences. 
  2. Listen – Check in with your employees on a regular basis to assess progress and offer support.  Listen to what’s working and where they may need some support. 
  3. Keep it under control – Manage your emotions – if things aren’t going well, point the finger towards yourself first.  Assess whether you have communicated the expectations clearly and if you have provided the necessary training and resources for your employee to be successful. 

Question:   How do you manage your emotions when expectations are not met?

Categories: Accountability, Alignment, Attitude, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Leadership, Leadership development, Morale, Personal development, Teamwork.