“In teaching skills, in developing self-confidence, the same sort of patience and kindness is needed with horses as with people.” ~ President Dwight Eisenhower
” I have often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.”
~ President Ronald Reagan
“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
~ British Prime Minister Winston Churchill
FRITZ BLACK from Birdseye, Utah, is from a family of foundry-men and ranchers. He is a very tall, strong man with a gentle voice and easy manner. He expertly rides and deeply respects horses. He uses the lessons that horses have taught him ~ and the horses themselves ~ to instruct world-class industrial managers in the most vital component of leadership: Trust.
Black’s company accepts applicants for an intense and relatively un-pampered four days of stable, field and classroom instruction with him and his posse of expert management psychologists and veteran cowpokes who actually work the ranch. Those who complete the course fly back home with a sound and practical ability to increase the level of trust they feel for others and that others feel for them.
We asked Mr. Black, who for 21 years was a manager and leadership instructor for the Nestlé nutrition, health and wellness company, to reply to questions about the psychological basics and the practical details of how horses actually teach lessons in leadership.
Question: Can horses detect lies and liars?
Reply: I do not believe they can detect lies and liars. What they can do is always see the truth. Horses are prey animals, so they think much differently than we do. They approach every interaction with a human as a fearful situation. Horses believe that every human is a liar. They are looking for inconsistency in a person’s action that will validate the fear they feel. They catch every mistake a person makes in their body language and in their actions. They manifest this through their own reactions. Like most prey animals, horses have the ability to look and listen to more than one thing at a time. When a horse looks at you with one eye, but the other is looking elsewhere; they are showing distrust. They same is true with their ears. If you cannot see inside of both ears, they are not trusting and respecting you.
Q. What characteristics do horses and riders share with followers and leaders?
R. I believe that great followers and great leaders have very similar characteristics. Both are dedicated, well trained and ready to work towards a goal. In the case of a professional horseman the same is true. The relationships look much like that of the relationships of leaders and followers. However, few horsemen are professionals. Most people ride for pleasure and respite. In this case the horse is working and the rider is recreating. The relationship is much more like a friendship than a working relationship. Just as it is more common to make mistakes with those closest to us, (spouses, children, close friends) it is easy to be less attentive to the needs and wants of a horse you ride for pleasure. The lessons a horse can teach you will help you just as much, if not more, with the close relationships in your life. Through working with and understanding horses, you will learn the keys to service and building better relationships in all areas of your life.
Q. What makes horses angry?
R. Horses are social animals. They live in groups and develop a hierarchal order amongst the herd. They get angry when that order is not followed or respected. As an example; at feeding time the most dominant horse always eats first. If another tries to get in front of that horse, the dominant horse will bite, kick, and push the offending horse mercilessly. Another situation that angers horses is an invasion of their space. Every horse has a personal space that it does not want violated. (It differs with every horse.) To train a horse and get them to be a steady animal you can trust, a trainer must take small steps into that personal space and expand it in every session. If you try to move too fast and take the next step before a horse is ready, that angers them.
Q. Can many horses be ridden by one rider? And vice versa.
R. Yes and yes. A trainer lays the groundwork. Once a horse is comfortable with being ridden, any rider can step in and ride them. However; the horse carefully watches the new rider’s every move. At the first sign of deception or inconsistency, the horse starts to become difficult to handle. If trust is lost, the horse will not follow the new rider’s direction and will refuse to work. If it worsens, the horse will do all it can to get out of the situation including throwing the rider and running away. A rider can ride many different horses. The rider will need to understand the different personalities, level of training, and needs of every horse. The rider cannot treat every horse the same. They need to understand every horse and work within each one’s abilities.
Q. How far does a rider trust his or her horse?
R. A more appropriate question would be; how far does a rider trust himself or herself. When all is said and done, the horse has little to do with the quality of the ride. As long as the horse feels safe and has trust in the rider, all will go well. The horse will do what is asked quickly and efficiently. If the horse doesn’t trust and respect the rider it will be a war of wills and a very unpleasant day.
Q. How did General Eisenhower feel about horses? Other presidents?
R. Eisenhower was an expert horseman. He loved the animals and kept many of them on his farm. In his book, At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends, Eisenhower talks at length about “Blackie” a horse he trained and rode during his two-year deployment in Panama. He stated, “In teaching skills, in developing self-confidence, the same sort of patience and kindness is needed with horses as with people.” Some biographers believe that the horse “Blackie” taught Eisenhower as much as the officer taught the horse. One author goes so far as to assert that the horse was instrumental to helping Eisenhower to get over the death of his son the previous year and may have saved his marriage. Other presidents and world leaders were avid horsemen. Teddy Roosevelt was a true cowboy and he loved horses. Ronald Regan once said,” I have often said there’s nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse.” Winston Churchill said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
Q. Can horse whisperers also be people whisperers?
R. Only if they want to be. All great horse trainers are able to connect with the animals through a deep love and dedication to these awesome creatures. They understand them and have empathy for them. They see the way each horse wants to be treated and act accordingly. Dedication, consistency and respect drive their actions and help them to develop a strong relationship with the horse upon a foundation of trust. If the same passion and dedication is put into leading people, the results would certainly be similar. However, I have found that most “horse whisperers” as you call them, typically have limited interest in working with people. People are deceptive and hard to read. Horses are not. They have no idea how to deceive anyone. Typically, it is two very different types of people that make a life in these two endeavors. This is the main reason that I have a horse training expert on the team. He is a word-class horse trainer, but he is a novice in dealing with people. I have made a life of leading people, but I am a novice in training horses. We form a team with the ability to help both man and horse.
