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Leadership is an Evolved State

Please read this article in conjunction with the fifth precept, they compliment and add clarity to each other. Enjoy!

5. Leadership is an Evolved State

       Leadership is a topic near and dear to our hearts, and is something that we enjoy teaching more than almost anything else. It is so exciting to see students learn and grow in their leadership skills, as it is one of those cerebral ideas that ends up catapulting the student’s success in all aspects of horsemanship. We were so eager to start writing, but once we did we realized we had far too much we wanted to write about! We had to trim it down A LOT and therefore won’t be delving into the specifics of how to become a leader or how important leadership is for horses. Those are both topics that we will talk about in more detail in the future. All we want to ensure you get from this post is the incredibly important precept that is the foundation of all great leadership: that leadership is an evolved state. Now this is probably something that you have a basic understanding of already, at least as far as it relates in the human world. Sometimes people try to argue that leaders are born, not made, but if anyone actually thought that, there would be no need for the countless self help books and articles out there on this topic. So, nobody panic if they think this post doesn’t have enough information about the specifics of becoming a leader–we will get into that later. What we really want you to take home from this is a firm idea of the fact that it is a ‘becoming.’

       So first off, what is a leader? There are lots of good definitions out there, but if you boil it down to its very simplest form, a leader is someone who has followers. Now a leader acquires followers in one of two ways: 1) their qualities make them worthy of the position and the followers follow of their own accord, or 2) the leader is assigned followers through rank, position, election etc. and the followers either have to follow or face consequences. The latter is the basic framework for hierarchy in the human world. We all have someone we have to listen to, and then it’s just a matter of them being a good boss or a bad one. It makes sense to us, but not to horses. For them it is the former. There is no horse that ended up the leader in their herd without first deserving the position (by the way, this also means that in the horse world there are no bad bosses). Unfortunately for us, this means we have no right to expect obedience simply because we own them. In the horse’s mind, two legs are no better than four when it comes to being the one who gets to make the decisions.

       The good news is that no one starts out a true leader. A leader is something you become in the same way you become a marathon runner or a dentist. All marathon runners started small and built their fitness over time. All dentists spent a long time studying how to drill a tooth before becoming good enough to actually get a DMD behind their name. The problem people run into when they start trying to become a leader, is that they are comfortable being them, and them is not a leader. You-As-You-Are is not a leader, in the same way You-As-You-Are is not a dentist. What you have to become is You-That-Exhibits-Qualities-And-Behaviors-Of-A-Leader, and stop being You-That-Has-Qualities-And-Behaviors-That-Are-Not-Leader-Like. And I’m not going to lie to you here: this is hard. It means that you have to stop being you and become you, but better. When it comes down to it, most people don’t actually want to be a leader. They just want to be them and still have the horse do what they say; but that is a motorcycle, not a horse. A motorcycle doesn’t care if you have the necessary qualities to be the leader, it’s going to listen to you all the same.

       In fact, a motorcycle (a human creation mind you, so it makes sense that its functioning is a reflection of our thought processes) is honestly what most people would prefer the horse to be. It would be easier for us. Think about this, if your motorcycle suddenly didn’t do the thing you wanted it to, there would probably be something wrong with it, correct? But it doesn’t work when people try to apply this same logic to horses. A common thing we hear is, “my horse doesn’t see me as a leader,” as though there was something wrong with the horse! He most likely doesn’t see you as a blue Smurf either. To put it simply, if your horse doesn’t see you as the leader in your relationship, it means that you probably aren’t.

       But nobody get discouraged here.  Just because you aren’t the leader doesn’t mean you can’t be the leader. It will be a long journey of learning, self-awareness, and study. You will most likely fall short in the beginning, but horses are forgiving teachers. They vote for their leaders every single day, and just because you lost your leadership position yesterday, doesn’t mean you can’t gain it back today (by the same token, just because you were the leader yesterday doesn’t mean you can be complacent today). We’ll get into how to become a leader and why you would even want to later on, but for now just know that none of us are born leaders, we all have to learn it, and that it is an undertaking well worth the effort.               


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