Changing Behaviours – lessons learnt from a horse!

I had the privilege to attend the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) one of the largest horse events of the year, watching the talent of both horse and rider was astonishing.  Whilst tucking into my hotdog and chips, I started to question how different is it to change the behaviour of a horse in comparison to changing our own behaviours?

I began my journey 18 months ago putting my new project (Murphy) into the horse box, did I really know what I was letting myself in for?  But I was determined to make a difference, I saw something in his eyes that day, something I can’t explain.

Having an ex-racehorse and trying to change these behaviours is far from easy, several trips to A&E and countless scars and bruises can testify to this.

It took time and patience to build our relationship, it was built on trust and respect, just like all relationships need to be built on these foundations.  Knowing our boundaries, it takes time to really get to know individuals, understanding their personalities – it is was no different in my case with Murphy.

Anyone who has ever worked with a horse, will know that just “asking” or “wanting” him/her to do something is just not enough.  There must be a level of commitment, determination, and in the case of Holist equine horses a level of energy that resonates with the horse as ‘a purity of intention’.

As a manager it is likely you will be faced with instances of problem behaviour in your team from time to time, which need to be resolved.  Dealing with challenging behaviour can sometimes be a daunting prospect, many managers recognise that the process may be difficult, unpleasant and awkward.  Taking on an ex-racehorse and having never owned a horse in my life, I can tell you was really daunting!

The problem behaviour issues that you may experience within your organisation can range from relatively minor things, such as poor timekeeping, through to more serious problems such as rudeness to colleagues, anger management issues, bullying and harassment.  It is likely that you will experience a range of behaviour problems and root causes, so use your judgement to tackle each issue and individual appropriately – what works with one individual, may not work with another.  It is exactly the same with horses, they have personalities just like us; they have root causes to their behavioural problems…the challenge is, knowing is we ever get to the bottom of them…after all, they can’t talk back to us…sadly!

In Murphy’s case, it was his sheer determination to want to bolt at every opportunity!  ‘Walk…trot…never, I was trained to race’ I could here him trying to tell me as I pulled with every ounce of strength.  His stubborn streak would often leak through, a cheeky buck when things weren’t quite going his way, but with the correct aids, consistent coaching and support he will soon reach his full potential.  As the great John Wayne once said “If you’ve got them by their balls, their hearts and minds will follow”

So, how different is it to change the behaviour of a horse in comparison to our own? The answer is simple…no different at all, we can all change behaviours using a variety of methods and techniques.

Carl Binder’s ‘Six Boxes’ model is based upon Thomas F Gilbert‘s ‘Behaviour Engineering Model’.  It sets out to provide a precise definition of human competence and to find a way to measure these.  Gilbert also wanted to identify why people became incompetent, and to formulate a model for engineering human competence.

The model states that in order for people to function effectively, they need to have input from all six factors, or ‘boxes’.  So, a coach can use the ‘six boxes’ to analyse the individual and identify the source of any gaps in performance.

Roger Schwarz identifies types and levels of group behaviour, all having a direct impact on a group’s effectiveness, functional behaviour, dysfunctional behaviour and counteractive behaviours.

Horses respond to body language, muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure when individuals are near them, so we actively work together to recognise behavioural or social patterns that influence our own.

So…that’s it, my conclusion is simply no difference at all – and in case you were wondering, Murphy competed in his first show a couple of weeks ago and got a first and second place…so he is proof that you can change behaviours!  Here’s looking forward to HOYS 2013