Can horses teach us leadership?

Here at Embercombe we have two working Dartmoor ponies. Their presence contributes to our community in many ways.



Our two lovely ponies.

They are a natural part of the landscape, just to see them grazing in the fields connects with something special in people, they have an ethereal quality; they are the perpetual dreamers.

They are also for us to explore the working relationship that has existed between people and horses for thousands of years.


I am continually learning from Natalie (who rescues many ponies from the moor and re-homes them). Her insight, her experience and her deep intuition and wisdom about all things equine makes it a privilege to spend time with her.

Our relationship with the ponies is based in natural horsemanship; the understanding that they are prey animals and they see us as predators. So our role is to reassure them that they are safe with us, based on the premise is of passive leadership; that through our kindness and consistency they trust us and because of that trust they will do as we ask, rather than us making them do what we want.

I find it a very graceful and exciting way of working with the ponies (it also a great foundation for interacting with people!).

When they arrived they were semi-wild, my main task was to sit in their field, so that they could assimilate me in to their herd. They needed to get used to my presence, to feel safe. They aren’t goal based, so in all of our work I am mindful that the outcome of each session is that they have learnt something because they wanted to, not because they were forced to.

Over time they have aquired many skills, they wear harness and panniers to carry vegetables, compost and wood. They manage many challenging environments; they have done a tour of Centrefire, been to the top of the mound, met many inquisitive people, dealt with chainsaws, vehicles, a variety of loud noises and many other things.

This passage from ‘The Power of the Herd’ by Kinda Kohanov summarises much of what I am becoming increasingly more aware of;

‘In recognizing that animals have much to teach us, that they have (as recent scientific research suggests) been tutoring, empowering, healing and transforming us all along, we will have to let go of the idea that we are the only intelligent species on the planet.

Imagine if all of us could bring these lessons out of the shadows and employ them consciously, creating a form of shared leadership that taps the talents of the entire herd – what we might accomplish if we finally understood how to be powerful together’.

Horses bring their socially intelligent, non-predatory approach to leadership, innovation, collaboration and power.

By Fi Barnes



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