Last month, I had another opportunity to join The Nomadic School of Wonder to visit the amazing herd of mustangs at Windhorse Relations in southern Utah. My first visit yielded some powerful lessons on leadership and being human. This time I figured I knew what to expect and would be able to relax instead of feverishly taking notes in an attempt to capture the fleeting wisdom of the horses and their human helpers, Marcia and Mary Lee.
I figured wrong.
At one point, someone (it wasn’t me!) left a gate open and the herd, 30 horses strong, decided to have an adventure. They galloped out of the compound leaving a trail of red dust in their wake.
We were concerned. So were a couple of the volunteers.
Marcia and Mary Lee weren’t. Leave the gate open, they said with wry smiles, they’ll come back.
Sure enough, within 20 minutes, the horses had tired of their adventure and, with the gentle urging of a few volunteers who waved their arms vigorously at the horses, decided to come back through the gate. They looked, to my human eyes, very proud of themselves.
The escapade had not come without a cost: Barrel, a beautiful chestnut horse, had caught himself on some barbed wire and managed to gallop through a few cholla. He had shallow scratches on his neck and dozens of cactus quills in his skin.
Several of the volunteers leapt into action, immediately going to help the horse.
Mary Lee’s voice cracked out: ‘Wait.’
Everyone froze. She strode up and conducted a masterclass in care, leadership, and the power of intention. Here are a few of the highlights:
Each of these lessons, delivered with a matter of factness that belied their depth, resonated profoundly.
How often, especially early on, have I rushed to try to ‘solve’ the problems of an individual or group only to encounter profound resistance?
What was the impact when an old boss would come into the office like a tornado, throw files around, and impose somewhat arbitrary deadlines on our work without regard for competing priorities or other factors?
Years ago, I used donut holes to incentivize good behavior from a class of seven year olds. It worked for a time. Then they tried to extort more donut holes from me. Ultimately, their parents, puzzled as to why their children had become hyped up basket-cases during our two hour classes, discovered my ruse and I was told to stop with the donut holes. The kids got angry and any semblance of control I had evaporated.
The lessons Mary Lee and the Windhorse Herd teach go far beyond simply working with horses. They are practical lessons in leadership, connection, and the art of being human that can translate into a variety of settings, from teaching second graders to spiritual healing work to leading a team of software developers. The horses remind us that being fully present with ourselves, each other, and the wider world not only deepens our experience of the world, it is also a crucial ingredient of powerful leadership, change-making, and human being.
If you would like to learn more about the herd or support the wonderful work of Windhorse Relations, please click here.
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