The horse's pasture to the East...

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Leadership. The definition in the Oxford Dictionary reads as : 


mass noun
  • 1The action of leading a group of people or an organization.
    ‘different styles of leadership’
    1. 1.1 The state or position of being a leader.
      ‘the party prospered under his leadership’
1.2treated as singular or plural The leaders of an organization, country, etc.
‘the leadership was divided into two camps’

And in the Merriam Webster Dictionary it reads as :
the office or position of a leader 
  • recently assumed the leadership of the company
2capacity to lead  
  • a politician who lacks leadership
3the act or an instance of leading
  • leadership molds individuals into a team
  •  —Harold Koontz & Cyril O'Donnell
  • the party leadership

One of my favorite quotes on 'leadership' is from Roy T. Bennet. It reads :   “Keep your promises and be consistent. Be the kind of person others can trust.” 
― Roy T. Bennett

I've signed up for a second four weeks of coaching with my Parelli Professional, 4 Star Trainer Kristi Smith. I knew the first four weeks would be a challenge for me. I hide out when I am overwhelmed. I've been in that state now for several years. In the process of teaching myself, I lost my way, got stuck, and started to spin my wheels in the dust. 

The first four weeks were a slog for me, not because of my Coach's style or even the subject matter. It's because I've put giant walls around myself to keep from failure. I'm an artist. I blow my projects more often than not. I should have giant calluses by now, right? Intellectually I understand that so called 'failure' is the best place to be when I want to learn. I have to make mud before I get to the garden. 

So I've had to beat on the walls, knock politely, look for a door, try to dig a hole under the wall or even catapult myself over. The solution was actually easier than that. All I ever had to do was remember that I built the 'walls'. I needed to begin the process of disassembling them to move on. I'd like to say I did a Hollywood on those big, ugly, sky high walls. I blew them up with spectacular special effects. But I didn't do that. Instead I'm in the process of carefully taking the rocks down, looking at them and running my hands over them while I get to know what they're made of, and then I'm setting them aside. Later I'll use those same stones to make a new inner landscape. I'm thrifty. I never throw anything out if I can find another use for it.

My first assignment for the next four weeks is discussing what 'leadership' means to me. That moves me in to basic philosophy 101. I looked up classic definitions, talked to friends and my all time BFF, John (my husband) about leadership. I've been thinking about politics, education and what teachers have influenced me, my Mom, my sons. But since the main topic is horses, I also went outside and spent hours, bundled up for the extreme cold, watching my horses. 

In my small herd, Lucky is the alpha. He's an easy on the eyes, sorrel colored Foxtrotter with long legs and a laid back attitude. In Parelli Horsenality terms, you would identify him as a Left Brain Introvert on the cusp with Right Brain Introvert. He isn't high energy unless he has a good reason to be. He's quite comfortable being by himself, is confident in his surroundings. If I don't give him incentive to go, he turns and looks at me and then goes back to grazing or goes to sleep. He doesn't fight. He tunes me out. 

But in every field or group I've seen him in, he is the quiet leader, maybe because of that innate self confidence. He doesn't drive anyone anywhere. He simply goes and they follow. When we've been on trail rides, he always ends up at the front. I thought it was because of his 'more gaits than I can count' he has, that makes him a good horse for riding for hours at a time. Now I think it's because he is self confident and curious. He isn't afraid to seek out whatever the horizon has on the other side. The few times they've made the Great Escape, Lucky has led them deep in to the Preserve we live on, taking the herd he lives with over, under and through obstacles that most domesticated horses would look at and turn back for the barn rather than tackling them. 

That look, right there, is Lucky. I've done my best to enhance that too. I like that kind of confidence. He comes straight to me with a look that clearly says he is ready. He wants to go and if I'm taking him there I had better be up to his standards or he isn't moving for anything. 

And in the beginning that was exactly what it was like for me. My Savvy levels were zero to none. I was in love with his beautiful self and unsatisfactory as a partner, in his estimation, because I couldn't lead with the same confidence he did. So we just did not move. I remember trying to figure out how to get everything I had read and watched over and over again, right, so he would just step backwards. Nope. Wasn't going to happen. Sideways? Ha. Not going there. Circle? Really ? No way. Why go in a Circle if it didn't take you anywhere? 

