Health & Wellness in Businesses Around the World – An Equine Perspective

A senior executive from a highly successful and dynamic organization stands in the centre of the small wooden enclosure as her 4-legged teacher stares out across the fields. Distracted by the feed bucket that is passing and various movements around the enclosure, what will compel these two learning partners to join up and begin the dance of relationship? The facilitator asks “imagine that this is the workplace and Lotta* is a member of your team, how will you motivate her to want to be lead by you? What kind of relationship would you want to create in order to build trust and connection? How could authentic leadership guide you in this situation?” The two-legged student responds by saying “actually she does remind me of many of my team members. She is strong and independent and traditional way of motivation might not work. I think she is too smart for that. I am not exactly sure what will work, but I am willing to try and step outside of my comfort zone and see if she responds to me if I move towards her.” As the student moves into Lotta’s space, there is a noticeable and immediate connection between the two of them. Both sigh and relax, breathing together.

This situation is one of many experienced by leaders and team members around the world as Equine/horse Guided Education supports humans in their quest for moving to a more authentic place within themselves. Expanding our thinking about the role that animals play in helping us to become more healthy is rapidly spreading around the world. Since the early 1950’s, horses have traditionally been engaged in therapeutic riding programs to help those with physical disabilities and since the early 70’s, mental health facilities and practitioners have partners with horses in creating major breakthroughs for trauma survivors, abuse victims and emotionally damaged people. Over the past 10-15 years, various forms of equine guided education, equine guided psychotherapy and equine guided coaching are becoming more widely accepted as viable and highly successful in supporting businesses in leaders, teams and individuals in their quest for healthy workplaces.

Health and wellness in the workplace is not just about our physical aspect wellbeing. It also includes emotional agility (emotional intelligence), life/work balance, healthy relationships, great teamwork, strong leadership, and many other areas of personal and professional development. More and more organizations are looking at innovative ways of providing healthy alternatives to their employees as the demands of business continue to create stressful environments.

What can a 1000 pound horse teach us about health and wellness in the workplace? Why horses? Who is drawn to this new learning technology? Where is it being offered and by who?

These types of programs are being offered all over the world including Canada, US, Europe, Asia, and South America. Quickly gaining credibility as one of the most incredible experiential learning programs offered today, equine (horse) guided learning is innovative, provocative, and creates powerful learning shifts in two-legged participants. Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems are some of the large global organizations that have participated in this learning. Locally a variety of organizations including public sector, municipalities, utilities, community service agencies, financial institutions are bringing their leaders and teams together to experience learning outside of the classroom surrounded by the beauty of nature and the natural ways of learning together.

As my client, Susan* and Lotta continue their interaction, it is apparent that this student/teacher duo are a good match for each other. As the client loses her focus and begins over-analyzing the situation, Lotta moves away from her, shaking her head as if to say “that is stressing me out, try following your intuition.” I offer up “what’s happening? (a simple yet profound question). Susan responds with “I started thinking about what I wanted her to do and how I would do it, and as she moved away from me, I began feeling like she didn’t like me.” I say “is that the only thing that might be going on – what if she just wants you to learn to trust yourself more, to relax and be still for a few minutes? Is that something you know how to do?” She responds with “I run fast and furious in response to the demands in the workplace, trying to be all things to all people. I feel like I need to please everyone, and then I end up feeling stressed, and in fact most recently I let my CEO down because I disagreed with his approach, but didn’t have the courage to tell him. It feels like we are avoiding each other, and that isn’t comfortable for me. Relationships are everything to me.” “What happens if you just notice your feelings around acknowledge them, what might that create in Lotta?” Susan moves into Lotta again and lets her shoulders drop as she connects with her values of integrity and authenticity. Lotta connects again and they begin walking together. Like two old friends who are supporting each other in quiet, reflective conversation, Susan and Lotta are re-defining friendship and trust. As the session draws towards a close, I ask Susan how she is feeling, and she responds by saying “relaxed and peaceful, something I haven’t felt for weeks now.”

