You can’t prove to your horse that you are a leader by being a nice guy. When people work with my horses they immediately want to become their friend. They feel it is important that their horse like them. This is a perfectly logical human reaction but it is not effective with a horse. It is difficult for humans to accept the fact that horses really only care about a person’s leadership capabilities.
To assert leadership over a horse we must control its mind and to do that we must control its movement. Control is a leadership issue that makes many of us uncomfortable. Authority and control often carry a negative connotation. The reality however, is that someone has to be in charge whether it be the herd leader, the CEO of the company, or the leader of the office team. Teams need clear goals, behavioural boundaries, expectations and consequences for performance. A leader plays an important role in establishing these parameters. This can be done in a positive way if the leader proactively sets the boundaries up front.
When we work with a horse we must have clearly defined spatial boundaries. If we do not establish our boundaries and consistently maintain them the horse will push into our space. Then we have to reactively push back. The same situation occurs at the office when we don’t establish and maintain the ground rules because we want to be perceived as that ‘nice guy’. People are unclear of the rules or they may consciously choose to push the boundaries. These behaviors lead to conflicts and rivalries that necessitate those difficult conversations we would all rather avoid.
The truth is that most people are happier and more secure if rules are clearly spelled out. I have a large Clydesdale mare who is a very intelligent alpha horse. She is a very likeable girl and people usually choose to handle her in a friendly and gentle manner often deferring to her wishes. Her response is to either tune out or push them around in a subtle way. It is easy to see by her body language that she is disinterested. It is only when someone takes control, sets the boundaries and asserts their leadership that her entire body comes alive and she engages with them enthusiastically.
So when people remark that my horses must love me I tell them the truth. My horses are happy to be with me and work for me because I am the leader who creates the structures and boundaries that they need. I believe they understand that there are times when I have to step up and make the tough decisions. I haven’t asked them but I am hopeful that my human employees feel the same way.