Horses are large, expressive, and sensitive creatures that offer unique opportunities for experiential learning. As animals of prey, they are sensitive to changes in their environment and good readers of body language, sound, and changes in movement from other animals, including humans. They are always alert, and react quickly to perceived threats.
These instincts of vigilance and flight, however, are balanced by an intense desire for companionship. Such a desire serves horses well in terms of survival but also accounts for horses’ enormous curiosity about humans, as well as their ability to form relationships with them. Just like their human counterparts, horses give and accept affection, exchange social cues, and set boundaries with one another. This allows people to easily relate to the horses and begin to build metaphors.
Because the horses offer honest and truthful feedback in the moment, people are able to become aware of their conscious and unconscious intentions and energy. The horses’ behavior challenges teams to reflect upon their own attitudes, emotions, body language, and boundaries, and highlight any incongruences that might exist. This nonjudgmental feedback from the horses provides an opening for individuals and teams to begin to experience themselves differently. Then, the facilitators help team members understand, access, and validate the information, and begin to translate their awareness into action back at work.