Learn the skills of a horse whisperer for leadership success – by Selina Denman
Tauseef Qadri first started exploring the idea of “equitelligence”, or equine-inspired emotional intelligence, while studying management sciences at Loughborough University in the UK. Admittedly, Qadri was not your average management student. A keen horseman who began riding as a toddler and went on to study natural horsemanship under Ingella Larsson, one of the world’s leading “horse whisperers”, he was as familiar with the workings of horses as he was with the workings of human beings.
“I had to do a course on emotional intelligence and how we applied it in our own context. The world I knew was horses, so I thought about how I could apply those concepts to horses. I got a fantastic grade in that thesis, which encouraged me to think about developing those ideas further,” he says.
Natural horsemanship involves communicating with a horse using barely perceptible signals and subtle shifts in body language. It demands that a level of trust be built between the two parties and that they develop a common, non-vocal language. “Horsemanship is about developing an innate understanding of the horse’s perspective of the world. You have these two different worlds and in horsemanship you try to find a symbiosis.”
But many of the key principles in horsemanship can just as easily be applied to human behaviour, particularly when it comes to the workplace, Qadri discovered. After completing his degree, he went to work for Xerox and then did a stint in the financial services industry, which brought him to Dubai in 2006. All the while, he was incubating his ideas on “equitelligence”.
He subsequently developed a two-day intensive leadership programme based on developing emotional intelligence through interaction with horses, which has already proven popular with a number of high-profile corporations. “Usually the most experiential part of emotional intelligence workshops is when you interact face-to-face on a role play basis. But in that kind of context, both you and I know it’s not real. Try telling that to a 1,200-pound animal. With a horse, you have to be absolutely authentic.”
Qadri shared five key leadership skills that he believes can be developed through interactions with horses.
Part of the course involves grooming the horse and learning more about them. “This generates that elusive skill of empathy, which is so important in the workplace,” says Qadri.
Physiologically, and often unconsciously, at this point people will start smiling, their pupils will dilate, they will start salivating and they will get a tingling feeling in their back. “Those are the biological signs of empathy – it means that you are really making a connection. And people seem to have that with horses; that species divide is transcended.”
Horses communicate almost exclusively through body language, but more than 87 per cent of human communication is also purely physical. Participants learn the rudiments of horsemanship, which covers how they direct their energy, how they direct their focus, how they highlight to the horse that they are relaxed and how they increase their energy and transfer that energy to the horse.
Push versus release
Participants are invited to stand in front of their horse and make them walk backwards. “There is a rope connected to the halter and you just wiggle it increasingly vigorously; at a certain stage the horse will understand that he needs to move back. If people struggle with assertiveness, they will never go beyond a light wiggle. The horse will look at them and do nothing. Other people will swing the rope so hard that the horse will feel that jerk and literally run backwards. That’s not what you want either. That’s a reaction, not a response,” says Qadri.
“Similarly, in a board meeting, you should know when to press the accelerator because you are trying to drive a point home, but you should also know when not to because you are going to elicit a reaction and not a response,” says Qadri.
Because they are herd animals that are eager to please, horses will relinquish leadership if they understand what is required of them and think you know what you are doing. If you are inconsistent, they won’t.
The role of recognition
There’s a saying in horsemanship that is all-important: “The pressure will motivate but the release teaches.” Participants must encourage the horse to take some kind of action, but if that action is completed, they must immediately take away the pressure. “You must be able to say to the horse at that point in time, ‘Thank you, you’ve done a great job’. The more you can create that recognition culture, the more a horse will try harder for you,” says Qadri.