Not the Same Horse

I’ve recently gotten home from a California vacation. We spent three days at The Alisal Guest Ranch in Solvang. We’ve always loved to ride on vacation.

This time we decided to try the whole ranch experience (more like a four star ranch with spa, golf, tennis courts and jackets for dinner, but still a 10,000 acre working cattle ranch.) 

We rode for two hours a day three days in a row. I’m still feeling it!

There’s a reason why working with horses is used for leadership development programs. It's a great way to learn about human behavior by observing the interactions between the horses and between horse and rider.  One of my lessons this time had to do with how one’s position in a group can impact behavior.

Judd was my husband Jim’s horse the first day. Our horses were stuck behind Rocky, a large horse that we affectionately called “The Refrigerator,” ridden by our friend. Rocky appeared to have two speeds, slow and slower except the occasional trot going uphill.  

My horse and Judd both wanted to get in front of Rocky, which we accomplished early on. Then the wrangler admonished us to get back in the lineup he’d arranged. He said there was a reason the horses were arranged that way and suggested the possibility of kicking.

Uh oh.

So we tried to be obedient but the rest of the ride Jim was consumed with vigorously keeping Judd lined up behind Rocky rather than sneaking around him and catching up with the rest of the horses.

Judd had not been a very cooperative team player on that ride and we didn’t think of him as a “good horse.”

Next day, Jim was assigned to Judd again, although this time he was right behind the wrangler. A totally different horse! Jim didn’t have to hold him back or struggle to keep him in line. He was in his glory, well behaved and willing to lead when necessary.

At the end of the ride Jim declared him “Not the same horse.”

The third ride, Judd was ridden by a very experienced rider but was placed further back in the pack. He gave that guy so much trouble that the wrangler suggested Judd lead the whole pack. I was an observer when Judd came proudly walking back to the paddock  4 lengths ahead of the rest, head held high.

You can probably see where I’m going with this but let me capture a few of the obvious points.

People and horses are a lot alike.

  • We have a preferred place in the pecking order
  • Some of us are more flexible about this than others
  • We don’t always behave well when we’re in our less favored spot
  • As a leader, it’s really important to know your people and how to best organize them

As Judd demonstrated, you can put the same horse in different circumstances and discover a completely different horse.

By the way, my best ride was when I was right behind the wrangler.