Of Horses, Humans and Authentic Leadership

A very insightful short essay about authenticity and the power of working with horses, by Ali Schultz at

Authentic leadership; horses, empathy & attunement

Some highlights:

“…A lack of trust in a company feels awful. It’s stressful. No one is saying what needs to be said. There’s fear, anxiety, tension, and conflict. Meanwhile, the product is going nowhere…

“…When a horse trusts you, he looks to you for leadership… without trust, a horse-rider relationship lacks connection and is instead fraught with anxiety, fear, and conflict. When that happens, neither critter feels safe and will react defensively in an act of self-preservation.

“…Horses are barometers for how authentic and real you are being in their presence. They have this incredible built-in bullshit meter and know when you’re posturing. If I was emotionally congruent when I was with them, they could trust me. In other words, if I was feeling sad on the inside and aware of that within myself, it showed in my exterior differently than if I was trying to hide it.

As long as I was congruent, they were right there with me. No tension. No stress. Whereas, if I was feeling one thing internally and presenting another, the horses would be on edge, anxious, and show physiological signs of fear because they didn’t feel safe around me. I was perceived as a threat and they would rather be anywhere but next to me. Their reaction was honest feedback on my interior and exterior alignment.

I learned quickly to become attuned to myself and how I was showing up, so I could also be attuned to my horse. Only then would any tension between us reside, so we could begin working together as partners.

…Horses are prey animals, meaning they are susceptible to becoming dinner to predators such as mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, or bears. Their entire nervous system is wired to sense threats in the environment and, as such, are inherently sensitive animals. They can sense when a mountain lion is close and even more so when a big cat is “trying to look like a rock.” Their systems know the incongruity of “the furry rock with whiskers” because their life depends on that level of sensory acuity. As humans, our brains may have taken new shape further down the evolutionary branches, yet we have this critter neurology within our wiring and can sense incongruity in others. Think about it for a moment: How do you know you can’t trust someone or something? Something feels off, right?

Imagine how your team feels if trust is missing from your culture if they don’t feel safe to say what they need to say or to name the elephant in the room… When we feel safe, we can relax and do our best work because we’re not looking out for someone or something to put us on the defensive.

“…The reason we trust each other is because we’re being real with each other. “Great teams do not hold back with one another. They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal,” writes leadership author Patrick Lencioni, adding that: “Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.”

“Authenticity is the alignment of head, mouth, heart, and feet – thinking, saying, feeling, and doing the same thing – consistently. This builds trust, and followers love leaders they can trust.” – Lance Secretan
Authentic Leadership; alignment, congruency, authenticity, courage, empathic leadership