Q. What can horses teach about: setting and reaching goals; levels of concentration; mental and physical energy; impulsiveness; hesitation; openness; self-deceit; self-control; decisiveness; and imagination?
R. Simple: Consistency, persistence, passion, responsibility, focus, work ethic, honesty, respect, and creativity are all needed to prove your integrity to the horse. If you have integrity, (you are who you say you are and you do what you say you will), the horse will trust you and learn how to serve you. Here is an example: In order to make the horse comfortable before riding them, you must clean their hooves out. Dirt and small rocks can get packed in the voids of the horse’s feet. With the added weight of the saddle, tack and rider, this can cause severe discomfort to the horse. Before you ever think about saddling the horse, you had better be able to pick up their feet and clean them. So it is an early goal of training that must be completed before you move to the next goal. Imagine the trust a horse must have in you to allow you to lift one of its feet. We take people through this process and they get to see the work needed to reach the goal of simply cleaning the hooves. The horse shows them all of the mistakes they make along the way.
Q. Can a person hide his or her true self from a horse?
R. No! That is what makes our program so powerful. Horses do not care about a person’s title, income, skill set, etc. They only care about and react to what is happening to them right now. They do not understand deception and lies. They see only the truth. The truth is not found in intensions and motive. It is found only in decisions and actions. When a person works with a horse, they learn to see their own inconsistencies and can work on improving their body language. You can psyche yourself up and convince yourself you are not afraid of a horse, but your body language tells the truth. The horse will see the fear and react to it. They will even take advantage of it.
Q. What are the compatibilities and trouble spots, if any, among fillies, stallions, geldings, men and women riders in various combinations? Is there a best fit? Is there a worst?
R. There is no formula that works better than any other. A much more important detail to look at is whether the horse and rider have complementary characteristics. You do not want to put a fearless rider on a fearless horse or a timid rider on a timid horse. A much better pairing would be to put the fearless rider on a bold, yet cautious horse and the timid rider on a proud, yet steady horse. Every horse has a personality. We try to match personalities and find the right horse for every rider. I will say that women are typically much better riders than men. They seem to have a maternal instinct that the horses respond well to. As a generality, they are more serving and empathetic. Men are typically better trainers as they don’t worry so much about asking the horse to do something the horse finds uncomfortable. Generally, men will push a horse harder and get more out of the horse in every training session.
Q. Are there heavy-weight horses for heavy-weight riders?
R. Horses are built to handle weight. It may seem like a person that weighs twice as much as an average person should have a horse twice as big, but that is just not true. I believe that most mature horses can handle the weight of 99.9% of those that would ride them. I am a fairly large guy. I am 6′-6″ tall and weigh 250 lbs. My favorite horse, and the one I ride the most, is one of our smallest horses. This little horse handles my weight easily and could take a rider weighing 350 if needed.
Q. What can a horse teach a leader that can’t be learned from golf, poker and football?
R. They can teach us the importance of building relationships upon a foundation of service, consistency, trust and responsibility. Poker and golf are individual games with little need for relationship skills. Poker can teach you to read body language and to be a good deceiver. Golf can teach the principles of hard work, solid fundamentals and risk/reward aggressiveness. Football is a team sport that teaches you to do your job and be a part of something greater than yourself. However, all people on the team understand the goal of winning games and performing well. With horses you are dealing with a participant that really would rather be out eating grass. You have to be able to get them to do things that they would rather not do. I have yet to see a horse finish a ride and want to hang around with the rider to celebrate. They just want to get back to the pasture and away from the rider.
Q. How great must a rider be to ride well with a great horse?
R. There are only two limitations in riding any horse well – trust and training. The rider of this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winning horses was Calvin Borel. Mr. Borel had only one workout with Mine That Bird before the Kentucky Derby. The horse was very well trained and prepared for the race, as was the jockey. They quickly, with only one workout, learned to trust each other and the result speaks for itself. I am confident that I could ride Mine That Bird, but I am certainly not ready or willing to ride him in a race. The result would be ugly. So the real issue is not in matching greatness or talent, it’s in a refined relationship between horse and rider. Each must know their role and be trusting of the other. If both the horse and rider are great at what they do, the result happens much quicker. (Stephen M. R. Covey would call this “the speed of trust”.) An average rider can easily ride a great horse. The results however, will be average. The lowest common denominator dictates the outcome.
Q. Can horses “love” people, and vice versa?
R. Certainly. You first need to understand that love is a verb. To love the horse, you must serve the horse, protect the horse, and give the horse your time. The horse will serve you in the same way if you have built a relationship upon a strong foundation of consistency, trust and responsibility. Horses will show you love by doing what you ask them to do. You may even get a kiss from them if you have carrots in your pocket.
Q. “How do horses deal with ego?”
R. Horses are proud creatures. They live in a hierarchical society where ego comes into play every day. Once a human is introduced, the structure of the herd changes. Every horse looks to the herd leader to see if they fear this person. If the leader shows fear, the herd stays away. If the leader horse shows no fear and approaches the human, that person will soon be surrounded by horses. If a person comes into this interaction with ego, the lead horse will read the body language and react in a fearful manner because horses believe that ego interferes with understanding. Horses believe that people who lack understanding are scary creatures. They look for validation of this fear in every movement a human makes. Ego, in the mind of a horse, translates into aggression. You have to enter this relationship with your ego checked at the stall door. BL
By Ben Luck