If someone tells you corporate training can be quite a ride, he might be talking about a growing movement in which horses help smooth corporate life.
The Spirit Horse workshops conducted by Horses of Hope, Baxter Springs, Kan., are more than just business people riding horseback in a pasture. Rather, the "equine experiential learning process" helps people tap into the animal's capacity to bring about their own emotional growth. The workshops also endeavor to build relationship skills, promote teamwork and enhance self-esteem.
The process is neither training nor horsemanship, explains Vallerie Sweeton, the head riding instructor and trainer at Horses of Hope, which also assists at-risk teenagers and developmentally disabled people.
"There are a lot of lessons that can be learned through the process of grooming and nurturing," says Fred Bueltmann, a consultant for staff development and Horses of Hope workshops who is assisting Sweeton in the development of the program. "Having spent time with the horse and feeling it react to you and your body language is a pretty substantial exercise, even if you haven't done any monumental work with the horse," he explains. "You haven't even moved him, but that's a communication process for people."
Spirit Horse helps people find clarity "and feel some compassion to say, 'I know what I need to do,' whereas before maybe they didn't believe in themselves enough to be convinced it was true," Bueltmann says.
Program director Shely McColm describes the workshop as a learning adventure. "We have a funny statement that we use here that says, 'Always learn to work and play successfully with others.' It's a simple statement," McColm says, "but there's a whole lot around that. It involves such questions as how people operate as individuals and in a group and how people work, play and interact with others."
In the corporate programs, the horses are "in tune" with a group's energy, and this ability of horses to mirror the qualities of owners or riders has been observed for centuries. Workshop leaders, for instance, frequently tell of horses mirroring the rider's anxiety, only to be calmed with a calm rider.
"We say that horses are really compassionate teachers about life," says McColm. "They mirror something about ourselves or even the entire group. They act like colleagues and help us in the process of whatever we're trying to do that day."