I should probably say from the offset that I’m not a ‘horsey’ kind of girl. Don’t get me wrong, I like adore animals. In fact, my tiny claim to fame is that my paternal grandmother was responsible for the welfare of the Royal horses at the Mews back in the day but I simply don’t have much experience with horses or ponies myself.
However, when the good people at East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce offered the Viva team two places on their latest diamond ambassador event – a leadership and training day at HAPPA, Burnley – I found myself offering to go along for the ride.
Hannah and I turned up at Shore Hey Farm last week with no idea what to expect and, after introductions, Hannah and I spent the morning learning about the role of the Equine Inspectors, taking part in replica scenario to see how we handled the information provided.
Our team of eight were given a quick briefing that an anonymous caller had raised concerns about the welfare of a horse being kept on a livery yard. We decided to follow it up and ended up taking away key evidence in case of prosecution (at this point, Hannah morphed into Making a Murderer’s Kathleen Zellner), ultimately succeeding in our task to ensure the horses welfare and safety.
But how does this all relate to leadership you may ask? Well, we also witnessed how horses interact with one another and how this reflected certain management styles that are found in the workplace (Laissez-faire, Democratic and Authoritarian).
We went over to the stables where the HAPPA team consecutively brought in several groups of horses for us to observe. The first lot were rather submissive, all minding their own business and gave each other plenty of space to do their thing.
The second group had had a slightly different dynamic. A beautiful chestnut ex-racehorse was included, and we were told that he had suffered severe mental trauma in the past.
This came across in his actions, being nervous and bolting at any sudden movements. Interestingly, the other horse soon began to mirror this behaviour and the whole atmosphere quickly changed.
Next up was a group of five horses and ponies – we’d been told to expect something a bit different with this bunch as and soon as Gordon appeared, we knew why.
Gordon immediately took it upon himself to ‘peck’ every other member of team by invading their personal space and following them around relentlessly, resulting in most of them walking away from him in an effort to diffuse the situation.
However, one horse decided that he wasn’t going to bullied and began to kick back. The HAPPA team explained that this was a prime example of micromanaging and is actually extremely counterproductive, causing conflict and resentment in the workplace.
Whilst we moved back inside and ate lunch, Paul Howarth from PH7 spoke about the importance of mental health and wellbeing. Lots of employers tend to only address these issues once symptoms of work-related stress, depression and anxiety have already begun to manifest so Paul encourages a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one. You can read more here.
The next part was delivered by Hornby & Birtwistle Coaching and it was time for us to get hands on. We were spilt in to teams and given a bit more information about horses and ponies. They are incredibly intuitive and can sense what action you will take before you actually do it. Clever, eh?
Our task was to each take turns in leading a horse/pony around the arena and seeing how it reacted. Those with little confidence found that the horse mirrored that and became nervous. Those with an arrogant air of authority also got a less than desirable response, with the horse choosing to completely ignore them!
There was so much more to our day but I’m at risk of writing an essay if I carry on so I’m going to wrap it up now but can say that it is something I would recommend any workplace look at if you’d like to learn more about how to work better together – I cannot promise that you won’t want to rehome every single horse and pony you meet though!
Visit HAPPA at Shore Hey Farm, Burnley and find out more about the work they do.
Social Media Executive