I, literally, stumbled in to the connection and motivation with him when I was on a nearly disastrous trail ride with children on horses that weren't trained for hacking down country roads when the sun was going down. I went in to 'Mom' mode. My safety was secondary. They were the focus and Lucky was my co-leader. We got them home safely. I didn't think about what I was doing. I did it because it needed to be done and Lucky believed me. I didn't realize it until I got back, but I was riding with no reins. I wasn't using my heels to make him move. We simply went wherever we needed to because there were lives at stake. He was reading my intention. 

I was leading by example, in a 'Mom' and 'Teacher' mode because those children and their inexperienced horses could have been a disaster in the making if I didn't get them off the road. I wasn't thinking in those terms. I did what had to be done with what I had where I was. Lucky believed me and so did the four children and nice but not focused adults (who were not parents. Did not have the connections yet to understand how vulnerable children can be without the person to take them down a safe path.) who were on that ride. I always step up when children are involved. That was my motivation. Lucky's was being given the freedom to become a true partner with me for the first time because he read my need to help children as an alpha behavior. I was leading us to safety. 

So do I have a definition of 'leadership'? That's a philosophical question that I could discuss all day without a clear definition because it can change at any given moment. And it can also pass back and forth, from one time to the next, according to circumstance. Sometimes Apache is the leader because he's the gate crasher, the Houdini if you will. He opens the gate and says, " Hey, guys! It's open. Come on. That grass we've been trying to get to on the other side of the fence is ours for the taking. " And off they go.

Stony sometimes takes it because he is more skeptical. He will notice a change in the environment that Lucky or Apache will not see and react to. Stony's head comes up, he swings to face whatever he perceives as a threat and then finds Willow, his tiny 'mare', and will take her to safety. The others follow every.single.time. And I am fascinated! Stony is on the bottom rung of the herd ladder but they will follow him because he is so certain it's time to leave. 

I had to learn the hard way about boundaries and energy, personal space and 'respect'. I have a tendency to battle over words like 'respect'. I'm an artist and, by my own nature, a lone wolf. I have a bull hockey meter that goes off over words like 'respect' and 'energy' or even 'boundaries'. I love to teach and do demonstrations when it comes to fine art, but mostly I am in "Leave me alone." mode. And when someone asks me questions about why I did this or that in one of my pieces, I am left speechless. It isn't up to me to help you interpret what I did. It's up to you to discover that inside yourself BY YOURSELF. Whew. See what I mean? Hot button topic for me.

Turns out horses are really, really good at being specific and clear about their expectations. And if you don't hear them they will take it up a level and up another until they step on your foot or knock in to you. "THIS is what a personal boundary is, Nancy." For a good long while I was the lower rung member of the herd, the yearling if you will, who needed to be taught proper etiquette. And which ever horse I was with became the LEADER. 

Ahhhh... the plot thickens. They were seeking leadership and I wasn't providing it the way they needed so whomever I was with took over, the same way I did when Lucky and I brought all of those people in from a ride at night on roads where no one could see us and the so called instructor had gone off and left us on our own. 

The revelation from that event was understanding that Lucky gave that 51% because I was the one who said, " I know where we need to go to be safe. " 

Over the years, while I kept trying to learn by myself, I lost sight of that one moment when things changed for us. In fact it took time for me, and learning and making a lot of mistakes along the way, for me to understand how important that ride was. You really don't know what you don't know until you learn and understand how much more there is to know. It's a never ending process, at least for me. And I am fascinated! 

So do I have one definition of LEADERSHIP? No. It changes from one moment to the next, depending on the circumstances, where I am, who I am with. One thing I do know is that a good instructor is also a good student. Leadership is a ZEN thing for me with more facets than I can define at any given moment because the light is constantly changing and highlighting different aspects of the process, or even passing the mantle back and forth from one person to the next.

And I am fascinated!

I am, ever yours, Nancy, smiling and cogitating on the idea of leadership

PS. Lots of licking and chewing going on here.

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