Stepping into confidence when you have no experience or knowledge is challenging at the best of times – add a horse to the mix who is counting on you to be clear, and see what emerges.

Horse guided learning brings participants together in a discovery process that focuses on intention, motivation and intuition. Horses live in herds (teams) and require clarity and authentic teamwork and leadership in order to feel safe. In their natural habitat, as animals of prey, their survival depends on this. Leaders and teams who have experienced these programs continue to provide feedback many weeks and months after about the powerful learning they experienced with the horses. One leader recently said “My lesson with Lightning is indelibly etched in my mind. I must remember not to push or pull my team as this causes too much stress, but to be clear on my requests and coach them through the learning process”.

Creating a workplace that is stress-free might not be too realistic, but we can learn to manage our stress and coach our teams to be more proactive in developing strategies that will support healthy work environments by looking for more innovative ways of providing assistance through equine guided education programs.

Five Key Secrets to Health Wellness

I’m doing something different in this time. Instead of the usual injury this and neuromuscular disorder that, I’m going to discuss health wellness. If you exercise and do yoga regularly, are you contributing to your health wellness? Of course you are. What about taking vitamins and supplements? Absolutely. Staying active with regular exercises and having a proper diet and nutrition are only a few components of good health. Not a lot of people know about it. But there are five components to health wellness.

Most people already knew about exercises and proper eating and nutrition. The third part of wellness is good old rest. That’s right. Rest. Passing out when you’re drunk is not considered as rest. Believe me. I tried it and it didn’t work. Your body and mind endure a lot of physical strains and mental stress throughout the day. The cells in your body and mind need to recharge completely before the dawn of a new day.

Have you ever encountered or dealt with someone who is bitter, doubtful and pessimistic? Unfortunately, there are plenty of half-empty-glass kinds of people. I believe that the fourth part of wellness is the most difficult to achieve. You need to train your mind and remind yourself constantly to have a positive mental attitude (PMA). It’s not easy, but doable. If I can develop a PMA, so can you. PMA requires constant self awareness of your actions and thoughts.

There will be time when you forget about PMA, and you’ll slip. You may be impatient and be quick to anger about something. You may regret about what you did or said. And that’s okay. We’re all humans and no one is perfect. The key to PMA is to realize what you did or said and avoid the repeat in the future.

Before I reveal the final part of wellness, let’s think about exercise, nutrition, rest and positive mental attitude. You stay active with regular exercises. You eat well and supplement your diets. You pass out; I mean sleep soundly every night. You’re positive and always look on the bright side. And for bonuses, you have no pain, stiffness or any other symptoms. Your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar level are good. And you brush and floss your teeth twice a day. You have this wellness thing down baby. You’re a wellness superstar.

So, what else is missing? How about taking care of your muscles, joints and spine? When you’re active, you’re using your muscles, joints and spine. Without them you couldn’t walk, run, ride your bike, do yoga or work out at the gym.

Your muscles, joints and spine endure a lot of physical strains and stress during daily living. And these mechanical strains and stress increase with exercises and other physical activities. Why? Because the muscles, joints and spine move when you move. Similar to the mechanical wear and tear in your car’s engine and brakes with driving, your muscles, joints and spine sustain micro-traumatic injuries with daily living, exercises and bad postures. Why do you think people get more pain, stiffness and other muscle, joint and spine problems as they get older? As the wear and tear injuries accumulate, aches, pains, tightness and stiffness become more persistent.

So, how do you reduce the mechanical wear and tear in your muscles, joints and spine? Simple. With preventative chiropractic care. It’s no difference than having a regular tune-up or oil change for your car. You may not agree with me on this. And that’s okay. Positive mental attitude in action baby. You’re entitled to your opinions and thoughts. The final component to wellness is preventative chiropractic care. Let’s think about this before you roll yours eyes.
Chiropractic spinal and joint adjustments restore normal movement which reduce mechanical wear and tear and improve your mobility. Chiropractic soft tissue treatments reduce and prevent build up of fibrosis scar tissues in the muscles which reduce strain and tension in the muscles during exercises and other physical activities.