Onaqui Herd near Dugway, Utah.

I feel we need to honor the spirit of the horse – their freedom, grace, beauty, generosity, and love
and maintain this unbroken spirit at all costs.

Soulful Leadership

A journey in trust, respect, and confidence

leading to connection

Given space to roam freely with other horses, the horse does not need to connect with us and is fine and complete without us.  He is a horse being a horse.  If we want connection with our horses, we need to connect with them.  As domesticated horses still follow natural herd instincts and survival mechanisms, to start this journey of connection, I feel it is important to understand how horses interact and connect with each other in their natural settings.

Horses in natural settings live in herds and survive as prey animals through bonding with each other.  In the natural herd, there are leaders and followers.  Each herd has a lead mare and a stallion working together to keep the herd safe – lead mare in front and stallion behind.  All of the members of the herd willingly follow the leaders with confidence and trust that the leaders will lead them to food and water and will keep them safe.  The hierarchy is always changing by successful challenges by lesser stallions and mares to become the new leaders.  The open herd setting allows each horse to seek out and follow strong leaders or to fend for himself should he be abandoned or without leadership.

For horses to survive, they communicate with each other by being acutely in tune with different energies and by accurately remembering dangerous situations.  Horses as prey animals are very aware of their surroundings and respond quickly to the slightest changes in posture or energy in the lead mare or stallion.  This constant awareness of their surroundings always keeps them in the present moment and connected with the herd and it’s leaders.  This is the foundation for trust for the wild horse.

Past dangerous scenarios can create fear memories.  Fear memories can be witnessed in domesticated horses abused by humans.  Abused horses are constantly on guard to threatening situations that brought pain or fear in the past and will openly display survival behavioral responses should they reoccur.

For humans to be safe around these half-ton plus reactive animals and for domesticated horses to feel safe with us, we need to become their trusted leaders.  Horses positively respond and seek out leadership that embraces confidence, courage, compassion and connection and withdraw from fear-based, tension-filled, and domination driven leadership. When humans lead through confidence, courage, compassion, connection, and act from awareness, and mindfulness, the domesticated ‘herdless’ horse can develop trust and relax into the secondary role of follower.

To successfully become a horse’s leader and to connect through trust, we need to be connected, aware, and mindful leaders – leaders that lead from our souls.

 “At the deepest level, a leader is the symbolic soul of the group.  … The inspired leader’s power base comes not from other people but from her very being, and the path she walks is guided by her own soul.  Its hallmarks are creativity, intelligence, organizing power, and love.” –  Chopra, Deepak .  The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness.  Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 2010

Because horses live in the moment and are intensely aware of their surroundings, physically and energetically, if we wish to develop a connection with them, it is up to us to be aware of how our energy, posture, and movements affect them.  Horses are very aware of our energies and whether they are based in fear or strength.

Their response to us conveys whether they trust or fear us.  What they feel on the inside will be demonstrated on the outside.  They do not hide anything.  If we are aware and understand our horse’s responses, they will make it clear to us if we have their trust.  When we have earned our horses trust, then we are on the path to establishing the connection we are seeking.  Through the shear honesty of their nature, horses draw out our strengths and weaknesses.  They help show us the way to be authentic in their presence.

Since we are seeking the horse’s trust, the responsibility falls on us to demonstrate that we are trustworthy.  To do this effectively, we need to understand ourselves.

  • What are our motivations and our goals, for our horses and ourselves?
  • How do we perceive ourselves?
  • Do our actions and more simply our energy reflect our true feelings?

Just as with the horse, if our outer actions and energy reflect our inner feelings and intentions, we will be coming from a place of authenticity.

Authenticity, understanding and compassion all play a role in building trust. The work we do on ourselves will determine the kind of relationship or connection we achieve with our horses.

Where to begin?

This work begins with exploring ourselves – our outside selves and our inside selves and blending those into one harmonic being – our actions on the outside in alignment with our intensions on the inside.  By knowing our true nature i.e., our greatest passion, our deepest joy, our highest strength, and by having our actions reflect this – we now operate from a place of harmonic authenticity that the horse is able to recognize and trust.

Luckily everything we need to connect with our horse is already inside of us.

 “People need to know that they have all the tools within themselves.  Self-awareness, which means awareness of their body, awareness of their mental space, awareness of their relationships – not only with each other, but with life and the ecosystem.” – Deepak Chopra, The Soul of Leadership.

By finding our true selves – our individual loving, compassionate, empathetic authentic selves – and by letting go of fear, doubt, anger, judgment and expectation, we move into being simply present.  Through practice, we develop confidence and emerge from being to doing, into what I refer to as Soulful Leadership – leadership that comes from our ‘very being’, ‘guided by our own soul ’ (Deepak Chopra).  Now whatever we are doing comes from calmness, love, empathy, and compassion and strength.

By looking inside and becoming aware of our intensions and feelings, we can become mindful of our actions and the energies we are projecting.  We can do this through reading, mediation, or any number of methods of self-exploration that leads us to being aware and connected to our own feelings – confidence, courage, fear, tension, anger, or domination without compassion, and to feel where they arise from and practice within ourselves to nurture kindness and letting go of hurt and fear.

To be aware is to be actively experiencing the world around us – to be conscious of sensations, events, emotions, objects, and thoughts and how they can affect us.

“Change the way you see things and you’ll change the way you feel.  Changing the way you feel will change what you see. –” Bentinho Massaro

By being mindful of ourselves and of all of our actions, energy, and intentions, we will be in a position to act with authenticity and compassion.

 “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

We can cultivate this mindfulness through practice.  By increasing our awareness to our thoughts, emotions, and environmental stimuli, we are able to make conscious choices at as to what actions we will take.  Awareness and mindfulness practices help soulful leaders to be aware of their responses to different situations and to be able better to direct their actions with calmness, courage, compassion, empathy, understanding, and love.  When we are aware and mindful leaders, the horse can trust our actions.

The more we practice – the more aware and observant we become – the quicker and easier we observe and feel the smallest gestures and energy changes.  When working with our horses, we need to stay in the present moment and let go of all distractions.  We honor what presents itself in each moment and work from there.

When the horse is able to understand our energy and intent with trust, we can start to connect our beings.  We are able to form strong bonds of respect, communication, and connection.  We are here to guide our horses and here to support them when they are in need.  Now our horses seek us.  Horses positively respond and seek out Soulful Leadership.

Karen incorporates soulful leadership styles into her retreats, clinics, and lessons.  Karen’s ‘Ride From Your Soul’ Retreats focus on soulful leadership, awareness, and mindfulnes.