What can horses teach you about leading?

I recently visited Return to Freedom, an American Wild Horse Sanctuary in Lompoc, CA. Our group was there to learn how horses share leadership, and how we might use that insight to lead innovation. The lead mare sets the direction and pace, while the lead stallion is behind protecting the band or herd.

In the morning, my group was given instruction about horse etiquette and safety, and then five of us found ourselves with a domesticated former American wild horse, Peanut.

We were to lead Peanut in and around obstacles and finally onto a raised platform by setting the direction (lead mare) and pushing energy from behind (lead stallion). We struggled at first, but ultimately, we were able to lead Peanut in the direction we intended.

That afternoon, we climbed halfway up a mountain and sat down by a band of wild horses. We sat quietly for about 20 minutes, as horses inched close and retreated, then another horse or two would repeat the dance.

“One of the mares is missing. I’ll climb to the top and look for her,” said Neda, the founder.

“Found the mare, want to climb up the mountain to see her?”

Most of us huffed and puffed up the mountain on the narrow horse trails. There was the mare, her stallion and foal at the tip, top of the mountain. Beautiful in all their freedom … until the mare walked. She limped badly. Neda, got very close to her, but the mare would not let her touch her or lift her leg for Neda to determine what was wrong.

“We need to get her back to her band. Let’s practice what you learned this morning and lead her down the mountain.”

We positioned ourselves around the mare and led her down the mountain on the narrow horse trails, but there were about 12 of us–too many for her, and she veered off the trail, taking about a 45 degree course down the mountain. One of the men, John, followed her,  got behind her and gently led her (without touching her) back to the horse trail. The stallion and foal followed.

When they reached the band of horses, she made contact with the horses as John stood behind her. Then, she turned from the band and limped over to within a few feet of John, bowed her head to him, and returned to the band.

That reminded me of how Jesus led His disciples. He led them in front at times, setting the direction and pace, by the side keeping them all engaged, and from behind, pushing them with the energy of His power.

My prayer for you:

Great Shepherd, guide us in Your leadership through the busy days we encounter and teach us how to lead those we have influence over with gentleness and firmness that is only possible through Your perfect wisdom. You are our Great Shepherd, and we love You.

What is your leadership challenge?

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